This is (the first of perhaps a few) blog post(s) where I will be thinking about aspects of teaching and practicing Ashtanga Yoga and Mysore. Since relocating to Denmark in autumn 2017 I have been lucky to be offered to teach a number of new yoga classes. Recently this has included Mysore classes and teaching this particular practice (and having conversations with students there) has prompted me to come back to writing blog posts about yoga.
As I sat down to write I realised there were several points I want to think about:
There are too many questions to think about for this post so I will begin by considering this question as a tangible starting point:
What are (verbal and physical) adjustments for and what do they mean for the student/teacher relationship?
… and see which direction it will take me.
I want to try to articulate what I feel is an essential aspect of the teacher role: to acknowledge that in the teaching space my position is as part of an ecology of people practicing yoga. Being a teacher of yoga and giving adjustments in not simply a question of ‘being better at yoga’ or ‘knowing it all’ and then passing it on. The practice of adjusting is a feedback system between students and myself where I am not an authority with all the ‘right’ answers. In this next section I want to think about what it means to ‘figure out what is right in the moment’ of teaching yoga when I give physical or verbal feedback to a student.
The ‘figuring out what is right’ is a dynamic process of listening and responding where the touch which occurs in a hands-on adjustment brings awareness to the area of contact. The touch is delivered in a way (although resolute and clear) where it listens and responds to the student’s reaction. Rather than being an instruction that has a goal orientated one-directional push/pull the direction is negotiated in the interaction between the practitioner and the facilitator. Similarly, verbal instruction are an invitation for the student to feel, see or experience the body in a new way by directing her attention to an area of the body by using a language that opens the experience. This might be using words suggestively by saying ‘imagine your fingertips lengthening towards the sky’ rather than commanding ‘stretch your arm’, the latter prompting a fixed outcome and not a dynamic movement. Both types of feedback (physical and verbal) are means to assist the student in figuring out how to understand the body in the posture, how to deepen/relieve it and perhaps even resolve injury/pain. The new experience of the body or embodied understanding that the student achieves happens in the relationship between student and teacher as a result of the way the touch and/or instruction is delivered and received. In this way the student/teacher relationship moves away from ‘the teacher always knows what’s right/good for me’ to become a more organic process. What is interesting in this for me as a teacher, is that this process allows the student to experience agency in her own body/practice and it gives her an opportunity to reflect on the instruction/adjustment and accept or disregard it. As a teacher, I can step down from the pedestal of ‘knowing everything’. The dynamic relationship where knowledge and experience bounces between student and teacher opens up for the practice itself to come into focus, as the teacher.
What becomes clearer to me as I practice and teach yoga (and other somatic practices in dance) is that this ‘ecology’ or ‘feedback system’ – where the emphasises is on teacher/student relations and interdependence and less on individual achievements – frees me as a teacher from an expectation to (re)solve the postural challenge and to do/say ‘the right thing’. One particular moment that this is palpable for me is when during a Mysore session I find myself with nothing to do. Nobody needs me to help them cross their legs in Supta Kurmasana or support them in Utthita Hasta Padanghustasana! Everyone is getting on with the postures and I feel like I have become spare. In that moment my teaching practice is not to make myself indispensable by rushing around to assist unnecessarily but instead acknowledge the importance of being a physical presence that holds the space. A presence that provides a boundary for the student’s practice even if all it means, is that she feels seen.
As the content and title of this post implies I'm not interested in having all the answers but I hope that the post will generate discussions. Please feel invited to comment and give feedback to further illuminate the subject(s).
Prologue: Training and Motherhood
I went through pregnancy and became a mother over the course of my MA Creative Practice degree, an experience that encouraged me to think about the meaning and character of training. This experience led to the Motherhood In/As Training film project as I wanted to explore the tension I felt between developing my creative practice and being a mother of a young child. In my first two films of the project – I don’t want to dance and 1, 2, 3… 4 – ‘training’ was conceived in opposition to ‘motherhood’. I began the project feeling there was a dichotomy between the two states: my training in dance required a physical body-mind dedicated solely to the creative work but motherhood meant that time and space were not exclusively at my own disposal. This was expressed in different ways in the two films, posted in May and July 2017. In the first film, I don’t want to dance, training was disrupted by the obligations and demands of motherhood, as my daughter, Lisa, pushed her way into the centre of my film. For the second film, 1, 2, 3… 4,motherhood challenged the temporality of training, as the film considered the notion that training is ‘for the future’ where motherhood is ‘for now’.
This project has progressed over seven months, during which I have interrogated an assumption that time and space for training can be achieved only in a specific environment and at the appropriate moment. The making of I’m right there and you’re there puts this assumption to the ultimate test: this film and essay is created in the turmoil of moving from one country to another, settling into a new place and adhering to a different daily rhythm. Creating the final film under these circumstances meant there was no choice but to be ‘in training’ and creative development in the times and spaces available with or without my daughter being present. As a consequence, I’m right there and you’re there steps out of the dichotomy of ‘training’ and ‘motherhood’: the oppositions and tensions I had conceived between them cease to be relevant when I learn that training and motherhood are interdependent and that they continuously co-exist in my everyday life.
I'm right there and you're there
My final of the three films under the title Motherhood In/As Training has been created over an extended period of time due to my changing circumstances. I relocated in October 2017 from Leeds to Denmark (where I grew up) and I now live in Horsens with my daughter Lisa, to be joined after a time by Alan, my partner and Lisa’s father. The transition has brought up many questions for me about how I relate to the idea of ‘home’ – in the sense of belonging to a place but also belonging to a family, family being implicit in motherhood. The film seeks to define and to reflect on what home means when places and people must disconnect and then reconnect. And while the focus of the film is directed towards ‘home’ I learn that training is happening in every step of the process of making this film.
The Place of home
During the summer of 2017, during a holiday visit to Denmark when I was preparing for my definitive move, I tried to pinpoint places and times where home could be said to be present. Was it possible for me to define an area which was only home? Should our flat in Leeds or the place I was born be exclusively defined as home? Could my body, which is home to my dance training and yoga practice and was home to my daughter Lisa when I was pregnant with her, be the boundary of home? Or did ‘being home’ simply mean being with certain people, loved ones?
Cycling between home
I started the investigation for my film by cycling through Leeds and, later, Horsens in order to record ‘my’ cities. It became apparent, as I was enjoying the cycling, that I was less interested in arriving at places or landmarks and more curious about tracing the trajectories my body had made over the past years. What felt like home were the journeys that connected the destinations. I was tracing time, paying homage to the city by highlighting the ‘in-between’, connecting physically with the place by climbing hills, revisiting paths and negotiating traffic, by putting my body into the familiarity of cycling.
Home between other activities
The more I failed to trace a precise boundary of home, the more I came to describe home to myself as an experience less in its own right than as an interlude, a place that connects other activities – but that seemed to mean that home didn’t have its own space, didn’t even have its own time. Was home, therefore, failing to be seen or heard? I thought: perhaps if I started a dialogue with home, this could be a way to give home shape and to acknowledge its existence as an entity in itself? I wanted to address ‘home’ by speaking to it directly: Dear Home…
As I was figuring out how home could exist in its own right, I came to think of a moment I had been part of in a large group dance improvisation: this was a moment when all the participants were reluctant to be on the edge of the group. This phenomenon of preferring to move towards the middle of a structure was pointed out by science writer Philip Ball, who was witnessing the improvisation. He described how, in physics, edge positions are considered vulnerable as they always have to be ready for change. The molecules on the edge of a closed system (e.g. a drop of water) have high energy relatively to the molecules closer to the centre, leaving those near the surface more unstable then the ones in the middle (this is surface tension).
The image of the drop of water, and the idea that molecules are closed systems with a constantly shifting surface, helped me to clarify my relationship with home. I came to understand that perhaps home is not the absence of other activities, it is the sum of them, it is the sealing material that touches them all. The power of home is, in fact, that it accommodates all aspects of my life: its identity includes family, friends, my body, Leeds, Horsens, training, dance. It’s a system that joins those places, people and experiences together. This makes home malleable and in constant change.
Home: a system of falling
Training, like motherhood, relates to home in the way H2O relates to O2: they are different elements that serve different purposes (for us) yet they share a basic component. Motherhood presumes a devotion to being present with Lisa in everyday life, while training depends on a dedication to challenging the state of ‘knowing’, but they share the same foundation; both take place in my body, in Leeds, in Horsens and with friends and family. The changing circumstances of daily life mean that motherhood and training take turn being at the surface of my awareness even as they co-exist.
Home: an ecology of mutually determining relations
My investigation for the film started as an experiment on my bicycle in Leeds and Horsens as a sort of ‘training for’ the film itself. As the cycling footage features in the film, the ‘training for’ and the ‘outcome of’ the film are indistinguishable, and the edges between maker (me) and product (film) start to blur. The editing of the film, the writing about it and even the film itself as an outcome, form an ecology: a complex network that consists of numerous co-dependent and mutually determining relations. Motherhood and training are precisely co-dependent elements that, like molecules at the surface of the water drop, continuously meet and part and find new ways to co-exist. Like a group of people improvising together.
Home: the sealing material of the film
I shared the idea of writing a letter to home with my partner Alan (an academic who works on cinema) and he pointed me to the essay film Sans Soleil (1983) by Chris Marker. The script of Sans Soleil takes the form of letters which are narrated as voiceover by the woman who receives them. The beginning of the film came to inspire the format for I’m right there and you’re there. Its first minute shows two unrelated pieces of film footage with the following voiceover:
‘The first image he told me about was of three children on the road in Iceland in 1965. He said that for him it was the image of happiness and also that he had tried several times to link it to other images but it never worked. He wrote me:
‘One day I will have to put it all alone in the beginning of a film with a long piece of black leader. If they don’t see happiness in the picture, at least they will see the black’.’
The juxtaposition of two unrelated pieces of footage, which seem ‘irrelevant’ to each other, are linked together by the voiceover, asking the viewer to consider them as relational. I thought: are motherhood and training my two unrelated ‘pieces of footage’? When we are asked to ‘see the black’ we are invited to see the ‘in-between’, the sutures, that seal and stitch the film together. As I (re)watch and edit I’m right there and you’re there, I start to tune into the links between the cycling footage from Leeds and Horsens and the sutures in the editing in relation to the voiceover. These cuts are intended to bring to light the sealing material that touches all the other elements: home.
The opening of Sans Soleil gave me licence to include the footage that I really wanted to share, the footage that summarises how home feels, or how I feel home: a summer’s evening in a quiet garden with Alan watching Lisa on a swing. Lisa is in training in her appearances in all three films, using performance, dancing and balancing on a swing as a way of training to be in the world. These images link the works together with motherhood at the centre but with training as the underlying process that feeds and shapes the content of each of the films. I look back at the process of all three creations and observe that ‘training’ is happening in every moment of making the films. I train myself to develop a concept for the films, I train myself to film, to edit material, to write, and not least, how to make a ‘process of creating’ visible.
For more information about my work please go to http://www.mariehallagerandersen.weebly.com/
 I worked with choreographer Vanessa Grasse on dance and performance research project MESH in Leeds in July 2017. As part of the research process Vanessa had invited science writer Phillip Ball to respond to the working process with his theories of formations in nature, critical mass and nature as self-organising.
1, 2, 3: The footage
For this second film, I wanted to think about training as a studio-based activity and set myself the obstruction of using only video footage recorded in a dance studio.
1) Northern School of Contemporary Dance (NSCD), Leeds, June 2005. I recently rediscovered this recording on a Camcorder DV tape. It contains footage of a contemporary class taught by Sue Hawksley and a ballet class taught by Vivien Wood, both for 3rd year students. I had got a friend to film the classes to keep a memory of our final days as students at NSCD.
2) Independent Dance (ID), London, May 2016. The footage shows the sharing from my assessment on the ‘Investigative Practice’ module, the final taught element of my MA Creative Practice at Trinity Laban. The module was a ‘research intensive’ that allowed each student to challenge their own practical research and dance-making through the encounter with the practice and ideas of an artist—in my case Siobhan Davies. The assessment was the culmination of this five-week creative project.
3) University of Leeds (UoL), April 2017. The footage shows my daughter Lisa and myself playing and dancing, and was filmed with the intention of making a record of the negotiation of our relationship in a studio setting. I brought paper, markers, string, food etc., to create an environment where we would want to interact with each other and investigate the materials within the scope of the studio space.
I initially thought the footage in 3 might work on its own for this blog entry, to link to and follow up the previous film and post, which has Lisa at the centre of the film. The rediscovery of the NSCD material changed my mind: I seemed to me the old footage had relevance to my theme. Once I managed to get hold of the ID recording the composition of the studio training film started to crystallise.
1, 2, 3: Types of training
Training in a formal sense of ‘being in training’ usually has an outcome in mind (training for). It has a purpose. It is undertaken with the intention to develop or perfect a skill using a pretested form or structure of activity.
1)The ballet and contemporary classes in the NSCD footage are a good example of the development of technical skills seen as essential to becoming a proficient dancer.
2)With regard to the ID footage: technical dance skills were a prerequisite for the MA Creative Practice, which took these for granted, so that study could focus not on technique but on the develop of artistic ideas. The footage does not directly show the process of acquiring artistic skill, but nevertheless gives an insight into an early stage of the creative development of material.
3)Dancing and playing with Lisa felt like stepping out of training. We played without a specific outcome in mind and came closer to being equals as we took turns to lead play and generate ideas. ‘Being in training’ with a child does not work like formal training. Lisa does not enter a game or play with the intention of ‘getting somewhere’: she simply ‘does’. Momentarily I had the experience that our mother/daughter relationship was suspended and that our usual roles were put on hold. When I look back at this footage I watch myself go along with Lisa’s play and encourage messiness in the studio to a greater extent than I would do at home. The mother/daughter relationship never really ceases, of course – as is evident in a moment in the film – but perhaps in the ‘neutral’ studio setting it was overlaid by another connection between us where we could be creative co-players.
… 4: Mixing time
Playing with the footage in the editing process and confusing the chronological timeline shifted the meaning of the material. By ‘stacking’ the clips, commonalities between footage was highlighted and I stopped seeing training for something and began to see training as play. As the individual bits of material became detached from the timeline, the content of the training was ‘presenced, revealed in itself and not only as a piece of ‘historical’ evidence. The decision to edit extracts of the material together in a non-chronological order, and to compose in split screen, reflected my interest in playing with temporalities. I suspended the temporality of chronology—the sequence and gaps of time between the different footage—in order to favour temporalities of simultaneity and rhythm. I decided to foreground shared timing between images, analogies in the use of space in the studio and matching actions. This, I felt, challenged the idea of training as an activity that always ‘looks forward’ and instead allowed the juxtaposed images to give each other new meaning in the ‘present’ of training-in-itself.
1, 2, 3…. 4: Motherhood talks back
The film revealed to me a paradox that only became clear after its making. I took motherhood into the studio to investigate being with Lisa within the setting of a training space: by doing so a clash of temporalities emerged. Being with Lisa is about being ‘for now’, while dance training is ‘for the future’. The dance studio commonly frames the training that is concerned with a forward trajectory but in the case of Lisa and I, the studio became a playground where training is being-for-now, so being in the studio with Lisa meant the framing of one temporality in the space where another typically takes place. And so, for me, the composition of 1, 2, 3… 4 adopts the structure of motherhood as a non-linear and playful activity, a being-for-the-present. The question then becomes, if the footage of Lisa reveals the playful and being-for-now in the other footage, what does that other footage reveal about the footage of Lisa and I? How does that other footage talk back to motherhood?
Motherhood In/As Training
1, 2, 3… 4 is the second of three blog posts under the title Motherhood In/As Training. This project explores the correlations and tensions between being a dance artist in training and a mother at the same time. To read my first post and get an introduction to the project please read here.
Introduction for the viewer/reader
‘I don’t want to dance’ is my first of three blog posts under the title Motherhood In/As Training. Each of the three blog entries is composed of a short film (at the end of the post) and accompanying text. I’m a freelance dance artist and a mother and this series of posts is about being both at once.
I completed an MA in Creative Practice at Laban Conservatoire in London in September 2016 which required me to work in dance training while becoming a mother (my daughter Lisa was born in 2014- my first year as a part time student) at the same time. In this way, the experience of becoming a mother and being in creative development happened simultaneously and that experience is the foundation for this project.
I have experienced a tension between my dance training and training in motherhood. A dance practice traditionally requires time in the studio and a physical body-mind dedicated solely to the creative work. Being a mother affects these aspects: time and space as well as my body-mind are not exclusively at my own disposal. Motherhood pushes me out of traditional working methods in my dance practice and challenges my assumptions of what I believe training to be.
To challenge these assumptions my project asks: What is considered to be ‘training’ and to what degree does training begin or end when I step into or out of the studio? Who trains who in a mother/child relationship? What and how does the artist in me see from the point of view of what I call the ‘motherside’?
Motherhood is not linear and consistent. I respond to my daughter’s needs in the moment they occur, as unexpected and inconvenient as they might be – interrupting me in a train of thought or a meal half cooked. In a similar way, the blog texts and short films aim to give the viewer a sense of fragmentation, of spontaneity, of being stuck in repetition and again and again being interrupted, stopped, confused.
In her manifesto Mothernism Lise Haller Baggesen outlines the tension between the various aspects of her identity. ‘As I tried to figure out the relationship between the different aspects of my life (…) defining myself as a feminist-academic-artistic-mother increasingly felt like playing a complicated game of rock-paper-scissors-boob. (…) I felt increasingly provoked at this demand “to check my motherhood at the door.” So much so that instead of “covering” that part of my life , I opted to “come out” as a mother, artistically and academically.’
Following Baggesen, I want to challenge my own assumption of the artist being someone on a lonely individual journey and that the nurturing nature of the mother is in opposition to the romantic ideal of an artist as a singular genius. I want to let go of the idea that in order to lose myself in an artistic process I have to give up motherhood.
Paradoxically, motherhood is precisely a lonely journey where I lose myself as I venture into the unknown. A lonely journey that for me started in the intimate experience of pregnancy where I felt removed from the sense of self that I knew, as my slender agile body was replaced by a grotesque version of me. Giving birth was lonely and unpredictable and although the shared responsibility with Lisa’s dad when she was born was a relief, I was always the last point of call when he was no longer capable of offering her comfort, because only my breast would do.
As I begin to acknowledge the common points of reference between the roles of mother and artist, this polarisation dissolves. If there is no polar opposition between the mother and artist and I can be both equally at once, what creative process and outcome will I have?
What does motherhood see?
Inspired by the documentary Cameraperson (2016), directed by American filmmaker Kirsten Johnson, my thoughts on how to make this investigation happen started to come together. Johnson’s documentary shows footage from her 25 years as a cinematographer, telling a story about her, the cameraperson, almost without showing her in the film. I was fascinated by the idea of using artistic tools of filming without purposely putting the person in question directly in the frame. Cameraperson shows what Johnson sees through the lens but only on a few occasions do we actually see her. It tells a story about the person who is seeing. Could my film show motherhood without the mother in the frame? I was not interested in depicting my experience of being a mother, I wanted the film itself to ‘be a mother’. My project shows motherhood in/as training by letting motherhood look through the camera. What does motherhood see? How does motherhood see?
Seeing through a viewfinder
The filming is not planned in advance; nothing within the frame is directed. I don’t seek out to film dance but to allow the dance to come through in the juxtaposition of shots, camera movement and pace. For this reason I don’t use complex equipment: being able to improvise my filming means to simply point and shoot.
I review my footage and observe that Lisa is often in the (centre of) the frame. I try and see beyond Lisa and beyond the loving gaze of a mother looking at her child as my film is not intending to be about Lisa, I’m not interested in portraying her. But in reality she is in the viewfinder when I film. She becomes the obstruction for the project: always there, pushing her way into my film, into my consciousness even as I try to see past her, in a way, illustrating how her presence fills my time, my space and my being. I wonder how the process of training is taking place and to what degree Lisa’s presence in my film is an element of her training me to be a mother and /or an artist?
The making of the film becomes about seeing movement and choreography, contrast and colour in the footage I have gathered and not just seeing my child. I allow the choreographer in me to shine through in an interest in framing what I see in the viewfinder in a particular light, in shadows or against a contrasting background.
Seeing beyond Lisa
In the film ‘I don’t want to dance’ I try to let the motherside of my daily life merge with the artist. Lisa is dressing up and role playing, using ‘performance’ as a way of training for ‘being in the world’. At the same time she is refusing to be trained as the voice track reveals.
As a consequence of embracing motherhood in the creative process I find the centre of the film becomes about the actual manifestation of motherhood, my daughter. Here lies the tension of the project for this first blog entry: can I make a film that has Lisa in the frame without it being about her? What can my intention to see beyond her show me about how motherhood sees?
 Lise Haller Baggesen, Mothernism, p. 12 http://www.spdbooks.org/Content/Site106/FilesSamples/9780988418554.pdf
This is a blog post was originally written for the Theatre Dance and Performance Blog posted on the 8 May 2017.
This post is dedicated to my final film project for my MA at LABAN. I presented the five minutes film on Friday 6 December 2013 together with a short presentation of how I made the piece. The film is the culmination of a 10 week module called Dance and the Moving Image which I began in September 2013. The ethos of the module was:
Everything is cinema; everything is choreography;
everything in cinema is choreography!
The name of the film is 'In becoming' and it is based on my experience of being pregnant. Read my previous post about the starting point for my film here.
The choreography of ‘In becoming’ took on a more indirect appearance than I expected. My film became an investigation in how movement can be expressed in the interplay between camera, filmmaker and the editing process. The dance materialises when clips entwine and changes of colours or movement come together. For me, the dance in my film is the duet between the poetics of the filming process and the ambivalence of my pregnant body.
Watch film here:
Excerpt from essay
Below you will find an excerpt from the accompanying essay I wrote for the piece. I have chosen a section that focusses on the obstructions I set for myself when I made the film. The 'obstructions' I refer to are a set of parameters that were there to help me eliminate ways of filming and editing the piece.
The obstructions I made up were based on the idea that the film itself was to become a grotesque body: ambivalent, open and subject to change, a thing ‘in becoming’. I wanted this to come across primarily in the formal approach to filming rather than in the content. The tasks/restrictions were intended both to restrict and to release the ways that I would shot footage and the ways that I would edit it.
The parameters I set for myself when shooting footage were the following:
· Min 4 min of shooting something with camera fixed on one detail/object (constant change, incomplete and restricted viewing)
· Max 3 min of shooting something that has a beginning–middle-end (life and death)
My experience from the filming tasks Tom (my tutor) had given us, was that what felt like a long take where the camera was kept still was often a shorter clip than I expected. I would come away with shots that lasted 30-40 seconds. I therefore chose as one obstruction to do takes of minimum four minutes where the fixed camera focussed on one detail and movement only happened spontaneously within the frame. This obstruction derived from the part about the grotesque body that emphasises incompleteness and constant change. On the other hand I was interested in footage that showed something complete (an action from start to finish), so that I, in the editing process, could break it up and manipulate it in to being incomplete. In order for this to work for a short film it had to be a narrative/action that was fast. Three minutes seemed like an appropriate length. My association with the grotesque body in this case was the cycle of ‘birth’ and ‘death’ or beginning and end.
With these parameters I set myself practical tasks for carrying out how to film, without imposing content on what to film. This still provided scope for spontaneity and intuition. I filmed on my iPad and a pocket digital camera, a Canon IXUS 110 IS, which meant I could work quite discreetly and film in reasonable quality without drawing too much attention to myself. It was important that the action in the shot was as un-staged as possible.
For my cuts and sutures I chose different obstructions. The parameter I set myself for editing were the following:
· Footage was not allowed to be shown as far its ‘natural’ (obvious) end (incomplete)
· Clips were to alternate between fast and slow moving images + short and long takes (change and ambivalence)
· Endings of a clip were the beginning of a new clip (cycle of death and life)
From the footage I had shot in its entirety I was not allowed to show a clip in its full length. To give the audience a sense of ambivalence and change I wanted the rhythm of the cuts to be constantly changing between fast/slow images and short/long takes. Beginnings and endings of clips should weave in and out of each other and always be open to change.
Acknowledging that my intention was to make the final piece a reflection of the process itself, it seems misguided or beside the point to ask myself whether the film was ‘successful’. The point, instead, was exactly that I did not anticipate or plan the outcome and therefore the film is a testament to what was happening in my life at this time. If I had to remake the film, circumstances would mean it would have a completely different outcome.
I anticipated in my last post about yoga during pregnancy that I would be able to keep up some degree of an Ashtanga Yoga practice. My honest intention when I wrote it was to keep a record of how to modify the practice during my pregnancy and post it here. Well, things didn't quite work out that way! Although I have been fortunate to have a reasonably straightforward and uncomplicated pregnancy (I'm now entering week 30) keeping up the Ashtanga practice proved impossible. Most of my energy was channeled into teaching yoga and transporting myself between classes on my bicycle. When these tasks had been carried out, all I wanted to do was rest or sleep. Due to tiredness and some pain around my sacral iliac joint, getting up for early self-practice or even practicing a full Ashtanga sequence at home became too difficult. My practice in reality was reduced to a few stretches and meditation and on a good day a couple of modified Sun Salutations and some standing or seated postures.
It has been challenging to let go of this expectation and desire to feel as fit and in control as I used to be. But pregnancy has uncovered aspects of myself I didn't know about and I have certainly had a lesson in letting go and accepting this constantly changing body.
These pictures speak for themselves in order to explain how my body has changed. Over five months I have grown from being lean and athletic to being, well, something else! I'm sure that a rapid, involuntary and physical transformation like this happens almost exclusively on these occasions, when a woman is growing another human being. And I can honestly say that it makes me feel slightly grotesque. Grotesque in our contemporary understanding of the word, meaning comical, distorted and ugly, not so much. Mostly it makes me feel grotesque in what Bakhtin describes (see project brief below for explanation) as an existential experience of ambivalence and dualism; a celebration of the cycle of life. I feel removed from the sense of self that I know and at the same time fascinated by this novel experience of being a vessel for a new human being.
MA in London
So while I have not kept up my usual yoga regime and therefore not had to ponder on how to modify the Ashtanga practice, I have been thinking a lot about my changing body in a different context. What has also occupied my time and energy since September has been starting to study for an MA in dance at the LABAN conservatoire in London. Travelling down from Leeds to attend the course one day a week has also taken some energy, but more than anything it has inspired me to use the current situation creatively and think more about my grotesque body. The rest of this blog post is dedicated to the project brief I have written for the module I'm doing this term. The module is called Dance and the Moving Image. The brief is a response to the task of writing a proposal for our final project, which is to make a short dance film. My intention is not to make a film about the grotesque body but rather that I aim for the film itself to be grotesque body: ambivalent, open and subject to change. Writing the proposal has itself been an interesting journey into understanding how I feel in my current state. How the final film will come out is still an enigma...
Comments or observations are gratefully received on the brief below.
Project brief for
Dance and Moving Image module
By Marie Hallager Andersen
What I have really enjoyed about the filmmaking process so far is that I’ve allowed myself to be intuitive. I had often experienced in the past that working creatively has been a path full of obstacles because I was trying too hard! I would overthink intentions and meanings and as a consequence the outcome felt contrived. The ability to let go of control and not to try so hard I’m convinced arises from my pregnancy. I have become a vessel for another human being and am no longer in complete control of my body. Having another human growing inside me makes me a stranger to my own body and an involuntary observer of a physical transformation. Hence, my world at the moment revolves around a kind of unruly body! This has turned my vision and my attention towards change and letting go.
To write this brief and explain what will be driving my process I found it necessary to deepen my understanding of the unruly and grotesque body. For this, I have turned to Bakhtin and his book Rabelais and His World. This book deals with the ‘carnivalesque’ mainly in terms of language and laughter but overall it celebrates the cyclical character of life and death, dualism and ambivalence. What I find applies to me the most in this book is the idea of incompleteness and impermanence: for Bakhtin the essence of the carnivalesque; for me at the moment a ruling factor of life. Here’s what Bakhtin says:
In the famous Kerch terracotta collection we find figurines of senile pregnant hags. Moreover, the hags are laughing. This is a typical and very strongly expressed grotesque. It is ambivalent. It is pregnant death, a death that gives birth. There is nothing completed, nothing calm and stable in the bodies of these old hags. They combine a senile, decaying and deformed flesh with the flesh of new life, conceived but as yet unformed. Life is shown in its twofold contradictory process; it is the epitome of incompleteness. And such is precisely the grotesque concept of the body. (my bold)
The underlying theme that resonates with me in Bakhtin’s quote is that of the body being in constant change. The celebration of the changing and grotesque body is a feature of the carnivalesque. If the classical body is all about appearance the grotesque body is all about experience. Bakhtin says earlier in his introduction: ‘Carnival was the true feast of time, the feast of becoming, change and renewal. It was hostile to all that was immortalized and completed’ (p. 10). The essence of the carnival was degradation and ‘bringing down to earth’ in order to make way for the new and fresh. The purpose was never to elevate or to complete, it was always, in a sense, ‘work in progress’.
Giving in to the state of ‘constant change’ and accepting the course of nature is of particular relevance to me at the moment and so this will be the starting point for my investigation.
Approach to project
Applying this to my final project for the Dance and the Moving Image module, the idea of change and the incomplete will be the pivotal point of my research. The grotesque body is not closed and complete but it is open to the outside world. Bakhtin says: ‘[…] the grotesque body is not separated from the rest of the world. It is not a closed, complete unit; it is unfinished, outgrows itself, transgresses its own limits’ (p. 26). That openness and susceptibility to change is what I hope to bring out of my work in the course of the next weeks.
To clarify, the object of my research will not be that of the represented grotesque body (although this is not excluded); rather the film itself will be a grotesque body. Implicit in this is the idea of emphasizing process instead of outcome. This means thinking about how concepts such as openness and ambivalence can be introduced in the form (and not – or not only –in the content) of the work.
In the context of my film this means that beginnings and endings can weave in and out of each other and that they are always open to change. Precisely like Bakhtin presents ‘ambivalence’ –something that is twofold, contradictory and ‘in becoming’. In this way the creation of the film will be the object of the final film itself.
How to achieve it
Since 2008 my main interest as a dancer has been improvisation and spontaneous movement. This means I have been more interested in the process and in learning as I go along, in relying on intuition. In my film, my starting point will therefore be to approach shooting with the idea of process to the fore. In this way I believe I can be open to the unexpected and be open to new pathways. In my experience with filming so far, I have found that when I work with material that comes from intuition and spontaneity the scenes seem to come together more easily and I engage a more creative part of myself. The pitfall here would be to shoot footage aimlessly and endlessly. I personally work best within parameters so the idea is to maintain spontaneity when filming but doing it within a framework of set tasks.
Given my approach to the project I have not got any finished outcome in mind! However, in order to be true to the concept I have presented above I intend to set myself certain tasks as a strategy to collect and edit footage. The tasks will be based on the idea that the film itself is a grotesque body: ambivalent, open and subject to change. This will come across primarily in the formal approach to filming rather than in the content. The tasks (or ‘obstructions’) will both restrict and release the ways that I shoot footage and the ways that I edit it. Simple parameters will generate a complex system: the ‘product’ will be a record of this system rather than a finished object. Complexity is another feature of the grotesque. Like ambivalence, complexity indicates something that contains more than one thing at once, e.g. the pregnant body.
To help this process along I will do some research into other artists’ work looking specifically for work that is done with the purpose of setting out obstructions or guidelines to generate material. An obvious one for me is fellow Dane Lars von Trier and his 5 Obstructions from 2003. I furthermore worked with a choreographer in Denmark, Palle Granhøj, who makes use of a technique developed for devising movement material, which he calls ‘Obstruction Technique’, which could also prove useful. And this is just to start off with.
In order to collect material for the accompanying presentation and the piece of writing I will be handing in, I will keep a record of everything that seems of importance in the artists I research, the books I read, the encounters I have etc. Additionally I want to keep a diary where I either write, record or film myself talking about the different stages of the process. This will potentially be a part of the finalized project. In the spirit of the edited film, I predict that the presentation and essay will also be based on process, so this aspect of collecting material seems important.
In practical terms I intend to:
· Set myself five tasks (‘obstructions’) for sound recording and shooting footage (that can be carried out in isolation or together) that will generate material in accordance with the concept discussed above
· Research other artists’ work with the particular aim of finding works of art with the same ethos of ‘in becoming’ and incompleteness
· Look at footage on my computer detached from the situation of shooting and see what actually works on the screen
· Familiarize myself more with editing software
· Read, and write along the way to document my reading, research and findings
· Keep a diary: recording or filming myself or writing down things I experience and encounter
· Always bring along camera and/or iPad
With the practical limitations that pregnancy entails it is easy to feel confined or inhibited when filming. The physical state of my body means that long hours of standing or walking to obtain footage is not available to me in the way it would have been before. Instead I have to find a way around it and make the restrictions a part of the process. My pregnancy itself is one of the obstructions! The experience of pregnancy is revealing things to me and it has a potency to it. I am hoping to make a film that will be a formal equivalent to the ambivalence of this grotesque body of mine!
 Mikhail Bakhtin, Rabelais and his World, Tr. Helene Iswolsky (Indiana University Press, 1984), p. 25-26.
 My boyfriend Alan has been working on the grotesque body in Italian comedies and he talks of the grotesque body as a body ‘in becoming’, a phrase I found useful to grasp the idea of the body in transformation, always somewhere on the scale between life and death.
 Cunningham and Cage
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