What am I doing?

This is a question that I’m constantly asking myself especially when I’m in the middle of a creative process as I am right now – in the middle of several in fact.

I’m working on a solo, the heart of which seems constantly to be shifting – it’s a thing that can’t be held – it’s a bubble – fine until you touch it.

I can only get inside of this thing – my work seems to be a process of embodiment and trust. I just need to get on with it and hope that I’m barking up the right tree.

This is what you get when you work with solo performance – you are it – you can’t be outside of yourself watching you. Yes, you can watch video to see what you’re doing, but that only reveals certain aspects of what you’re doing – others remain trapped in the moment in which they happen – and a video does not necessarily offer the answers.

I took as my starting point for this solo, a very simple structure. The two words: ‘on’ and ‘off’. They were initially a lighting score: when I said ‘on’ the lights came on and when I said ‘off’ they went off. I need things to be simple because otherwise I get confused – I get confused anyway, but this on/off score seemed to be full of potential for me. Just working with the calls and trying to catch myself out; to be moving/not moving, just ending something, beginning something, catching a glimpse of something halfway through, just finishing, breaking rhythmic patterns, allowing something room to develop, riding the longer phrases as they arise, feeling and inhabiting the different states it generated – a sort of personal lesson in real time composition.

It seemed to offer a lot of freedom, and to have potential to house a whole host of behaviours which over the course of the time of the piece might accumulate to create something whole – like a really long rhythmic count which would resolve only once it reached the end of it’s phrase.

It was only when Scott Smith, on seeing me perform a short version of this, pointed it out to me that I realised my on/off score was basically a Tuning Score a la Lisa Nelson – I had arrived at a simplified version of something I had been practising intermittently anyway without making the connection.

I worked on this score with Lisa Nelson while she was here in England in February. She worked with a camera – every time I said off, she would cover the lens and would uncover it when I said on. I had a really great time – it was such a treat to have her discerning and permissive eye on me as I worked, and the outside presence gave my research a context – a point somewhere out there to relate what I was doing to.

The fact that there was no change in light for me – no blackout on the off, offered something else to the process. Suddenly on and off were states that I could start to read in me, to inhabit, and meant that the off times became more interesting.

What attracted me about this score is that it gave me something to focus on – a vehicle through which to act, to work with and to focus on and one which allowed me do anything – to bring anything I could muster to bear on the situation and at the same time to have this compositional frame.

My experience of working with Lisa Nelson has really influenced this process – not only by her presence within this project, but through the work I have done with her in the past. It has offered coherence to something which was actually quite a feral process for me. And I’m attracted to and fascinated by Lisa’s work for many reasons.

Firstly I love how her work with perception and the senses. It completely involves me – how it makes my whole being reach outwards and inwards at the same time – it gives room to me as an organism to allow myself to be. To feel sensation, to hear sound, to see texture and colour and light from a place of curiosity and wonder again – I say again because, I think it reminds me of being a child. I am not looking in order to make sense, to attain the thing that I’m seeing, to name and tick it off on my list of known things but to experience them, each next thing filling my perceptual field.

To bring my attention to the act of perception is a process of slowing down, of noticing that I am here and of the tip of the iceberg of all that’s here with me – it can be such a delicious combination of sensations.

It brings up so many questions for me.

How do we know what we are/that we are?

What are these things around me?

What am I seeing?

My ignorance inhibits me from talking about these things.

But these questions feel so important – it’s important to me that they are present in approaching performance making – that I don’t just take everything for granted – that everything does not become the dullest common denominator, the known thing – that each thing offers other possibilities.

Talking about her experience of dance in the 70’s, Lisa says in her article Before Your Eyes.“I yearned to see something else. Something underneath the dancers’ interaction with each other and the architecture of the space, something of the dancer’s interaction with herself—the internal dialogue that shapes the surface. I noted jealously that the audience for animated film, where the human figure (and space itself) are mercilessly morphed, expected to have their imaginations poked and to read between the lines. Feeling that boundless physical mutability was dance’s natural territory, I wanted dancers on stages to claim that space—to articulate the once-magical dialogue with the physical world our culture carves us out of then bids us forget.”

This statement keeps running through my mind because it liberates me from my own traditional notions of making sense. This is something that I didn’t even question when I first began to improvise – the material was anything that became available to me in the moment and the composition was an accumulative endeavor via a commitment to bring all my being to bear on the task of inhabiting each next moment by building on the last.

And so it goes on.

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