LIVING ART WORKSHOP with Circle Modern Dance
March 12 & 13 2016 – 3-5.30pm
The Emporium – Gay Street, Knoxville TN
These workshop sessions were to serve two purposes: Firstly as a commission for Circle Modern Dance company core members in order to develop a performance piece for an event they are presenting on May 19th. Secondly as a “proving ground” for the performance pedagogy I have been developing over the course of my two-year MFA program.
(Full details of this pedagogical method can be viewed on my project website The Performance Anxiety Workshop Experiment:
As the pedagogical method is designed to provide a structure that equips the individual with a practice that facilitates individual exploration, discovery and invention, this is how we approached the workshop.
As we were limited to a total of five hours, there was not enough to time to introduce all the facets of the pedagogy, so I went into the sessions with a basic concept for a piece and facilitated exercises that would be suitable for that concept.
Then, based on the dancers responses to these exercises, I could see how best to structure the performance piece and gave them the format of that structure which they can now continue to develop for themselves, based on the creative tools they learned in the workshop.
The structure of the piece is based on a concept of evolution and individuation using the raw materials of nature and is as follows:
Dancers begin in a pile on the ground – symbolic of primordial substances – earth, clay, water, mud – they operate as one unit as they move. We are calling this unit the “amoeba”.
As the amoeba moves, it is a mass, a landscape of shifting forms, sculpting & melting & re-sculpting itself.
Occasionally an individual will hold a shape in stillness – while the others (the amoeba) continue(s) – then that dancer melts back into the amoeba again.
This continues as a process of evolution until, instead of melting back into the amoeba immediately, the individual finds their own voice – their own dance.
Initially these individual solo dancers get pulled back into the amoeba – but after the first few have happened that way, the next ones stay apart from the group unit – they become an independent entity.
Finally each dancer has found their own individual dance – they move freely and independently – eventually dispersing into space.
The individual solos will each be based on a raw organic material of the dancers choice – such as a specific leaf, flower, feather, tree branch or environment etc. and develop in response to the qualities of that material.
The piece will be presented in a building that has an open plan, so there is no stage or platform to contain or confine the potential mobility of the movement in space.
Costumes will be a neutral second-skin layer.
Musical accompaniment will be played on instruments of natural materials – like wood, bamboo, dried beans etc.
The following is a description of the workshop, how the exercises were used in this context and how they facilitate development of the performance piece.
I have also included links to video excerpts and to PDF documents of detailed information about each exercise:
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SATURDAY MARCH 12
Lauren, Callie, Kat, Darby, Mary, Sara, Julie, Angela (with Amelie & Ayla)
Vibration is always a good starting point. It is primal to all matter and an effective resource to tap into as a choreographic tool and as a functional warm-up for the body. It serves to both release tension and to energize.
The participants had a good sense of release in the core of the body – however, I would have liked the time to work more into the arms with vibration – as I noticed most of the dancers carrying a more sustained motion in the arms – such as swinging.
Breath is conducive to openness, expansion, freedom of motion and locomotion. It is also a good rhythmic tool, if the breath sets a rhythm the body will follow.
For the performance piece it will serve as a good tool for each dancer’s individuation from the “amoeba”.
It was a lovely sunny day, so we expanded this exercise all the way outside to the courtyard!
Note: There is one vital transition missing from the documentation – Before re-entering the building, we spent several minutes standing still in an X shape and using deep breaths to expand the awareness of self beyond the confines of the body and into the surrounding space.
3 Body Soundz – Activating the Voice
The video shows a very brief excerpt from this progression of exercises.
We built up from slow exhalation on “ssshhhh”, “sssss” and blowing through the lips to humming upside-down into the nasal resonators – then opening up into an “aaaahhh” while shaking the body for full resonating voice. Then a series of Plosives for articulation. (See PDF link for details)
The performance piece will include vocal sounds and I am encouraging the dancers to explore the voice in their creative process. These exercises provide a set of “spring boards” for experimentation.
4 Transfer of Weight
As with most of these exercises, this can either begin standing and work downwards to the floor – or vice versa. A different relationship to the body’s weight and gravity is set up throughout the exercise depending on which starting point is used.
We began on the floor, as I had this in mind for the beginning of the piece – that everything would develop from there, so I wanted to see how this would work for the dancers. Their responses lead into a beautiful melding of bodies – which inspired the “amoeba” theme for the performance piece.
5 Finding the Essence
Based on a Stanislavski theatrical character-development exercise, I have adapted its emphasis to extreme abstraction in gesture and voice.
This exercise can serve as a tool for developing solos in the performance piece.
The two entities we picked for character study were:
Donald Trump – if he were a cocktail, what would it be? If he were a package deal vacation – where would it be? – What adjectives describe them?
Banjo (Darby’s dog) – If he were a pizza, what kind would it be? If he were a vehicle – what would it be?
Then we embodied the resulting adjectives and used them to create movement, gesture, shape and sound.
Note: The thing that is effective – but also the most difficult about this exercise is to only embody the resulting adjectives – NOT to MIME the original entity!
SUNDAY MARCH 13
Lauren, Kat, Darby, Mary, Sara, Julie, Ashley, Kathleen, Koura
A brief version of the exercise was used as a warm-up. (See Saturday)
6 Joint Spirals
Physically, this exercise is a great tool for expanding the full range of motion of all the joints in the body. It also brings an intensive awareness of each joint. Creatively, it mobilizes the body into motion on a scale from micro to macro – from spiraling in to the smallest rotation possible deep inside a joint – to spiraling outwards until the motion cannot be contained inside the body and the mover has to travel in space in order to continue.
7 Transition from Spirals to Breath
This was actually created spontaneously during the workshop, as I wanted to lead the dancers seamlessly from the Spirals exercise into the Breath exercise.
The instructions were to place a small spiraling action into a part of the body, then expand it with the breath and release with the exhale to somewhere else. Then place the spiral in a different part of the body and repeat.
The dancers found this to be a helpful method of getting into the breath – the spiraling action seemed to create a more fluid approach to expanding.
8 Presence / Shape
These exercises work well together to build an awareness of the body as a sculptural form in space. Beginning with the idea of Self as a powerful presence and a living sculpture in itself – with no action necessary but to recognize and own the fact!
This is especially conducive to individuation of each dancer in the performance piece – as well as practicing aspects of shape (round, straight, twisted) in their responses to organic materials.
Unfortunately there is no documentation from the workshop of these exercises. (Demonstration and previous workshop examples can be found on the Performance Anxiety website given in the introduction)
9 Creative Synesthesia
An imaginative version of the neurological condition where the senses are cross-wired.
This game / exercise played a vital role in preparing the dancers to develop their individual solos for the performance piece.
I brought in natural, organic, raw materials – in keeping with the theme of this project – that the participants could respond to. They are asked to respond to specific aspects of the materials – such as the shape, the texture, the colour etc.
To introduce the game, we started in a circle going one person at a time. Then, once they were familiar with the rules, we opened it up into a Creative Synesthesia jam!
I also brought instruments of natural materials – bamboo chimes, wooden maracas and so on. Participants took it in turns to play the game and to give musical accompaniment.
THANK YOU CIRCLE MODERN DANCE http://circlemoderndance.com/
Lauren Philis, Callie Minnich, Kat Milligan, Darby O’Connor, Mary Alford, Sara Whitaker, Julie Raven, Ashley Corey, Koura Wright, Kathleen Frey, Angela Hill, Amilie & Ayla.