by Monica Gillette
Physical Thinking is a name Mia Habib and I chose during our research in BrainDance to make a distinction between how we research and how scientists research. It was a name we chose to give an importance to our instruments (our bodies) and to give a value to the knowledge and sophistication that the moving body contains. We had a daily practice of improvising and creating movement scores from the questions that arose while learning about Parkinson’s and from theoretical discussions with our science colleagues. We began our days with an embodied, physical analysis process as opposed to a mentally analytical one, allowing our research to be body-led as opposed to primarily thought-led.
Now that our initial project has grown into the much larger Störung/Hafraah project, my perception of physical thinking has been greatly enhanced through witnessing the movement research tools of my dance colleagues as well as from the deepening discussions with the Parkinson’s dancers and junior scientists in the project.
Typically, the physical thinking that dancers do is called movement research and happens inside of a choreographic process while making a performance. The improvisations and tasks are a search for movement material which can be shaped into a show. What I greatly appreciate about this project is the opportunity to use that same process of movement research, not to generate movement material, but rather as a medium to raise questions, to guide, inform and often surprise myself in my pre-conceived notions of themes like intention, unison, and embodiment. By changing the context of the use of my tools and training, I am discovering new questions: How can we use the intention of our own body to assist another’s? Are the people who know certain codes of movement more free or less free than the ones who don’t? How long does it take a group to become one body? How far can I go in a “conversation” when using only my body and no words?
A couple months ago, the choreographers Matan Zamir and Nicola Mascia were in Freiburg for their residency time and through participating in their classes, I understood a new outcome of what I have identified as physical thinking: When the Parkinson’s dancers were given sophisticated movement tasks (on the professional dance level) as opposed to forms to follow, their own bodies guided them into new possibilities. By trying to answer physical propositions, there was space and guidance for their own bodies to physically think towards a solution and often they were able to move like they never had before because they were responding to the movement proposals with their bodies on a physical search. They were not trying to accomplish certain tasks or forms, but rather they were in a process of questioning what is possible through their own bodies. They were seemingly far away from the limitations of their bodies and very focused on following the movement proposals. Their bodies led the way to new physical abilities.
At the moment, my biggest questions remain about what it means for the scientists to involve their bodies in this research context. Does it open new perceptions with their own thinking process and research? Does it enable new analytical possibilities the same way it does physical possibilities with the Parkinson’s dancers? And, how can I continue to confront and alter my approach to physical thinking through the tools of the scientists?