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Improvisation Technologies843

We do all that, just to challenge ourselves844
Documentation of the Improvisation Technologie-training with Christine Brkle in Berlin, 3rd and 4th of October 2007 by Gabriele Wittmann

21 participants have come to Berlin this time: choreographers and dancers, teachers of classical and contemporary dance, of dance history and of dance theory. What unites them is their educational work in universities. And whether dancer or theoretician, each of them was also destined to get moving in this training session mentally and purely physically. A challenge for Christine Brkle, who wants to introduce them to the Improvisation Technologies (IT), improvisation structures developed by William Forsythe and his dancers, over the next two days.

Warm up your feet, she says, beginning her invitation to free improvisation with individual body parts. After the feet and hands, we gradually approach the bodys center, loosening knees and elbows until we come to the sacral bone and the head the other end of the spine. Initially, its only about the feeling after a brief improvisation. What was pleasant? What was exciting? Accompanied by quiet music, the exercise is now to select a body part, or two, or all at once, and to concentrate on the part you selected. What changes for you and your movements?

Now consciousness of the participants body space is added. We first play with the extremities far from the center, hands and feet, then with knees and elbows, the middle body space. Then we approach the center: spine, hips, head. You dont have to move so intensely, with so much exertion, but keep your mental focus Christine Brkle was to frequently repeat this sentence throughout the training. Its about consciousness and where it can lead us in dance.

Christine Brkle has being practicing for long enough. She studied classical dance at the John Cranko School in Stuttgart, and was engaged at the State Theater when Marcia Haydee took over the directorship. She then went to Zurich and danced there at the Opera House under Uwe Scholz, meeting William Forsythe when she joined Ballett Frankfurt in 1986. She stayed for fourteen years and is now a freelance dancer specializing in improvisation.

Thats a good idea. Christine Brkle picks up on what two participants are doing. Get into two groups. One group moves the center, the other group their extremities. The groups paths will cross later. How does it feel to work close to your own center while those surrounding you are whirling around, dancing right out in their extremities? Next, we change the focus of the movement to the body space. Various body parts can now be close to the center or way out on the margins. Everyone researches it in his or her own way.

The first questions soon arise. What is meant by body space? Where does it end? What does the word leading mean here does it mean initiate or focus? There are more and more questions. Was does the quality of a movement mean within this work? If this quality is made up of weight, time, and space, are these terms from Labans usage? How are they meant here? What does strength mean? Is force muscular strength, or can it also be a movement initiated by the nerves? Does kinesphere here mean the body space defined by Laban, which can be reached without a change of location with outstretched limbs? Or are there other definitions? Christine Brkle answers each question with stoic calm and commitment, giving a practical example for every answer. But every example throws up more new questions. Youll do different things with a term, depending on how you understand it. Theres no right or wrong, she often says, its just about possibilities.

But enough talking. We get on with practice. The focus is now on feeling light and heavy in the arms. A second focus is also added: time. The exercise is now to change speeds so that the change sometimes occurs gradually and sometimes suddenly. What happens in the body? Next exercise: the quality of the movement selected is expanded by moving the body, either with or without a specific spatial direction. The focus is inwards at first, with closed eyes. Then moves to the margins, gazing at the toes, then outwards. The body, with its kinesphere, moves from the spot. And which ways through the space can I take? Changes in direction and also circular movements are possible. And what about energy? You can hold it to you with your arms close to your body. Or you can fling it away, throwing it out of the body, temporarily abandoning balance. Decide on a combination, says Christine Brkle, but not everything at once. All colors mixed together just give you brown.

Christine Brkle now shows some examples from the Improvisation Technologies (IT) CD-ROM. She explains the imagine lines from the line chapter. Every line can be taken from the body. She goes to a participant lying on his back and says, I can take the line between his knees. Laughter. The extrusion chapter explains how a line can be drawn out from one point in the body, like a radio antenna, says Brkle. Matching is the pairing of movements, folding is a pleating and tucking, bridging proposes building a bridge between two points of the body with two body parts. IT helps them to move with an analytical eye, and it makes you amazingly quick.

How did the Forsythe dancers develop all this? Not in training, recalls Christine Brkle, but in developing pieces. We had various topics and set a focus. Then we went through this focus with the body and a logic emerged from that. They tried out many different things; taking up more space, for example by writing with parts of the body in space, or by taking a detail of the space, such as the curtain, and writing the form of the curtain in the space. Instead of positions in space, the question was rather; How can I relate myself to this space?, How can I move space?. Christine Brkle is already on the floor, plunges into imaginary drapery, investigates the movement quality of the folds, then dances on its top view. It was a luxury to be allowed to develop all that and only name it later, she says. The CD-Rom developed out of this naming. Forsythe wanted new dancers to quickly access this way of working and to be able to try things out and research for themselves. With IT they can do two things at once: create and analyze.

What is kind of work is this? someone asks. Is it emotional? Or formalistic? That depends, says Christine Brkle. It can be mathematical, or have an individual interpretation. In the company we used it for putting a lot of our emotional materials into. Or also thoughts. William Forsythe always asks about thoughts: What do you think when you dance that?

Second day. Christine Brkle asks the participants what they want to do today and about their experience with Improvisation Technologies yesterday, and generally. One teacher tells about his experience teaching in Cologne. The students moved through surfaces that were given various qualities. What is this space doing with my body as a consequence? was one of his research questions. What is the consistency of my bodys surface? How do self and space react? Somebody emphasized the necessity for analysis, precisely because decisions are made so quickly in improvisation. When I teach students in their first semester, I try to first to move them away from authentic movement, he says. IT could be a setting for releasing them from ingrained patterns. IT is a way towards inner work, says someone. In a ballet class u-ing and o-ing is a way of shifting the focus of consciousness towards the inside.

One thing about this training is striking: everyone talks a great deal and their verbal contributions resemble the dance improvisations made over the two days. A whole world of connections around teaching comes to the surface, quickly and surprisingly. Questions, concerns, considerations leap across the space, cross paths on the way back, crossing the path of another, who reacts in his own way. Quickly. Deeply. Spontaneously. Faster than a single person can think.

What role does music play in improvisation? During the creative process we often worked with Forsythe without music. Music was at most a mood that fed our concentration, recalls Christine Brkle. The discussion now turns to coaches and pianists. What happens to the atmosphere when someone brings in a pianist? What happens when beginners dont deal with the task, but follow the music? That requires a musician who can attentively and sensitively react to whats going on in the space. In England that is more normal than in schramp schramp-Germany, says one participant, amid laughter from all sides. The question remains, What is left over from the 1970s of playing music and dancing together to improvise and What are the consequences for education today?, What paradigms do we carry with us into improvisation today?. Christine Brkle is for opening the doors and leaving paradigms behind. Contemporary dance has an entirely different source for observing movement before anyone even starts to move.

The questions continue, ranging from What is kinetography? up to What is history? and How has society changed?. Christine Brkle advocates respect. A certain attitude was perhaps useful and important at a specific time, if only because a generation dedicated so much effort to it. Even on bloodied toes? Even on bloodied toes. More questions are asked. What is romantic ballet? asks one participant, his thoughts finally ending with In the end, we dont know. Someone else has another idea about what IT could be used for. If I as a student like my teacher, then I am motivated, but what do I have in myself that motivates me? The answer: A stronger contact with myself. This is what IT could be good for. As a student, I can stay much longer in my own body with this work.

The discussion ends in doubt. It is now almost ten years since IT was published as a CD-ROM. How can it be prevented from becoming a canon? How can it remain a work in process while elements of it are built into ones own teaching? And isnt technology a difficult term? Doesnt it indicate that we take our systemic concept of the world with us, even into our artistic world? Isnt there a clear appropriation and creeping use of this term? Isnt there a risk that it is understood only rationally here? And isnt improvisation and technologies a contradiction in terms? I like contradictions, says Christine Brkle calmly. The term was more of a process for coming to an examination of dance language, and perhaps also for bringing a certain seriousness to dance.

But back to concrete uses. IT is a tool for warming up in improvisation and coming into contact with different positions, without just performing one exercise after another, explains Brkle. One participant, who has also danced Forsythe pieces, agrees. As a teacher of classical ballet you can give the work another vision. For example, the point-point line can bring more consciousness of the back of the body from the neck down to the lower leg. More quality comes into the release aspect of movement. We need more literature on the subject of improvisation, theres still too little around, muses someone else. The idea of drawing up a literature list from the literature lists of all participants is developed. Practice should be more important than secondary literature, contradicts another participant. Christine Brkle brings us material from Forsythe in her own personal way that is something different from experiencing them through linguistic colportage.

Only fifteen participants are left after the break. Christine Brkle explains William Forsythes concept of space, which is based on Laban. Stretch up your right hand diagonally, she says. Then the left, then both hands. She guides our arms once around the body through all 27 spatial points. In order to feel the difference between point and line we move only from one point, such as the ear. Then we use the entire right side of our head as a line that we move through the space. If we combine two directions, such as high/low and front/back, a surface results. In this case the so-called wheel surface. Imagine a door in front of you, says Christine Brkle. We go through the door surface and use the forearm to create an imaginary surface, which we then carry through the space. We then go through the high-middle-low levels defined by Laban. We play with heights; transposing a movement of the feet up into the movement of the arms.

The desire for more precise definitions is soon aroused. What does floor mean? Is the floor really meant here, or just the ten centimeters above the floor? Or does it simply generally mean low? someone asks. Christine Brkle puts the definition into perspective. Definitions apply only in relation to the systems surrounding them. The issue here is a system for relating within a space. For me, the floor would be, say, from the knees down to the floor.

Next, we try out the diagonals. The left hand touches the floor to the left, the right hand the air to the right. Its not a static, its a moving line Christine Brkle reminds us. The diagonal is two-dimensional on the surfaces, but it is three-dimensional in space. Some find this hard to imagine. Someone makes a paper model to show three intersecting surfaces.

In the next exercise, we select four categories: A body part; a direction we move it in; a way pursued, and a quality. Together with a partner we show and try out various things. You must always be clear about what youre doing, says Brkle. This immediately pushes me to my limits, says one participant. Yes, we do all this just to challenge ourselves, answers Christine Brkle smiling. Someone asks, amazed, Can you perceive all that? She nods seriously. If you move in a complex way yourself, then you can observe and focus on a certain detail and also notice everything at once.

We go on to next level. Two people move in the same cube, each focusing on a surface that they themselves have chosen. They dont have to wait long for surprises. Surfaces intersect, unexpected touchings occur. That was an entirely different experience of touch from those that I know from contact improvisation, says somebody. Others felt so overwhelmed by the many mental possibilities that they had a mental black-out. Its a big task to be with two people in a kinesphere, asserts Brkle. Everything has more volume. Dont you have to be very sensitive to intervene in the movement system of others through the shared kinesphere? Of course, says Brkle. Emotions well up. One participant talks about the stops, which occur when the partner reacts differently than expected. Wonderful, says Brkle. When are people really performing a task and are entirely preoccupied with it, then its interesting to watch!

Time to improvise together. In groups of five everyone initially forms a phrase through the accumulation principle. Once the phrase is established, it is passed through four IT performance principles, first of all through the avoid movement principle. We imagine the sequence in spatial and chronological order - as if someone else were dancing it and dance around them without touching them. Then we try out the spatial recovery principle. Once again, the sequence of movement is in minds eye, but now we fill out every movement in space while we perform it in the same spatial location but with a different part of the body than before. Thirdly, we try out the reverse principle and dance the sequence backwards. Finally there is floor brushing. We concentrate on tracing the phrase with feet brushing on the floor.

Gradually couples dance together, each partner fills out a different principle. One tries out the avoid movement, while another concentrates on floor brushing. Each of them is completely concentrated and focused. The task involves the entire mind. The brain starts to run hot, thousands of new possibilities shoot through the synapses, stimulation and excitement grow in proportion with the degree of attentiveness. Now comes the encounter with the Other and surprises lurk everywhere. Some almost collide. Sudden confrontations develop, requiring lightning-quick reactions. In conclusion, both groups show how they dealt with the task. These encounters are more beautiful to watch than other improvisations I know, says one observer, because we sense that there is a path in every dancer, even if its unknown, an intention, which stays in the space the whole time.

Time for feedback. Its great for a dancer not to passively stand around, but to be active while the other is doing something, says one teacher. Another is happy about the type of encounter. The communication is so inspiring, youre constantly required to react. A third observes: What were doing here is a kind of play, and it does us good. In daily life we often so have it drummed into us that we have to do things right.

The GTF congress on the topic of Training begins in Berlin in parallel to the workshop. More participants have now quietly said goodbye and slipped out of the studio. The space is empty. Only two participants are sitting with Christine Brkle. A final discussion develops about William Forsythes way of working, about his works, about his attitudes. A ballet teacher asks whether this work doesnt also have a spiritual dimension? Yes, answers Christine Brkle, in many ways. It begins with the question, How does the movement material come to me? Its not just me, she adds. It is no longer; I must invent something. It is also; something comes to me.

The she talks about the Ballett Frankfurts way of working, about pieces such as Endless House, in which they explored topics very deeply. Topics such as, What is a criminal?, Why do we separate so-called light and so-called dark sides?, Why do we not accept the dark roles?, What has been lost in our Western world?, What is ritual?, What is trance?. The dancers abandoned themselves to altered states, were delirious, says Christine Brkle. This work is about trust, about allowing yourself to be touched and to exchange energy with another. For William Forsythe movement is not an end in itself, but a long path towards developing a reactive body that eventually intuitively recognizes the possibilities of a situation. Forsythe says this in the interview with Nik Haffner that is printed in the booklet accompanying the IT CD-Rom. As Christine Brkle disappears, new questions remain in the space. Why were we permitted to hear that now? Has everyone perhaps taken away exactly that to which they were already open? Is it with information maybe just the same as Christine Brkle said about movement that movement finds someone? When and why does information come to someone, and when and why not?845

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October 3rd and 4th, 2007846