Contact Journey

Contact Improvisation Festival on the road All Over the World

nita

By on August 20, 2013

Transcript of a talk after intensive in Kiev, April 29 2013.

I’ve been asked to talk about my dissertation. My dissertation is a lot about Contact Improvisation. But it’s not only about contact improvisation, it’s also about dance, contemporary dance as well. So, to begin with. What I’m writing about. The title of my dissertation is: “Articulating presence. Creative actions of the embodied mind in dance”. I think changing it to be in connection with contemporary dance. The title is pretty fluid, a lot of my dissertation is still in flux.

What I’m curious about. Is what you brought you here, to listen to me speaking about dance. What is it you would like to know? So I’d like to start from questions, and then I’ll grow and talk more about my dissertation. I promise I won’t read a thing. Though I have it all here. So, what do you want to know?

Questions from the audience:
– How contact changed during these years, from your perspective? And can you explain more about your idea of bodymind, maybe some words can become cues for me to investigate.

So, I got two questions. One is about history of CI, and what’s my theory of bodymind. OK.
– About these changes. What do you think are the causes of these changes, especially the cultural causes and context.

OK, this is interesting. (to Frey Faust) Frey, I know you have some questions.
– (Frey):A lot of questions… I’d love to hear about the subject of communing.

Communing. Sure thing, I talk about that. A part of developing the dissertation for me is not just developing the idea of how we dance, or what’s significant in that dance. But also very much about the fact that it requires to create a new language. And Frey and I had a jump-start for such a conversation. And there we’ve started to talk about relationality. You know, “relations” is mostly about two things, and “relationality” is about things being together. One of the things about becoming a PhD is that one becomes painfully detailed about language and ideas.

Are there any other questions I should address for me to get a start?

– I’m interested, what is contact improvisation for you. I’m asking every teacher I meet about that.

Yes. We’ll surely totally address that.

– What is “articulating presence”?

OK, let’s start from there. May I offer that any time you can interrupt or inject a question? OK. First, lets’ talk about what presence is. If one thinks of the word “present”, the present is the actual moment now that we both experience in time and space. Or what we could call space-time. Because it’s only conceptually that we can tear that apart. When we talk about presence, you can think of presence as what somebody else has. One’s presence may have a totally difference presence than another. They resonate differently. Or you can say: I feel the presence at the door, or you can feel that on the other side of that door there’s someone’s presence. But in my dissertation I’m really interested in performance. So I’m mostly talking about what’s the performance of presence. In other words, how I am aware of this moment, and how I am felt being in this moment of now. So, like on the workshop we were working on taking some space. I can take a lot of space! Not only with my voice. Not only with my gestures. I can take hardly any space. I’m constantly changing. That’s my specialty. In fact, I’m totally unstable as a presence. And this instability interests me. I’m also unstable in time. A moment can be very-very thick, deep, pronounced, intense, multi-layered. Or mixed these altogether. Or I can miss the presence of this moment. I remember in the very early days of contact improvisation, I was driving from Benington college where I was a student, to Oberlin college where my boyfriend was. And I was driving 95 miles an hour, too fast. And suddenly road had some work and the sign said “45 miles an hour”, or something like that, really slow. I went down, probably to 75 mph, felt really slow to me, and tried to make that turn.. Guess what… You know, cars at that days were like boats. Very big, very soft. And I had to navigate – piu, piu – and the time went sooo slow… But it was early days of CI, and I realized that I’m trained to do a lot of things in a very small amount of time. I’ve learned to be active in this stretching of time, stay functional, rather than saying just “Oh, time is now stretching”. And that’s what contact taught me to do.

– Have you learned how to achieve this state? How to achieve slow time.
When there’s no accident.

Yes, I call this “slicing time thinly”. Very thin. Yes, I’ve learned to slice time. But that I’d call articulating presence. So I’ve started to be interested in how we are present in time. As well as how we are present in space. And how do we those, and what happens to our experience as we change time and space. And great deal is contact improvisation that brought me to this curiosity. Phenomena happens, and I could say – “oh my god, I know I would jump on his head” before I did. Yes, that’s true. That was my boyfriend again.. Luckily, my feet went apart. So, watch out if you’re my boyfriend (laughs). I’m very dangerous.

But. Since the early days of contact, I’ve been interested in attention. At that time I did not call this as “attention”, but I then realized that it’s it. I called it “the mind”, “what is my mind”. In those days it meant this (points to the head). It took time to feel it through, dance it through, and recognize that this is the mind (points to body, points to space, points to people). And we all never come to this realizations alone. So. Yes, I was helped by my boyfriends.. And not only.. By Rupert Sheldrake, for instance who started to have interest in non-local mind. Mind that is not localized here. For instance, be was interested how dogs know their owner is on her way, is coming. Their behavior would change long before they can hear his steps. So, these kind of things. Maybe he was writing it in the 80’s or in late 70’s. These things opened me possibilities to think different. Offered to me to think of my experience differently. So, articulating presence means all those things that change my experience. The way you will experience me.

As a performer, I was interested in a fact that I was dancing a sense of myself that was dancing. Not only my flesh form. And when I was dancing with somebody they were changing me. As I was changing them, and we were changing the environment of being. So, a year ago or couple years ago, maybe, my professor said: “Why don’t you give up saying body and mind or body or mind, and just say mindbody, or bodymind”. So that I’ve stopped struggling with conventional language which separates body and mind. So I only speak about bodymind. Or I tell everybody: catch me whenever I tell “body” or “mind” without the other. Because I do not think of mind and I never think of my mind as living in my body. Also when I had to articulate that, I had to struggle with the fact that we do precisely the same thing with the environment. We experience ourselves as living in a place rather than as that place. So we’re continuing to separate us from experience of being. And as we do this, nuisances start to happen. In improvisation, part of the practice is learning that we start to share partner’s body. Their ground becomes our ground. Their anchor becomes our anchor. Than I’ve started to play with the fact that my sense of self was not only constantly changed, but that this presence was determined by myself sensing. This is not easy (to translate), I was working on it for a long time.

So you’ve noticed maybe that I’m telling about self-sensing. And same with presense I’d call this “presencing”. Because presence is a verb. It would be lovely if that verb became a part of language. So part of my job is to this word become a part of common language. So that my understanding of self-hood is an understanding that I’m constantly changing. That I’m unstable, and that instability has something to do with my participation with the environment, in an environment, by an environment. All these possible ways that I happen to experience this moment now. I just change all these bunch of prepositions. A whole bunch of my relations to things. As my relations change, I change. And this has a great deal with what I’m paying attention to. As a physical mind, as a mind in physicality. It’s very intellectual, just checking, you OK? Because we are dancers, after all!

I should tell you that I’m a very political animal. And dancers you understand that body is dangerous. Dancers are dangerous. That’s politics.

Frey Faust:
– I think when we don’t take responsibility for the partner in dance, that causes chaos. But when we consider ourselves as part of ecology, as an environment, that’s different.

Exactly. And what I’m doing is an ecological movement. I’m acting in politics of the ecology. And I think it is really important right now.

Let me start from here. I think dance is a research form. So I have been researching experience for all the time I’ve been a dancer, for over 40 years. And contact improvisation has allowed me to research in an ongoingly growing way. And one of the things, brilliant things that Steve Paxton did in the early days, was that he refused to codify it. Which meant that we wouldn’t license it, it allowed it to be unstable. Now there are a lots of problems with this. In fact, I was one of the people who proposed to license it, because people were running around teaching these things. Even without asking us! But what we’ve started to do is to teach contact as a research. So rather than teaching the results of the research, we taught research itself. Which meant that when people start to inquire, the dance becomes an active inquiry. I can teach you to constantly ask what’s this moment here, what’s this present moment. How do I experience physics of this moment? With this constantly changing form. What is experience, all these questions. If I could teach you to ask questions, then you would learn something that you could take forward. Maybe go in some places where I had not gone. And so, now we find contact all over the world. I suppose it wouldn’t work if it were organized differently in the beginning.

So, when I say that dance is a research form. When dance becomes an art of inquiry rather than an art of expression. Then it becomes a research. This is the place where we can understand experience. So I’m interested in the dance as an art of experience. And dancers as researchers of experience are kind of scientists. There’s a science there. Or it’s a counterbalance to “normal” science. But that leads me to the dissertation which is about presencing. Because presencing is about attention on experience. I came to write PhD and all this writings because I wanted my work, all these years, to be taken seriously. And I did not think a dancer can be taken seriously. But a PhD in performance studies would be taken seriously. And this has to do with politics. And it also has to do with the fact that I’m interested in changing the world. And I think dancers know something very important about this. Something for the humanity. Incredibly important. And I want us to be taken seriously. Because we are beings that can study experience, and this study includes the ecology of being, studying environment as an aspect of self-sensing.

So, the second chapter of my dissertation studies all these language things that describe attention. And attention is not a single thing – we can pay attention or not pay attention. Attention has so many different ways. Attention is a physical dance. So you already know that every thought is embodied, moving. Body in motion. So there is thought that is embodied, that is physicalized. Because this is the mind (claps on own body). So when I look at all the way it dances, it’s dancing physically-mentally. Most of my dissertation is talking about how we as dancers can play with that. And it is attempting to offer to dance the full subject of bodymind, not just a body or mind in a body, which limits that.

So, one of the questions I got asked was about the development of contact improvisation. Contact Improvisation was in many ways a political movement, right from the gecko. The Vietnam War was taking place, in 1972. And contact came in and questioned the whole idea of dancing with head on top and feet on the bottom. The questions we raised was about gender. About dance as gesture and expression. About performance as perfection. If up is necessarily good, and down is necessarily bad, if we live in a secure space. If we don’t resist gravity in order to be lovely. On the toe shoes. If a falling is OK. You all know that in early days Steve was studying aikido and tai-chi. So before contact existed, we started to explore what Steve taught me. Some aikido principles. How to fall, how to roll. But unlike those forms. We’ve started to investigate, what happens if I don’t want to manipulate you. What changes when I don’t manipulate you. What changes when I offer you possibilities rather than a specific requirement actually: do it my way. What happens when I meet you with an open hand that can support. That offers choice.

And that was radical. Radical thoughts. Moving together rather than resisting. Moving with physics rather than against it. And allowed extraordinary things to happen. One of the most extraordinary things is Frey and what he calls Axis Syllabus. It’s revolutionary. The whole time when this event was happening, coming into being, into the world. And now moving all over the world. The Earth was suffering from abuse by people who have separated body and mind. Which is why I got back to the politics of this particular healing. So I think, we the dancers are a part of this healing.

Initially, Contact understood that my self-sensing may include others. I’m both an individual and multiplicity in all moments. So, learning for attention to embrace that fact, learning to be multiplicity of what I notice. Because there’s direct connection between my attention, what I pay attention to, and what becomes possible. If I dance and perceive my beginning and ending just as flesh. Then I’m dangerous dancing with you. You’re in danger dancing with me. But if my feet become yours even when I give you weight. Even one percent of my weight. If I’m sharing your feet. Then we share all our well-being. So I’ve started to understand experience as being more than one. In early days of contact we learned of defusing eyes. To use different types of vision, to use defused visual field. We found this as necessity, we needed to see more than one thing. A full picture. We had to do this without the self-sensing. What if it is a whole body. Not only the action we’ve decided to do, or what we’ve planned ahead. But in this moment now, what is the full somatic experience of the whole body. In this moment, when I’m defused. How do I experience the multiplicity of parts. And organization and relationship between parts. This is not a normal attention, you know.

That attention started to change when contact was developing. I can’t say we go in one attention. One type was a geometry of attention, that’s what we were talking about yesterday. So, when I touch him, you all know point of contact, rolling point. Point that is always changing. What is geometry? Point, line, plane, surface, volume. A point is the place. We’ve started doing contact with a point. And in 80’s, maybe late 70’s, people started to teach pathways, pathways of action, how this point may change. This went to lines. In 90’s people started to be interested in the communication across surfaces. What happens when surfaces meet, what’s the physicality of this surfaces meeting. What’s going on along these surfaces. It’s just very general, talking very-very broadly. Of course, this was not that nice and tidy. And we propelled whole forms through space, not the same way we did in the early days. What I found interesting, as I watch people move and dance, I’m reading minds, bodyminds. And I think there’s a huge potential for the dancers to start to develop a realm of being an environment, of being a physicality in which we generate lots of different kind of attention and physical interactions. It’s because we use attention in so many different ways. I’ve started to do a blog called “Peripheral intelligence”, opposite to centralized intelligence. So mostly we centralize our mind, make it more rational, linguistic, logic that moves linearly. But we have other kinds of intelligence. My body speaks even without bothering with my brain. My body is minding all the time. How many of you worked with somatic practices? Somatics work exactly with this level of intelligence. When we dance, sometimes we’re moving far too fast, so that centralized control cant work. And I’m interested in that thin-slicing time, in multiple layers of experience. There are so many ways the body can be intelligent. But I think we’ve been fascinated with neurological intelligence. And missing lots of other different forms. So dancers may have these possibilities, other ways of explaining experience.

Question from the audience:
– Regarding politics and ecology. In one of the interviews, Steve Paxton said that contact is still developing because people want to participate in making decisions.

I think that’s right, we all need to be a part of decision making. My interest in promoting peripheral intelligence is interest in suggesting that we start thinking of new system of government. Not the one merely centralized. Because when we move from the head to low, we’re pretty slow. Peripheral movement is happening more quickly, the decisions made peripherally are so much faster. So when my body informs me, my bodymind can make decisions peripherally. Things can happen faster. I happened to be a very quick dancer, that was my tendency. And part of that is that I have a huge trust to the multiplicity of what I am. To wrap that up. Contact at this moment is a lot of people traveling all over the world teaching and studying, we’re becoming a web of dancers. And webs are amazing forms of intelligence that we can practice. Did Frey have a lecture about fascia? The fascia is a web. And that web is brilliant. It doesn’t mean it doesn’t go into troubles. It does. But, as a form, it’s amazing. When I work with an ensembles of dancers, I’m constantly looking for how can I form a web of attention with them. So when I form a web of attention, extraordinary things may happen. And I think we’re now involved in creation of world wide web of contact dancing. And it also is an attentional web. And I’d say that it’s not going to work soon. But no one knows what’s the potential of it. I can dream of it. There’s so much to talk about..

I’d love to address what Frey mentioned. Thinking of time, how we attend temporarily to time. About the term “thin-slicing time”. When we first started doing contact, we all learned to slow time down in order to experience more. Attend more and more to be more instant. That happened because Steve’s interest was in what happens when men (primarily these were men in Magnesium) smash into each other, crash into the floor, get up and do it again. His interest, as he was saying, was the reaction time. What happens with the reaction. How is the body function in this ability to react. I think he was interested in same thing that I’m now calling “peripheral intelligence”. Because we’ve passed that pretty quickly, and it was really strange for me. Why he reconsidered this as the beginning of contact improvisation. There were no women, no meeting and union. That was different type of contact, and I don’t know why Steve considers Magnesium as the beginning of CI. So, contact was first putting question of reaction time, but immediately (when I worked with him) we’ve started working with negotiations, how we can negotiate. In this moment, in this… And that leads to big questions of responsiveness. How to be responsive to one another. In order not to be in a battle, you need to be responsive. About 4 years ago I remember I was teaching on a festival in Seattle, alternative dance and improvisation, “Earthbody”. And I was out of dancing, and remember seeing Danny Lepkoff who was entering the door at the same moment as I was exiting. And I told him. “There’s something that’s faster then response”. Because I dance faster then reply and responsive reaction may occur. And in my dissertation I’ve started to write about this experience and what allows us to have this experience. It’s a kind of communion. When my self-sensing becomes the size that includes my partner, I’m no longer “responding” to my partner, I’m in communion with my partner. And that communion is faster then response. Because my partner’s shift of weight is my foot that is shifting weight as well. It’s my anchor that’s shifting weight. And I’ve started to theorize around this idea of communion. And that was really the first time when I put it out to people. And the word I use is “communitive”. Saying, we can be reactive, responsive and communitive. It’s a made-up word.

Question from the audience
– Can you give a short notion of what CI is? Like a definition.

Well, right now, in this particular moment, I would describe it as an opportunity to experience self-hood in multiples of forms, in multiples of motions.

– How did you start working with body?

I think I cant give you a fair answer. Because I was dancing from my childhood. As a very young child. I could not not dance. I was one of those kids who dance in my living room, dance everywhere.

Thank you very much, I think I’m done. I have a list of different kinds of attention, a long list, I could not mention everything in this talk. As you understand, I can talk for hours. My dissertation is has lots of detail about each type of attention. And you’ve just had a view on such a dictionary, of glossary what’s there in my work.

Nita Little

Transcript done by Alex Postnikov,
please send your questions and suggestions to postnikov@gmail.com


Leave a Reply