1. Charlie Morrissey

        • Room to Move : A Description of an Exercise

          Lying on your back.

          Leave the skin to do the work of containing, so that the muscles can release and the bones drift apart.

          Let the body spread into the ground in the way that a pool of oil spreads: from the centre out into the constantly expanding periphery—not pushing, but releasing into all the increasingly available space.

          The centre and the periphery remain connected through the whole body— a single expanding form.

          Notice how the breath informs this sense of spreading: expanding from and contracting back toward your centre.

          Take your time.

          Begin to move with the image of collecting and releasing the “limbs”—legs, arms, spine. First gathering the limbs together as a way of moving onto your side. Then releasing them all back to the floor. Can you do less and observe more?

          Continue moving with this image of gathering and releasing the limbs into and out of the centre. Each time you release them, allow the body to spread a little more—from the centre out into the floor and the space.Breathing.

          Continue with a partner. One person moves while the other observes. The observer maintains their own sense of expansion and breath.

          How can the whole body be engaged in this observation? Notice the feedback in your own body as you observe your partner moving. Stay close to them as they fold and expand from place to place.

          As the observer, start to bring your hands to your partner—big spreading hands laid on the body. The hands are passengers on your partner’s body–not implying or asking for anything, but simply noticing the feedback—from your periphery back into your centre.

          Elbows and shoulders remain soft as you notice any sense of your centre being affected by your partner as you lay your hands on their body.

          Your hands leave space for your partner to expand.

          The hands breathe.

          Your partner might feel the invitation to expand that the hands offer.

          After some time, the observer can introduce gentle resistance—just the beginning of resistance to the direction that your partner is moving in—again noticing how that feeds back to your own centre. The resistance can also take the form of feeding your own centre into your partner through your hands.

          The hands remain soft and open, spreading and mobile.

          The resistance is an offering rather than an instruction.

          Your partner can expand fully into the resistance.

          After a time, you can play with increasing (and decreasing) the resistance—always listening to what you perceive is the appetite of your partner. More of the body may get drawn into this exploration, but let the focus remain: expansion and offering space for expansion.

          Switch roles.Then both of you can participate in the exercise, taking both roles simultaneously—mover and follower. More of the body gets involved. Surfaces are offered and spread into.

          The last part of the exercise involves taking the hands out of the equation. Two bodies expanding into each other, working between offering space and resistance.

          This article was originally published in Contact Quarterly Magazine.

          www.contactquarterly.com

        • Spinal Trialogue : Charlie Morrissey, Steve Paxton, Scott Smith email dialogue

          This email trialogue took place between Steve Paxton, Charlie Morrissey and Scott Smith following three weeks of working together in London and Brighton exploring Paxton’s movement system Material For the Spine (MFS). Morrissey and Smith had worked with Paxton researching and developing Material For the Spine between 1993 and 1996 and they invited Paxton back in December 2004 to revisit the materials as part of the process of creating their new work Instructions For Survival which premiered in Brighton on 3 February 2005 at the Corn Exchange.

          Q1 Charlie: How would you describe Material For the Spine?

          Scott : MFS is a system for maintenance and research of movement. It presents opportunities to observe and be subject to, subtle or gross initiations of movement, often proposing the (projection) of skeletal components such as coccyx, ischia, scapula and atlas-skull. It incorporates exercises from Akido that cultivate curved or spherical space, and asanas from Yoga which offer opportunities to observe the body in rest as well as action, as well as several types of rolling across the floor and ‘puzzles’, which offer a kind of syllabus of basic forms, for engaging in combinations of projection and contraction. Practice of MFS is concerned with fitness and movement potential. As I understand it, MFS is a response of SP to the movement material produced by contact improvisations. But MFS can be practiced without the aid of a dance partner.

          Steve: It is a system. It attempts to examine the spine of Contact Improvisation. I began it in 1986, in NYC for a workshop at Movement Research. I was interested in alloying a technical approach to the improvisational results which had appeared in the bodies of Contact Improvisers. In allied martial arts, such as Aikido or Tai Chi Chuan, there is an attempt to make the central mass and thus the spine elusive. In Contact Improvisation the spine is given to one’s partner. However baring injury, the spine and some of its musculature work almost invisibly.Via exercise, ideokenetic imagery, and specific examples I wanted to bring to consciousness the subtle sensations, the moments when usage reveals operations of the skeleton, the muscular connections available between pelvis and finger tips, the soft energetic support of leverage which I take to be chi or ki. It proposes that while the thumb and first two fingers find an anchor in the mass of the head, the ring and little finger relate to the pelvis. The pelvic bowl contains the centre of mass for the whole body, the anchor for upward projection of the spine above it, and the roots of the latissimus dorsi which move the scapulae downwards to project the arms via the connections along the lats and the underside of the arm to the ring and little finger, and beyond via pointing outwards from those finger tips.However below the centre of mass there are three skeletal elements which point downwards: the ischia and the coccyx.

          These elements project the weight of the torso toward the feet and the floor toward the gravitic pull of the earth, and control the attitude of the pelvic support for the spinal upward projections, MFS contains examples and exercises to bring these actions to consciousness, so they may be used as significant isolations. That is, movement initiation is encouraged in the lower portion of the skeletal pelvis. The skeletal elements are a consistent focus to free musculature from conscious manipulation, taking the assumption that conscious manipulation of musculature initiates contractions first, awareness of muscular extension secondly, and that the student will only be able to work with muscular sensations he/she already is aware of, obviating discovery of new muscular sensations.

          MFS takes as given that the palette of the dancer exists as sensations in the body. It attempts to point out naturally occurring events such as the pointing of the ischia toward the seat of a chair when sitting and toward the feet during walking, and develop exercises which being these events forward for examination. Another example is the handshake. Prior to clasp there is a noticeable projection outward toward the awaiting hand through the underside of the forearm and last two fingers. Upon clasping, the last two fingers curl around the palmar bones of the last two fingers in the hand which is shaken. This event contains elements of Aikido ki projection in that the arm and hand are gently extended and supported, ready to give and at the same time, receive.

          Two types of whole-body exercises fundamental to the system are rolls and puzzles. Rolls are of two types, the Crescents attributed to the work of Simone Forti (5 examples are given) and the Helix rolls (4 types are given). In Crescent the body defines its total arc and rotates within that shape maintaining a parallel between left and right. In Helix rolls the body defines its extreme twist or helix, and maintains that event while rolling.The Puzzles (four types) require the student to find the relevant sensations to accomplish specific disorientating rolling or rotational events in the spine.All of these exercises are studied horizontally on the floor so that concentration may be maintained on specific interior events without the distraction and override of loss of balance.The search for appropriate coordinations within these exercises may result in tensions in the students’ bodies. Between times deep breathing is given. Specific emphasis is given to long exhalations to oxygenate the fatigued areas, and the instruction, ‘watch the fatigue vanish’. Thus the mind of the student is employed in a witnessing mode, with an assumption that the interior focus can be healing, and that the stresses contain information relevant to future attempts — the ‘fatigue image’. Further, attention to breathing includes the breath as an interior massage of organs to the bottom of the pelvic bowl. Thus the volume of the pelvis is present with the attention to the skeletal elements and the more overt muscular sensations.From Hatha Yoga, four asanas are given. Knee to eye (2), the upward arch of the spine, and curling the knees up over the head, all given on the back, and with the corpse pose between, with breath and fatigue watching.These, with explorations of the working of the iliopsoas muscles, suggest that MFS can be seen as a system for exploring the interior and exterior muscles of the back. It aims to bring the light of consciousness to the dark side of the body, that is, the sides not much self-seen, and to submit sensations to the mind often using visually observed body elements in self definition during dance.

          Q2 Steve: You invited me to Brighton to work again on Material For the Spine. Why?

          Scott: I believe Charlie and I both felt that a reinvestigation of MFS would be appropriate at this stage concerning our own dancing. As concerns my own dancing, MFS has provided a broad technical platform which I apply towards many movement based circumstances. In retrospect of our time together, I feel that for Charlie and I to have taken part in the technical regimen you proposed has led us to a ripened state from which to dance together. I wanted to invite you to Brighton to work because there remains value in what you are interested in, and what you practice.Charlie: I feel that in order to answer that question, I need to first explain something of what interests me about the Material For the Spine. In the first place the Material had proved a very rich education and exploration for me. It had informed my approach and my attitudes to working with the moving body. I was particularly curious about:

          1. Its examination of the architecture of the skeleton as material for movement.
          2. The experiential approach to identifying those materials combining a certain precision and formality in the forms it was examining, with a freedom to explore and develop those forms in improvised dancing. Central to this has always been what I perceive as Steve’s ability to really identify something within the body and to develop more and more exercises which reveal different aspects of that specific area.
          3. The structural integrity that is proposed through its two-directional exploration of spiral forms, and through its connections through space and through the body of different parts of the skeleton; atlas to tailbone, sitz bones to heels and so on.
          4. Its definiteness, the clarity with which I could experience the movement because I could visualise and, to many extents, experience the bones – as solid definite shapes with directional possibilities and instructions.Those are some of the things that interested me about the material and then there was the journey that the material had taken in my own body and work as I had continued to work with aspects of it, developed areas which interested me, lost parts of it and then it had been assimilated into the general world of my movement history. So there’s an almost archaeological interest in discovering something about where one is now bylooking at where one came from. I was also very interested in how the Material might have developed, how it would feel in my body, what kind of movement it would produce in me now. In terms of the work that Scott and I are making, I was interested in going back to a source. We have been coming together on and off over the last ten years for different research and performing contexts and have been developing a particular kind of dance in contact with each other. I felt that the dance was informed by the Material For the Spine and as such I was really curious about what would happen if we were to revisit it – almost to unpick some of the complexities that had developed within our dancing by revisiting the clear instructions of the Material. I was curious about how all of this would inform our creating this new dance piece – how all the pieces would fit together – whether it would provide further instructions –  instructions for solo materials, for re-examining the duet materials.

          Q3 Scott: What were your reasons for accepting the invitation?

          Steve: You and I have spoken about refining and defining the original work we began when? 1993? Charlie and I fell out of touch after 94, except for sporadic emails, phone calls. He said he was using the MFS, though I had no idea in what contexts.Getting back together after 10 years meant I would see the results of our earlier work ‘in body.’ And after such maturing, find additional materials, for instance, the scapular turns. I hoped we could find ways to move MFS through space, perhaps create complex set phrases. In the event, both in the Hove sessions and during the Jerwood week in London, most of the time was spent in renewing acquaintance with the initial forms. Subsequent to the great last evening at Charlie’s, I have taught 8 hr workshop in Florence, and discovered some bizarre rotational coordinations of head, thorax and pelvis combined with ischial pointing, scapular manipulations and wished could email them to you. Shortly, each of the 3 masses rotate horizontally (ie, eyebrows remain in horizontal line for the head, shoulders for the thorax, belt for the pelvis) Ischia point and unpoint to either L, R or both, and scapulae may be set up or down. Scapular movement is difficult in thoraxial rotation unless rotation stops for the adjustment. The overall effect is like Indonesian chickens.

          Q4 Steve: The extended breathing between active events is intended partly to bring to mind the interior of the torso and pelvis, to present a moment for an interior view of the spinal body. Has it had this effect?  

          Scott: Yes, the extended breathing between active events has been an opportunityto occupy my own interior, particularly with regard to the actual movement produced by breathing. The movement on inhalation, of the diaphragm towards the organs and cavity of the pelvis, can seem to ‘fill’ the pelvic bowl with sensation. I do wonder how much of this experience is actual physical feedback, and how much of the experience is my own imagination of my pelvis. This interests me, the function of the imagination, in regard to mapping interior sensations. Breathing between events gives my mind time to observe sensation, without a lot of other movement information to process.If the extended breathing is happening after a long spinal asana, I can watch the sensation of fatigue that has formed from the exertion. During these moments, I can get a sense of the placement of the spinal column inside my torso because it is giving me feedback in the form of fatigue signals, and the dissipation of those particular signals.

          Charlie: In response to the effect of the extended breathing between exercises: I would say that it did act as an opportunity to bring my attention further into the interior of the body: One aspect of that experience would be a more pronounced sense of the bones being contained within or laying upon the softer and more fluid elements of muscles and organs. Bringing my attention to the aspect of the bones being surrounded by softer tissues also is a clue to the softer aspects of the live tissues that make up the bones and therefore provides a relief from the harder architectural aspects of the bones and of my attempts to direct their movement. It offers a clue to the collaboration of muscle and bone that occurs in order for a particular action to take place and as such can relax my sometimes fixed approach to the specific directions of the MFS exercises.

          Q5 Scott: What would you consider an ideal circumstance, context, or outcome for MFS to be applied towards?

          Steve: Well, I would ask in return, what’s not to like about what’s happening? One thing, it makes me see what’s missing to some extent, in the system and in the resultant improvisation. I keep thinking of new technical wrinkles. One example is a new warm-up I’m now experimenting with, using the hands to air-whoosh the body, like plumping a pillow without touching it. I feel it bring blood and awareness within the part being air massaged. And it fine-tunes the shoulders supporting the massage. Scaps and lats., what a team.

          Q6 Scott: As I recall, at your lecture at Goldsmiths on Nov 1, you said something about the use of carrots, as inspiration for performance making. If this is true, could you expand on what those carrots are, or represent?

          Steve: Oh Scott, I can’t remember, and will have to review the tape. Perhaps I was just speaking of nutrition. Better choreography through eating lots of vegetables. I’ll get back to you on the carrots.

          Q7 Steve: In giving specific Material For the Spine for you and Charlie to work with, I was surprised how programmatic it made the movement seem. Even when the application I suggested worked well, there was something different than the sort of spirit animating your organic duet, the CI variant you two have evolved. Do you consider evolving the same sort of empathy in a duet which is unconnected? Under what conditions might this be approached? If you would decide to take a technical approach to a section of your dance, say an exploration of the Indonesian Chicken rotations, can at the same time or soon after the compositional implication be included?

          Scott This question is practical. I have often found that the act of defining and setting material can make the ‘dancing’ of the material ‘programmatic’ and staid. It’s a kind of conservatism maybe. As such, I find myself constantly seeking improvisational or creative positions to the dancing. Part of the job of making would seem to be how to keep an open or dancing attitude towards what one has decided to do. I am interested in finding ways and means for Charlie and I to dance apart and unconnected physically, while still maintaining the ’empathy’ that can animate our contacting dances. The dancing in contact provides a lot of feedback through the circumstance of touch. I believe we are looking for stimulations/information in the circumstance of not touching. I think we are constantly in some environment, even if we are not engaged in partnering, though this can become very generalized, and I feel we often find ourselves drawn back to the specificity of physical contact. Also, the root of material for making this performance proposition was very much about the different qualities of touch that we seem to have been doing naturally. The occupation of space is presenting other challenges.

          ‘Can at the same time or soon after the compositional implication be included’? I would like to think so. The challenge is how to engage the compositional implication in the support and delivery of the dancing. This for me is an on going riddle, and I am challenged by this constantly whilst trying to stay working. I am presented with this as a musician as well. How to keep the spirit of my changeable humanity engaged in the decided formal concerns? How to stick by decisions I, (or others), have made in the past. How to stay with the script or written score and be moved by the spirit? At the same time, I am often very happy to have a template or score or piece of choreography, to assume a basic or complex understanding of what is happening, and what the common consent is. It can be very useful to know what key the tune is in, or when to inter or exit the stage, or when to do the hokey-cokey. So I am looking for the perfect or survivable balance, between what is known and what is not known, and being hopeful that what I do will be readable, or mildly entertaining. Though perhaps bemusement is unavoidable at times also.I could say that it’s always constant composition on some level. But I don’t know how practical or communicable that is, and we are looking for specifics, orders of events, spatial design, dynamics, interesting movement and theatrical context.

          Charlie In relation to composition: Material For the Spine is for me a movement study rather than a compositional one. It offers instructions for focusing on very specific details of the moving body and has implications beyond the exercises themselves in terms of providing a starting point for bringing my awareness to aspects of the body and my of attention to them. It therefore provides a source from which to explore any number of different pathways; some of which follow the specific patterns of the forms detailed by MFS, some of which follow on from them or are somehow implied by them, and some of which are an opposite response to them – an antithesis revealed – even demanded by my body after repetition of the exercises.

          But this question of composition, or of a means to proceed to compose, seems a deliciously complex one. How are Scott and I composing when we are dancing?

          Perhaps the sphere of composition that we work in when left to our own devices just dancing together is relatively narrow – the decisions we make are mostly sensory – stimulated by the senses: chiefly touch and sight, an element of sound and even smell perhaps as we orbit around and move into and with each others’ centres of gravity. It seems that there are compositional choices within that, all be they perhaps mostly localised ones. We may become aware of the shapes that are being made, of the phrasing that we are creating, of the changing dynamics of the movement, of arising theatrical qualities etc. and act upon them. These are compositional choices; the composing of different events within the dancing itself. With Material For the Spine there may also be localised compositional instructions to be identified: The directional qualities, the rotational nature of some of the exercises. Perhaps there are further studies to be made of the progression of different exercises into to space – of their spatial implications or rhythmic tendencies. I remember exploring these kinds of ideas in the studio in Vermont and more so in that gym on Vashon. None of these things really offer me an obvious compositional path to follow in terms of creating something through time and space.

          I find composing in general very slippery and mysterious – a process of reading all the available clues. Sometimes it is a matter of contextualising movement events or episodes, containing them in appropriate or desirable ways. One of the reasons I was interested in working with MFS again was to see if it might offer clues for the starting point of a piece Scott and I were about to embark on. Our dancing together began with the MFS project back in 1993 and we were both interested to revisit it and to see whether visiting the source as it were would suggest a context for creating a performance together. It did in fact it prove to be a great stimulus and context for moving together although, other than that initial research, MFS has not been a feature of the work that we are creating. It is in evidence within the piece as a movement technique alongside the other movement techniques or histories contained within our bodies and perhaps when we look at the piece we will be able to see more clearly the place that MFS has in it.

          The piece Scott and I are making has been created very much in collaboration with the light (with Michael Mannion) and the sound (with Philip Jeck). In fact the light really created a context for the movement materials we were exploring – most of which grow out of our partnering/contact work. The light defined the environment, created a theatrical context, spatial boundaries and so on. Michael made a proposition with a specific lighting state and Scott and I went into that space with different materials we were working on. We would have made more or less decisions about how we were going to proceed and would improvise within whatever structure we had given ourselves or had been given by the lighting. The progression through the piece was a very intuitive one – again a matter of reading all the available clues. We had ideas about qualities and values we wanted to be seen within the piece and attempted to rediscover those things within the context we were working in. The whole process has been (and still is) a delicate one. Gradually tuning something from different elements and trying not to break it – a little more of this, a little less of that because I won’t know what it is exactly until its there.

          We video each run, we invite people to give us feedback, we watch each other and read all available clues. The piece is called Instructions For Survival and it is a process of surviving the different real circumstances of making the piece itself; the physical relationships we propose, the circumstance of getting up in front of an audience, the act of creating something which means something to us, our own egos, and any number of other things, some identified and others as yet not.

          The question of Scott and I finding ways to dance apart has been a puzzle. Not to say that we haven’t been in positions where we have been dancing in relation to each other: What do we do in those situations? – take clues from each others’ movement materials, phrasing, dynamics, spatial patterns, the physical and psychic relationships between us and so on. Within our dancing in contact with each other we were discovering other things: something about an interaction of the viscera, something about generating different states – that the physical extremity of the movement would almost contain a kind of dramatic content, but not one generated through dramatic intent. Working with MFS again provided some clues to moving apart – specific materials which we applied formal propositions to for proceeding into space.

          Q8 Scott If MFS was culled from CQ, and when engaged in CQ one has the stimulus of another body to read and respond to, what is one responding to when dancing MFS alone? This is connected to my question about carrots as I recall the carrots being something you placed (metaphorically) in space so as to have something to reach for, or aspire towards. Also, when you use the word ‘composition’ what do you mean as a definition of composition?

          Steve: Com + position. Com is a variant of the Latin ‘cum’ and means to or toward or with. Position should be considered in one moment and also in speeding time. That is, the idea itself is often static, as in photographic composition, but could be considered in 3-D space and with the duration it takes to cover space. Vectors. What is the position in time of two bodies?

          When dancing MFS alone, one is composing one’s own body with the elements of MFS, or goofing on them. One could consider vectors here also, as elements of MFS are engaged and moved through space. For instance, a drawing could be made of the tips of the scapulae in the Scapular Turns, as they move up and down and motivate the turning. I envision it as entwined paths each with waves, not necessarily symmetrically opposite, since the scapulae might move independently. Seeing it this way is deriving a compositional abstract (pathway of scaps) from the MFS focus on sensation.

          This abstract graphic can then be coordinated with other elements such as the pelvis, or the steps necessary to respond to the impulse of the scaps. It can be placed in space, it can be matched to the movement of another body, it can be set, in other words.

          Perhaps I am seeing that the MFS technical focus on sensation might override the next step, abstracting the movement thinking, rendering MFS anti-compositional, or from an observer’s viewpoint and interpretation of the moving person, an internal event.  Not that I am against internal events. But here I am straying toward theatrical context. Perhaps I am also considering the carrots. If you have internal events and interpersonal events, with what are they contrasted, so as to show that the inner foci are there explicitly, rather than just the default performance mode?One of my favourite moments in ballets is when a dancer slips inside the overt performance mode and we see internal concentration. However, ballets are usually performed (to the unseen audience in the dark) as though movement were simply arriving and as though no internal focus was happening. That is a contrived innocence, a stylistic tradition. In current improvisations truly naive (having or showing natural simplicity of nature) performances are common, in which the movement can seem to arise from internal events only, not connecting to a further construct (or as you usefully term it above, ‘decided formal concerns’.) For an observer, the shift from movement to a further construct, say the consideration of the two bodies’ vectors, or other compositional orchestrations, is a possible carrot.

          John Cage’s aphorism to the effect that composition is one thing, performance is another, and audition another has served us well to extract compositional thinking from the tropes his music stood against – the notion that music might mean something, as it is often purported to do, and as composed so as to convey emotional coloration to a stated subject, the title.  Church music comes to mind, or Beethoven. John was a compositional wonk; he saw so many, or even unlimited ways things can exist together. There is a terrible logic to the aphorism, though, in that it leaves the audience disconnected from the performance and composition. Many performances seem to exist under John’s umbrella, because they ignore quite perplexing questions about the nature of communication, idiom, interpretation, intelligence, personality, and almost suggest that there is no possibility of ‘group effect’, or the audience united with the performers in anything other than illusion.  Now that illusion has been questioned, we are using instead, phenomena, with little thought to the potential of interpretation by the audience. Or, as the painter Robert Morris once did, rejecting interpretation: ‘My works are not containers’, as though interpretation were the responsibility of the artist.   But as a member of ‘the audience’ sometimes, I think interpretation is our job, is an instinctive reaction to what we see or hear, that is, to place it in our understanding. The Cagian, carrot-less compositional effect was mighty interesting in an artistic milieu where the carrots advertised more than the work could deliver oftentimes (‘Ode to Joy’), but in the intervening years it too has become a trope (a manner of speaking, which suggests many people agree that this is the way to say something, or rather, nothing). Meaning, what a dance is about, would seem to have been set aside and audiences have gone along with meaninglessness to a remarkable degree. Perhaps one must see what Cunningham, in the eye of the compositional storm, did, instead of mean. For one thing, he was not so dogmatic about things as Cage’s aphorism is. Sometimes Cunningham did mean something, although usually obliquely. The other stratagem is, he composes (via chaos or choreography or a mix) to achieve at least a sort of mood, and once he has his bearings he rehearses it into fixity – and for the performers, surety, security. This process obliterates the programmatic element because the performers no longer have to think the steps, they know them and can behave them. Cunningham performers are not colourful, it is true, but neither are they in a state of invention and application. As we are in improvisation. Not to quickly slip by the chance procedures he works with, they insure that he is not just composing what he knows. As we are in improvisation. I mean we give tongue to the idea of the unknown in improvisation, but when it comes to our performance behaviour, most of it is at best personal, at worst, egocentric. I don’t remember much from his repertory where people noodled about. I mean it is strange how purposeful his dances can feel to the audience, considering that meaning is absent. Meaning is absent. The tradition of narrative dance is antique. But the stratagems which manage to keep audiences alert remain.

          Christie Svane once said, ‘It matters what you give an audience to do’. It might be said that what you give the audience to do are the Findings. The particularities, the intelligence (in both the IQ and military senses). The idea that even if one is working with an improvisational phenomenon, something is gained and given if it is intelligently investigated, and some light shed upon it. Some contrast, some repetition, some identity established and put through a filter, perhaps, or dissolved into its constituent parts, or added to or subtracted from.

          I have to apologize for running on like this. Something in the water. Or the effect of writing rather than the verbal interview we were to have done.

          So what was your question? Oh, yeah, composition. Things put together. Plus, how those things fare over time. The thread , and how it is woven.

          Charlie This question of the carrot as something to reach for and the physiological activity within the body to make that action happen – another different but relevant example being reaching to shake someone’s hand, moving to give someone a hug and so on – these things which I have experienced Steve using as examples of movement which have a specific intention and therefore demand a particular arrangement of muscle and bone, momentum and weight distribution. These examples seem to me to be great studies of at once subtle and very specific movement patterns. They offer samples of movement patterns – snapshots which suggest a wider movement context like photos which can be studied as captured moments in time.

          Q9 Scott:  Have you considered MFS a syllabus of sorts in its own right, or is it more for the augmentation of other dancing, or both, or neither?

          Steve: I consider it both syllabus and augmentation. As syllabus: exercises have been selected to present to the student as tight a focus as possible on the ideokinetic awareness of specific elements of spine, pelvis, scapulae and of course the muscles and tendons attendant. Beyond that defining and limiting focus, the exercises are described as producing sensations, the material of movement which one senses while dancing. At this point, the controlling syllabus slips from objective tasks to subjective interpretations, depending partially on the state of the body of the student, and the degree to which the exercises have managed to specify in the student’s mind the exact actions to produce sensations. Even if the syllabus has successfully indicated, say, the ischia as an element, the movements of the ischia might well be accomplished with muscular systems other than those demonstrated. To a degree, this can be seen and corrections supplied. For instance, the ischial exercises promote initiation by the pelvis, so initiations by the muscles of the thigh, in habitual relation to the pelvis, can be spotted and pointed out to the student. At this moment the logic of the syllabus, its specificity, yields two sets of information. Habitual usage can be observed by the student, and attempting to avoid that usage will yield something different. But perhaps not the specific suggested by the syllabus. This is a productive stage of student development. Every attempt which avoids habitual usage yields information regarding possible systems. Eventually the student will discover how to initiate various types of movement in the ischia, including the duplication of the initiations suggested by the syllabus. Failure, as it were, is seen as positive, because immediate success probably means that less has been brought to conscious mind, that the palette of sensation will be limited to a polarity of choices rather than a broader spectrum of possibilities.

          As augmentation: Every student arrives at MFS with a habitual way of moving, either affected or unaffected by previously studied systems. It is the nature of the body to remember sensations either naturally occurring or drilled in classes. However specific the exercises of MFS, they can only be seen as additive. Insofar as they are mentally assimilated, they can be used to create movement events, or spotted as they occur within other systems. One other use of a specific syllabus is naturally occurring rebellion against its strictures. That is, offering such a specific system invites some students to consider the alternatives, and rather specific alternatives to the specifics of the system. For many this is the beginning of improvisation; a stand against something. Hopefully it doesn’t stop at that point, but goes on to be the first step toward engaging, enlarging, and varying one’s own(ed) system.It all is to bring movement to consciousness. The formal system and tight foci suggest MFS can be known as a system. Compliant students will make that attempt, and they should be encouraged to see the possibilities of improvisation, that is, augmentation. Less compliant students should be encouraged toward perfecting the movements, as a way of deepening the dialogue between what they tend to do and what the system suggests. This reminds me that MFS was derived from CI: That is, naturally arising movements translated into studied movements. As such, they are both filters to observe how movement arises and what other movement may be provoked, that is; from idiom toward ideology.

          First Published in Dance Theatre Journal – Spring 2005.