This week, we started our work on paintings. Embodying paintings. From everyday objects in the first week, we have moved on to colors and lights in the second week. Now in the third week of the term, we were given paintings by a different artist every day, and asked to put it in our bodies – in groups, in pairs, and by ourselves.
On Monday, Thomas brought in pictures of paintings by Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock, and selected one from each artist. Then, he asked us to pick one that speaks to us the most, and to try to move it. I picked the one by Jackson Pollock. It is not unlike the one above, but more spare, using only black ink, a couple of brief swirls on a long white rectangular canvas. At first glance it resembles a scroll of Chinese calligraphy, and maybe that’s why it spoke so much more to me than the one by de Kooning.
In groups, we explored the paintings individually with our bodies in space. After this brief first encounter, Thomas asked us to come out individually, and move the painting for the class. He had several requests. There has to be time, rhythm, and space in our improvisation, and above all, he wants to be moved – the whole class wants to be moved.
When I went up, I thought I had it down. I know I can move well, and I thought that this would be easy, just like doing a dance improv. I know how to move people, don’t I? So I did my thing, lots of flowy, release-technique based movement, using more force for those places where the ink had collected and formed splotches. When I finished, Thomas looked at me, and said “Okay. We got time, rhythm, and space. But, we were not moved. It stayed very private.” I stared at him. What did he mean? Did that not move him? Was what I just did not interesting at all? Then I thought back. And I realized that I had barely dared look at the class when I was doing my improv. Whenever I faced the audience and tried to look at them directly, it felt like I was slamming against an invisible glass wall. I told Thomas this, and he seemed pleased by my answer “It is good that you know what I am talking about, because I could be here talking to you about moving the audience and such, but if you don’t know what I am trying to say, then there is no point in going further. As long as you know what it is, then, we have a point of departure.” He asked me to try again, and I did. This time, I tried to face the audience more, to open my energy to them, to breathe and put more focus on all the people that were watching me. I didn’t quite know what I had to do in order to move the audience. When I finished. Thomas nodded, and said “Okay good, that was already a big difference. But, there was a brief moment where you had this incredibly sensual quality to your movement, and that, was the most interesting part of your improvisation. Perhaps that was the true impulse you got from the painting, and this sensuality is what it provoked in you.” He paused, “Do you want to try again?” I started, and stared at him. I felt embarrassed somehow, as if I had just been stripped in front of the whole class. I knew exactly what he was talking about – the moment in the improv when suddenly I went into these very delicate, sinewy movements, a moment that had felt right, but that I had abruptly dropped. The way Thomas said it, it was as if he could tell that I was afraid of what the painting had really provoked in me. That I was afraid of this sensuality, my own sensuality, and I was trying to hide it while moving for the class. No wonder people weren’t moved – I wasn’t moving from somewhere deep within. In many ways my improvisation had stayed superficial. I was using my dance training as a crutch, giving them lots of nice looking material, but few that came from the inside.
And so, I tried again. Sinewing, sliding, rippling my breathe through my body. Fingers unfurling, arms curling in, then out, pelvis moving in a slow circle, slowly shifting my weight from one foot to the other. I was entranced, and I could feel all eyes on me. The air in the room was still, and it was as if time had stopped there for a moment. Finally, I heard Thomas’s voice saying, “Good, good, good.” I turned and looked at him. He smiled and said “It’s important that you enjoy what you are doing, no?” I could tell that I had pushed through something, that I had arrived at a new place, and that Thomas was pleased with what he had seen. He continued, “Now, if you go back to the painting, you can observe again its structure, and the way it moves. And you will really be able to embody it truthfully.” I nodded.
Then I walked back to my seat, exhausted, but content.