Yesterday I began teaching Aspects of Physical Theatre at the University of Manchester. It is the second time teaching it there for me and I am applying what I learned from the first version two years ago. It is assessed partly through a log book so I thought I would have a go at doing my own log entry just for one week; putting myself in the shoes of the students so to speak. So here it is.
I teach two courses at Manchester, the other being Devising for Performance. When both courses come together in one year I often have students who have opted for both courses so it is interesting and important to flag up the difference between the two courses, so there is no sense of repetition, a question that came up concerning students wishing to pursue both courses Yet I believe repetition is important and has value. Yesterday I noticed how those who had done Devising for Performance remembered in their bodies our work on the movement progression through Suprapto Suryodarmo’s and Sandra Reeve’s 9 basic human movements, which we had covered in Devising for Performance in the week on body work. They followed the progression without missing out the intermediate movements between sitting and standing.
I approached this work yesterday through a different route using Linda Hartley’s cellular breathing exercise to begin with after completing the Hatha Yoga/Pilates exercises I have been doing these last eight years which now form almost a daily warm up for me. All this followed a short introduction to the course from Jenny Hughes and myself and a gentle encounter exercise with locked and unlocked knees followed by a practical contributing note on the logbook
I remember reading somewhere that we can’t understand something unless we stand under it. I think this is a useful thought for working with the body. To understand we might stand in, under, around, above and within it.
Yesterday we worked on being/standing in the present moment, considering authenticity and the uniqueness that is each cell making up each person in the room. We considered the miracle of this and the science surrounding it and I suggested they read about the anatomy of the human body, especially with regard to the spine. Both Hartley, Tuffnell and Reeve wonderfully integrate the study of anatomy in creative ways.
Note to students – please follow the above links for further reading/exploration.
We only have three hours and the course is all practical so the students have to research and read much for themselves guided by an extensive reading list in the course handbook. I strive to help with handouts so I gave them an extract from Sandra Reeve’s Nine Ways of Seeing a Body and some material on Laban as preparation for next week. I worried a bit that again about repetition and remember crashing through Laban on the Devising Course. On a 12 week course how can one possibly cover everything there is to cover? You can only nod at it. People study Lecoq for a lifetime…and so on and so on. This is the problem with the focus on practitioners. We might rather try to be our own practitioner led by what we absorb from those who teach/influence us. We cannot be them. I am always confronted and challenged by the hotch-potch of practice that has become my own practice. Teaching a course formally has required me to learn a lineage of practice locating common ground with practitioners I have not ever come across directly. I guess this is exactly how it feels for the student required to gain knowledge in a short space of time and through a modular approach to learning. There is a contradiction here then in “daily life” that is a living training and “learning about” that is an education. Do I want to worry about that?…No, too old to worry about that now. Just get on and do it.
By now you may have switched off/jumped elsewhere maybe but I am writing this for the students so no worries…I hope they haven’t.
In the class we talked about (or I talked about … it’s always quiet in the first session as we work each other out…) how the body remembers what it needs to remember, about efficient effort – just enough to do the action. We experienced tension and release of tension and the importance of being kind to the body. The shoulder stand was difficult and I remembered after we did it that I should have broken it down into segments. I usually do that but they were so compliant I felt we might walk on the ceiling even. I was glad after the yoga when one student asked about tension in her shoulders and another told me her mother loved yoga and another obviously knew something about authentic movement remarking on how energised she felt. I deduced from the class that there was a quiet confidence in speaking out so I was relieved. Is this something to do with it being the second semester. First semester courses are often quietly cautious for me. This session began quietly but ended with some genuinely sparky observations. I am hopeful.
I remembered what autodidactic training with Odin Teatret had taught me – you go with your own speed, your own body, not in comparison to others but only to yourself. “There is nothing new in what we do” I suggested that – this was not a competition. I reminded myself of the tensions that pervade society created through competition. Body work is life work, life learning, life being and being in life. It is not a race.
A personal note:
I asked them to draw their bodies. If I had drawn mine it would have had big feet yesterday. I am a size three.
Feet have become a real focus for me these last few years and I have become really aware of my high arches which sometime cause me foot pain so I have taken to doing the yoga work in jazz shoes with inserts/orthotics in them that I get through the NHS from the podiatrist. My feet have bothered me for years – not in terms of pain but because I was told at a young age that they were weird, so I have considerable issues with them. I did the session in bare feet and noted how my body reacted to this since it had learned a different alignment through the shoes I had been wearing for the yoga at home. I prefer working in bare feet because you can feel/sense the floor better but my alignment is better with the shoes. The rebalancing and redistribution of weight through the inserts affect me from the ground right up through my spine and it feels very different. This has created a real conundrum for me which I am going to work with consciously in order to readdress what my body has learned all these years and try to explore relearning balance and what it might have been like had my feet not been weird.