Monday, April 09, 2007

Technical Idiot

When I consider my work in dance I am conscious of how the ongoing practice that underpins it constantly shifts and alters. Practice and technique are inextricably bound in a complex relationship and the dance class is the more common format for those fields of information to correlate. The outcome of technique class was never something I questioned in the past. Instead I summarily rejected class as a format for practice. This was because I almost invariably ended up questioning my ability as a dancer as opposed to questioning the material I was being taught. Class isn't a forum for debate and a good dancer just shuts up and does the exercises.

The primary emphasis in my early dance training was on the rapid assimilation and mastery of form. Typically in a traditional dance class situation, the singular most important task for the dancer is emulation. The dancer trains to render shapes, lines, dynamics, pathways and transitions as graphically as possible. It is through this process that the dancer gauges their capabilities. On the surface this is a straight forward template for understanding and progress. In a contemporary dance technique class other concepts give the template greater complexity. The outcomes in a class do not necessarily centre entirely on the emulation of a prescribed form. For example enquiries dealing with somatic concerns, choreographic deconstructions, open ended investigative processes, understanding principles of say applied physics, anatomy, engineering, architecture, and psychology among others mean that the template becomes multidimensional. There is no one 'right way' under those conditions.

Apparently. When the class is taught by a choreographer their own personal aesthetic comes into play. The template slips from its multidimensionality back to more generic simplistic values again regardless of how progressive the conceptual pathway the choreographer is taking in their thinking. There will be actually be a 'right way' to enact the movement under these conditions. When I last traveled to Europe I ended up going back to classes and found movement practitioners who were working on specific ideas and areas of information in a matter of fact way. There seems to be a refreshing absence of both authoritarianism and rebellion in the culture of dance there. Technical and artistic practices were mutually and congruently formatted. One thing was of the other and vice versa. Yes there are practitioners working in this way in New Zealand, just not nearly as many of them. On return I had greater clarity about the substance that made up my artistic approach but my technical practice was sketchy. So I begun to construct a dance class and simultaneously retired the two surrogate practices I had been using to stay in shape (yoga and capoeira). My line of inquiry centered on the idea of integrating multiple movement practices by way of understanding principles that united those practices (although this was initially an unconscious and intuitive process, I just began by putting together stuff that I liked) That meant that I was less interested in the external look of a thing, I trusted that clear understanding of principles would give technical shape to the movement. So far this seems to work very well.

This is by no means a particularly innovative approach, in fact its fairly common area of practice in contemporary dance. What excites me about working with this ethos is I am now preoccupied with how the movement is understood and how the movement manifests as a result of that understanding. Under these conditions there's is no one right way to do the movement. Right implies that there is a wrong and organizing information against that value system is an over simplistic research method.

If a technical practice is driven by self concerned insistence on being 'right' then energy is being squandered rather than getting to the work at hand. Arguments of 'generic versus investigative', 'form versus content', 'ballet versus contemporary', 'my technical aesthetic versus your somatic practice' are a red herring. We live in times that are insisting that we choose 'either/or' in our political, religious, sexual, educational, philosophical and deeply personal aspects of our lives. This binary model of thinking is fundamentally flawed in that it doesn't represent the complexity of real life. If you move from one belief system to another then all you have done is trade beliefs. You are not necessarily closer to any kind of truth. It was in Min Tanaka's 'Body Weather' practice that I recognised the simplicity of integrating all of my movement history in order to facilitate greater choice and possibility in my artistic practice. No particular technique has to be rejected or unlearned. No singular movement has greater or lesser value than another. All movement can be used in whatever way I choose according to what it is I want to do, say, and be in whatever context or situation is occurring. At the time this realization was both liberating and immediately problematic. Despite my new clarity at that stage I was still a long way from understanding it's implications. I had yet to develop a forum where this understanding could be expressed. Endless possibility. And no specificity. In other physical disciplines I can locate clear models for outcomes, reasons why the practice exists and what it aims to do. In Iyengar Yoga which has very strict methods and forms, has historical context, and the outcomes for learning the system are very clear. Ballet also has the same systematic organization and historical context although it struggles to find relevance today. Martial arts also have this clarity of form, function, and history. The beauty of a martial art is that regardless of style its movements are understood as singular events that have function and purpose. It is known what the movement is for and what it does. In a martial art there is also a generic outcome. Martial arts are about the study and mastery of physical power. It is through the physical practice that potential for deeper understandings of the self can emerge and the practice can be extrapolated out to becoming a lived model for everyday interaction with life. The physical practice supports the outcome and is deeply tied to that very thing. So what are the outcomes of contemporary dance and how do the myriad of techniques support those outcomes? Is the primary manifestation of a dance practice always and only aethetiscisation of a performance vision? Can a dance practice have application in everyday life & in relationships? Is there other context for this besides the generation of choreography? Beyond therapy? If the practice and technique of contemporary dance is located primarily in the mastery of form and does not look outside of that spectrum of learning then it is constantly in a state cycling through endless loops of relevant/irrelevant - fashionable/unfashionable. Which leaves it by turns potent/impotent. I once heard a martial artist refer to punches and kicks as 'self expression.' That statement recontextualised those movements as powerful communications with emotional content and meaning. It is possible to build a movement practice that is primarily concerned with dance as a compositional language with a healthy degree of power and meaning. A language that takes into account and understands dance as an event in daily life, not merely an idealized representation on a stage. A knowable field of information that can communicate potently with the society of which it is a part. A practice that provides potential for transformation at a very human level, mastery as a communicator, as well as physical virtuosity, open ended research, and a place to stand as an artist in society. Or I could go to class and just keep trying to get the exercises right.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Back in the Day (Radio 2003 Fringe Winner)

"Radio" 2003 Fringe (winner Best Dance Award). Performed by Sarah Foster (nee Sproull), Solomon Holly Massey, Kristian Larsen (dancers all) med, Jen Lal on lights, Francis Cheetham on projection (and designer for all the media), Lesa B'do on sound (DJ), and produced by Kassey Hayden. Performed at the Adam Art Gallery in Wellington


Things that Move Me Created and performed by Oliver Connew - NZ Fringe - BEOP Studios , Mt Eden, Auckland - 2017 Dear Olive...