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Jane Bacon and Vida Midgelow
Through this essay, Vida Midgelow and Jane Bacon, reflect upon the experience of writing-dancing with audiences and artists in the context of their installation work skript (Commissioned by Dance4, Nottingham, 2013). In doing so we provide a context for the artists’ writings that follow for they were written collaboratively within the installation and using the processes we will describe. skript engages embodied, felt sense, improvisational, and collaborative modalities in relation to the act of writing. As such we consider the ways the particular interface of language and embodiment, that is the focus of skript, might allow a knowing of ‘something’ otherwise – be that something a sense of our own bodies, a dance work, a performance experience or perhaps just that moment in time.
Skript – a place of encounter
Space: One to one, simplicity, scale
Access: Public and intimate space, open invitation
Time: Flexible duration and slowing time
Collaboration: A mode through which to support and reveal the unexpected
Mode of writing: Narrative, playful, improvisational, reflexive
Experience, the body and dance: Writing of/from the felt sense and the body,
drawing up and developing (alternative) dance discourse
skript, a micro-installation, was first presented in March 2013 throughout the NottDance Festival, Nottingham UK. Installed at a number of venues, often in theatre foyers before and after another performance event and commissioned by the the festival producers, Dance4 (a UK agency for the development and promotion of dance). Dance4 share with us an ongoing interest in how artists and general audiences engage with dance discourse, what does it mean to talk, think about and exchange views, on this thing called dance?
The following questions were part of the process of creation: How do you engage with others in different modes of dance writing? What are the relationships between words and movement? What is dance writing when you think of it as akin to choreography? What is writing when it is choreographic?
In response to these questions skript, an interactive micro-installation or micro-environment, was created. As a micro-environment the structure of Skript was deceptively simple. Essentially it is a space that provides a framework for an encounter between two people. Vida or Jane, as the hosts, ‘hold’ this space of encounter, offering an open invitation for guests to join us, to become our co-participants. The installation consists of a white 1.5m square table, two folding white chairs, two small keyboards and a micro-projector which hovers overhead casting its light onto the centre of the table. This area of light is our ‘page’. In this micro-environment both people write. They write into the same projected ‘page’ from their individual keyboards such that the writing develops relationally (and at times simultaneously).
Within this context we wrote with over sixty individuals. Our co-participants were members the general public (from children to more elderly members of a writing group), dance goers, dance academics and dance artists. We also wrote extensively with each other in response to the many performance works presented throughout the NottDance festival. Examples of this writing can be found on our blog (http://writing-dancing.blogspot.co.uk/) and in the pages that follow.
Co-participants were invited to enter into the processes openly with the simple suggestion that they might like to; ‘Come sit and take a moment to share experiences of dance and dancing’. Expanding and enfleshing this invitation, we as hosts worked on our own ‘Opening’ as described in the Creative Articulations Process (CAP) model (CP px) in silence and in order to give space and time as a ‘being with’ ourselves and participant as we sit and wait for written language to emerge into the collaborative space in whatever way it might. Our attention to bodily awarenesses was the basis for writing and throughout all the performances we continued to acknowledge and work with this through the way we sat, the time we took and the words we wrote. In doing so we acknowledge we are taking time, time to note, time to arrive, time with the visceral, sensual, emotional quality of our physical presence in this moment – to pay attention to it. This process is not straightforward, for, how do you invite somebody to sit down at a table with a total stranger and say simply ‘write with me’, ‘be present with me’, ‘be with me just as you are in this moment’.
Seeking to make this invitation in non-didactic or non-direct modes, as host we might invite the participant to ‘take a moment to notice the breath’ or attend to our own physical sensation and write; ‘I am noticing a small inner dance of my fluttering heart.’ Or, maybe, a co-participant might be invited to recall the feeling of a performance recently seen or their memory of dancing – ‘do you recall the feeling of spinning as it resides within you?’
Co-participants were offered an open invitation to join or leave the installation as they pleased, and many (most) would dwell and write with us for extended periods. Perhaps we imagine skript, in offering a certain kind of being together, brings forth or allows for a certain kind of language – language that gives voice to the embodied and the experiential, to the ‘nowness’ of a moment that had little concern for grammar and spelling. In fact our invitation to everyone who participated was to play with and on language. For example, someone wrote ‘nos-algia’ and that became a word play as we begin to imagine ‘ah, I’m actually algae’ and we are off spiraling into a world and word play where we are algae. So the words might be allowed their own journey which is very improvisational and playful.
‘….swaying and sticking, the body as this organic, simple form…
i seek out my algae, finding a swaying somewhere along the upper reaches of my back and fluidity under my ribs, in the open space under my ribs for the flow of water through
drift, pulled along in the draw of the fluid moving water… sensing that drift, letting myself imagine it, an image in me a source of moving being.. and he runs by, the air passing like the water passes.’
(June 1st,2013, Performing Place Symposium, University of Chichester)
In these encounters there was something about the process of finding language that emerged as being as important as the moment when the language is found and the moment articulated. The beauty of language as it emerged on the page, developed and formed between two operating as one on the shared screen. As David Abram has it, ‘only by affirming the animateness of perceived things do we allow our words to emerge directly from the depths of our ongoing reciprocity with the world’ (Abram, D, 1997). There is in skript an emphasis on the reciprocity, but here with another person and technology, rather than in Abram’s example with the ‘animate world’. But, for us, these encounters did engage more than technology, they did heighten our sense of how words emerge from the depths of our engagement with the world. This exchange between two people, via the mechanism of technology, perhaps, might enable us to come to know a ‘thing’, to know something more about this or that moment, this or that sensation, step or action. So importantly, we don’t write to keep but to bring us closer to the body. For, as Cixous has written: ‘I write to feel. I write to touch the body of the instant with the tips of the words’ (1998: 146).
In skript these experiences were of an intimate encounter. As one participant commented when asked what the experience had afforded her:
at first, I didn’t understand why people were so gripped by it but when i sat down within a few minutes I understood as I was so pulled into the experience. It seemed like it could have been a conversation about anything but the presence of the experience made it so intense. And it was in a very public space but the experience was very private and somehow seemed to negate the public sense. But now I have no idea what I wrote.
(April 4th, 2014, Dance4, Nottingham)
And this intimate act of collaborative writing needs and enables a slowing of time; time to settle into the chair, time to rest the fingers on the keep board, time to wait for the words that want to be said, for the words to stutter, tumble and then perhaps flow. Time to watch the typed words appear on screen without concern for the usual business of words as makers of meaning.
Languaging embodied sensation
How do you, how do I, all of us, any body, find our way from experience or inexperience into word, into language? This question resonates throughout skript (and also in CAP). It is different for all of us in perhaps as many ways as it is the same. But we cling fast to what we believe to be the importance of finding language that holds that experience as fully as is possible in any given moment. As educational psychologist Roger Frie notes, referring to Swiss psychiatrist and psychologist Binswanger, ‘language elaborates our bodily sensation’ (Frie, 2003, p.156). So, informed by what we might call phenomenological enquiry, the structures and possibilities arising from dyadic forms like Focusing, Authentic Movement, Contact Improvisation and various forms of psychotherapy (as outlined in CAP, ppx-x) the writing processes seek to give rise to, and find words for, what Leder, drawing on Heidegger, refers to as the ‘ecstatic body’ (1990). This concept, and our work in CAP and skript, is part of a territory from Husserl, Hegel, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty to Ricoeur and others that gives us conceptual tools for understanding the phenomenal, lived body. Perhaps it is resonant with a Deleuzian ‘becoming’ (Deleuze and Guattari, 2004). Primarily it is a space for re-animating the body, to move beyond Cartesianism and the romaticising of the body. It is a place where body is both absent and present. Grounding the writing process in this heightened awareness of the body as both absent and present it is perhaps not surprising then that many of the participants appeared to absent aspects of experience, in this example, that of his usual perception of external reality in an attempt to capture the experience of the present ‘felt’ experience in the writing.
…lightness, i feel it too, as if my eyes
and torso are in a heightened state and the space around me has moved further
away than i ‘know’ it really is…
(16th March, 2013, NottDance Festival, Waverly Theatre, Nottingham)
These encounters are descriptions of the immediate physical actions and sensation (and the actions of typing):
‘we move, fingers dancing on the keyboard, breath in and out, head leaning forwards to see more clearly. these are all our dancing moves, we choreograph our selves here as words on the page.’
( June 19th, 2013, NottDance Festival, Drill Hall, Lincoln)
‘increase of the tips of my fingers through touching fingers to face, the pause becomes an action…
a gesture of possible new directions….. of drift…
sand in the keyboard…
sand falling through keyboard, falling out of my fingers. the words drifting across through me/us…
(June 1st,2013, Performing Place Symposium, University of Chichester)
‘settling into the chair, eyes searching the space on the table for ….
for something to talk to ..respond to…ah, responsive, the feeling of being responsive…an openess? willingness?’
(May 18th, 2013, Collaborations II Symposium, The Grove Theatre, Middlesex University)
These common opening phrases echo the participant’s turn in attention toward their bodies as together we note the sensations in our own physicalities. What we noticed was if the participant began to settle into the encounter, and allow a noticing and working from and with the presence of the other, and with each others words – resting and ruminating with each other – we could begin to play in the process of writing that was emerging and unexpected kinds of experience and often unexpected words, phrases and ideas would tumble forth. In this way words as written from the body, enabled, and at the same time gave voice to, a heightened bodily awareness opening the space for memory, play and imagination to take flight.
…a somersault of thoughts and quiet foods
my thought is my body
my body is a stomcachstomachsdhtosahstoa
stomach. ticking in my arms
tocking in mypits.
pulse pulse pulse flahhsl suqit.wait wait ing no clock in my body a game of
ssusepnce. suspence. im nervous in my fingers but happy in my chest. i am
thinking by my body.i think before i sense….
(16th March, 2013, NottDance Festival, Bonnington Gallery, Nottingham)
Encounters with dance makers and each other
Using the environment and approach to embodied writing provided by skript within the context of the NottDance Festival, we invited several artists to join us in this collaborative process and also committed ourselves to writing together in response to some of the performance works experienced during the Festival. Extended examples of these writing encounters can be found in the pages that follow (p xx). In writing with artists such as Guy Dartnell, Ros Crisp, Miguel Pereira, as well as with each other, we echo the commitment evident in the Creative Articulations Process (CAP) (Bacon and Midgelow CP 2014: x-,x) to the prompting of ways of being, thinking and reflecting that enable us and the artists we work to ‘surface’ things about performance practice that perhaps otherwise go unspoken or remain hidden. Because, akin to CAP, skript is a space to practice working toward greater clarity, toward being conscious of our lived experience. In these processes we were are engaged in a joint ‘mediation’ around a shared experience – ‘We build something together and it’s in the intersection between your knowledge and mine’ (Miguel Pereira, CP xx).
What Miguel refers to also reflects our experience of writing together (which we have done for many years). There is, for us, a lack of ‘me and ‘you’ and more a sense that the writing generated is more than one or the other might have created. This rising together to form words that are beyond the ownership of either person is perhaps more common with collaborative devising processes in theatre or in the ensemble of the Jazz band for instance. It forms new possibilities, and, as we wrote together after most of the performances during NottDance 2013 (see blog for examples), a particularised sense of the works we dwell with emerges. In this example, our shared sensations become apparent.
…the pulling across the stage the driven driving ever ongoing drift…
the bodies skimming infront of me and then… a pause.
she stands, the world turns, i feel slightly sick.
is everyone experiencing this dizzy sliding of perceptions?
i feel it still now, here and now as i sit typing these words,
it is still with me, in my body, a dancer stands still amongst many who move
left to right, left to right.
my perception of events is ardently challenged. who is still, who is moving.
i sway, whoozy, sliding, dropping in and out, here and there.
The significance of this shared space as a potentiality feels resonant. The two people might be from the different perspectives of audience and performer, or from shared perspectives as in our individual viewing experiences of a moment of performance. Guy Dartnell and Jane reflect on this shared experience and the shared memory of the experience:
But you and i were involved in the experience so we share that and are focusing in on the same experience
from different perspectives and maybe that attempt to articulate a moment of experience in the piece
might hit a sense or a point where we really understand or really know or connect to what it felt like to be in that moment.
In the collaborative writing together and with artists we were circulating and fleshing out experience and inviting a ‘felt sense’ of remembering: Guy Dartnell notes:
…as we were writing I remembered the light in the space in the Drill Hall Lincoln and that space became really really present for me
in the moment of writing.
I could really see it and feel it and I could really feel again
the atmosphere and the way the sun coming up and down
really affected the way that room was..
On reflection, it is clear that the writing with artists and together directly as a means to evoke the memory of a danced/performed experience differs from our engagement with audiences who were encouraged into a space and time where they might have an embodied sense of themselves in an intimate encounter with an ‘other’. The former being about memory and its ‘felt quality’ of the ‘back there in the moment’; and the latter potentially about the ‘felt quality’ of the here and now as a felt imagining. If, as Charles Fernyhough suggests, ‘memories are not the same as imaginings (2012, p.154) then writing with the artist was an engagement, not solely or even with an interest in the memory, but with the ‘felt sense’ that is evoked when contemplating that memory and what newly arises in that moment – which may not directly correspond to the memory.
The felt sense of ‘back there in the moment’ is experienced as a felt sense of here and now and we allow ourselves to imaginatively engage in order to find the right words, ‘good words’ (CAP, px) to express what is present here and now rather than trying to rely on descriptions and analysis of there and then. As we have indicated, the process of skript (and the underlying processes in the CAP model) are not concerned with an analysis of an object or product. In skript, experience, as felt, sensed or imagined, and as activated in the collaborative writing, may move beyond what is remembered, tracing forward, becoming generative of new possibilities, as well as tracing back.
In this example for instance Ros Crisp and Vida ruminate on the changes occurring within a current practice:
I hold the images (once they have arrived) and every moment is measured by them. I can almost cut the air of my imagination, it seems thicker around me, and more time to read it and respond. And in the (un)holding of these intense images do you feel different patterns, shapes, tones emerging… i am imaging dancing with you — you with these resonances inside and wondering what that does to the space between..
Perhaps my dancing has got thicker, yet at the same time the shedding is very strong. Shedding is a sensation of complete unholding, emptying, a kind of beautiful agony.
The format also seems to offer an opportunity which is more difficult in a spoken exchange or interview format. As Ros Crisp and Vida write:
… it feels a bit like having done a dance for you. yes.
and i keep thinking about the difference between this and having a conversation… it feels different to me, but i haven’t sorted it out as yet – but yes.
Closer to having you dance for/with me perhaps.
Yes its different to a conversation…
The reflection continues suggesting the difference is perhaps
…because it’s silent.
I love this, I can give all my attention to feel what your words are doing to me.
This is like watching a dance…
And also the slowness of the appearance of the words (speed of typing) allows time to feel, to notice…
listening in the silence of the words…
The significance of words
Miguel Pereria and Jane write together from the memory Opus 49:
the body is in contact with something, with it’s own space against other spaces and this produces the sound, like the wind exists when it goes against a space, a wall, a window, our own bodies, sometimes it’s cheap spaces, sometimes heavy and hard spaces. And sometimes the space gives rise to a movement, a moving floor, a floor moving, undulating, a darkness that does not feel like the wind. Who or what is here? movement, sound, body, space, existing always since we’re alive and it can be a virtual space as the space where we are right now. here and now.
Whilst seemingly obscure perhaps to a reader – taken as a fragment and without the performance reference – there is a strong sense of the bodily experience and the space of performance. The writing elaborates details that might otherwise be overlooked or as too fleeting to be of notice. These moments are drawn out, re-lived, re-imagined. This attention to the detail from the lived experience offers, we suggest, alternative ways of articulating experiences of movement and dance practice wherein the process of the writing is to the foreground and the processes of coming toward something is animated and made visible.
As a way to articulate dance, skript is then a practice of struggling with coming into language. How, when, why, what word, all of that, is a present and ever-present process. And that, when you engage another in that process, the sort of looping and spiraling and unexpected places that you can find yourself when you don’t already know before you speak – oh that’s about this, oh yes and I saw your piece and it was about that – but if we put that to one side, put judgment to one side and begin somewhere else. So that’s what the strategies developed in Choreographic Lab are for and it is what the formal space of skript is for. It is both objective and a subjective in that it allows one person to be present and available to her own experience in the presence of another on a moment to moment basis. The words on the page offer the opportunity to name and track that moment to moment experience.
There is something important about recognizing that those words in themselves are operating to give a word language to an experience. But in and of themselves they’re not yet scholarship, they’re not yet knowledge, but there’s something about the processes of acknowledging that the words give us processes through which we might come to a knowing and come to a knowledge that can be shared and communicated. Perhaps a picture of knowledge underway might be a way of thinking of it.
As Pelias (2005) notes there’s something about the way of being in this kind of experiential mode of writing that might give us a place where something is uncovered. It might be a place of discovery, but actually is also a place of the political, a possible place of political action and resistance. Susan Melrose (2005) writes about the knowledge economy of writing and the academic and publishing power structures that surround it. These structures are she suggests very tenacious and invasive. Production and peer review processes control the kind of language, the kind of writing, that is conventionally given space. So, if there’s a place of resistance in this writing that emerges, it is through the fact that it gives voice to things that otherwise often go unspoken and remain unseen.
Providing space and time for audiences and artists to find their own voice. We have found, this type of language gives space, time and possibility beyond those economies, beyond the hegemony of language and publication systems. In these ways we might say the work enabled general audiences, and dance specialists alike, alternative ways to reflect upon and write experiences of movement and moving. In undertaking this writing an embodied, felt language emerged in which, akin to a stream of consciousness, there arises an emphasis upon the lived experience of performance (rather than what might be said to be ‘about’ performance), for the process invites us to a dreamlike re-living of it, an imagining with a felt sense. Which, in turn, implicitly enables the creation of dance discourses, wherein that discourse finds its locus in the present moment and embodied experience.
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Bacon, J. and Midgelow, V.L, writing-dancing blog, http://writing-dancing.blogspot.co.uk/
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an anecdote’. Cultural Studies – Critical Methodologies 5 (4), 415- 424.
 Dance4 is an internationally recognised, experimental dance organisation with a strategic role for dance development across the East Midlands. Dance4 supports international and UK artists who are interested in the development of dance (www.dance4.co.uk)