Week 3: Releasing the head and activating the eyes: Allowing the weight of the head and focus of the eyes to assist easy changes of direction and level.
Every week I always find myself apprehensive about the contact improvisation module. I put this down to not knowing what to expect and the fear of the term ‘improvisation’. However once I leave the session I feel like I have achieved something positive and always reflect on the outcome of knowledge which I have learnt.
We began today’s session by analysing two improvised pieces of work. The first one was ‘Magnesium’ by Steve Paxton (1972). It was filmed in black and white as it is from back in the day in the 70’s. The movement was dynamic and also very up tempo and fast; there was no stillness throughout with the dancers constantly moving. The moment was very physical without loosing contact with each other making the movement look very fluid and easy to the eye. The idea of the over and under dancer was incorporated within the movement by being thrown about using all levels, dynamics and using the body as an object. I particularly liked the ending of the piece where the dancers are stood in a moment of stillness in different directions. The ending contrasts the entire piece due to the movement being performed at a very fast tempo and the sudden stillness is quite calming. I thought that the piece was very raw in terms of the style and movement which is used; it also is a complete contrast to work performed nowadays. According to Steve Paxton the idea of the piece ‘is to discover, through spontaneous movement in contact (typically duets) with other, human movement (and human behaviour in general.) (Turner, 2010, 123) I think this quote is the exact interpretation of the piece which I got from watching it.
The second piece which we watched was Blake Nellis and Brando @Earthdance (2010). My immediate response to the piece was how different it was the ‘Magnesium’. The movement looked slightly more choreographed using the under and over dancer manipulating one another, the tempo was a lot slower whilst the movement was very fluid and showing continuity. Lifts were incorporated within the piece whilst anticipating each others movement enable them to create aesthetically pleasing images to the audience. The piece was very creative using different levels and the surrounding space. I could see that trusting each other was a very important aspect of the piece as both dancers were responsible for one another. I thoroughly enjoyed watching this piece and preferred it to the other contrasting piece. Contact Improvisation in the 70’s is very different to nowadays and it shows the development of how it has changed throughout the years.
We began a simple warm up of being laid down relaxed with the feeling of knowing our bodies; we used the foetal position to help get in and out of transitions. The idea was for the head to only have direct contact with the floor using the lower hemisphere of the body. I found this task quite difficult as I felt that my body and movement became very restricted; particularly showing habitual patterns throughout the task. I hope to break all my habitual patterns by the end of the module by exploring ways of moving without using comfortable, safe movements which I have been taught as a specific dance technique this is because the majority of us are from a disciplined dance technique background. Paxton says it ‘constraints in our movement and contact.’ (Turner, 2010, 124)Even though there is room for improvement I feel that since the beginning of the module I have improved this slightly and will continue to improve every session.
With a partner we named ourselves A & B. Partner A laid in a relaxed position on the floor whilst B simply touched our partner on their shoulders to give them the sensation of touch. Partner B eventually used the sensation of touch to carry all the weight of A’s head in their hands, I found that me and my partner both initially struggled to trust each other. Although the idea was scary at first we both started to let go and put all of the weight from our heads in the hands of our partner. I felt very vulnerable at first but as the exercise developed I completely trusted my partner even though Sophie had all of the responsibility of leading me in the right direction and carrying the weight of my head. Trust is a very important aspect in contact improvisation. I already feel that my trust has grown stronger from the first session; I think this is due to being more confident throughout. Confidence and persistence is key. Partner A then started to initiate movement and B followed having full responsibility of the head; I found both parts very relaxing and whilst observing it was interesting to see how the body was consciously moving without creating any habitual patterns.
Focusing directly on the sensation of touch we started by lying on the floor with a partner with only our heads touching; Keeping the head as the only contact point whilst moving became very difficult to anticipate my partner’s movement. We then had to change the point of touch, then onto changing partners. I found the task very difficult to start and the transitions between partners very hard to break into movement especially when I was in the group of 3 as finding the same point of contact was extremely challenging.
How do we enter and break into transitions?
How do we attach and detach from one another?
I found that I didn’t pre meditate my movement choice as the sensation of touch initiated my next movement without realising. My movement wasn’t as habitual as it has been in previous tasks as the point of contact was constantly changing and continuous without any moments of stillness. When using the bottom half of my body I found it very hard to balance. I enjoyed working around the space with different partners as with each person the experience was different. I could see who I worked well with and why? I could also see who the task didn’t work as well with. This was my favourite task from the sessions so far as I could clearly see my improvement but also see how I need to improve. Throughout the next few sessions I am going to use this task as motivation to what I can hopefully achieve by the end of the module. I must be more relaxed and trust my peers to ensure that my work continues to improve.
Simply walking around the space we began to give eye contact to who ever we passed in the room. At first we found this task funny, not because it is funny but because there is a sense of awkwardness. Giving direct eye contact is very intimidating as being so close to someone is to some extent intimate. It doesn’t feel natural for me to feel comfortable looking at someone directly in the eyes. Nowadays people fear the invasion of personal space, eye contact and also physical contact resulting in dancers feeling restricted and isolated during the practice of improvisation. Paxton describes this as being ‘afraid of proximity, and therefore respond to ‘’crowding’’ by avoiding contact’ (Turner, 2010, 124-125) Even though eye contact can be intimidating it is more comfortable being in contact with bodies. The last task was to be in table top position; transfer the weight onto our partner’s back using continuous movement keeping the spine in full contact with the back. I found this task was the easiest so far and enjoyed it. I think this is because it is something which I have experienced before therefore is much easier to perform. Everything comes eventually with persistence and practice.
I feel that this was a very productive session showing improvement in contact improvisation and knowledge of the module. I left the session feeling very motivated and willing to push myself to achieve the best outcome for me, I am impressed with my work ethic even though I find it challenging at times. I hope my improvement continues at the same level throughout the rest of the module.
Turner, R (2010) Steve Paxton’s ‘’Interior techniques’’: Contact Improvisation and Political Power. Vol. 54 Issue 3: Black and White Photographs