Wednesday, September 26, 2012

w h y d o y o u t e c h n i q u e ?

It's just a question.   

Why do you do it?  Why don't you do it?  What does it mean to you? 

okay, it's a series of questions.

what is it preparing your for?  

(small pause as I get up and do my physical therapy exercises, oh simple repetitive motion. . .  is this good for me?)

what is it bringing you into? taking you away from? 

why do you need a teacher?  why do you need other bodies? 

what does the mirror do?

share thoughts, ideas, knowledge for me to post:

shannonkstewart at gmail dot com 

or in the Face Space


Sunday, September 16, 2012


Body Dynamo with Shannon Stewart 

Sep 21, 28, & Oct 5 | 9:30 - 11:15

$15 Drop - In

Body Dynamo is a drop-in class for three Fridays ONLY geared towards exploring full-bodied physicality through guided improvisation that includes technical exercises, phrasing, basic partner work, and spontaneous composition.  Because this class is not a standard ongoing class, the format will be structured more like a workshop or master class where I will focus on the tools I use in my solo and group work for rehearsal warm ups, composing, and performing.

 Body Dynamo is open to experienced movers with an interest in mind/body rigor and a desire to share a supportive and productive artistic workspace with others.  We focus on cultivating a rich inner dialogue, a hyper full-bodied awareness and ability to not take ourselves too seriously.

Influences: Counter Technique (Anouk Van Dijk), Release Technique, Gyrokinesis®, various somatic practices and guided improvisation tools, and a love for good playlists.

9 - 10am | $12

Developed by a professional dancer for dancers seeking long and healthy careers, Gyrokinesis is a movement system that has since been adapted for movers of all ages and levels.  Gyrokinesis deepens our understanding of core strength to include qualities of suppleness, length and expansion. In this class, we will move through the fundamental exercises of Gyrokinesis--including the seven natural elements of spinal movement while also addressing all other joint articulations and ongoing deep abdominal engagement.  This class serves as a great warm up for ballet or a rehearsal, can act as a beneficial supplement to yoga and other athletic endeavors, and just a good way to start your weekend.   It is helpful to bring a mat or something soft to use as padding for work on the floor.


Saturday, September 15, 2012


Photos by Laurence  Nguyen - Monnot

I need the lab.  What if relationship is everywhere? You don't have to look for it.  You don't have to create it.   This is not a seduction, it is a courtship.

Round 2 of the solos is completely different.  Deborah's feedback oscillates between overwhelming and non-existent.  Something is happening.  Inside, the feeling of attempting and failing continues.  On the outside, the performances have changed.  This is not a group of dancers acting like they can't dance.  Each solo has elements of sheer magic and inconsequential failure. 

I continue to lose touch with my old friend comic movement.    I’m getting so bored of these old friends. . .it’s like they are underdeveloped children that I parade out and exploit for my own benefit.  You know exploitation, the old trick of trying to get more out of something that what you put into it.

That is why when Deborah says things like, it is a catastrophic loss of behavior to not get caught up in wanting to achieve something, or it’s absolutely anti-establishment, she is right.  

We have a bonfire and sing ridiculous songs.  Ana Rocha keeps encouraging me to come sit with her and ‘bring a bottle.”  They start to accumulate behind us.  At some point the hokey pokey (hokey cokey?) is sung and deborah has disappeared.  I end up at the sea for my second time.  I have only been there at night.  There is a waning blue moon.  I go to sleep late and wake up at 5:43 with sand in my ears.  I sit up in bed and practice “dynamic” in a delirious state as the blanket of blue light is gradually brightening.

* * * 

Solos and group practices are continuing.  We have many great talks but also the need to talk is diminishing.  Deborah is making changes to the choreography.  Now we are to enter the stage with our mouth full of food.  This I really love.

One evening Karl from Body Surf performs I Think Not for us.  It’s the first time Deborah has seen it since she taught it to him.  A perfect circle of chairs set on a line of chalk awaits as Miguel, Aura and I slip in to fill the last ones a little late.  An old suitcase is in the middle and Karl is sitting on a table in the back of the room.  There is a real and synthetic feeling of dusk in the hall, an electric dusk that almost makes the air buzz.  He walks to the edge of the circle, opens his palms to us and says, it’s just a costume.  The pleasure of knowing how the choreography works but not knowing his score is like a drug and everyone is transfixed. It’s the first performance we have seen since being in SPCP where we aren’t thinking about the sequence. 

He circumscribes the space, occasionally springing out of his course to cut parallel lines through the circle.  I feel like each audience member is part of an inventory that is being kept as he passes near to them. At a certain point when he enters the middle of the circle and puts his hand on the suitcase.  My throat tightens and I think about my dad. Then he says him mom’s name and ‘my mother’ (or my mum? I can’t remember) eventually following it with his father’s.  I doesn't feel psychic or telepathic, just like the adaptation had been arranged in such a way that everyone might have had a similar thought at the same time.  Maybe it's the suitcase, that it's owner is clearly not with us, that it has to be inherited or deliberately left behind. The feeling of dusk thickens.  Deborah is a statue.  He pulls off a rain parka to reveal another one.  He comically covers his head with the second and reveals, “It wasn’t me” written on the front of his torso in large black letters.  His hands come together overhead, persecuted.  The shed costume becomes another body in the space, a dormant identity intermittently attended to.  Eventually the pieces are absurdly reaffixed to his body and he exits. 

We go back to Deborah’s “villa” to make revisions to the score.  It’s another moment where I’m feeling this historical significance.  I’m appreciating each person immensely (both the ones there and not there for this session)—so distinctly and uniquely clear in their way of thinking, of working collaboratively, of solving puzzles and respecting the integrity of the work.  As I leave, I want to go hang out with Miguel (Miguel!) but the lack of sleep ahs caught up with me and I’m in bed where we end up Facebook chatting while about 50 meters apart.  We are in an eco-village.  But it is 2012. 

* * *

At the end of the second to last day, it’s my second and final turn and we decide to change the orientation from being in the round to being more proscenium-like. I’m excited about the change until I enter (like a duck) and feel audience!! I'm really grappling with who I know as shannon the performer vs whom i've been in our group practices.  It feels comfortable and familiar but like the timing is terribly wrong. Comic movement does not go well.  Ack.  Camille and Cinira had such a amazing success with this that I eventually relinquish my attempts and settle into singing the sea.  Then it’s over.  I don’t feel so great.  Deborah gives me notes and says, “you didn’t cop out.”

A few minutes later I’m walking to the beach and feeling so sentimental about these people.  We have just one more day. 

Here is what I wrote down from our last circle

  • I need the lab to turn what I’m doing into a mystery to myself
  • no hesitation, and suddenly I’m in a place I don’t know
  • the art of solo is relationship
  • step up, opens the gap
  • notice, perform, and surrender
  • the moment, this dance, never to occur again
  • I’m not receiving this dance, I’m participating in it
  • I’m learning how to balance using the tools
  • ‘seduction vs. courtship has kept me very busy’
  • Deborah says, For the record, this is the worst altar we have ever had.

On the opposing page in my notebook, all by itself, it says


SPCP 2012 Part III: The continuity of your discontinuity

The morning of Day 3 we were working with composing an exit using the question,  what if my will is my destiny?  and I was emotional again.  I couldn't dis-attach from the way the questions of the practice felt in the context of everything else in life.  I had spoken with my dad the night before trying to keep the conversation light and hopeful, as always.  I talked about the scenery, how the coast reminded me of the olympic peninsula, one of his favorite places.  It's not what you are doing, it's how you are perceiving, dad, I wanted to say to him gently.  Can you perceive yourself and the space around you with a soft, full-bodied trust?  What if alignment is everywhere?

We were gradually breaking up into smaller and smaller groups to perform, "Dynamic." I was really struggling with the work.  Somehow, having some level of confidence with performing amounts to absolutely nothing in this practice. Ultimately, perhaps the idea that you need confidence is replaced with the necessity of maintaining curiosity and a kind of faith that your listening and learning from your body is the most important element of performance and even the most interesting to witness.  In our discussion about the process of adapting the solo, Karl (who has done SPCP twice) mentioned that he knew he was ready to perform it when he had let go of ambition.  This, I wrote down in the middle of a page in my notebook and underlined "ambition."

Antonija  and I spoke of our sense of humiliation in performing and when deborah wrote 20 numbers on the large white pad of paper for us to fill in our names for the order of our first solo practice of "dynamic," we both waited.  #2 and #17 were left.  I stalled again and so I was second.

More on not following your bliss. . . Deborah has identified three stages of working with her practice:

1. The continuity of your continuity -- your identity, behavior, gender, all the ways we've been choreographed

2. The discontinuity of your continuity - (my interpretation) the attempt to intentionally interrupt your continuity

3.  The continuity of your discontinuity - (my interpretation) a point in the practice where you aren't consciously thinking about movement patterns, fixating, trying to create, trying to achieve etc.  you have more of a feeling.

She said - you will fail.  it's impossible.  isn't that a relief?

We pulled the chairs out and spaced them evenly about the edge of the pentagon floor.  Detta broke the ice on performing the solos with her idiosyncratic precision and changes of focus that felt profound.    I went next and felt surprisingly good about it.  I realized later that there were a lot of old laurels of improvised performance I was resting on -- using my schtick, really making some good moments happen, allowing myself to comment on myself.  These things are clearly not a part of the practice.  It's like what my yoga teacher says about people doing asanas but not breathing  -- it's not that it's bad or that its nothing, it's just not yoga." 

At #2, it was easy to feel falsely accomplished because Deborah's feedback and changes accumulated over time.

--really laugh at yourself, but don't laugh out loud
--i can see the circle.  i shouldn't be able to see the circle (this was a piece for me actually)
--don't let the duck bleed into comic movement
--zigzagging doesn't have to stay in one place
--add intermittent pauses in the song
--be smart about time but don't give your timing away

and on and on

Miguel took it all on for us as he lusciously closed out the first round of solos.  Then we were in round 2. 

SPCP 2012 Part II: dy NAM ic muther fucker

This was the subject heading of an email from Amelia Reeber in my inbox when I woke up the next morning in response to an email I had sent about the first day.  Yeah.  Take that.  You better fucking believe it.  Rah Rah Rah. Dynamic!  Beautiful song be damned! Rah!

I went early to the hall and did a yoga practice.  Rah! (did I mention that was about 10 meters away from where I slept?)

We did a practice then continued to learn the choreography, stopping many times to look at things more closely.  Man, did I think I had a handle on comic movement without being funny.  This was my jam until it wasn’t 4 times later.  I think we ended the day (fittingly) with an unpretentious march off stage.  Dum dum da dum dum.

Also, that day we added a practice with music and Deborah surprised us with PJ Harvey, Catpower, the XX, Sufjan. 

Remember to turn your fucking head

This is a newer mantra in her toolbox.  She said she watched video of herself and was mortified at its fixed frontal position.  What if front is everywhere? She cited the people that brought this into her practice but didn’t mention Merce.  Maybe he arrived at it later.  Which reminds me. . .

I believe that was the day of her first history lesson where she shared a bit about how she came to and developed this practice.  We gathered in a circle.  I thought I would tell you a little bit about where this came from, she said and the magnitude of the history we were taking part of became real.  Deborah Hay herself explaining the course of her radical dance pioneering.  These things I had read, but now we were having the real human experience of it. How she got to be an understudy and then ended up performing Story and Eon with the Cunningham Company and how terrible she felt afterward.  She had terrible stage fright. She was doing performances at Judson before she really knew what she was doing and eventually moved to Vermont and lived in a tent in a barn and dreaming up a way of working with the cellular body.  She was in the process of trying to survive.  She stopped performing and started making large group pieces for non-dancers.  Eventually she took away the audience as well.  She felt some need to remove all these elements (herself as a performer, traditional training, and audience) in order to cultivate a new understanding of performance that she could find endless possibility within.

At the end of the day, I found that anxiety was mounting for me.   Is the only way you can actually get anywhere with this practice by turning your life over to it?  Or more specifically, by turning your dancing over to it? Is there anyway you can just have it be a part of a whole, not give it 100%? Maybe I didn’t fully realize what I was getting into.  This was an nervous rant I had at dinner with Miguel and Matthias that night and then the next day she said, it’s a presumption, not a belief and things began to flow again. 

My next big block was, it’s not what you are doing its how you are perceiving.  How are you perceiving?  How am I perceiving?  I would say this over and over and over answers jumping into my head (with my eyes, ears, nose, tongue, skin, nerves, softly, fluidly, while jumping, while lying down, etc, etc).  The time between perception and dis-attaching was long enough to formulate sentences and answers.  This is not the point. 

Quote of the day:  I’m asking you not to follow you bliss.  I’m sorry.


[Intro/Disclaimer: this is a little recap of my experience in Deborah Hay’s SPCP 2012 wherein I was one of 20 dancers that learned the solo “Dynamic.” It’s for myself, for patrons of the solo, for other “dynamic” practitioners whom I hope are writing their own accounts, for those interested in her work and I’m sorry that it reads a little bit like, dear diary. . .  but I’m out of practice with writing.  It may at times sound like insider jargon.  Again, my apologies.  To the one random stranger who reads this, feel free to get in touch if you want more info.]

w h a t   y o u   t h i n k   y o u   n e e d

I’m already skipping parts:  the taking seven kinds of transportation to get there, the turbulence that almost made me vomit coming into Scotland, the breathtaking bus ride, welcome night at the pub, the first night of quiet deep sleep. Advance, advance, advance.

We meet at Universal Hall (I manage to get a little lost on my way of course which seems impossible in retrospect) and begin a tour of the village, given to us by someone named Ian that I immediately felt I knew from studying Community and Environmental Planning at UW.  But no, he was an American or Canadian about my age with the same sort of obscure background.   Familiar just because.

It’s raining lightly and fellow participants open umbrellas for one another to stand under.  I think, I’m from the Northwest, but am so happy about this gesture and the huddling together with strangers on the same path. We step into the singing sanctuary made of stone that is evolving over years by hand and Deborah asks us to sing a little song and try to find unison.  We land on a note sort of like ohm and she laughs, that was just one note, not really a song. 

I think I laughed nervously. The work of opening up the barriers, the tension and the anxiety, the letting go of whatever crap that has gathered in the center of my throat and voice has begun.

To more imagined than actual chagrin, Ian informs us that the hot tub is out of commission because the whiskey barrel construction is faltering and being replaced.   We run out of time before I get to ask about the Living Machine, the complex system of organisms that eat the village waste.  I owe it to CEP nerds everywhere.

* * *

Left up, right down.  Get what you need or think you need.  The length of time varies and then Grass-ee-us followed by a hand squeeze.   

The opening circle is simple.  Our name and where we are from.  I'm speaking too slowly and deliberately sort of like I don't know if anyone will understand me. I’m from see-at-tul in the you-n-eye-tud states.

Deborah asks us to share something truly unique about ourselves. Blankness.  She says that she always looks at the clock at a certain time. Asher says he kind of is annoyed by his belief in astrology. Detta says she has strange lumps on her feet. Aura that her whole family is dancers. I can’t think of anything at all (I’m a tiny bit blind in my left eye?) Miguel says with seriousness that he can see people as they were as children.  Antonija says she worked in a gold mine in the Yukon.  Little mythologies formulate in my mind.  These people are truly magical. Maria doesn’t need an alarm clock to wake up. Matthius was in the airport with David Hasselhoff. I get bloody noses frequently, I say.  Deborah follows up to say that the last person who said that also had a tail.  A real hair tail.  Now that’s unique. 

Sometime during this inaugural day the administrators and partners orient us.  There are so many!  It takes so much to make this happen! (Shout outs to Independent Dance in London, Bodysurf Scotland).  As Deborah introduces them and hands it off to the organizers she dedicates SPCP to Gil Clarke.  There is a long pause and the air gets heavy.  I don’t know that much about this woman except that was integral to this gathering and she passed away in November (I was later filled in by Becky, the filmmaker* at SPCP, that Gil was the co-founder with Fiona Millward of Indenpendent Dance).  She is a stranger to most of us but her absence is felt.  It’s like the breath emptied out of everyone and also the room and it’s very still. I’m surprised that even my eyes blur momentarily.

Then we get logistics.  Some warnings about wandering into the dunes and getting lost (did I mention we are on a Bay and by the Sea?!). Reminders about planning our departures, eating, doing kitchen patrol/party duty (fuck, sorry).

As Fiona is greeting us she smiles warmly and continuously.  Then she and Iris from ID hand us the written choreography for “Dynamic.”

Deborah begins, I thought we could read this through. I mean, just for the record, this is the worst title I have ever had for a piece.  It was called A Figure A Sea originally and then one day. . . She goes on to tell us how she discovered dynamic.  We joke about different ways to say it--kind of dramatically, like you have botox, etc--and a week later decide to officially add the turning of the fucking head to the title (more later).

We read through the choreography and I’m psyched.  Anticipating. Already practicing. Thinking I somehow have already grasped it.

We break for lunch—a spectrum of greens and purples splayed out in oversized bowls and casserole dishes.  I’m taken back to Green Gulch in Marin just north of San Francisco.  I’m immediately comfortable.  I know that there will be a separate table for butter, soy sauce, and maybe even yeast flakes (no, but peanuts and seeds!).  I know to look for the tea and coffee station.  We get this everyday for lunch.  Spoiled.

After lunch the practice begins.  The whole body at once is the teacher.  It’s not linear so there are no goals except to shorten the distance between perceiving and dis-attaching (not detaching) from the seduction of the experience.

As I partake and observe, I’m intrigued and also have the judgmental thought, we look like dancers trying not to dance.  Hands in the air sort of zombie like (this is me describing myself mainly) slowly walking through space or else doing a sort of cut-jump A.D.D. slightly frenetic thing.  I’m not letting anything take hold or saturate which makes me initially feel that I am not having a sensual experience.  I’m trying really hard not to follow desire.  I bring this up in the discussion that follows, when she asks how it’s going.  It is one such question of many of the ‘are-we-dancers-trying-not-to-dance variety?’ (over time this will start to become a pointless question). 

I’m curious about what role desire plays in this practice, I say in a veiled attempt to say I feel like I can’t do anything I want to do or know how to do and I can only try to do the opposite (i.e. move like a dancer trying not to dance –zombie hands, weird weight shifts, etc) but I’m hoping it sounds smarter, like I’m deep or something.

Deborah looks at me squarely and says, my sort of smart aleck remark to that is it takes too much fucking time.  Desire is linear. 


Christopher and Aura follow up with more straightforward questions about training and doing dance moves.   Deborah elaborates.  Don’t ignore your training, just enlarge your experience.

We begin learning the score for “Dynamic” and I’m immediately reminded of bits of No Time To Fly which I had seen in Berlin a few nights prior.  I love this! We are doing "singing the sea" when she stops us and asks us to form a circle to practice together.  Christopher, just you sing, she says and I’m filled with terror that mounts as she lets his song go on and on but am also overwhelmed over by how beautiful it is.  Then Emily with another long and beautiful song.  Then, because fear had probably become the second most palpable thing in the room next to the beautiful voices, me. 

Air stops flowing, caught in a silent sob.  I wonder if it is possible to fake my way through singing a beautiful song and then run to the bathroom and release it.  But no.  It will have to happen here. Deborah waits unyielding but gentle.  Somehow the energy of the group collects and softly coaxes a far away sounding voice past the spasm in my chest.  I do not die in the process. Anotonija follows her voice crystal and throaty and resonant.  I’m okay.  I’m embarrassed.  I’m getting hugs and support.  I’m still embarrassed.

We gather that evening at Deborah’ to tell our stories of patronage.  I’m reminded of the 82 people who are supporting this growth.  The opening up of the throat chamber.  The process of learning without thinking.  This is my lesson of the first day:  This is not a solo.  

*Deborah decided that 2012 would be the last year for SPCP and so this year's program was documented by Dance Videographer and Filmmaker Becky Edmunds.   Embarking on this practice with a camera around was an interesting variable to throw in to the mix, at first making me too self-conscious to stay true to the tasks at hand.  But Becky quickly became an essential part of "the lab."  She explained that she was rarely recording when she was shooting.  She was practicing with us.  This seems like such a practical and fruitful way to approach bringing live performance into documentation in some sort of truer form.  Lookout for the film.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Incredible people that I got to study and work this summer.

catherine cabeen
faye driscoll
jonathan burrows
martin kilvády (les slovaks)
german jauregui (ultima vez)
isabel lewis
renate graziadei
sebastian matthius
d e b o r a h  h a y
tamas moricz (forsythe)
and one class with rosalind crisp (Omeo)

An amazing and disorienting array of approaches that overwhelmed me to the point of understanding my own a little better.

three sequences for four

Today, I finally fixed the flat tire on the lovely bike left here for me to borrow and everything changed.  Moving at about 10-20 miles mph through a city is a kind of home for me. 

I took a break from the generally slow and deeply internal technique classes of berlin (starkly contrasted to the frenetic, chaotic Forsythe workshop I was in) and went to Tempelhofer -- the airport/park in the middle of the city.   A little tarmac before the tarmac at 9am tomorrow.