Poetic Reflections on Contact Improvisation, Part II

Updated: Jun 20, 2020

In December of 2018 I was commissioned by the Israeli Contact Improvisation (CI) association to write about my experiences in the CI Greenhouse, an intensive 5-day-long festival that offers master classes, workshops and opportunities to meet and dance with movement artists from all over the world.

I wrote these words in the hopes of fostering a dialogue between the members of CI community as well as those who are not yet familiar with CI but might wish to explore the possibility of experimenting with bodies in motion and in stasis.

All the pieces I wrote about this event are dedicated to the memory of Shalhevet Naim who was a source of inspiration for many and who I was lucky enough to meet during her life time.

Dorte Bjerre Jensen.


Part II: Arrival

I choose to follow the music and enter the studio.

Dorte Bjerre Jensen is gracefully facilitating the session.

“Allow yourself to take the time and space, remember, we’re arriving now.”

The time and space that is given for the body to absorb the ground is refreshing and is drastically different from any other dance form I experimented with over the years.

Arriving is also not something I’m used to in my everyday life, once the body arrives at a given space the expectation that the mind and heart will follow, but more often than not, this is not the case. My body can be present while my thoughts and emotions are floating elsewhere, occupying utterly different domains.

The arrival period in the studio is something I wish to practice in my everyday life. It requires planning, it requires intention, it asks for mindful presence.

Dorote reminds us that our eyes are connected to the spine, and invites us to notice the texture and shape of the space and the objects within it. As the body touches the ground we are invited to identify how the body organs organize themselves in relation to gravity, in relation to the surface that our bones, muscles and structures touch.

We are invited to look around the space and notice where we are situated: mapping the space around us asks for devotion. This mapping reminds me close reading practices from my career as a literary critic and an art historian. We are invited to notice the details around us, to revisit the space time and again for new information: what it feels like to touch something? The shape of it, is it cold, warm? Is it soft or rough? How does your skin react to it? How much weight can that something take? “Is it bouncy?” Dorote asks as she jumps on the velvet chair in the dance studio in the Clore Centre for Dance and Music in Kfar Bloom.

These questions trigger curiosity in materiality, taking me away from my reptilian brain struggling through its meaning-making mechanisms.

I’m invited to matter the matter. To stay in the present space and time, to engage with what is rather than the potentiality that resides in the immaterial world we live by daily.

Dorote instructs us to choose 3 different locations in the studio, as well as a position that our body can take in this location.

She reminds us that “the matter of choice is a big one: where is the point of contact? What am I contacting? How do I pour my weight using gravitation?” All of these questions lead to the next metaphysical statement: “We create space with our bodies.”

These spaces, I come to realize, coming into contact with other spaces, mobile and static, arrange into choreographies of forms in space and time; into dancefulness.

Dorote’s physical and metaphysical utterances make space for freedom, for exploration, for choice. Her next statement engages with the body-brain connection: “let the whole of you work together” – to me, this is yet another reminder that every movement of ours, every single action, no matter how authentic and impulsive or how meticulously constructed and calculated in advance, every single movement is a matter of choice.

Dorote follows with another set of open-ended questions that leave space for innovation and creativity: “Can we use the body differently? Can we use the space differently?” “How your body creates composition in space?”

She then reminds us that we are “constantly asking questions with our bones, tissue and muscles.” “You’re crafting space in space” – to me this thought is profound: it signifies that every body holds the potential to consciously become an interruption in the landscape, an interruption that brings uniqueness and inspiration, an interruption that influences and inspires the spaces in between, and extends beyond ourselves, rippling onward into the world.

Dorote’s instruction is attentive and kind, it seems that she bears in mind the philosophical sophistication of her questions, and so her instruction takes this into consideration and reminds the movers: “If you’re confused that’s great, maybe it adds something.”

Next, we are invited into a score called “Sharing Perspectives.” The perspectives are shared using no words. Each mover is invited to join another mover and explore the dance floor together while redefining and reshaping it.

We are now practicing intimacy in space, through space. We are yet again reminded that we’re shaping the space with our bodies and our bodies is space. The intimacy is constituted through deep listening and through the intention of seeing something through another’s point of view.

I see these moments as presents, gifts that I can take into my everyday life on the dance floor and beyond: the ability to see through the other’s eyes, without the need or the desire to change, to fix, to alter anything.

…I am washed with a sense of liberation… And yet, misunderstandings surface and at times it is not clear what my partner is trying to show me.

“Allow yourself to be interested and not maybe so much interesting!” Dorote’s voice announces, reminding me that the confusion at times stems from the desire to show something that my partner could relate to, a desire to be understood or seen in a certain way.

In my daily relationships I’d translate this desire to a behavioral pattern of pleasing my surroundings, a pattern that backfires quite often simply because I don’t follow my true interest, and instead I try to fall into an expected pattern, one that is not quite fitting my authentic self. I’m challenged and inspired with Dorote’s prompt and am grateful for her validation of the sense of confusion that arises in other movers: “It’s ok to feel awkward and confused because you don’t really understand what the other wants to show you.”

As we move together and apart, Dorote invites us to notice the composition in space, she shares her perspective with us, creating an inclusive experience, one that allows the instructor and the movers to feel part of something bigger than our own personal Odysseys that might tell us at times that we are excluded, that we are alone…

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