Endangered spaces

feb 27, 2013 by

Av Mai Veronica Lykke Robles Thorseth Alias: The Underberg Herbgirl Dancegarden

Silence. I was standing in the lift in the anthroposophical headquarters in London. I had been to the library to get a book on Kandinsky. An old lady came into the lift and asked me where I was from. I answered I was half Peruvian and half Norwegian. She looked at me with a very sympathetic look, and then she said: «Poor you. So hot, and so cold”. London, England 1994. Breath.

My grandfather lives in a small village on an island, a bit further north than Bergen, in Norway. When he was a young man him and his friends used to squat old boat houses and barns for the night, to arrange social dance events. They were not allowed to dance, as it was looked upon as un-Christian and sinful. Therefore they had to break in and have their fun in secret, illegally. Apparently often the buildings were not safe. It did happen that they danced themselves through the floor. Skredestranda, Norway 1941. Stillness.

In explaining his view on his class on love, sociologist Sun Chung-hsing says: ” But perhaps what is crucial to love, which decides life’s happiness or otherwise, is not rebellion or compromise, but how to maintain a love of natural emotion while living peaceably and prospering in the mortal world. Love is not just sentimentality; more importantly, it is an exercise in «searching for one’s true self.» Taiwan 1997. Stop.

Last winter I went skiing with my son, we realized that he needed longer skiing sticks. As we talked about getting new ones, Leaf, my son, looked at me with quite a serious and trusting look and said; I am actually in love with these; I would like to keep them, even if I get new ones. Bergen, Norway 2004. Breath.

I was tidying up in our attic when I found several boxes with books from around 1940. One of our neighbours whom had just moved had left the old books behind. This man was in his late thirties, he apparently travelled a lot and was a truck driver, later I met him twice as he was temping as a bus driver. All the books were concerned with colonialism and Africa, the wild people and their colonial masters; there were romantic novels about young European lovers in Africa and various travelling stories. This is how I met with the two books by J.G. Ræder «Ville Dyr og sorte mennesker Med kamera og børse i Afrika», and «Paradisiske Afrika» Oslo, Norway and West Africa 1943-1946. Silence.

A sociology professor got his class to go into the slums of Baltimore and get case studies from 200 young boys and evaluate the future of these boys. None of his students thought any of the boys had any hope of a successful life and career. 25 years later a different professor made his students follow up the study. Some boys had died or moved away, amongst the 180 who were left, 176 had achieved more than ordinary success in their adult lives and careers. The professor was astonished and followed the case further himself, he was able to talk to all the cases, and they all mentioned there had been a special teacher. The professor was able to talk to the teacher whom the men had mentioned. He asked her what her magical formula was; since these men had all told him she was partly to blame for their success. She said it was simple; she loved those boys. Baltimore, America 1993. Breath.

The legend tells us that when the people wanted to build a beautiful site for the gods, some of the workers were turned into walking stones by the gods, because they complained about the danger of their work. These stone people became the building blocks of Machu Picchu, Peru 1460. Stillness.
Here they distributed the gas that came from the huge gas storage tower which you can see the ruins from in the back garden. Bergen, Norway 1926. Stop.

Lady Eleandra Burnham Peacock visited the Museum of Natural History in…………..she always enjoyed to……………objects from other cultures, one visit changed her aspect on life and……..identity, she realized that the museum as part of their exhibition had an African woman called M’Sukta living day and night in a real size model of an……………village inside the museum, she had been there for………..years. London, England 1850. Breath.

Multiplicity

The importance of multiplicity, can it create a clear communication? Does communication need to be clear to create an understanding? Does understanding and communication become more inclusive, by paying attention to the multiple?

“Charlotta loved, also, Samoan women. She loved their characteristic heaviness of body and their square jaws. Their seeming good nature and equanimity. Natural queens. And Balinese men; she could always recognize them because of the expression of horror in their faces as they looked about them at the glass and concrete of the city. They were not seduced, not at all.”
(Alice Walker: The Temple of My Familiar, pp 10-11)

In trying to understand something about why the quality of the multiple might be treated, as less valuable than having one singular direction, I would like to refer to Luce Irigaray. In some scholars opinion Luce Irigaray has succeeded in developing an untraditional and different approach to academic practice. Luce Irigaray’s search for what she calls a new way and felicity for humanity is a very brave one, and a very multiple one. Her work is very broad, ranging from philosophy to psychoanalysis, religious studies, politics, linguistics, art and poetry. She was expelled from the Paris psychoanalytic association and the university of Paris after her publication of “Speculum of the other, women” About this traumatic event in her life, she has said the following:

“ My work in Speculum and in other readings of Western philosophers has been to make appear such errors of thinking, by those who were considered the greatest masters of our culture. I must confess that I heartily laughed when writing Speculum.
Certainly, I also wept when the intellectual leaders and authorities of our time expelled me from my university teaching position after the publication of the book, and when they have continued to hinder my path as researcher, even as writer. A friend comforted me with the words of a famous philosopher “ Sometimes it is necessary to understand the importance of a thought through the resistance that it provokes.” (Luce Irigaray: Key Writings, Preface, viii)

Qualities and descriptions associated with the feminine, as for instance love, tenderness, and the multiple, have been undermined and neglected in many main categories and ideals of the dominant tradition of western thinking, social systems and culture. These qualities that are still being undermined, might be exactly what we need to create a potent and just future. It will be an advantage for everyone when more characteristics that are considered as female influence manifest themselves in our cultural experiences, social systems and academic fields.

Why and how is the multiple important?

Luce Irigaray believes that women and men have particular characteristics related to their gender when they experience, communicate and think. Multiplicity is one of the characteristics she claims is more related to the feminine, how women more often then men emphasise and notice plurality and difference in an experience, and how men put more emphasis on objects and their value. These statements are results from research Luce Irigaray has done through interviews, dealing with questions on how the subjects understand and relate to for instance love. The women and men she interviewed had varied cultural and sosio – cultural backgrounds. The results of this research is much more complex than what I state here. Whether the results are correct is not my main concern here, but rather how the concept of multiplicity may be discussed as positive and important.

In wanting to try out a multiple approach to thought, as opposed to the more traditional one clear line of thought, one method that might be useful is to try moving constantly between themes and ideas. Without getting stuck in one idea. To not always search for a clear, pinpointed thought. The in – between spaces of confusion and insecurity are also necessary and helpful qualities to live in for a while. Why always be clear and confident? Is clarity and confidence more important then truthfulness and modesty? We are too occupied with reaching a result fast, and stating our understanding clearly, before we have thought of more than one or two possibilities. We are frightened of being vague, using up time, loosing possibilities. We play safe. Maybe this is also related to the fact that the value of time has become closely interlinked with earning money through consumerism.

Multiplicity is not used enough in our discourses. Psycho – therapist James Hillman suggests thinking broadly and using more time before making decisions, experiencing and communicating being a valuable possibility. This possibility will in a different way than the one clear line of thought nurture openness and flexibility in relation to change, new challenges, crises and conflicts caused by difference between people. Emphasis on this multiple-, and other time consuming approaches, might also spark off great ideas, unthinkable without a multiple approach. Clarity will possibly not be reached as fast through this process. But something just as important is gained: thoughts and actions that are less frightened, less in favour of sameness and hopefully less discriminatory. To be inclusive and open to difference, the multiplicity of difference, letting thoughts, ideas and actions manifest themselves through a variety of ways.

This creativity needs to be fought for in many fields. Eric Fromm and Luce Irigaray both state that the social structures in our western society still encourage sameness. This sameness has through time become the mainstream goal for all parts of society, even in the sphere of art. I believe this has had, and still has, a negative effect for everyone involved.

Artists and art relate to the multiple within human context. The field of art and other fields with strong influences, such as the media, would benefit from using multiplicity wholeheartedly to push conventions.

Judith Butler argues in her essay “Undoing gender” that a dual situation, where you can not be categorized as one gender or the other, is an open situation, that one should not have to be set and therefore be locked, but free and ever moving, changeable. I would like to suggest that the same applies to someone with a culturally dual background, one should not have to choose or make a preferred choice, one’s form is neither one or the other, but something new.

*

I work with many interlinked themes and components, many expressions of art working together to create a whole. The concept multiplicity supports my identity, my artistic expression and the multiple quality of my work. Multiplicity is a helpful concept to research and try to understand on many levels. It is necessary to acknowledge the different elements, their purpose and function in the whole, and to achieve clarity. The challenge of multiplicity is how to maintain it.

Dance
“They were completely without wildness, and they had forgotten how to laugh. They had also forgotten, I was to discover on our many trips, how to dance and sing. They haunted black people’s dancehalls and churches, trying to ‘pick up’ what they’d closed up in themselves. It was pitiful.” ( Alice Walker: The Temple of My Familiar, p 371).

In the beginning of the twentieth century when modernism was changing the views of what was possible within art, there were many women, and also men who broke with classical ballet creating the starting point for various new modern dance styles.
The dance technique that has particularly suited my movement energy and values in relation to training the body are the various forms of a technique called release technique. This technique is developed from the legacy left by artists like José Limon and Mary Wigman. This technique focuses on flow, weight and individuality. Its core aim is to use what the body has of natural “helpers”: weight, joints, bones, breath and fluids, to ones advantage. The result is a training of the body that actively uses some of the bodies’ natural components. Certain movement patterns are used as a training to help the mover to have a more relaxed and balanced way of holding her/his body without using unnecessary muscular tension during choreographed movement. British ‘release’ teacher Gill Clarke adds a strong use of imagining of real and associative images of spaces, fluids, bones and weight inside the body. This is a nearly meditative use of ones own thoughts together with one’s breathing that aims to create an awareness of one’s own body as an instrument for movement.
I find this technique very satisfying as a dynamic, strong and open base to build on with a more diverse artistic vocabulary. The freedom for imagination, flow and breathing to actively participate unites traditional knowledge with recent developments of modern dance vocabulary. Release technique takes care of the body and communicates the internal and external fluidity of motion and spatial manifestation of force, rather than focusing primarily on its muscles, outer surfaces and beautiful results.

As a dance educated artist I find the material of movement and the body as a tool positively challenging and exciting. Having said that, I disagree with the extreme focus in the world of dance (as I know it in the west) on perfection of a certain type of body – and movement ideal. A discipline adapted in the identity and legacy of strict and structured dance techniques, such as classical ballet. A beauty controlled and decided through male hierarchy and domination, stigmatizing both genders, does not support my task in dance.
The contemporary dance scene slowly but surely gets broader, and different approaches to training become more accepted. But the multitude of choice available for the public, and the real support to alternative training styles is in my opinion still too small. This choice, and opportunity for experiment, is also too small in contemporary dance institutions and mainstream society.
Contemporary western society still nurtures a certain need of physical perfection that classical ballet still fulfils. Most contemporary educational dance institutions and dance companies still favour and use classical ballet as their main form of dance training. To have such a formal dance style as the mainstream definition of the value and content of dance creates a certain set of psychological behavioural patterns and physical patterns, in dance and images of dance that are hard to get rid of, and that discourage development of artistic experimentation. This stereotyping also knocks the spectators’ possible appreciation of dance. How can the public know what it wants if it has had no real experience of other alternatives?

Some contemporary dance being performed in theatres in our western culture today leave the spectators with the sense of dance as a beautiful and impressive, but rather “empty” experience; they experience how good the dancers are trained at fulfilling their complicated movements and physical challenges, but many works seem incapable of giving MORE. The sharing and giving of oneself in many cases seems non-existent in the communication between the dancers/work and the spectator. I would like to see the legacies of less bourgeois dance styles – more rooted in a modernist, expressionist, folkloric and streetwise tradition manifest themselves to a larger extent in our art of dance. If we let dance have the multitudes of characteristics that it has in reality, and let these manifest themselves artistically, dance, as a means of expression could be so much more than what we have let it be so far.

*

A contemporary choreographer that I think has been successful in breaking with the formal and the contained that lies in the communication of western contemporary dance is Anna Theresa de Keersmaker, director of the contemporary dance company Rosas. I was greatly impressed by the way she created a very open and unpretentious communication with the spectators in her solo work “Once”, performed at BIT-Teatergarasjen in October 2005. Even though she has a classical base, which she uses in her movement vocabulary, this does not become an issue. She performs with a different air and attitude than the legacy of classical ballet usually allows.

By communicating expressive movement, human identity, music, colours and objects, not simply showing how good she is as a mover, she opens up for an important communication with the audience.

There was a discussion after the performance, where Anna Theresa de Keersmaker had been asked to answer questions and talk about her work in general and about the particular solo she had just shown. She talked about wanting to use humanity, being more human in her expression, and to have a direct communication. She wanted to relate to the spectators as a partner. She used the term “I love you because you love me” in explaining how you open up for communication by giving and having an open attitude. She said she wants the audience to stay with her, “please stay with me.” She compared it to the action of telling a story to children. If you are not communicating, they won’t be listening either.
To manage to open up for communication and give she used the focus of her eyes, sometimes looking directly at the spectators. She explained how she purposely wanted to use eye contact and silence at the beginning of the show to get to know the audience, build a relationship, this she explained is a certain energy that needs labour from the performer and the audience. She stated that she wanted to communicate on a personal level. I noticed how her use of an open and relaxed physical attitude in body and face contributes positively to a spectator’s path into the work. She had a presence that stated involvement and eagerness to convey her themes, her personal twist and translation of the movement material makes one want to listen and perceive.

She also reflected on how going on stage could be perceived as an ego thing and narcissism, she claimed she does not like that part, but likes to go on stage to give everything, then she suggested maybe it was not an ego thing after all for her.

*

Personally I do not believe in the importance of showing off ME as a particular kind of beautiful/extraordinary woman. But rather the vulnerability and strength that might lie in the qualities I convey with my materials, the body combined with choreography and installation. By paying attention to the multiple choices within my themes, being as truthful to my own task, ideals and knowledge as I can manage I gain a personal and less formal expression. To achieve this I have found it necessary to reconsider dance traditions, and consider new and frank ways of relating to the material, situation, and the public. I want to find and develop alternative images, values and qualities of dance as a movement and visual art form.
If I can avoid undermining or focusing on the body as a commodity in my work, I have fulfilled one of my goals as an artist.

Breath and ritual
“She did everything at just the same pace as before, she could tell the time of day or night by the moisture in the atmosphere, and she went about her business as if she would live forever, and forever was very, very long.” (Alice Walker: The Temple of My Familiar, p 48)

One can define breath as the vital force or spirit of a living person or animal, and concretely as the entire process of inhaling and exhaling.
Luce Irigaray gives breath immense importance: The accomplishment of humanity, its perfect realization, requires the cultivation of one’s own breath as divine presence, in ourselves and between us. (Luce Irigaray: Key Writings, p 169)

Luce Irigaray relates breath to the divine (holy, spiritual). She claims that women are divine from birth. To keep this divine quality the most important tool is the cultivation of ones breath.

In “The thinking body”, Mabel E. Todd discusses the importance of breath on human physiology and the effect of physiological and mental processes on human movement. This book has become one of the most important books for disciples of the contemporary dance technique release technique. The diaphragm is the most active agent in breathing, situated inside the ribcage, with its associates, the nerves and muscles it reaches into the most remote or secluded place of the individual body.

“The secrets of the function of breathing are vast and much research must be done to understand the intricate connections of the diaphragm in their relation to all expressions of life, physical, mental and emotional.” (Mabel E. Todd: The thinking body, p 217).

*

My experiences with using breath actively in yoga, giving birth, and in everyday – and dance movement, make me consider breath as much more than a natural action for survival. Breath is a tool I am researching, and pay attention to. In my performance-work I have used the action of breath quite literally to represent silence, pause, contemplation, presence and concentration.

“This requires to move but also to remain within oneself, to have exchanges with the outside and then to collect her self, to communicate with the soul of the world, sometimes with the soul of others, and afterwards to return to the solitude and the silence of the own soul. A silence which consists not at all in a lack of words, but in an almost tactile retouching of the spiritual in one self, in a listening to the own breathing, appeased and attended.” (Luce Irigaray: Key Writings, p 167)

One can define ritual as a tool to practice and study the spiritual in ones being and beliefs. In a more concrete sense it can be described as a formalized pattern of actions or words followed regularly and precisely.

At the start of the process of working with this project I was concerned about the importance of art. I imagined the importance of artistic happenings to be like the importance of rituals. I came to think of how art and cultural experiences in some cultures are considered spiritual, religious. This is the case in for instance ancient Peruvian cultures.

I do believe that art, music and other cultural experiences are of great importance to our society and can be compared to the importance of rituals. An example is how the art experience opens up for new possibilities, or unknown territories for the spectator, hence it opens up for knowledge about difference, is a facilitator of the knowledge of difference. As I have already stated, knowing and accepting difference give less discrimination in our relations with each other. Hence, the experience of art is of great importance to us and to our society. Something that constantly need to be re-experienced, like a ritual.

In my work I employ the associations and practical functions I get from the concepts of breath and ritual. I relate breath to abilities such as involvement. When being aware of and practising breath one gets a stronger sensuous awareness by the concentrated and rhythmic qualities of breath. I relate ritual to the ability of being truthful to ones task and giving them value, by knowing what they mean to us. I actively use associations to breath and ritual as a way of giving content and background to the movement material that the performers work with and think of as they perform. Some of the movement sections can be described as constructed rituals to create a certain movement – presence.

Excerpts from “Endangered spaces”, Kunsthøgskolen in Bergen 13.03.06

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