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
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'
Most of us have a daily routine when we make our way to work. Out the door, to the left, through the park, up the hill, around the corner, cross the junction, to arrive at our familiar destination. Imagine one morning waking up, making your way out the door only to find that major roadworks had blocked your usual pathway. Your first reaction might be that of frustration by being held up... But what happens next when you still have to find a solution to getting to work on time?
This post will take its starting point in the article Constraint Satisfaction by Stephen M. Kosslyn taken from the book: This will make you smarter. The book is a series of short articles contemplating how to make humanity understand the world better. The question posed to 150 of the world's leading thinkers is: What scientific concept would improve everybody's cognitive toolkit? The full article can be found here.
In short the article Constraint Satisfaction discusses "'constraint' as a condition that must be taken in to consideration when solving a problem or making a decision and constraint satisfaction (as) the process of meeting the relevant constraint". So... as an example Kosslyn uses the illustration of furnishing his new bedroom knowing he has a bed with a headboard, a sofa, a chair and a lamp that he will need to fit in. That is already four constraints in place for this task. And by the time he places the headboard against one wall, satisfying the remaining three constraints is easier, as options for where the sofa and the chair will go are limited. As a matter of fact we daily encounter this principle when, for instance, we get dressed and decide "what goes with each other" in colours and style or when we look in the fridge to cook a meal, where the eggs, tomatoes and cheese are getting close to 'eat by' date.
Now you may be wondering how this relevant to improvisation. Well... as I was reading this article my work with the Mathilde improvisation collective came to mind and how we structure our rehearsals. This is what I thought:
Most of our Mathilde rehearsals evolve around task based exercises where we set a number of parameters to which we respond.
Examples of improvisation exercises:
The purpose of these exercises is to create a structure to generate the improvisation. If I'm told to improvise with my right hand on my head, standing on one leg while only making round shapes I have a limited amount of movement options. Kosslyn points out that there are often only a few ways to satisfy a full set of constraints simultaneously. As I aim to satisfy each constraint I liberate my brain and creativity to seek new connections and possibilities. With a given task I can let go of responsibility of 'making something up' and instead concentrate on fulfilling the task that is given and thus allow new movements to emerge. So paradoxically, limitations become freedom.
So the tracks of our physical pathways from home to work, become neural pathways in our brains creating bridges over time that we unconsciously follow unless an obstacle forces us to change them. Constraints obstruct the pathway and hence new connections are made.
Stephen M. Kosslyn finishes his article:
"Finally, much creativity emerges from constraint satisfaction. Many new recipes were created when chefs discovered that only specific ingredients were available — and they thus were either forced to substitute different ingredients or to come up with a new "solution" (dish) to be satisfied. Perhaps paradoxically, adding constraints can actually enhance creativity — if a task is too open or unstructured, it may be so unconstrained that it is difficult to devise any solution."
So although Kosslyn is describing a scientific concept it seems very relevant also for my artistic practice. Concluding that constraint satisfaction is already a part of my improvisation toolkit, the next question is then: how many constraints can you add before creativity starts decreasing? Or when does the constraint become a crutch that restricts the free improvisation? And even more relevant... (how) does improvisation work if there are no constraints at all?
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Here you will find posts about subjects I find interesting and that all relate to my disciplines in dance, yoga and coaching:
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