Somatic Space

Ensemble Thinking is the somatic awareness of space. The idea of somatic work being limited only to the experiences of individual of itself draws the specious distinction that the individual is separate from its environment. It propagates the Cartesian body/mind divide.

Awareness of the internal experience is intertwined with spatio-temporal awareness. Ensemble Thinking trains greater awareness of the spatio-temporal awareness in a performance setting, and therefore greater awareness of the somatic experience of the individual in the moment.

If space and time had no affect on the somatic experience of the individual, no one would get nervous in the hot spot, there would be no penumbra of spatial apprehension.


When, through your practice of Ensemble Thinking, Viewpoints, Action Theater, and Contact Improvisation, you have reached a higher state of intelligence, and that mature intelligence makes you lose the identity of the self, you become one with the performance because you surrender yourself to improvisation.

When, through your practice, you have reached a higher state of intelligence, and that mature intelligence makes you lose the identity of the self, you become one with God because you surrender yourself to Him.  This is Isvara-pranidhana, surrender of one’s actions and one’s will to God. – pg 53, Tree of Yoga by BKS Iyengar.

Compare and Contrast


granted, it could be said that we are looking at apples and oranges as one performance has audience on three sides, live music, and video.  But I would say that these two performances are more alike than they are different.  I am most interested in the spacing, placing, and pacing of the kinespheres and how they differ in the two pieces.

Personnel vs. Content

I was just at the Texas Dance Improvisation Festival this past weekend.  Thoroughly enjoyed myself.

Sitting in on a class taught by a friend and fellow Lower Lefter, Leslie Scates, I listened to the discussion at the end of class.  One of the participants brought up the question of personnel vs. idea during the exercise of Number Score.

Usually, during Number Score, the content happening in the work/performance space changes when the personnel/dancers change.

This need not be.

How to train Number Score to focus on shifting personnel but maintaining the content?

Does Number Score inadvertently simultaneously train Jump Cuts?

How to train Number Score and not drop material?

Maybe beforehand determine what the material/content will be…

must investigate (though, I have always had trouble with Number Score.  Not that I think it is a pointless exercise.  I see its value, but I have (almost) never enjoyed it)

Choreo vs. Impro

Choreography is knowing the other’s response to your actions.

Improvisation is not knowing the other’s response to your actions

TanzNacht Berlin 2012

TanzNacht Berlin 2012
Insignificant Others
(Learning To Look Sideways)
An Kaler
What I read in the program: Together separately. Separately together.  How can one perceive and analyse a collectively experienced, present moment?  Three performers share a moment on stage.  They go through a series of positions that let them become the bearers of ambiguous, almost static yet variable images.  Connections develop between them which cause the moment to gently but clearly shift and their relationships to constantly charge and discharge.  Through a series of interrupted yet connected sequences and situations a space is created in which performer and spectator share the potentiality of what comes next.
What I saw: a generic contemporary dance.  They started standing in silence.  They shifted slowly as the computer generated music with cracks, whistles and pops grew louder and louder.
Another reason I say generic is the type of movement.  Though quite articulate and adept at it, the dancers didn’t offer much in terms of kinespheric originality as they stayed with the elbow initiated limp wrist movement that is quite fashionable.
Spatially, the dancers tended to be upstage and face away from the audience.  Quite a lot of time was spent far stage left in the unlit section of the performance space.  Was this a somatic spatial response to the audience or intentionally done to contrast the two moments when the three dancers were center stage?
One thing I like to watch when I watch ice-skating is when the skaters fall.  Not out of a desire for schadenfreude, but I like to see how they react to an unscripted moment. I am guessing that Insignificant Othersis improvised or scored with landmarks and therefore mostly unscripted.  A moment that I perceived as very unscripted was when one of the dancers, mid thrash, bonked against one of the lighting supports.  Two other very unscripted moments involved two dancers almost colliding.  Did these near collisions happen because the dancers were so involved in their own processes that they became unaware of the others on stage?  Maybe this is the insignificant others bit. Ahh…and the (learning to look sideways) is that they aren’t directly relating to each other, but mostly responding to each other’s movement as opposed to other Viewpoints.  But then they do take similar shapes when standing in front of the hanging rectangles.
Compositionally this piece was coherent.  The movement ebbed and flowed.  The music got louder, quieter, and came in occasional bursts.  The lighting shifted and repeated.  There were three dancers and three rectangles.  So in that sense the piece held together.
But what didn’t work for me was the use of space by the dancers.  I didn’t see a compositional choice (except in the two times of stillness center stage) but nerves and adrenaline causing the dancers to shrink back and away from the audience.  Also, the piece was too long.  Maybe I am too American and my sitzfleisch is not so developed.  But I think it is more that I am a dancer.  After seeing people flailing about articulately for 20 minutes, my mirror neurons are full and I want to get up and join in.
Some notes –
“How can one perceive and analyse a collectively experienced, present moment?” – Is this a rhetorical question?  How about Viewpoints, Laban, amount of sweat, sound, sight, video, photography, Ensemble Thinking, touch, pressure und so weiter?
“…which performer and spectator share the potentiality of what comes next.” – a fancy way of saying the piece is improvised
“They go through a series of positions that let them become the bearers of ambiguous, almost static yet variable images.  Connections develop between them which cause the moment to gently but clearly shift and their relationships to constantly charge and discharge.” – Another reason I say that this piece is “of the genus”.  Can’t this be said about almost any piece?  Especially the ambiguous part?
Laurent Chétouane
What I read in the program: The French director Laurent Chétouane has developed a unique language for dance.  The six choreographies, developed over the course of the last few years, speak for themselves.  Each new encounter with a dancer challenged and enriched the vocabulary of the work.  For the TANZNACHT BERLIN 2012, five of the seven dancers who worked with Chétouane during this period lend their bodies to this language and give insights into their understanding and interpretation of the collaborative works, the shared ideas and the time they spent during rehearsals.
What I saw: Six dancers, not five. One Idea of line or semi circle giving focus to a solo.  I remember one multilevel tableau instead of a line giving focus.  Mostly the solos began and the ensemble would recognize that and create a Hot Spot for the solo. (Some might recognize the Ensemble Thinking vocabulary I am using.)  Every dancer in the group had a solo before dancers went for another solo.  The two dancers in purple had the most solos and the male dancer with long hair in green had, sadly, the fewest.  Maybe he’s the new guy. 
Also saw an odd mandibular action, mostly with the two dancers in purple.  Everyone had their mouths open, and some occasionally moved their mandibles.  Several times the soloists would break out in a funny grin, causing a tittering in the audience.  These smiles were reminiscent of smiles I have seen during group faculty improvisations at festivals when everyone knows it’s headed downhill.  Maybe this use of smiles was a distillation of that phenomenon and commentary on improvisations headed south.
What kept this piece from being generic was that it stuck with the same score for the entire time and kept running through the permutations of soloist and ensemble.  Group improvisations frequently churn through so many scores, ideas, and movement themes (I have been in many of those!) and it was nice to see one that stuck to its guns, or gun, as the case maybe.  But if they were going to stick with one score, they could have been a bit more adventurous in their investigation of it and expression with it.
This piece, too, was coherent – people running through the permutations of a score.  No rabbits popping out of hats, or balloons appearing from pockets or other such non-sequitur surprises.  Though, the mandible jiggle, like the three rectangles in Kaler’s piece, why?
A note – the last soloist before they repeated at one point had her left leg out to the side and rotated it to an arabesque as she rotated right.  A beautiful moment!


My issue with both pieces, was not so much the performances themselves, but how they were framed.  The descriptions could fit most any piece out there.  Kaler’s was “ambiguous”, dealing with the “present moment” and “what comes next”.  Chétoune’s was about collaboration, sharing ideas, and time spent rehearsing.

If the framing doesn’t elucidate how these pieces are more than just iterations of our current genre of dance, then the pieces do not become anything more than an aesthetic experience.  Either you like it or you don’t.  Maybe that is what the creators are after – contemporary dance as entertainment.

Somatic – Compositional

Now – Future
Need – Want
Have to React – Want to React
Body – Space
Kinesphere – Spatial
Sensing Self –Sensing Space
Reaction to Self – Reaction to Other
For Self – For Other
Solo – Group
Self – Other
I – We
Compensating – Creating
Reacting to Change – Creating Change
Following – Leading
Habitual – Non-habitual
Unconscious – Conscious
Automatic – Forced
Exothermic – Endothermic
Anatomical – Cerebral
Poetic – Formulaic
Inner – Outer
Process – Product
Observational – Generative
Subject – Object
Instinctual – Cognitive
Fast – Slow
Evolving – Abrupt

a list of binaries generated during my third semester of my MA SODA at the HZT in Berlin

Emotional Improvisation

From an article on the movie “The Rise of the Planet of the Apes” in the most recent New Yorker:

“If invention, wild and free, yet tied to emotion and philosophical speculation, is given a chance, digital filmmaking could have a more brilliant future than any we can now imagine.”

Replace the word invention with improvisation and digital filmmaking with performance:

If improvisation, wild and free, yet tied to emotion and philosophical speculation, is given a chance, performance could have a more brilliant future than any we can now imagine.

Taking the form of one idea and replacing some of it’s parts can lead to interesting thoughts. Improvisation, as it is mostly taught and perceived, is about being wild and free. Emotion, as I read it here, is not the happy or sad generic reading of it, but the faster processing aspect of the human mind. An emotion is really a bundling of thoughts into one package. For some people, such as myself, those packages take a while to unpack. But I digress.

Ensemble Thinking is an improvisation based modality that uses the conscious mind to train the emotional mind. When on stage, a performer trained in E.T. doesn’t have to think about where the hotspot is, but feels it allowing him or her to more quickly respond. E.T. allows the improvising performer to be more emotional about the performance.

Improvisation can benefit from more philosophical speculation – why are we improvising, when are we setting the number of performers, the costumes, the performance space and time, but not setting the spatial and kinespheric movements? What are we trying to convey, reveal to the audience? What do we want them to walk away with? Why should they give a damn? Is improvisation the means or an end?

Dance is a Visual Art

Here are some links to compositional ideas for painting and photography that I think apply to dance. Especially in relation to the instant choreo composition modality of Ensemble Thinking.

The Rabatment of the Rectangle

The Rule of Thirds

The Rule of Odds

Placement of Elements

The Painting’s Secret Geometry

if dance is a visual art, why are the people who watch it called an audience?