On a Tuesday evening this past winter, I danced to maybe 10 songs in a bar, in the middle of a modest crowd, in a rather shit part of downtown Los Angeles. Context is everything. The context in this instance, is that the behavior of me choosing to partake in anything that might closely resemble dance in any one setting that might be construed as public was much more than unusual, it was unheard of. Shyness is what I called it, but that didn’t add up. For if we were to shift the context, say place me on a stage inside of what we might refer to as a performance or a piece of theatre and the direction was for me to: “Dance”, well then I could show up. I could be your man. Context is weird in that way. More often than not, it assists as some philosophical talking point, painting distinctions between this and that in the service of explaining behavior, and yet one could argue by outlining these distinctions in the realm of human movement specifically , we create tidy, rigid boxes for our “behavior” to exist inside of, becoming tidy, rigid boxes ourselves. Oh, behave.
I’m no longer interested in context, in this context. The constraining forces placed on the user, the mover, weigh too heavy on the process of creating free movement that is freely expressed. This is not to say that I am not interested in CONSTRAINT. Constraint, when harnessed in service of creation, provides a lovely tool toward autonomous dance. Put simply, Constraints are the rules, parameters, limitations and guidelines that shape our expression. Without them, it’s no wonder we cross our arms, we bow our heads, we bury our hands in our pockets. Our bodies crave constraint.
When I think of constraints, the artist Matthew Barney comes to mind. Jumping on a trampoline holding a piece of graphite attempting to mark up a blank sheet of paper adhered to the high ceiling above him, all the while harnessed at the waist by a raw length of rope, an attempt to further negate his reach. The drawing that is produced at the end of the this fitful process, “Drawing Restraint”, is the thing that goes up for sale, but it is the process itself that is so damn interesting. Obsessively imposing near sisyphean demands to both body and body of work, it is a great surprise he gets anything done at all.
And that’s his bent, the nearly unnavigable demands are his pathway to free expression. Not for everybody, surely. But, there are great lessons to be gleaned from constraints, both those internal and external. This week I’ll be covering some of the internal variety. The overarching theme here is Singularity. Try doing one thing: move this, don’t move that.
Most of us are paralyzed not so much from not knowing what to do, but by not knowing what NOT to do. If you’ve found yourself stuck in a self-conscious hiccup asking yourself, “what now?”, I urge you to simplify, not expand. Dr. Andreo Spina’s CARs (Controlled Articular Rotations) are a great place to begin. CARs are exactly what they say they are, controlled articular rotations of your joints. The purpose, performance, and intent is left simple so that your body is made free to listen: Move this, don’t move that. Can you? It’s not an assessment alone, and the end goal is not merely CONTROL. We’re learning, we’re teaching ourselves about presence, and we’re laying down the bricks that facilitate a path toward integration. Will this ready us for the dance? The dance has already begun. You began it when you asked your wrist to flex and extend and rotate around and told your forearm to S-T-O-P M-O-V-I-N-G!
This is a constraint: Do this one thing. Not that thing. Mastery of this simple task is never the point, as the process is never ending. A model of linear progressions will only serve to mitigate growth. We must accept our position as the beginner. A beginner is always free to express, free to move, to create. And so too, the beginner is at his freest when asking for less, as the most simple of tasks performed mindfully, rich with thorough investigation carries with it a very unique and special kind of beauty, the beauty of intention.
Jerzy Grotowski’s “Plastiques” exercises, while not technically a progression of CARs, offer a great way to heighten the conversion we have with our CARs. With the Plastiques we also scan our body, joint by joint, asking our joints to move in the myriad of ranges our joints have access to. With the plastiques, however, we’re interested in the imagery outside of us or the emotions inside which spark the intention to move. By moving independently, the constraints in Grotowski’s process offer us a way to disassociate the imagery we are playing with, making each image or thought that drops in sharper, more dynamic. Eye balls play a greater role in this work, as we are asked to not only move this and not that, but also to be in relationship to IT and to clarify this relationship. Who am I pointing my finger at? Who are they to me? When I extend my shoulder behind me, what am I reaching for, and what is the thing that is holding me from turning my head to look? What is this corset locking my torso in place, and where did this constraint come from? We don’t look toward the answers to these questions for the meaning in our work. Rather, like Barney’s “Drawing Restraint”, our work is concerned with the process and our process is one of desire; an unflinching desire to keep asking the same simple questions.
FOR THIS WEEK, TRY THIS….
GIVE YOURSELF UP TO 30 MINUTES (ROUGHLY 5-10 FOR CARs AND A BIT LONGER FOR THE PLASTIQUES)
FOR THE CARs, SCAN YOUR NECK, SCAPULA AND SHOULDERS. UTILIZE A MODERATE ISOMETRIC CONTRACTION TO LOCK DOWN THE AREAS WE’RE NOT ASKING TO MOVE. EACH OF THESE JOINTS CAN ENJOY A NICE CIRCULAR RANGE OF MOTION AT THEIR FULLEST POTENTIAL. ATTEMPT AS BIG AND SMOOTH A CIRCLE AS YOU CAN CONTROL. PUSH FOR THE RANGE, NOT THROUGH THE PAIN. (GREAT VIDEO TUTORIALS OF EACH CAN BE FOUND ON YOUTUBE, PERFORMED BY SOME EXCELLENT COACHES. IF YOU NEED A GOOD SOURCE, EMAIL.)
FOR THE PLASTIQUES, THE ISOLATIONS WE’RE AFTER ARE LESS ABOUT DISSOCIATING FROM OTHER AREAS, AND MORE ABOUT THE INTENTION THAT CALLS THAT JOINT INTO ACTION. SO, WHILE IT IS IMPORTANT TO SCAN JOINT BY JOINT, IT’S ALSO OKAY TO LET THE MOVEMENT OF THAT JOINT INSPIRE MOVEMENT IN ANOTHER AREA. IN FACT, IT’S ENCOURAGED. LOOK OUTSIDE OF YOURSELF FOR A REASON TO MOVE. DEVELOP AN IMAGE OF AN OPPONENT IF THAT HELPS. HALLUCINATION IS GOOD FOR YOU. HALLUCINATION IS OUR FRIEND.
KEEP THE WORK FOR THIS WEEK CONTAINED TO THESE AREAS. WORK SIMPLY. FEEL FREE TO MIMIC MY MOVEMENT, BUT CHALLENGE YOURSELF TO DEVELOP YOUR OWN AESTHETIC QUALITIES. THESE ARE YOUR IMAGES. THIS IS YOUR MOVEMENT.
HERE IS AN EXAMPLE OF MINE:
In the video I move from neck cars, to Scapula to Shoulder and finish with a “Plastique River”, exploring the dynamic of each isolation and the interplay between them.