Art Making, Artistic Process, Hiking the Horizontal, Teaching

Harvesting Intuition

I have been trying to harvest my own intuition.  I think of intuition as our knowledge…just really, really fast.  Before you can do this, you have to realize you are having an experience.   This might be something as conscious as moving improvisationally,  problem solving in rehearsal, or veering of the plan while teaching.  If I take the time to discover WHY I did what I did I can usually uncover some new tool, or concept or a particular variation that is worthy of note.

Recently, working with the wonderful dance program at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia we were engaged in just such a practice.  Students and faculty had gathered for a workshop.  I admire teachers who are willing to learn again in public, especially among their students, and on that day there were several present. I had just directed the whole group in a process  that included making some movement material that they could repeat. I asked them to pair up and then interview each other by asking,  “WHY did you do that” at certain key points in the phrase.  Usually this leads to naming a series of excellent choreographic practices that can become catalysts for future rehearsals.  They may begin the process with “I don’t know why I did that,” but if pursued by their interviewer with something like …”well lets say you did know what would you call it” and then all kinds of connections are made.  There was enthusiasm and great joy in the room as everyone realized how much knowledge was being excavated.

MANCC Photo by Chris Cameron

Performers from left to right: Ted Johnson, Alli Ross, Keith Thompson, Marjani Forte, Tamara Pullman & George Hirsch. Photo courtesy of Chris Cameron of MANCC

Later I was approached by one of the teachers, Rob Kitsos who said to me “I hate that word WHY.” He went on to explain, that for him, the word meant he had to justify himself and his work.  He was tired of having to explain it to funders, or critics or even well meaning friends.

I had a moment of real comprehension.  Of course he hated it. It made him defensive and I believe that once we are defensive we cannot learn, or rather we cannot discover.    I responded with a newly articulated thought, taking place in that moment between us: I use WHY to lead to deeper inquiry and find it akin to that of wonder and awe.  I don’t think of the word as generating a justification.  Why did I do that comes with a tone of voice and a world view that suggest I did something magical and maybe I could figure out what it is.  Not that I had done something that needed to be justified.

How does the same word do such different things to us, and have such different outcomes?  I am so grateful to Rob Kitsos for the question he put to me that day. Because now I understand that there is a big difference between justification and wonderment and I intend to live with the latter.

Oh, and I think I am going to try it the next time I am asked to justify the need, the desire, the essence of art.  I will turn the why into wondering and turn the questioner into a co-researcher, harvesting their intuition too.

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Art Making, Creative Aging, Hiking the Horizontal

An Older Body Getting Older Remembers

This essay is an excerpt from the upcoming paperback edition of my book of essays, Hiking the Horizontal

As I advance through my sixties, people are curious about my experience now that I am reaching the age of many of the older dancers with whom I’ve worked over the course of my career. I am curious too.

Sometimes I step off a curb and I think I am leaping again.

Sometimes when I picture my back curving it feels like I am dancing at summer camp.

Occasionally, if I put on the right shoes (for some reason mostly the plastic jellies), I can walk at a certain pace and put pressure on the ground in a certain way, and I really believe I can do all those steps and figures and phrases I used to do.

Or if I am in rehearsal and see an opportunity in front of me, a way for one dancer to touch another or a move that could happen between them, I am shocked—when I insert myself to demonstrate—that I can’t actually do it.

In fact I am astonished.

I think this must be what a phantom limb is like. The feeling is more real that reality. I am not sad or confused. I try to savor the experience. And who knows, maybe I did it after all.

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Art Making, Conversations, Healing Wars

A conversation with Paula Vogel

One of the perks of working on a Civil War Christmas at CenterStage in Baltimore was getting to share a brief cup of tea with the playwright Paula Vogel. We talked about many things including the collaborative systems in theater, how to manage dialogue on stage, and our shared interest in projects involving veterans from our current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  In one sentence she said (and I paraphrase) that her sense is that the veteran’s PTSD gets worse as they tell the story over and over.  Somewhere in that process she believed they needed something else and so she brought in actors and had the vets “direct” them in the action.

I found this idea so compelling that on our recent residency at Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography (MANCC), I decided to try it.  We had an afternoon workshop with the performers in the piece along with a nurse from the Vietnam War, a young woman home from her recent  deployment , and a mother who had lost her son in Iraq.  It was an amazing two hours filled with stories, premonitions and tears.   And we also had our visitors give us direction on how to perform some of the ideas of the project we are working on called Healing Wars.

I don’t know if any of what happened will “make it into” the performance piece.  But I do know that the way we were affected will, and that the movement and storytelling that came after our encounter that afternoon will carry forward in our bodies for a very long time.

-Liz

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