On Sunday the 9 September Mathilde improvisation collective performed for the second time at Colourscape in Rotherham. Colourscape is a giant inflated plastic structure in a variety of colours. You walk through the translucent interconnected chambers experiencing the different sensations and impressions the colours give you. One colour will make you feel energised and overwhelmed another will make you calm and mellow.
The round and soft architecture of the space means there are no corners and no edges which adds to this 'spacy' kind of sensation. The lack of contour means it's difficult to stay focused and orientate yourself and so getting lost is quite common. You simply have to give in to the space and allow the sensations you experience to guide you. Colourscape mainly attracts the under 10-year-old's but it seems also to be an excuse for adults to become playful and childlike. The atmosphere for sure is one of excitement and awe -at least initially- followed by tranquility and calm as the body and mind becomes more acquainted with the surroundings.
My Colourscape experience
At one end of the construction was a slightly larger dome-like chamber in white. It felt like the heart of the structure with more space for movement and a central point where the artists would come together. This was the area where the musicians set up instruments -some with amplification. Apart from this space there was no stage, no lights. The only thing that distinguished Mathilde from the audience members were the costumes. The audience wore coloured cloaks, we wore white.
In a collective you perform together, with the support, encouragement and safety of being in a group. Even if you have a solo moment, your fellow improvisers hold the space for you. In Colourscape, wandering away from the white dome chamber in to the crowds, the boundary between performer and audience becomes gradually more fluid. The absence of the physical boundary that a stage area provides means that physical proximity to the audience changes. Who is performing and who is not becomes blurry. One minute I'm one of the visitors and the next I become part of the installation that is the structure, as I morph in to my 'mover' role. This grey zone or 'no-man's-land' in which the performer is oscilating between her performer and spectator role is challenging for the audience. They have to allow this to happen.
Thankfully breaking in to spontaneous dancing will be met with less bewilderment in this setting, than if you were doing it walking down the street. In Colourscape the environment lends a lot to you as everything is warped already.
Rachel pointed out afterwards how our first improvisation in the space (a score where one improviser explores movement with their eyes closed while another is witnessing and 'minding' them) gave her an opportunity to mediate between performer and audience. In her role as witness she was holding space for the performer and at the same time connecting with the audience as a non-performer.
It is interesting how I found myself shying away from these solo moments. I found myself hesitating to go and explore movement on my own. I'm sure this had something to do with the fear of firsthand confrontation with the audience and how vulnerable this makes me feel. When there are no physical separation between improviser and spectator a solo performance can become very intimate and honest. For both audience and improviser.
I love these sort of challenges though and will be looking forward to more of them. It's so wonderful to have these opportunities with the Mathilde collective and to be confronted with obstacles. Improvisation for me is about adapting to the environment rather than squeezing a set performance in to a mould.
I have noticed that the trepidation of the solo performance phenomena seems to be less prominent with musicians. They seem to be less anxious about playing solo. This could be for many reasons. Based on my reasoning above one implication could be this: With an instrument, regardless of its size, you have a 'friend' -a prop- to lean on. It is the sound and movement of your instrument that takes focus hence the person playing the instrument moves to the background. You're never really alone! You can put the instrument in front of yourself as you please. Dancers/movers have nothing to hide behind.
This is partly why I enjoy it when the musicians put their instruments away in a Mathilde performance. Its like they put their shield down.
I have just returned from an incredibly exciting and challenging week of aerial dancing in Copenhagen. I was lucky to be invited to take part in the Battle of Copenhagen, a live art installation inspired by the original naval battle ‘Battle of Copenhagen’(Slaget på Reden) in 1801, now directed and choreographed by Pipaluk Supernova. 100 double basses from around the world were to play a concert with historic sailing ships, dancers, drag queens and light art in floating sceneries.
A few hours after arriving in to the famous Freetown of Christiania where costume making, meetings and meal times took place, we took the opportunity to go explore the ship Halmø where we would be performing 4 days later. We were 4 dancers and an aerial choreographer/rigger.
As an experienced dancer and semi-experienced aerialist I didn't realise what I'd let myself in for until climbing the 40 feet mast with trembling legs and a thumping heart. It was wonderful to be out of my comfort zone, first doing a high climb and then exploring movement when hanging in my harness only support being my feet on the side of the wavering mast and a good 15 meter drop in to the sea.
Laws of attraction
On one of the final days of rehearsal I had a peculiar experience as we were improvising in the air.
I was on a counterweight (see illustration below with dancers 'B' and 'C' and image at the bottom) with another dancer, hovering over the dark night waters. Swinging from side to side I grabbed hold of him and in this weightless moment of dancing in the air I felt a deep connection with him. Most performers have experienced this spontaneous connection with a complete stranger when dancing intimately together. But what I experienced in this moment was something more than that. Reflecting on in afterwards it almost seemed like the elevation from the ground caused a different sense of urgency in the interdependence between us. In short: if you fall -I fall too!! The laws of physics changed in the air and therefore the unquestioned laws of intimacy ceased to exist. With the limited movement possible when attached to a counterweight rope and not having any ground to push off from, your partner in the air becomes a life line, a point of reference, a point of safety. You experience the body in a completely different way. Not just because of the lack of direct contact with earth but because gravity pulls you in different directions. Being out of my comfort zone and out of my usual elements seem to have fueled an intense bodily experience.
Laws of gravity
On my illustration on the left you can see dancer 'A' on the right hand-side of the ship. This illustrates the running we did on the side of the ship where we literally abseiled over the edge to then run, jump and somersault on the outside of the ship just above the waterline (see image below). Apart from the tremendous effort of holding yourself horizontal as you're being pulled down by gravity there is equally a force pulling you towards the side of the ship as the plumb line from where the rope is rigged on the top of the mast is pulled away from its still point. It was puzzling for my brain, knowing that on the ground gravity only pulls you vertically down.
Laws of improvisation
One of the most wonderful parts of being involved with this project was performing improvisation in the air. It wasn't just performing or improvising or doing aerial, but all three of them combined.
The temptation when engaging with new and unfamiliar equipment is to indulge in their mechanics. And when you're not busy doing that, preventing lengthy moments of having a carabiner, harness or rope digging in to your flesh or bone is usually your second priority! Improvising in the air is challenging for these reasons and most of all because movement variation is so limited. (This makes me think of my blog entry on Constraint Satisfaction and the question: "When does constraints start hindering creativity?" I'm tempted to say that this might be one of those moments , but it's a difficult comparison as of course movement performed in the air cannot be compared to the possibilities and imitations you have on the floor. An interesting thought though.)
Right from the beginning the choreographer pointed out that it was a very important aspect of the performance to employ our improvisation skills, as, like I mentioned above, the temptation is to revel on the function of the equipment and give in to the urge of 'making it look pretty'! As we rehearsed the focus was on exploring different textures we would encounter like wood, rope, harness, wind, air and other dancers. The actual score for the performance became an exploration of these elements using the activities of sliding, pushing, running, climbing, touching etc.
All in all I have learned about weight bearing ropes and carabiners, double checking harnesses: 'both sides double backed' 'man's up, hand's down', and I've learned that as with many other types of extreme sport you have to relax and not tense more than necessary. You need to let the equipment do the work.
It has been a while since I had the opportunity to do this sort of work and I feel very grateful and happy to have met such lovely and inspiring people.
Thank you to everyone in front and behind the scenes at 'Battle of Copenhagen 2012'
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