by Yasmeen Godder
On September 10th we had another inspiring “Open House” for the “Störung/Hafraah” project. This was the second one and this time we had decided to focus on sharing the unique classes/meetings/workshops/experiments we have been holding in our monthly meetings with the Junior Scientists with the public. I also presented a very early and first glimpse into the new artistic research, which came out of a week long research with the dancers/performers: Shuli Enosh, Dor Frank, Ayala Frenkel, Uri Shafir, Ari Teperberg and Ofir Yudilevich, and in collaboration with Nimrod Levin who is one of the Junior Scientists. So the whole approach of this “Open House” was structured like a series of engagements and interactive involvement to actually experience certain qualities of this multi-faceted project and its many tangents and inexplicable byproducts.
What is beautiful and special about these events is that they become a get-together for a very mixed crowd. This crowd being highly intergenerational as well as made up of different communities which usually do not meet: dancers, performers, scientists, Parkinson’s Disease (PD) dancers and their families as well as anyone who is curious about the project – the doors are open. I find that this “open door policy” based on a particular project is refreshing within our field, in that it creates new dialogues, approaches and views which are less familiar and often unheard. Sharing 3 hours of interactions with such a mixed group of people, in an intimate way, opens one up and allows for each of us to step out of the kind of formats of exchange that we are used to. Even though we tried to pare down the activity this time and do only two 30 minute workshops and the work in progress showing, it ended up being another overwhelming evening both emotionally and intellectually.
The “Open House” began with a 30 minute workshop developed by Uri Shafir ad Matan Karklinsky, which dealt with questions of creativity and how one can manage to continue having an in-depth questioning process and a fresh approach even to subjects or issues with which we are very familiar. Each of the participants received a yellow sticky pad and was asked to write on each page any question which comes up in their mind. So we began with a kind of “automatic writing” of endless questioning which varied from banal to philosophical, from practical to essential. Afterwards we were asked to stick these questions anywhere in the space according to how we understood or processed them. Participants chose to stick them in patterns on the floor, others on the walls, there were people sticking them on other people, as well as a person walking as a live installation of his own questions. Then we were invited to walk around the studio and read each other’s questions. The room was full of yellow sticky notes in different configurations and patterns, that which in itself was engaging and stimulating. This meeting with different personal/philosophical contemplation created lots of laughter in the room but also curiosity and intimacy and some personal exposure. Then Uri asked us to find someone who we didn’t know and gave us each 5 minutes to speak to our partner about something we are very sure of, a subject which we deal with on a regular basis. After each one of the partners spoke, we were given a few minutes to meditate on what came up for us while speaking about what we know. The idea was to find new ways of opening up an internal dialogue with things we are sure about. In the feedback session afterwards, one of the Parkinson’s dancers spoke about how moving it was for him to hear his partner for the task, a university student and dancer (who is not part of the project) because he found out that they were both dealing with similar issues regarding pain and how it is perceived or experienced. I found this place of creativitycontemplation and sharing to be a great way of opening the event and helping break the ice of this heterogenous group.
Next we moved to another space where a workshop/experiment held by Hila Gvirtz and Shuli Enosh was held. They have been dealing with questions of “synchronicity”. Again people were asked to find a partner – someone they didn’t know. Then they held an experiment which involved separating the partners and giving them different stimuli in different rooms and then directing them to meet again and hold a movement interaction with specific instructions given to each group and without speaking at all. After and before each of these sessions, a questionnaire was given out regarding emotion and empathy. This engagement/experiment/improvisation was much more detailed than I’m describing but what stood out to me was that within the movement session, there was such freedom and beauty. Suddenly I had such a perspective on the process we have gone through in the PD classes and how the familiar space environment and proposition of the studio has given the Parkinson’s dancers such a freedom and willingness to express themselves through movement that even in this unknown situation of meeting with new people, it was sustained. Having come to experience this “Open House” without knowing what will happen and jumping into movement improv so easily, set the tone for the other guests who came that evening. One of our Parkinson’s dancers came with her husband (who also visited the Monday class for the first time a week before) and it was amazing to watch them do the movement interaction with such freedom, like two kids playing using only movement. Later her husband said that he had never seen contemporary dance and that he came by chance and thought that this whole experience was amazing. So it was as if this experiment/workshop allowed for a new kind of interaction and sharing between this man and his wife who is a regular at the PD classes. In addition, one of the dancers from the dance scene who came, spoke to me after about how it was complex for her to see people with Parkinson’s disease and that the variety of physical expressions of the disease had surprised and interested her. This made me think of how revolutionary and radical it is to have these different communities meet, that even just in the meeting there is so much exposure to something unknown. It also made me realize that we, the teachers and the junior scientists, no longer see the symptoms of the disease as striking as they may have appeared to us in the beginning.
The last part of the “Open House” was a sharing of an idea I am working on in my artistic research. Inspired by scientific experiments, I was wondering if there is such a possibility of creating a neutral baseline in movement through which to explore emotional effect. So while the dancers performed a repetitive “neutral phrase” in unison without expressing a particular emotion, every once in awhile a dancer stood by the “back stage” marked by some wooden flats, inviting anyone from the audience to join them backstage. So as this supposed neutral phrase repeated itself again and again (for about 20 minutes), a dancer or two left the unison and went backstage where they gave whoever comes from the audience a stimulus which could be emotional, sensual or maybe a group task, which may impact their connection to their own body or to the body of the performers and to the situation. I was impressed by how the audience took this proposition immediately and began entering the backstage, coming out with different expressions and reactions while the movement continued.
This very preliminary exploration arose out of my first week of research in collaboration with Nimrod Levin, which began by looking at 6 emotions (as proposed by science): happiness, sadness, anger, fear, disgust, surprise. In our research we looked to find very clear impulses and expressions for emotions, to extract a distilled emotion, if possible, without the layering which I’m often drawn to in my work. Trying to understand what kind of impact and rhythms these emotions have on our bodies and then translating them into the small workshops backstage, making the dancers agents of emotions, with the intention of spreading and infecting the audience. One of the themes I have been interested in exploring in this new work is “collective emotions”, and how these are felt, experienced and spread. So this process of watching a relatively stable visual on stage (the neutral phrase) while experiencing a range of other emotions behind the scenes, opened up a process of seeing how audiences may be affected, infected, inflicted by these and how ultimately this plays back into a dance work. Sharing a research idea so early on in a process of a work was new and uncomfortable for me, but ultimately brought me lots of new information and pushed me forward to continue exploring and trusting this path of research.
What was special was that given the two previous workshops in this “Open House,” it felt like the presentation of the work became a continuation of this sense of building a community, of sharing experiences, however this time it was through the the context of performance, the medium of dance. The feedback afterwards was very strong it terms of how the whole evening was structured. One of our Parkinson’s dancers shared how she was faced with stepping out of her own comfort zone a number of times, not always easily, bringing her to new experiences of herself. Another one mentioned how much he appreciated that the whole event was about entering a process with us: a proposition, a questioning, rather than being presented with a known knowledge. Having not been in the first “Open House”, Uri Shafir, one of the artistic partners, spoke about how special he felt this gathering was in terms of the mixed crowd and that how it helped him understand better the breadth and meaning of the project.
All of this added up to another unique evening. Less formal than the previous one, but one which furthered the concept “Störung/Hafraah” bringing the different worlds, life experiences and subjects of interest together, leading to common explorations. Also, this meeting helped widen the notion of what it is to undergo a “process” and helped all of the different participants understand the potential of our exchange.
(header photo by Maurice Korbel: Work-in-Progress Showing of Yasmeen Godders artistic research at the final Conference in Freiburg, December 18th)