Monday, 4 August 2008

notes from douglas wright's "terra incognito"

Douglas Wright
writing about making what would become his 2006 dance work “black milk” in his second book: “Terra Incognito”

P. 64
But as I know from experience, you can plan everything down to the last detail and then discover the first day in the Studio that you have to Scrap everything and think again. Still, I had a good feeling in my bones about my Strategy and was eager to try it in the flesh.

In any case I never adhere Strictly to my plans, however Cherished. Their primary function is to free me from fear so that I can stay open to the swarm of fugitive possibilities that always arise in the studio when I'm working with people rather than ideas. Or then again the plans are like the balancing pole a tightrope walker carries, with the difference this pole is alive and as paranormally sensitive as a cat's outstretched whiskers plumbing the dark equilibrium as it stalks nocturnal prey.

One of the greatest joys of my life is the dropping of the mask of expertise by admitting to myself that I just don't know and allowing that ecstatic dumbness to take its first steps into the unknown.

Reading over what I've just written I picked up the scent of a dichotomy. On the one hand I describe the process of planning a work in Some detail yet on the other hand I exalt in the technique of letting go of all preconceived notions and abandoning myself to Childlike play with no thought of any outcome. Therefore, one movement in the mind in creative work is active and conscious while the other is passive and unconscious. Just as Samuel Taylor Cole ridge once observed I experience these two opposing forces as being at the service of a third: the imagination, without which they would not exist. The act of invention is essentially rhythmic. Like breathing. On the inhalation we draw in and gather up all our accumulated Knowledge As if Contracting a precisely Selected group of muscles then on the exhalation we let it all go by using the Coiled energy to leap without premeditation in a purblind, artless Spring into the dark: a jump that hopefully lands us closes to If not in, the desired terra incognita. Artists need to be persistent. We leap and land again and again with indefatigable zeal. The action itself seems to bring relief to the questing mind and to actually find an Unforgettable scrap or hint of soul- dazzling poetry is eureka.

I believe this how the human mind moves as it Struggles to create continuously alternating between active and passive. Just as the mechanics of breathing are the direct result of the wings of the heart beating, so the imagining mind is propelled in jagged spurts towards its bashful quarry by the intensity of its longing. Eternity lives in the gaps between breaths. In the serene pauses where every mind forgets coming and going, in and out, and simply surrenders. I hope that some glad day one of these gaps will open wide enough to let me through to my long home.

Still I don't know if there is anything left to be discovered in our sub-lunar post human mindscape. Often what I initially believe is Virgin Soil turns out to have a Macdonald's just around the corner. But art born of cynicism is poison to my spirit so whenever I am not working as an antidote I constantly read books, watch films, and look at paintings and photographs choosing works that marvel and question rage lament and celebrate. They help me to say a joyous ‘no’ to the death-in-life I see around me every day.

P. 164 ->
In trying to describe a process that is largely submerged, like a human being swimming, I can only observe the parts of the process I am conscious of. Whenever I am brewing a new dance there is a subconscious apparatus constantly at work: I'm intermittently aware that it never stops sorting, choosing, matching up, rejecting, accepting and filing away anything it deems might belong in the work, bringing anything it eventually selects as a definite possibility to my conscious awareness for consideration.

It's a kind of metaphysical secretary, pimp of the invisible, with immeasurable influence on all my decisions. But I don't know the full extent of its operations and don't want to because I trust it. Another way of looking at this process is that the ideas or images choose me as their opportunity to see the light of day and try to seduce me with their ability to capture and hold my attention - what I call their haunting power. I won't accept anything that doesn't haunt me, any though I now have a dynasty of ghosts as part of my extended family, it is not always the obviously Strange or grotesque that keeps coming to mind and Coming to mind repeatedly. Sometimes I feel I am the one being auditioned to see if I'm brave enough to reject the thing I know will 'work' and choose instead the image, idea or approach that requires me to drop my old bag of tricks and start from 'the big don't know'. In this respect I am often a coward, but a coward emboldened by the knowledge that Cézanne was content with the same mountain, tree and bowl of fruit with skull for decades yet never reached the end of the bounty that comes with the tireless unflagging unveiling of the eye. It never fails to astound me that the thing I'm searching for with such complicated intensity is usually where I least expect to find it Sitting right under my nose. I want to see like brother dog.

P. I66
It is quite difficult to signal subtle variations in human relationships without words, or without resorting to the stilted language of traditional balletic mime...
One technique I had used successfully in the past was to ask the dancers to write and learn a verbal script based on the relationships I wanted to convey have them act the scene out with the words over and over until the words became lodged in their bodies as seeds of gestures. Then we would video the dancers performing the scene With the maximum of natural Unforced gestures - be Italian I'd say - and then we'd start to copy the minute conjugations and combinations of gesture from the video frame by Frame re-learning what had been improvised. I would Select some of the words and find a way to musicalise them within the body to dance them, and insert these little movement phrases as highlights within the whole gestural dialogue. The next step was to perform the copied and invented scene with the dancers saying the words under their breath, so as to retain the link between word and gesture which prevents the movement from going stale, and finally to take the words away but to urge the dancers to keep saying them in their minds as they moved: the spirit of the words made flesh.

This is time-consuming but a good way to represent the human animal in relationship without words. There is an alphabet of gesture, words and sentences, paragraphs and chapters, stories can be told if you take infinite pains. You have to want it more than anything else or it doesn't work. It falls apart at birth without the life-dealing want.

As Rumi once said:
The body is a device to calculate
The astronomy of the spirit

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