IDOCs » Experiencing Difference: Practices of Attention and Repetition in Dance
This article was published in the book "Practicing Dance: A Somatic Orientation", Logos Verlag Berlin in 2016. The book reflects dimensions of learning within contemporary dance education today. The main format, which this article is referring to is how to be aware and how to deal with the process of embodying within the frame of given movement material. If we take the performance of movement, beyond pure reproduction, to be situational and contextually specific, we can understand movement as something perpetually recreated. In this view, automatic behaviors are necessary for the dancers' desire and ability to interrogate movement afresh each time. The awareness of such potentialities for action and possibilites for differentiation can help dance students penetrate movement's complexity and treat it as individually shapeable.
2018.04.03

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"Perhaps the highest object of art is to bring into play simultaneously all these repetitions, with their differences in kind and rhythm, their respective displacements and disguises, their divergences and decenterings; to embed them in one antoher and to envelop one or the other in illusions the "effect" of which varies in each case." (Deleuze 1994: 265)

Simply following instructions is a far cry from learning through awareness of one's own actions. According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, the prerequisites for genuine learning are an open and alert state of mind and the will to truly perceive (2003: 45). The author is referring to the capacity for autonomous action that is necessary for the learning process, potentialities for action, defined as autonomous decision-making within the often copious repetitions of movement sequences in dance. (Author's Note: This article was published in the book "Practicing Dance: A Somatic Orientation", Logos Verlag Berlin in 2016. The book reflects dimensions of learning within contemporary dance education today. The main format, which this article is referring to is how to be aware and how to deal with the process of embodying within the frame of given movement material.) From a sensorimotor perspective, in particular when dancers redirect their attention while repeation a sequence, they are able to pick up on the sublest differences in movement.

Differentiation through repetition

These automatic behaviors are embedded patterns associated wiht individual habits and interests or aesthetic preferences (Clarke, Cramer, Müller 2011: 212). In order for dancers truly to have the space to be open to new possibilities, specific movement sequences need to happen as if by themselves, without deliberation (Clarke, Cramer, Müller 2011: 212). If we take the performance of movement, beyond pure reproduction, to be situational and contextually specific, we can understand movement as something perpetually recreated. In this view, automatic behaviors are necessary for the dancers' desire and ability to interrogate movement afresh each time. The awareness of such potentialities for action and possibilites for differentiation can help dance students penetrate movement's complexity and treat it as individually shapeable.

Dancers' self-redirection of attention as a scoring practice

The broadening of the concept of choreography is due in no small part to the influence fo "scoring" practices and collaborative working structures. The term "choreography" encompasses a multiplicity of procedures for "structuring or analyzing movements" (Hardt, Stern 2011: 15) The boundaries between the settings of improvisation, real-time composition and choreography are often blurry in practice. Thus choreographic procedures form complex frameworks within which dancers follow external requirements, while exploring the scope of their individual flexibility for action. 

The expanded definition of choreography has made it necessary also to employ task-oriented and problem solving procedures during the process of imparting the tools of dance technique in order to elicit action from dancers that is based on individual sensorimotor decisions within set frameworks. Settings in which dancers compose movements in real time, while perpetually directing their own attention, pose them major kinaesthetic and proprioceptive challenges (Noland, quoted in Batson, Wilson 2014: 37). This is especially true for structures that are improvised or composed in real time where individual action is always based on sets of rules. 

If the movement material is preset, however, this calls upon dancers to be aware fo the scope of flexibility for autonomous decision-making, which in settings of improvisation and real-time composition may only seem direct and obvious due to their open-ended structures. Because preset movement material is predictable and repeatable in its sequences, the steady and autonomous direction of one's own attention causes each movement to be renegotiated each time and allows dancers to explore the sublest opportunities for differentiation. Constant re-interrogation makes it possible to identify and appropriate the specificities implicit in the movement material. These specifities vary widely and span proprioceptive, kinaesthetic, aesthetic, discursive, analytical, emotional, intuitive, imaginative, and associative traits (Clarke, Cramer, Müller 2011: 227). In this light, action both in structures of improvisation or real-time composition and in preset movement material requires a state of being-in-the-moment that is situational, intuitive, alert, and synaesthetically perceptive. This demands an ability to reflect, which, as Donald Schön explains in his concept of "reflection-in-action" (1983; 1987), is directly embedded in one' own actions and cannot be distanced from them. Because reflection-in-action always questions one's own assumptions - in practice termed "knowing-in-action" - he considers the skill of reflection to be the critical, constructive interrogation of one's own actions. Reflection-in-action enables spontaneous experimentation and thinking ahead with direct implications for individual, situational action (Schön 1987; chapter 2). The interplay of constant interrogation, intuitive decision-making, and spontaneous action can be described as "ongoing sensing/thinking" ("mitlaufendes Spüren-Denken"), which processes complex, high-density information primarily through associative concepts, images, and sense impressions making is experienced and negotiated in both "feedforward" and "feedback" loops. Feedforward refers to conscious intentionality of decisions; feedback spontaneously reflects upon what has just occurred (Batson, Wilson 2014: 132). Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes how harnessing the autonomous direction of attention can trigger  an experience of "flow". When individually and voluntarily directed focus is aimed at an object so that sensorimotor-driven action exploits individual abilities and skills up to their limits, problem-solving in challenging contexts is perceived as admirable and rewarding (Csikszentmihalyi 1990: 3).

Understanding movement through its underlying principles

The more insight dancers glean about the specific attributes of movement, the greater the range of decisions the have at their displosal in order to accomplish a differentiated treatment of movement. Knowledge about the functions and principles underlying each movement comes into play especially in methods of bodily perception, such as Bartenieff Fundamentals, the Feldenkrais Method, the Alexander Technique, and Body-Mind-Centering®. These techniques include exercises that reflect on the functions of primitive reflexes, righting reactions and equilibrium responses in the prenatal and early childhood stages pf development, as well as their complex interrelationships. It is particularly in view of the heterogeneity of contemporary dance, which has no unified and binding movement vocabulary, that these methods are of fundamental importance. The Feldenkrais Method, for example, uses the term "primary images lessons" to encompass conceptions that are helpful in differentiating key elements within the extraordinary complexity of movement organization. (see the article by Cliff Smyth on http://www.feldenkraissf.com) Knowledge of these conceptions, and of their deliberate sensorimotor visualization, can help dancers to grow aware of aspects of their basal movement functions (Smyth 2007), which they can then harness as part of complex movement material.

Conclusion

I have demonstrated that repetition in dance education does not mean stereotypically "playing back" movement. Rather, practices of repetition involve an autonomous direction of attention that equates to insights and knowledge acquisition about specific attributes of motion, and the principles and concepts underlying them. This opens up individual decision-making options that allow the dancer to cultivate a differentiated, case-specific treatment of movement. Throughout numerous repetitions of movement sequences, dancers have recourse to tools for constantly exploring their personal range of options afresh. As movement is imbued with complexity and many-layered details, potentialities for action emerge and the numerous repetitions with "their differences in kind and rhythm, their displacements and disguises, their divergences and decenterings" - in Deleuze's words - are viewed as extraordinarily specific and perpetually mutable (1994: 365). 

 

First published in: Jenny Coogan (Ed.) "Practicing Dance: A Somatic Orientation", Logos Verlag Berlin, 2016


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