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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