Wednesday, August 20, 2008
1. From your experience, what is the branch dance performance practice? What does it entail? Are there any techniques that you practice regularly? Describe.
OP—The branch performance practice is a meditative state of being in my body, mind, and nature. I sink into a trance-like place where I am hyper-aware of my body and surroundings, but simultaneously “lost” in the movement of my body. I feel successful when I find a connection with the branch and travel on a journey that it takes me on. I usually try to feel the physical connection with the branch, the weight of the branch, or an intention that guides me to make movement choices. I become connected with my body from the inside out. Some days I approached the practice as working and noticing the detail of my anatomical form and releasing tension or holding patterns while I was moving fluidly from the branch. I felt like the branch was my partner and that I had a duet with an object that became “alive” to me.
The practice entails listening, authenticity and letting go. I have to listen to my body and the surroundings to discover how I can balance my body in the unique set of problems that develop. I also listen to the branch. I listen for weight, energy, and intention from the branch and from the inside of my body. Sometimes, the surroundings inspire me as well. I listen to other dancers, I listen to the sky or the trees and I find ways to dialog with them. I listen to my body in a very deep internal way. I move from sensing the muscles, bones, and internal energy within my body.
I absolutely have to be authentic in the practice. I cannot pretend to be present. I have to be fully committed to the movement, the space, and the challenges within the construct. My authenticity relates to moving slowly and stopping. It helps me to stop, drop my weight, and wait to listen for what needs to happen. I try not to look for or predetermine the movement. I attempt to let it find me. I let go of predetermined ideas and let go of the idea of “dancing”. I feel like I simply move through space and time without having to go to the performative dance place that becomes part of many performances. This is deeper - this is the most real sense of performing because I cannot hide behind structured movement. I cannot hide behind choreographed movement. It is about trusting and being vulnerable enough to simply exist and respond to the space.
I found so much power in existing in this authentic place. It’s beautiful to shed the dancing persona to simply exist as a moving body in nature. I dropped into the basics of my moving body and self. I existed with only the essentials in the present moment.
The people I dance with are part of my experience. I genuinely feel like I am pouring energy out to the environment and the people I dance with. I feel very connected to them through the practice and in my life. We became this community of movers that was more about being in the space together. I felt supported and enhanced by the artists around me.
Techniques I practice regularly. Hanging, dropping my weight, body scanning, letting the body stretch itself, vertical/horizontal plane with the branch, shaping or highlighting (based off of others movements), balance mode, stopping myself, softening my connection with the branch, breathing, opening up parts of my body, seeing others and seeing the space (being fed by it)
2. What happens during the performance? Can you describe the feeling of the performing/ a particular performance? Is there a pattern you can describe?
OP — It begins with me settling into the time and space that I am in. It begins with me getting really quiet and almost hallow. I try to empty my mind so I can sink into my body and the space. From there I try to see or sense the space and environment that I am in. With each season we had different challenges (and the different locations as well) and I had to move from this place. These challenges become part of my movement construct and I generally found an intention in my practice from the environment (or from a structure Merian assigned). For example, I remember being on the large bridge and my work became about balancing in the wind and cold of that space. I was working with the elements rather than trying to move against them. I loved the challenges that developed for me as a mover! Rocks, logs, bridges, and water . . . I wanted to be on them all to discover something new with my body. Where would this particular journey take me? What can I do with this problem I have to solve? How do I get off of this rock slowly? I discovered the answers within the dance and they always surprised me. It took a great deal of independent and collective trust for the performances to happen.
Within the performance practice once my body and mind are “warmed up” to simply slowing down and sinking into the space, I generally feel led by the branch. I try to find new things and I get inspired through the journey. I can honestly say that after every performance I felt better than when I started. I felt more alive, more in tuned and connected to my body and myself, I felt more connected to the community that we created. I felt aligned with nature. That was something I hadn’t anticipated. Overall, I became grounded in my body and nature. I had the time to wonder and wander through my body and this beautiful place. I noticed the trees, the clouds, small debris in the water, a bug that sat on my arm while I moved, sounds of people walking through the woods. I became a piece of nature and a part of something larger than me.
3- How do you experience your body in the branch dances? Where are you in your body when you branch dance? Who are you, who do you become in the dances?
OP — I might have already answered this, but I’ll give a little more detail. I become very aware of my body (from the inside out) while doing the branch dances. There is the time and space for specificity in the form but room for spontaneity and creativity. My body feels alive, full, and responsive to nature. My body generally surprises me in the construct of the work. Often times I felt like I became a tree, the water, the wind, or the sounds that I heard.
I noticed during the last few performances that I had the desire to return to the studio to do movement research because I felt like I was falling into a movement pattern within the work. There were fewer surprises for me and I began to wonder what else could be found in the work. How can I continue surprising myself?
I am always myself when I am doing the branch dances, but I feel like a smaller more connected version of myself. I feel miniscule because the nature around me feels so expansive. At the same time I feel this interconnection to the environment and the people within it. I feel like we are influencing one another in small, subtle ways.
4- Is there any change in you from before beginning the performance and after it ends? If there are changes, what do you think in the practice triggered those changes?
OP — This performance practice always made me feel more whole. It gave me the space and the reason to become quiet, still, and internal. In many ways I believe it saved me from spiraling out of control this year. In the crazy schedules that I lead, dance became another task on my to-do list. The freedom, creativity, and spirit of dancing became lost in my need to achieve certain things. I was occasionally disconnected from why I dance. This performance practice reminded me that my moving body and my artistic spirit needs time to be quiet enough so I can actually hear myself.
In the practice (and in life), I had to sometimes force myself to go slow and stop moving from one thing to the next. I had to find the space in my body/mind to breath into being still. The practice required discipline and endurance. The practice also required detailed and specific movements. I began to notice how the subtlest shifts changed my entire body. The practice also required patience and listening to the connection I had with the branch. Why was I moving with a branch? I had to answer that question and find a way to relate to the work every time I entered it. There was no hiding. It became a sacred space for stillness and internal shifts.
5-Can you name/describe specific moments or experiences in performance where something in you or your experience shifted? Do you have a sense of why? Does it carry over into the rest of the experience or other performances? How, why? Please be descriptive and give specific examples.
OP — There were specific points throughout the process of the practice where something shifted for me. I remember doing the first performance on the waterfall and having a moment of fear that people where going to actually witness this practice. I had, of course, always realized that people where going to watch us, but I hadn’t really taken the audience into account until that moment. I suddenly felt very vulnerable. And I shifted. I approached it as a performance rather than a practice. I suddenly could trust the structure, my improvisational skills, and my body’s practice within the work to let it move beyond my personal experience. It became a dance; a movement journey that always found its own beginning, middle, and end.
The winter was difficult. I don’t like the cold and my body always feels tight in the winter. How was I going to open up and move slowly in the elements of winter? The worst was when we rehearsed in the winter and I wasn’t dressed warm enough – I don’t know if I could have been. My fingertips were frozen, but we all found a way to sustain through it. This prepared me for the actual performance in that space. I was shocked by how much heat and energy my body generated. The stillness and small movements made me warmer than then when I walked to the park. I trusted the work more and I knew that my body was shifting within it. I felt more open.
I realized in the spring that I missed the park in the winter. It was comforting to be in the barren space and see the trees still standing tall. There was nothing extra (in nature or in my movement). I felt very connected to what was essential in the practice and the space.
On father’s day I danced on the rocks and dedicated that dance to my father. I set my intention for him within the practice and followed it through. This day moved me emotionally and made me realize that the dance was larger than this practice. My artistry was not only allowed into the work it was wanted and needed. As a dancer this is not frequently the case. Here it was necessary. My story, my history, my knowledge was appreciated. After this dance I acknowledged that the more I brought to the work, the more it was going to grow and the more I would receive.
Overall, the performance practice has also seeped into my own creative work. I’ve worked with Merian throughout graduate school and her improvisational modes have greatly influenced my process in choreographing and performing. It has become a part of who I am as an artist. I began working on a structure that required moving slowly and shifting the body’s relationship with gravity. I utilized the skills I’ve acquired throughout the practice and began expanding and adapting them to discover new ways of moving.
The branch dance performance/practice brings to mind the quote from Henry David Thoreau, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
I danced in the woods and I am grateful for what it had to teach.
Photos: Pepón Osorio
Posted by Merian Soto Performance Practice at 9:07 AM