Robert Anderson opens the class by acknowledging the teaching of Steve Batts in this session at London Contact Improvisation. We are studying space and spatial arrangement.
We walk in the space of the sports hall at Caxton House. There is a circulation of people; weaving back-and-forth; in-and-out of the spaces between us; and between the walls of the hall. The spaces are opening and closing as people move. Robert draws our attention to our feet and the feel of the ground beneath them; to our surface – our skin; we are ‘bags of skin’ he says.
In the space
At one point, he asks us to follow another person. Later, I reflect that the consequence of this simple direction is closing the space between us – the dancers. The dancing crowd becomes denser. Looking-from-a-far then this would be very noticeable but being in the crowd, I am more concerned with the people around me and their movement than our arrangement in the hall.
We move in the space of the hall. Robert gives us direction: if you see someone stop moving then you stop moving too. When a person stops then it takes a time for the stopping – the non-movement – to ripple through the crowd of dancers. It’s contagion. Mischievously, I stop quite soon after we start walking again. No one seems to not start moving though i.e. stay static. But I can’t see equally in all directions and if I could then this ‘dance’ would be different. Again – to an onlooker – this dance must seem very different to how we – the dancers in the dance – are seeing and feeling it.
Robert says space can be:
- Weather like We are like the chaotic movement found in weather systems. We have been a weather system in the above exercises.
- Architectural Most dance is architectural. Does Robert mean that we think of ourselves – our body as architectural; or the arrangement of bodies in a group, as architectural? Or both?!
- Social space I interpret this as the social interrelations between us which are conceptual or physiological in nature rather than physical closeness.
Arrangement of space
Levels / Vertical space
There are six levels off the ground – horizontal levels – given by Robert but he says it’s possible to have many more – perhaps 27?!
- Floor level Literally lying on the ground with our limbs in contact with it: lying, sprawling, sliding on the ground.
- On all fours This is also known as ‘table’ or bench position with hands and knees on the floor. It’s the height which matters here.
- Crouched We have our feet on the ground but we are on our haunches. i.e our heels are touching our bottom.
- Not-quite-standing We are on our feet and we can walk but our posture is slightly crouched with shoulders forward.
- Standing We are are standing up-right, our feet on the ground and looking to the horizon.
- Flying Above the head – feet off the round!
We move between these levels (distance from the floor) and explore the freedom of movement in each. We partner-up and dance in a duet exploring the levels.
Distance / Horizontal space
We work with a partner.
One of the partners walks in the space while the other stands and looks to the horizon. They move into the line of sight of the standing person. The standing person brings their awareness to themselves and to how they are feeling when this happens. Perhaps there is a tightening in the torso when we sense them suggests Robert?
There are three distances from our partner given by Robert: far; near and close. The exact distance is a vague but we must work within the hall! Perhaps far is arms-length; near is within talking distance; far is shouting distance and beyond? We simply guess.
When I try this exercise then I don’t feel any different when my partner is at any of the distances! There is no fear after-all; no surprise; nothing in particular. Perhaps I am too used to dancing contact now?
Robert now suggests another three more gradations of distance which are much closer to our body; in fact, they ARE our body: skin (surface); flesh – tissues; and bone.
We explore these three with our partner in a contact improv. dance through touch. I say to my partner which of these I am exploring and ‘administer it’ to my partner. Generally, I use brushing for the skin; pressing or squeezing for the flesh – it’s the volume which I’m sensing; and for bone then more pressure. My partner says sliding (or ‘sluffing’) is another way of sensing too.
Exploring bone is easy for the head! Generally, I like this dance with it’s different levels of touch and sensing. Both partners are equally giving touch, and in a way which is more connected and intimate than many dances which I’d encounter in a jam.
After the class, I wonder why did we studied space in this way. Perhaps when we are aware of space and our arrangement in it then we can be more creative in its use? But equally, we weren’t aware of it in the way that an observer or onlooker might have seen it. We didn’t experience that, as onlookers: the outsider’s perspective.
Ekaterina Andreeva & Steve Batts dance contact improvisation
‘We danced as crasy. I was 18 years old. We invited different teachers from all the world and they brought contact improvisation to us. Now we are teaching already by ourselves. This is the dance with Steve Batts, a magician from Nothern Ireland. He told me once: “Stop fighting with the world” and it realesed all my tensions. We had a great dance.’ Ekaterin Andreeva
[Top Photo: Weather system – Maria Makes Landfall Over Dominica.
NOAA’s GOES-16 satellite captured this geocolor image of Hurricane Maria on the evening of September 18 2017, as it made landfall over Dominica. Credit: CIRA]