A discussion between Monica Gillette and Yasmeen Godder on November 16th, 2015
Monica Gillette: I want to start with a question I get quite often and enjoy reflecting on: What did you learn from the people with Parkinson’s?
Yasmeen Godder: I think I learned about my own preconceptions. As much as I think I am very open, and I know things, once you enter the world of this particular disease, there is such a huge spectrum of expressions in the body because of it. It makes you humbled, that is one thing. The other thing I learned is that intergenerational interaction is super. It really interests me – I think it is almost a need I have now. And one always has perceptions of what dance is like, of what you can do or not do in dance classes for people with different abilities, and that is also something that is to be thrown out the window.
Monica Gillette: I totally agree! For me, through doing these classes and being with the Parkinson’s group, I discovered a new relationship to my own dance history. It was so refreshing to meet my history of different styles and approaches anew through them. Also, I found our group is so quick to say “yes” to every movement proposal. Saying “yes” to the unknown and doing it with pure pleasure was really inspiring to witness.
Yasmeen Godder: The other thing I learned is that the dance studio is a real haven for a lot of different things. I always knew it is a haven for me, but it reassured me and strengthened my belief in this kind of empty space that allows you to dance. It is like a therapeutic space and it is a space that is very accepting. There is a word in Hebrew that is hard for me to translate, but it is something like to “hold within,” to embody, maybe. The studio is able to take in a lot of different physical experiences and a lot of different physical desires and expressions.
Monica Gillette: And physical curiosities, and questions …
Yasmeen Godder: Exactly. It is something that I feel we take for granted, that we enter the dance studio, we throw our sneakers to the side, we throw our bags when we enter and we just start stretching on the floor, rolling around, making noises, releasing sighs, whatever. But you realize that this is a unique kind of environment, and when you can share it and you see people using it similarly – I felt that I could really share something very basic in our lifestyle that a group of people who are not from this background do not know.
Monica Gillette: When I was working with Clint Lutes during our residency time in July, we were looking for ways to bring the research of the junior scientists more into the studio. We were looking for different tasks and different ways to kind of pour those thoughts into the room and try to have them enter the body in some way. One simple task we did was to have a weekly ritual of mapping the whole Störung/Hafraah project. I was curious if we would all orient by our fields or by our personal experiences, like if you have Parkinson’s, you put Parkinson’s at the center, or if you are a dancer, you put dance at the center, which initially I did. But with time I realized the space of the studio held the center of this project for me. I would be curious if the other participants felt the same way.
Yasmeen Godder: It makes a lot of sense. It became a kind of home for the project.
Monica Gillette: And perhaps the fact that there are no computers or equipment, it is an empty space, and in that empty space we only have our bodies – I think it really changes one’s departure point for questioning and researching then. Prior to this project, my main outlet for movement research was always towards a performance and using my dance training as a way to bring my body to a high level of performance. But in the context of this project, I was able to start questioning what else my training and movement research tools are good for. I used to look for meaning in movement to convey an intended idea on stage, but now I have rediscovered that search for meaning not as an end outcome, but as a process for dialog with people from other fields and physical challenges and experiences.
Yasmeen Godder: I think the strongest impact this project has had on my process of research has been more on a conceptual level of what a company is rather than a physical research level – that part will come as I go deeper into the creation process for Common Emotion, which is an outcome of this project, but, so far, it has been about the structure or idea of a company.
Monica Gillette: I’m curious to hear more about that because on the German side, each dance artist worked more in individual residencies spread out over the year, but you and your dance company were able to move together through all the classes, meetings and overall questioning process as a group.
Yasmeen Godder: Right. Because it started with this big question mark of what is Parkinson’s disease and even understanding what the structure of the project is, just by sharing the questions and sharing the ways to figure it out was already a collaborative process. It was also less hierarchical. We went through a series of experiences, which in a way did not have the title or definition of artistic research in terms of the classes we were teaching, the discussion about Parkinson’s, the meetings with the scientists or the development of the mutual classes together. It was almost what we are typically doing as a company, our work as dancers and choreographers, but there was this parallel world that occurred, which involved all these different activities and this parallel world ultimately started feeding into the artistic processes and this went into a lot of different vectors, also in the individual artistic processes of the other dancers. The idea that we had this common project together, where we met each other and ourselves in different ways, offered an enriched renewal in the studio for creation. I found myself in a very deep, interesting dialogue with a group of people, many of them not professional dancers or dancers I was not typically working with and I really keep thinking about it like opening the door of the studio. If someone wants to share or to be part of this, great, let them in! I think it has really shifted something about the way I think about a process, and I like that a lot.
Monica Gillette: We also had the same philosophy: if someone is curious, let them come. And what I saw was a really special benefit when one or two strangers would show up – whether it was the class for the Parkinson’s group or the scientists – each got a moment to understand what they hold in their body now, the tools and physical knowledge they have accumulated. They can take a type of physical leadership inside of the class now and that helps them realize how far they have come. We had a great example today of two scientists who do motion sensor capture within BrainLinks-BrainTools. They had some ideas about wanting to collect data and I was very curious about how they work, so I said, “Come, take class, and then we will check out your motion capture suit after.” And there was this coincidence of the class they joined – it was Clint Lutes’ last class with the group and he started the class by saying, “Everything that has happened in the last year and a half, is possible.” And that was it. We all just started moving, all without speaking. And everyone understood: I am going to use everything that I have learned. This was the Parkinson’s group, so that is why it was a year and a half, everything they have learned, everything that came back in their physical memories…
Yasmeen Godder: That is very open.
Monica Gillette: It was incredibly open! It was a wild improvisation, and so many things came back, but the best part was that those two scientists, who had never been to the class – Clint and I did not take the responsibility to bring them in, the Parkinson’s dancers did. They went to them, they touched them, they brought them in, they showed them what to do with their bodies. And that gave the Parkinson’s dancers the opportunity to understand the knowledge they now have in their bodies. It was so inspiring!
Yasmeen Godder: Wow. Yeah, I think something similar happened in our second Open House in which Hila Gvirts and Shuli Enosh held their experiments. It was amazing, entering the room and seeing all these Parkinson’s dancers just completely going wild in the space, feeling so free with their bodies, or even with the notion of doing an improvisation. That is so not to be taken for granted! Even for people who are studying dance it is hard. You often have to really go through a process until you are able to release a lot of the things you think or know about moving or dancing, and it was just so inspiring to be present in that room. It was then that I realized that something has changed, because it was out of context. It was not within class, it was just an exercise in the evening with the public.
Monica Gillette: I wonder what would be the difference if we went through this entire project and met the same amount of time and met the same people, but we only talked. What if we did not go into the studio and take language away sometimes and move? How did moving together contribute to our openness to the other? I’m also fascinated by how many on our side are reaching towards using physical tasks inside of their presentations to try to bring the public into a physical experience as well. In many ways, using only words feels insufficient to try to transport what we went through, so we’re trying to communicate to the public what we experienced by offering physical actions.
Yasmeen Godder: It makes a lot of sense to me because I am actually taking that into Common Emotion, the idea that it could also be a workshop, whatever it is that the audience is going through. Is it a performance or is it a workshop? I like to take the medium of what we experienced together in this project, the workshop format, and play with that in the way that I am structuring the new work.
Monica Gillette: I think what we are talking about is the transformation that happens when you involve your body. And this could be if you have a movement disorder and you are engaged in a movement research introduced by a contemporary dancer, which is changing how you now see your body and use your body through the day, or how a scientist might look at their research because they have now had a different experience with their body. It is through this involvement of the body that I think is transforming thinking and experiencing, even if one cannot yet say: this directly links to my research in my lab now.
Yasmeen Godder: I agree. I definitely think it has influenced the thinking process. What I have noticed is that when you go into your field, you become very specific. I can be in a rehearsal and be very specific about how to shift the weight in one place in order to release another place. The same is happening for the scientists in a lab as they may say: “Okay, if I have to create this outcome then I need xyz.” Between this particularity and that particularity of our different fields there is a big, big center in which we can discuss a lot of other things. And I think that is a big realization about where the dialogue can happen. Also, I see that a major focus at our conferences is becoming very much between the meeting of the arts and the science. The big circle in the middle is where we can interact, and meet, and brainstorm together, and that big circle has to do with the body, too, for sure. It is as if the body gave way for the possibility for these different communications.