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Interdisciplinary Workshop on Movement Grammars: Brains, Robots and Dance
Some Elements of Poetic Movement Practice as a Resource for Investigating Movement Grammars in Academic Contexts
The following is a detailed proposal outlining conceptual material and practical approach for three x three-hour participatory movement sessions during the Lorentz Centre academic workshop investigating cross-disciplinary approaches to movement grammars 4th – 8th June 2018
My name is Steve Batts. I will be leading three practical movement sessions for workshop participants. I am Artistic Director of Echo Echo Dance Theatre Company (www.echoechodance.com). Please see the accompanying biography for details of my work and history.
I am not an academic researcher, though I would consider my work to be strongly driven by research. It is not my intention that critical evaluation of my work should be at the centre of the cross-disciplinary discourse during the week. Rather, the intention of the nine-hours of practical guided exploration of movement is to provide a shared reference point for the diverse group of advanced thinkers with very varied levels of experience in movement and dance practice. The hope is that the practical sessions will enable researchers from different backgrounds, and who arrive with multiple theoretical and conceptual approaches to the themes, to find starting points for crossing interdisciplinary boundaries in response to the shared experience of moving together and thinking in a relatively rigorous way in movement and about movement.
The practical sessions will invite the diverse group of participants, all advanced thinkers and researchers in their own fields, to engage with the process of investigating the experience of moving and watching movement with critical awareness. This process will give ground for addressing significant questions relating to the themes of the overall workshop:
· What does a person look for when they watch another person moving?
· Can the practical and shared investigation, within a rigorous framework and in a controlled environment, of the process of thinking in and thinking about movement compositionally, lead to shared experience and shared conceptual structures which can facilitate cross-disciplinary exchange between the areas of neuro-science, robotics, linguistics and dance-movement theory and practice?
· Can the kinds of things that people look for when they watch movement be categorised usefully for the purpose of structuring formal/experimental investigation as well as for compositional purposes?
The movement workshop will introduce a few fundamental aspects of Poetic Movement practice.
Poetic Movement practice creates a theoretical framework for understanding the relationship between the subjective and objective experiences of movement; the experiences of performer of movement and watcher of movement. The sessions will be led in a way which integrates embodied engagement with the material and critical reflection on the conceptual framework being proposed. The material of the practical sessions will be offered in a way which makes it possible for anyone to engage regardless of age, experience or physical ability.
Poetic Movement Practice includes practical and theoretical approaches to presence, space and time and the relationships between them, from the perspectives of the watched mover and the “moved” watcher. It attempts to offer ways to become more tuned to, and have a better conceptual/critical understanding of the process of, creating meaning between watcher and watched. In this way it is somewhat analogous to music theory or linguistics. The whole body of work includes detailed praxis addressing, among other aspects of human movement:
· Zero Level-Zero State
· Vertical Space
· Spatial Dispositions
· Addressing Levels
· Intention levels – tension levels
· Directive and Adaptive Phases of Movement
· The trunk as the key indicator of dispositional range
· Five segments of the trunk 3(+1) planes of movement in each segment
A dynamic system approach is characteristic of the method. Typically a parameter is understood as a continuum which can be divided into discreet parts which may develop complex harmonic (consonant/dissonant) relationships with each other and with the totality of, or discreet parts of, other parameters.
2. Practical Sessions
The practical sessions will comprise three practical movement workshops, each of three hours duration, in which some aspects of a “grammar” of movement will be introduced, investigated and interrogated. I bear in mind that the workshops are designed for participants with a wide range of movement experience and most of whom will be primarily thinkers rather than movers. The conceptual material introduced, particularly in the first session, will be at a primary level with relatively little attention given to visiting the layers of complexity and contingency behind the first level, or answering more or less obvious questions or challenges. The conceptual material is accessible through practice at almost any level of technical movement ability. The ideas are not obscure or available only to highly skilled and experienced movers. Comments and questions will be welcomed wholeheartedly and if they are ones that I can’t answer or which I can offer an answer to but not within the time constraints of the session, we will note the issue for later discussion if it still seems relevant/important. The expectation will be of very committed engagement with the material. The ground assumption will be that everyone will engage as mover as well as watcher. However I understand the possibility that some participants may have limitations which mean that they may need to limit their involvement in the movement practice. In this case I would ask for full attention as watching participants at times when practical engagement is not possible.
· Session 1: Primary Issue – Phrasing.
Also touching on: Zero Level-Zero State, Directive and Adaptive Phases of Movement, Disposition, Energetic Body, Emergence of Desire, Making Sense.
After a short orientating introduction in a circle and a few movement activities to get energy moving I will ask people to lie on the floor and stop holding themselves up. I will get participants to draw their attention to the internal details of what would usually be described as their private experience. We will move the attention through the five primary (classic) senses and then on to the sense(s) of proprioception and kinaesthesia. We will draw attention to the incredible sensitivity of the proprioceptive and kinaesthetic sense(s). The purpose is to begin to notice what happens to us when we “do” nothing. We will move the attention through diminishing scales of movement experience: Breathing mechanism, Cardiovascular System, Lymph System, Spinal and Cranial Fluids, Endocrine System, Cellular “Breathing”, Movement of the Attention/thinking. I will suggest to participants that they can think of the dynamic, non-neutral experience that they have as “embodied memory and imagination” and to notice how this experience keeps changing/moving even when they do nothing. From there I will ask participants to wait for a moment when it makes sense to them to move and at that moment to begin moving with an intuitive attitude, with particular attention to phrasing. I will ask people to notice the process by which each phrase emerges from a changing disposition. I will suggest that there is a structural desire to make sense; that each phrase wants to be self-contained and claims to make sense, much like a phrase in verbal language or music. I will ask people to be patient to wait between phrases so that they can feel the way that a phrase has an echo in the still point and that the next phrase emerges from a changed disposition in the energetic body.
When the intuitive experience is somewhat established I will stop the process and describe a structural analysis of a phrase. I will propose that any phrase can be understood (parsed?) as made up of the elements, “Passive Equilibrium”, “Active Equilibrium” and “Disequilibrium”. These elements are rigorously defined in relation to the horizontal spatial plane.
Passive Equilibrium (PEQ) is what would normally, in everyday language be called stillness. However, as we will have observed earlier in the workshop, there is no experience of stillness. Passive Equilibrium has to be understood, therefore as a dynamic equilibriating process which refers to a particular location in horizontal space of the centre of gravity and which organises itself toward minimum divergence from that location and which keeps moving back through that location through autonomic reflex activity.
Active Equilibrium (AEQ) is understood as the process of remaining organised around a point in horizontal space while moving “on the spot”. For example, to remain “in one place” while moving the limbs or the trunk causing a challenge to the autonomic reflex system demanding an amplification (in scale, number or detail) of movement responses in order to avoid “falling” into disequilibrium. The exploration of Active Equilibrium will also introduce the idea of understanding movement as being made up of Directive and Adaptive Phases. The Directive phase is, loosely, the intended movement. The Adaptive Phase is the not-intended (or at least not directly intended) consequence of the Directive Phase.
Disequilibrium (DEQ) is the process where a reference location around which equilibriation takes place has been lost and movement happens “through space”, changing the location in the horizontal plane.
Under almost all circumstances disequilibrium emerges from an active equilibrium. Active equilibrium connects passive equilibrium to disequilibrium. Disequilibrium returns to Passive equilibrium through active equilibrium. The movement from passive equilibrium to active equilibrium is related to the emergence of patterns of desire in the energetic body (as experienced in the first part of the session).
I will illustrate this schema in movement and respond to any questions or confusions. Then I will lead participants through a process of constructing phrases and watching each other construct phrases of varying complexity beginning with the simplest phrase structure: PEQ-AEQ-PEQ and then moving on to more complex phrase structures: PEQ-AEQ-DEQ-AEQ-PEQ. PEQ-AEQ-DEQ-AEQ-DEQ-AEQ-PEQ... and so on
Should there be time I will refine the practice by proposing a division of PEQ into three parts.
o The echo of the phrase just completed.
o A bit of “nothing” (compositionally speaking)
o The emergence of a new energetic body which offers the basis for the next phrase.
This division will also offer the chance to point out an interesting difference between phrasing in verbal language/music and movement. Between phrases in verbal language and music there exists absence. Between phrases of movement (at the moment of nothing, compositionally speaking) there exists presence.
Should there be time I will also illustrate, and offer for practical investigation, the idea of False Passive EQ which replaces the stability of the standard PEQ with repetition or predictability. The observation of the possibility to replace the literally defined PEQ with a compositional stability substituting for a spatial stability, raises questions about what people need to see in order to understand something as compositionally stable or empty and how we assess when a significant period of action with internal integrity begins and ends.
During the session we will spend substantial time watching each other and noticing how we watch and what we watch for, as well as moving. I will propose that people are highly tuned to looking for phrasing structures in the movement of other people and that we look for information in all parts of the phrase including the process of change in the energetic body
This session offers empirical and theoretical points of connection for linguists, neuro-scientists, roboticists, dance theorists and cognitive scientists. It introduces some aspects of the core, dynamical, theoretical approach to be followed in the two subsequent sessions. It aims to stimulate exchange in the afternoon sessions, beginning around the general idea of movement grammars and the specific issues around phrase but with opportunity to range beyond these specific issues.
· Session 2: Main Theme Vertical Space
As well as the main theme, the session will also touch on the idea of the harmonics of the relationship between spatial parameters, time parameters and disposition parameters and the idea that people are capable of both proposing and reading multiple discrete elements.
We will begin by repeating the attention process from the first session lying in Zero-Level/Zero State and re-visiting the phrase making process. When the attention of the group is well focused I will introduce a schema in which the journey of a human being through vertical space is divided into seven layers with border areas between them which are locations of compositional instability. I will illustrate the whole schema, and explain the way that it exists as an attempt to create a dynamic compositional framework from standard and well known work analysing human developmental movement, before inviting practical engagement from participants.
I will propose that the human journey through vertical space can be conceptualised in seven layers each of which has a particular characteristic range movement patterns and qualities and each of which has a primary texture of spatial attention related to it which I call the “Home Disposition”.
Level 0 – the weight is completely dropped so there is no travel through the horizontal or vertical planes. The characteristic home disposition is passive and equally distributed.
Level 1 – Rolling Creeping. The home disposition tends to keep the attention close to the mover and often focuses on the hands and feet. It is not unlike a young baby pre-crawling. The primary support from the floor comes through the trunk with limbs additional.
Level 2 – Crawling/Four-Legged Creature. The home disposition draws the attention a bit further away than in level 1, to the edge of or slightly outside the kinesphere and tending downwards with interest in objects beyond the self. It is not unlike a crawling baby. The primary support from the floor comes through the limbs and/or pelvis
Level 3 – This is a low upright level most characteristically either a low upright squat or a high kneel (as if about to be knighted or in prayer). The home disposition tends towards attention to the horizon. The arms tend to be used for balance. (To move in this level requires highly developed and integrated reflex patterns. The level is the third in height but in developmental movement this level would be likely to appear in someone’s movement range, if at all, after a person has become well organised in levels 4 and 5).
Level 4 – Level four involves an upright standing form which is folded slightly forward from the hip joints, somewhat like a typical martial arts posture. The home disposition favours a spherical attention reaching beyond the kinesphere and tends towards perceiving objective features of the environment such as location, texture, direction, colour etc. This level resembles somewhat a child taking her first steps
Level 5 – This is a fully opened upright formation - standing, walking, the range from demi-plie to relevee (in ballet terminology). The home disposition is towards a social orientation and the meaning of things. The arms and hands are free to tend towards expressive gesture since they are not needed imminently for support.
Level 6 - Jumping (falling). The home attention is expansive and adrenalised.
In the transition between each level and the next there is a region of instability which can be experienced by mover and watcher as a containing “poetic tension” or choice. It is not always neccessary to travel in sequence through the levels. For example moving between levels 2 and 4 does not always necessitate passing through level 3.
We will explore these levels in a practical way with opportunity to both move and watch.
When the basic understanding is well grounded I will then illustrate how people have the capacity to carry a secondary disposition alongside the primary one. So while a person may be engaged in level 1 they can, at the same time refer, dispositionally, to another level. This may point at the past, a residual element of where the person has moved from, or it may point towards the future indicating a likely move to a particular new level. As a simple example a person walking in level five may add the characteristic home disposition of level 1 and this will be read by a watcher as an indication that they are likely to move down towards level one. This of course may happen or not, and may even be contradicted by a jump into level 6. Thus the schema allows access to complex harmonics of vertical space and also the harmonics of the relationship between this spatial parameter and the time parameter.
I will illustrate and explain how the vertical space parameter relates to the phrasing parameter through the way in which PEQs contain varying degrees of stored energy of height and tonus. In Zero Level-Zero-State there is no stored energy of either form making it a reference point of a kind of “ideal type” of PEQ.
During the session we will spend substantial time watching each and noticing how we watch and what we watch for, as well as moving. I will propose that people are highly tuned to looking for information relating to the journey through the vertical plane in the movement of other people and that we look for information in the spatial and the dispositional conditions.
Additional to the themes for discussion outlined in relation to the first session this, second, session will stimulate discussion on complexity and the problems of designing controlled experimental processes when parameters overlap by nature. It can also call out discussion around possibilities for modelling, as well as experimental procedures in biology/neuroscience related to possible measuring of endocrine and neurological patterns. The issue of the complex nature of human disposition will also come into focus and questions may arise around ways of identifying key elements that might be related to understanding specific dispositional ranges and the way they change. (How do we read someone’s mood or character?)
· Session 3: Main Theme Proximity and developing further the idea of harmonics of space
In additionally to the core material of the session we will include a brief introduction of three spatial paradigms of attention - Architectural, Social, Weather System - as warm up.
After using the material from sessions 1 and 2 as a way into moving and focusing the attention I will introduce the idea that people are far more sensitively tuned to proximity than we usually assume. We will explore the idea that people have spatial areas around them which can be experienced by both participant/movers and watchers, as areas of relative compositional stability. These areas are joined by border regions between them. These border regions are experienced a areas of instability having poetic tension or as places of choice.
I will introduce 6 proximities: Bone. Flesh. Skin. Close. Middle. Far.
Bone, Flesh and Skin are proximities of touch. Close, Middle and Far do not involve physical contact.
Bone – the closest proximity, in which there is deep touch and shared mass/weight so that the structural integrity of the shared form is co-dependent, The most obvious common form is when one person carries another.
Flesh – a depth of touch contact where there is some structural support but should one of the partners take way the support suddenly the other would be able to equilibriate without changing location in the horizontal plane. (Please note the way that the material of the conceptual framework for phrasing offers a reference point for definition in the proximity parameter).
Skin – Skin is the lightest touch connection where there is information exchanged but there is no structural interdependence.
Close - Close is the nearest non-touch region around a person. It has some similarities with the idea of kinesphere but more closely relates to the idea of Maai in the Japanese martial art Aikido. Close indicates the distance where there is intimacy and risk.
Middle – Middle indicates the next ring of proximity beyond close.
Far – Far indicates the ring beyond middle
Beginning with “Close” we will use simple exploratory methods beginning with approaching and backing away from a stationary partner to discover each of these proximities in turn, We will identify the dispositional change which crossing borders between them draws out. We will explore the proposition that the spatial rings are not necessarily circular or spherical and that borders vary in width and texture. We will additionally explore the idea that these rings are produced by people rather than being a product of a relationship and so have an objective existence. We will explore the idea that because different people have rings of different widths may create an objective imbalance and potential dynamism in a relationship because the experience of one partner may be different in kind to that of the other because of the imbalance in overlapping areas.
When the basic and fundamental schema is understood I will introduce an exploration of harmonic complexity through illustrating how people indicate other spatial rings than the one they currently inhabit. This is done in a number of ways which can be simple or extremely complex. They include pointing, reaching, gesturing, touching, variation in tonus and eye focus. This indication of other spatial rings is read as pointing at futures and pasts, thus connecting the spatial parameter of proximity to the time parameter in a similar fashion to that observed in the vertical space material explored in session 2.
During the session we will spend substantial time watching each and noticing how we watch and what we watch for, as well as moving. I will propose that people are highly tuned to looking for proximity information in the movement of others, we look for this information in simple and complex harmonic forms, and we are naturally sensitive to reading for consonant and dissonant features.
This session should lead to further examination of complexity in the way that grammar-like constructs in movement relate to the production of meaning, the potential for investigation of neurological and/or endocrine changes related to crossing boundaries of proximity which might establish to what degree such a schema might have objective, subjective or inter-subjective existence
3. Purposes and Intentions in the Context of the academic workshop
I hope that the practical experience of moving together and watching each explore movement within the conceptual framework provided will Indicate starting points for developing possible areas for detailed theoretical and empirical, discipline-specific and inter-disciplinary, research through, among other things:
· Offering a strong direct experience that:
o Human movement is something which people both “think in” and “think about”
o That when people watch movement they are tuned to watch for the subjective experience of the mover as well as for the objective aspects of the movement and that we seek out coherence and incoherence (patterns of meaning)
· Offering a strong experience of the importance of the idea that movement wants to make sense
· Offering some conceptual tools which can be a shared starting point for critical engagement. (These may be useful tools to keep and develop or they may simply provide a starting point from which to share and/or develop better ones).
· Enlivening the grounds for intellectual exchange through the experience of communicating through and with attended-to movement.
· Indicating that, at a basic and primary level, people do not experience movement (as doer or watcher) as divided into functional and expressive categories.
4. A few reference points – influences on the development of the Poetic Movement approach.
Contact Improvisation – Steve Paxton et al. – Adaptive phase of movement, Weather System spatial paradigm
F.M. Alexander Technique – Inhibition, Direction, Primary Control Mechanism, Non-Doing
Feldenkrais Method – experience of un-doing... noticing that we tell things that we don’t mean/want to mean.
Eshkol-Wachman Movement Notation – analytic system
Stanislavski Theatre method and theory – emotional and sense memory. Objectives (action/movement as external indicator of inner drive/motivation/change)
Sitting Meditation in the Soto Zen Tradition.
5. Brief Biography of Steve Batts
· BA Politics Philosophy and Economics (oxon 1983).
· Certified teacher of The Alexander Technique from ATTCO (Directors Dick and Elizabeth Walker). Three years graduating 1987.
· Artistic Director of Echo Echo Dance Theatre Company since 1991.
· Artistic Director of Echo Echo International Dance and Movement Festival (5 editions 2013 -2017 and continuing).
· Previously founder of Sidetrack Dance Theatre Amsterdam and Jointwork Dance Group, Oxford.
· Making and performing solo work, work for the Echo Echo Ensemble and for other companies internationally.
· Regularly teaches and performs internationally as well as in Ireland.
· Teaching and creating in professional arts and community arts contexts, Also in primary, secondary and tertiary education, with people with physical, educational, sensory disabilities, with all ages from babies, toddlers and parents and pre-school right through to people of the “third age”.
· Regularly teaching development workshops in the Poetic Movement Practice for groups of experienced movement artists.
· Work supported by numerous bodies including both Arts Councils in Ireland, Local Authorities, numerous trusts and foundations.