Saturday, January 21, 2012
What is neuroscience?
Neuroscience is the study of the nervous system, which consists of the brain, the spinal cord, and neurons that regulate sensory experiences, emotions, memories, and thought. There are also other aspects of neuroscience, like biology, psychology, and chemistry that play a part in the study of the nervous system and how the world around us may influence it.
Can you share some of your past experiences of studying dance from around the world?
While I was in India, I was studying traditional Indian folk dance [called bharathanatyam] with a professional dancer [also a dentist] who taught to visually challenged students. The company this program was associated with, Samarthanam Trust for the Disabled, was absolutely fantastic and welcoming to a complete stranger like me. The teacher, Raksha, had actually taken me in as a family member, and had given me a two-month crash course in Indian culture. As for the dance style itself, I've never had more trouble tapping into my emotions as I did with this one; bharathanatyam is all about telling stories about heroes, heroines, gods, goddesses, and demons. While performing these complicated [and painful] foot stomping patterns, you have to keep specific body postures, hand gestures, and facial expressions. Sometimes you have to look like an egotistical lord, sometimes you have to look like a sleeping god, and sometimes you have to look like a starving homeless person, all while keeping your technique. Watching the visually challenged students learn and perform all of this was an incredibly inspiring experience.
In Uganda, I actually studied two styles of dance: breakdance and traditional Ugandan folk dance, both of which were taught as an after-school program to anyone who wanted to come and learn. What I really liked about the breakdance group was that everyone believed that 'anyone is a student, and anyone is a teacher.' No matter how much you did or did not know about breakdance, and no matter how long you've been breakdancing, there was always something new to learn from someone else. For me, the breakdancers loved learning about America. And that didn't even include dancing. As for the traditional Ugandan dance group, the group leader had taken me in as a little brother. Not only did he invite me to all of the group's official performances at hotels, he took me to his home village to meet his mother and the village he had grown up with. It was amazing to see the sense of family that the dance group emphasized, and it was an even more amazing to become a part of that sense.
How did it come about that you were interested to work with the Restless Dance Theatre?
The first time I had heard about Restless was during my senior year at university, when a dance professor of mine was giving a lecture about dance films she had really appreciated from around the world. She had shown a clip from Necessary Games called Moths, and I remember actually feeling my jaw slowly open. When I received the fellowship a few months later, I asked my professor for more information on that video. While I was in Uganda, I was contemplating where I would go to next, and Restless just seemed like the next logical place to go. I had already had a small taste of how dance and disabilities were fused together, and I was interested in learning more.
You've been a part of several different projects since you've been in Adelaide. What have you learned about the Company?
As of yet, I've had the pleasure of being a part of the Ranter's Theatre Artist in Residency, a weekend residency at Murwillumbah High School with a new group called Heartbeat Dance, and a week-long intensive with Zoe Barry for the fall production of Howling Like a Wolf. It's hard putting into words about what I've learned about Restless; you hear some dancers with learning disabilities say incredible things, and you see them do simply beautiful things. Since I've arrived, I've felt like I've been welcomed as an actual member of the Company, and all of the dancers have treated me the same way they would each other when we work together. They don't hold anything back, and I really appreciate that. I guess you could say that the Company doesn't have a filter, and that's what makes it incredibly unique. There's no selection process, there's no sense of being a favorite or being hated, and of course the other dancers will open themselves to you as long as you're willing.
Being aware of these things in the Company also leads you to realize a lot more about yourself. There was one time at the Adelaide College of the Arts that Ausdance SA was hosting a Dance Teacher's Day. I remember taking a contemporary class with Lisa Heaven, and in all honesty, I was absolutely terrible in it. I couldn't point my feet, the choreography did not stay in my head, and there was a point in which I couldn't tell my left from my right. Any passersby would have claimed that I had no spatial awareness of my body. Although my body felt terrible, I couldn't help but realize that I wanted this, that I wanted to be able to do it, that this was what I wanted to do. I knew it would require years of commitment [especially to pick up the choreography after the teacher showed it once], but it was comforting to know that didn't matter; if this was really what I wanted, I would keep doing it.
How is your knowledge of neuroscience (if at all) contributing to the creative processes being driven in Howling Like a Wolf?
Sometimes it feels like my background in neuroscience isn't actually contributing to the creative processes; I think about how I move, how others are moving, the space, our interactions, and I almost immediately want to say that neuroscience has nothing to do with it. Then I remember that before we start moving, we spend a good amount talking about emotions, facial expressions, and recognition, and I realize that there's a good amount of time in which I'm suddenly remembering old studies I've read, paper's I've written, and presentations I've given during university. When it seems appropriate, I'll toss in the occasional factoid about a certain brain part, or of a study in which scientists learned something about human emotions. I can only assume this contributes to someone else's greater understanding of emotions and facial expression, which is what Howling Like a Wolf is all about. You learn as much as you can about something, and use that information to your advantage when you're moving around a space, when you're interacting with someone else.
How do you think this experience is impacting on you personally and how does it shape your ideas about what Community Dance is?
This experience is helping me learn a lot about the way I interact with people, which is funny because I thought community dance was about... Well, the community. I see that the group working as a whole is a beautiful thing; if one day a dancer isn't there, the work that is created is just missing something that dancer would have contributed. And that's what I've understood about Community Dance: it takes a group to make an interesting work, but less people don't make it less interesting. More people, however, make it more interesting. And it's been fantastic seeing people join without hesitation and contributing something they're really good at. But while all of this is happening, while you're dancing with familiar faces or new people, you're suddenly aware of who you did what with. And then you wonder why. Why you didn't do something with someone else, and you begin to wonder how that reflects on your life outside of the dance space. It's been super helpful at the end of the day reflecting with yourself, with your friends, taking note of what they saw and what you saw and drawing parallels between that and how you actually interact with people throughout the day.
What has been your top three highlights of being in Australia so far?
First Highlight: Meeting and dancing with most of the dancers from Necessary Games. I mean, you're meeting 'celebrities'. Their videos are being shown all over the world, and they win a ton of awards. But then you get the chance to dance with them, and create something with them. Maybe that's it. You get to be a part of their creative process, which is an absolute honor.
Second Highlight: Hitch hiking [or, more accurately, attempting to hitch hike] from Mullumbimby to Byron Bay and back. Not only did another Restless dancer and I not get all the rides we needed, but we ended up walking for 10 kilometers or so at night. Regardless, it was a funny experience, there was a lot of bonding, and we even got a chance to sit at an old-fashioned diner and have really good apple pie and homemade ginger juice.
Third Highlight: Meeting the families of the people involved with Restless. I figure you get a good idea of who a person is when you work with them for so many days in a week for a long time, but having the chance to actually meet the families of the dancers and directors has added another layer to the identities of these great people. I've had just a glimpse of where they come from, and its incredible, endearing, and just plain hilarious to hear about their lives outside of the dance world.
Friday, January 20, 2012
The dancers reflect on the week intensive with guest director Zoe Barry. Their voices are driving the work in a direction in which the dance is shaped around their individual life experience.
What's been the best thing about this week-long rehearsal?
Getting involved in the group work - bringing my energy into all the work really. Its been a long time since I've done this.
Well the best thing about this long week rehearsal is doing movements with other people and getting to know one another and doing moves our own way - getting to do different movements and working together as a team.
The best thing about this week-long rehearsal, the work you've done on our non-verbal communication, like body language and facial expression, as that has been really fascinating.
The best thing about this week has been working together to create movement which translates into any language. This whole workshop has been about non-verbal communication and movement is one of the best ways to achieve this. It has been very interesting looking at things we often show subconsciously throughout our everyday day lives and working with them in a more in depth form. Experimentation and observation intertwined together to study the inner emotions and the outer gestures and facial expression which show the emotions. I really enjoyed working on my own impulses and also working off of the impulses of other peers within the room.
The best thing about the rehearsals is that you never really know what's going to happen; Philip might throw in a new yoga exercise, Zoe might suggest we study each others emotions for an hour, another dancer might take off his shirt, and you might find yourself dodging a large rubber ball every twenty seconds. In any of these situations [and more], it's been a really exciting challenge to be caught off guard. One tends to find a lot of inspiration in that moment - at least, if one lets it - and great material comes from riding that inspiration. Taking on each of these assignments with a willingness to go with the flow has been an incredible experience so far, and I'd love to have more time to explore this freedom.
I thought the whole week was thoroughly enjoyable. The work was stimulating, thought provoking in a way that (I think) everyone could relate to. I think my favorite part of the week was the exercise we did about anything relating to body language and some of the themes that we have delved into around this area of psychology. The responses were really intriguing. It is interesting how we all perceive body language differently. The things people talked about varied so much they all captured something that was unique to them. I also loved the exercises we did using the space as a grid. Everyone really let go and started creating new movement, it’s a really interesting process coming up with original movements that can be expanded on. Personally once I started to let go and just enjoy the moment I stopped thinking so much about how I looked in the space and more about what’s going on around me and how I can compliment that.
Best thing about week long rehearsal was working for an intensive week with all the dancers! Everyone is so unique in their movement - it makes a great landscape of theatre that can be used. To see peoples ideas are things that only would of come from working with this group... so the dance piece is ours in a sense.
The first week of Howling Like a Wolf was incredibly interesting and rewarding. What a great start to the production! The process thus far has been dynamic. I feel this made the week such a diverse and delightful experience. I enjoyed delving into the themes and ideas for the show by listening to audio, reading and hearing text, and doing tasks, which Zoe presented us. I loved exploring the way in which we communicate and interact as humans, and animals, within this world.
I liked working with the grid and doing improv.
Well this week-long rehearsal has been a good experience because we get to work with different movements and you can discover all the different levels that you can put into your work and make it fantastic and that’s what we are going to do.
Talking on the microphone. The whole show.
The group consists of lots of new faces - how has it been working with this new Ensemble?
Well first of all when I met the new faces I was nervous but they were too when they saw new faces. I introduced myself and asked them what they do and what they're doing and we became friends. That's the great thing about it.
I really loved the new ensemble - I dont know why, I just do. Its been fun working with them and getting to know them - also they are really good dancers.
It was really good working with new people. I think as the more people you include to this process, everyone brings a little something different and always something good. Together all those somethings can make a great work.
Working with new people has been great. It's always good to have a new insight into works being produced. Everyone seemed to meld together like bread and butter. Restless is always a safe place to be and working with new faces didn't change that feeling at all. Everyone gets along so well and works nicely together which makes workshops a breeze and a joy to be involved in.
Having never worked with the Restless Ensemble before, I've been amazed at how open the group has been to working with new people. I've loved moving around with this group, and letting them teach me what dance is like to them. Additionally, working with new people will always give you a new way of thinking about how you see a situation; all of the Restless dancers have pushed me to think outside of my comfort zone.
It’s great to have new faces in the Ensemble. Working with such a large group I thought might be challenging though it didn’t seem that way at all. The new members who I haven’t worked with for as long brought new energy and creativity. Their presence during the week added so much more, I’m really interested in learning their stories.
Again I will talk about for the second question how unique the newcomers are. Lots of familiar faces but the new guys did things that are unexpected and an exciting prospect for any director. I feel that Zoe has had some new ideas thrown to her that will be fun to use.
It is always great to meet new faces. Each person in the Ensemble adds a unique quality to the process. It is refreshing to hear new ideas, and to see how each individual works and moves. The Restless Studio is a beautiful place to meet someone. You connect and get to know the person on a different level compared to outside of the space. Majority of the communication comes through movement.
I like working with new people and getting new ideas for the show.
Working with this new Ensemble has been a great experience because you learn all about different people and their experiences throughout life and what you can learn from those experiences and really consider yourself lucky in lots of ways I guess.
I enjoyed helping the new people.
Do you think you're an expert at something?
I do believe I'm an expert at some things but not everything. I believe I'm an expert at people. Communication is my expertise. I just do a lot of talking and when someone has a problem sometimes I give advice.
I am an expert at dancing by myself and with groups and other people in the Ensemble.
Do I think I'm an expert something? No, the more I've learnt during life, the more I realize how much I don't know, so no, I don't feel like an expert at anything.
Everyone is an expert at something, no matter how big or small, you just have to find out what it is. I am an expert at drawing figures and defining the expressions on their faces. I am also an expert at working together with everyone and anyone. I am an expert at underestimating myself!
I'd like to shy away from the idea of being an expert at anything, but I guess that if I had to, I would just be an expert at being who I currently am, which is always changing. For a while, the group looked to me for neuroscience-related information, and I wanted to be more than just an encyclopedia. I wanted to contribute creativity, expression, humor, and my style of movement, so I did. More importantly, I've enjoyed learning what everyone else considers them an expert to be. Maybe that's it. I might just be an expert at learning what everyone else wants to be.
I honestly don’t think I’m an expert at anything, I mean I have interests and fields where I have more knowledge than other subjects, but to say I’m an expert would be exaggerating. One area that I have done a lot of my own research in is mental health. Having a mental illness I have invested interest in how I can manage my illness, I am always learning more. I mention this because of the radio interviews we listened to where they (speakers) mentioned quite a lot about schizophrenia. It’s an illness that people don’t know much about and particularly relevant in the area of facial expressions and the inability to read empathy and apathy in people's faces.
I'm an expert at Nigel movement. This is a hard one to answer because no one can really master something... an expert in their field will always have new people with new ideas creating new boundaries. My movement is something I can control and is the only thing I can confidently say I'm an expert at... even though other people may see it differently if they do not like the movement. Very hard question.
I have thought and thought about what I am expert in. I realise I am in a stage of growth as a person, which I would like to think is an ongoing growth. If I was to choose something I am an expert in, I see myself as an expert in being creative. I have always been a creative person, and I am forever learning new creative skills in mainly dance, art, craft, and sewing. I feel that to be an expert is a strong title. I mainly feel very passionate about those things.
That's easy, taking the warm ups. I am very flexible.
I think I want to be an expert at dancing and movement and I’ve always been that kind to get up and just dance when I get the chance - sometimes I do dance steps that I have learnt or just dance anything it depends what kind of music is on and what the style is.
I think I am an expert at smiling and being happy.
Yes, getting on with everybody.
Have you learnt anything from the process so far?
I have learnt to focus on my abilities more than myself. I learnt how to calm myself down when it comes to rehearsals and workshops - when I go to a workshop I usually get a bit tense. I think of myself in third person and think smugness. I tend to be a bit smug sometimes, but I hate doing that - I want to make friends with people not hurt them. I learnt to interact with people and just be myself.
Learning to connect with their movements I didn't find it hard this time coz I am concentrating more on what I should be doing rather than worrying about my dance moves. If they are not good its ok - keep trying. I always say... "never say never, don't give up." I have learnt to dance better in the process with others and myself. I just love trying new things. I feel more confident with the other dancers too. Working with them they taught me that I can do everything if I try. I trust them when they are dancing with me coz if you don't trust the person your dancing with it can get frustrating, but you have to learn that not everyone has the same idea or mind as you do, so just respect them for who they are and it will work out.
During the process of this work we've been going into a lot of our emotions and how we feel, how we show how we feel and sometimes why we feel that way. As always that got me asking questions of myself. I have learnt much about myself by looking at the gestures we have been performing and reflecting on my life and what body language I often display and when.
Throughout the process so far, I have learnt to step outside my comfort zone and experiment with inner emotions and the way they are expressed. I have learnt what some body language can be perceived as and how to recognise some differences in facial expressions.
I don't know if I've learned anything from the process itself but different ways of creating a piece. Actually, I've learned a lot from reflecting on what I did during the day; where I was comfortable, what I chose not to do, who I did and didn't work with, and most importantly asking the question WHY? I'd talk about these questions with friends, and in the end I learned more about myself through the choices I had made and finding the motivation behind those choices.
Yeah I think I have become more aware of how I come across to others. Analysing what my face might look like, what my expression is portraying and what I can read in other people’s expressions and body language. Improving on my interactions with friends and strangers, I think it is important that we are sensitive to what is going on around us. I think if you pay attention you can learn a lot from people’s body language. Like the saying goes... ‘actions speak louder than words’.
I have learnt that one idea dosen't make a lemonade - someone has to create the lemon and then someone has to create the 'ade'. The dancers are creating the dance piece... the show... the ade while Zoe is creating the lemon... the basis for our movement and the ideas to which movement come from. I have known this before but I have tried to create movement that is me totally, but someone else always has an idea you can take. what I learnt is that not one idea is a bad one. I have seen the process that a Restless dancer uses, whether imagination or brain impulses... and the ideas anyone can use for a show... they don't have to be one dance idea... an idea is something that needs to be shared.
I learnt more about communication and the way in which each individual expresses oneself has almost universal similarities, yet each person is unique from the next. I realised I work better and create new movement if I let go of thoughts and let my body lead my movement rather than my mind.
Yes I have learnt something, working with new people and I have learnt so much from working with Zoe in the past years. I have learnt about taking responsibility for the workshop, organising the contract and making the show. I did actually learn about making new ideas with friends.
I learnt about playing with eye contact and connecting with other artists and the audience. I learnt about body language and facial expressions.
I have learnt that there are all kinds of dance styles and each is very different from what I have ever done before. Learning about body language was interesting to learn about because you can read what people are saying but if you don’t show it in your body, people don’t know what you’re saying - it’s amazing how much you can read from someone’s body language. Learning about the effect of eye contact was interesting because you can learn lots - I found out when someone looks at you it can mean lots of things not just because the person is interested in what you’re saying... they might like what you are wearing or be listening very carefully – or lots of other things.
Yes, new moves on the floor.
The highlight was how dynamic the process was and I've really enjoyed having the opportunity to research the process through audio and visual and just exploring stuff within the group.
I think doing the grid was fantastic and also just communicating through fingertips and different parts of the body and how great and organised and thoroughly researched the topic has been.
I loved all of it - I especially loved the fight with me and Alice.
Doing flips that I haven't done for awhile and learning how to move on my belly like a snake move which i haven't done for awhile.
All the researchy stuff we've done about emotions and facial expressions have been really fascinating and its been really cool to apply that to my personal life.
The favourite part was just following the impulse of the body and creating something that you wouldn't normally create unless you're in the space with these people - so stuff came out that I wouldn't have thought to do before.
Um...I really liked doing the flirting piece coz I don't think I've seen inspiration by reading to do creating movement through text - and also putting it into a group context.
Working off my own impulses and other peoples impulses and I really liked the grid and the improvisation we did.
The improvisation was different and reading the words of the ensemble was challenging - meeting new people and new faces, working together with people as a team to make this production come alive and progress.
I loved working with the boys - I liked working with flirting and there was a few things I had in mind.
Being the wolf.
I enjoyed the Pilates and yoga lessons in the morning - I felt good afterwards and it was good for breathing and strengthening. I liked the way the day was organised and I found it to be really engaging - it wasnt really an effort for me to engage. It was good to hear about other people's ideas. I look forward to the rest of the creative development.
The stuff that we did today - all that partner work we did. I found it interesting. People did some really interesting things. I think working with other people is really important when you're a dancer to learn how other people move. The challenge was to pretend to do the hand movement and the leg movements. Working with and getting to know my own body was really interesting - its like telling a story.
The best moment was communicating with a lot of people. My favourite bit was learning about the mind - how it works and how its works with the body.
1. What does surprise sound like?
It might be its a sound you can make yourself or a sound in the world in your life that reminds you of surprise, or it might be a feeling or a memory. How do you describe that sound?
2. What does disgust sound like?
So... it could be a sound you make when you think about disgust or something in the world you think is disgusting perhaps - keep it clean.
3. What does relief sound like?
Relief like...oh that's a relief.
4. What does does embarrassment sound like?
5. What does the inside of your body sound like?
6. What does your brain sound like?
7. I want you to imagine that your ears aren't on the side of your head but their on the inside of your tummy - so imagine they're inside you and you're listening to the world - what would they hear? So I'm wondering what you would hear...so it's a bit like when you were a baby. Imagine if you were a fully grown human living inside someone's tummy - what would you hear?
Zoe & Kate ask the dancers about the work so far and how they're interpreting the look and the feel of the production.
8. Close your eyes, imagine the show in your head - what do you see?
What images come to mind when you see the the set, the costumes and the lights?
Write down colours if you're seeing colours.
9. When you imagine this show, what sounds do you hear.
10. What does the show smell like?
You've worked on a number of occasions with Restless in quite different roles. Can you tell me a little bit about your history with the company?
I saw the first Restless work, IKONS in 1993, and remember it distinctly. A friend dragged me along because she had a crush on one of the performers!
I was intrigued by this style of performance - I had never seen dance theatre before, and I really connected to it. Since then I have seen most Restless productions, and performed in Perfect Match (performer, co-composer with Jason Sweeney), In The Blood (musician/composer with band Bergerac), Singing of Angels (composer), Safe from Harm (performer and co-composer with Catherine Oates) and The Heart of Another Is A Dark Forest (performer and co-composer with Jethro Woodward). I have been involved to a lesser extent in several other productions. Many friends have performed with the company, and my long time theatre collaborators, Ingrid Voorendt, Astrid Pill and Gaelle Mellis have long histories with the company. From the beginning the Restless approach to collaboratively devising material and the company's aesthetic has had a big impact on me. It's hard to articulate quite the extent of the effect Restless has had on my career, as it has so strongly influenced my attitude to performance.
Did you make a conscious decision to decide to direct? How did that came about?
I make very few conscious decisions, but I'm trying to make more of them as I get older! Until 2011 I was the performing arts tutor for an Arts Access Victoria respite arts program, and during that time I directed a work and had the good fortune to be mentored by Restless' former artistic director, Ingrid Voorendt. In my work with The Songroom I have directed performance pieces for school children but this is my first major work. Originally Kate Sulan and I were to co-direct the work and when Kate had to revise her involvement I thought about getting another experienced director to co-direct with me, but I realised I have such a clear vision of this work I wanted to take the directing on. Happily Kate is dramaturg for the work.
So where did the name Howling Like a Wolf come from?
Several years ago Restless invited the Melbourne-based performance company Rawcus to run a weekend residency with members of Restless, Tutti, No Strings Attached and Company @. I think it was the first time these companies had all worked together. I had been working as a sound designer with Rawcus at the time and Rawcus director Kate Sulan invited me to join her and two Rawcus performers, Mike and Clem, to help run the weekend. The title of the show came from one of the performers, Eleni, during this residency. Performers were given a piece of paper with an emotion written on it, and had to express that emotion on their face, like a statue. Eleni was given the word 'love', and struck a pose like a wolf howling at the moon. When we asked her why she had chosen that pose she replied that she has recently been in a newsagent and saw a Valentine's Day card that had an image of two wolves howling at the moon together, so she thought that must be what love is - like howling like a wolf. When she said this Kate and I realised we had to make a show! We approached Restless with the proposal of making a work involving all four companies and to our delight Philip agreed.
What's this new work about and can you tell me a little bit about the other artists that are collaborating with you?
The initial thoughts about the show came from the Malcom Gladwell book, Blink. The book explores rapid cognition, touching on nonverbal communication, microexpressions and intuition. Kate and I thought these themes would be interesting to explore with the performers. In collaboration with designer Geoff Cobham and sound designer/composer Jed Palmer we are creating a work that explores issues arising from the scientific study of nonverbal communication, from the pioneering electric-shocks-to-the-face work of 19th century French physician Duchenne and his influence on Charles Darwin to body language guru Alan Pease and the research work of psychologist Paul Ekman into facial expressions and how to read them to identify lying and deception. We have had great discussions in the rehearsal room about how we communicate with one another, body language, mirror neuron theory, empathy, and ultimately how we connect to one another. Exploring the body language of flirting has been the most popular topic for the dancers so far.
There's quite a lot of new faces in the Company since you composed and performed in Safe from Harm. How have you found working with the dancers?
It is a privilege to be working with performers who are so hungry to create work, and they take great personal responsibility for making the best work possible. It's lovely to be back in the rehearsal room with performers I know well. It has been wonderful working with Lorcan, Alice, Andrew, Dana and Jianna again, and welcoming Rachel High back to the company as a special guest. Rachel and I last performed together in In The Blood ten years ago! Its been really interesting getting to know the new performers, they all have fascinating stage presence and draw you into their world. I am excited by the possibilities.
Wednesday, January 18, 2012
(Not sure if this is the correct English spelling of the Ghanese language)
Sofia alahfia ah shay ah shay
Sofia alahfia ah shay ah shay (repeated)
Translated in English...
With my mind I great you
(both hands reach to the head then stretch out forward)
With my words I greet you
(both hands reach for the mouth then stretch out forward)
With my heart I greet you
(both hands placed one on top of the other on the left side of the chest then stretch out forward)
And there's nothing up my sleeve.
(the left arm bends with palms facing towards the body and fingers facing up while the right hand brushes down the left forearm from the finger tips to the elbow and repeats, then the same thing is done with the opposite arm and hand).
Whenever a new person joined the rehearsal, the Ensemble would welcome them with this greeting song.