Rebecca Blair Hillerby, a dance graduate student attending Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona recently asked me a question in regards to my choreographic process and how it is impacted by implementing somatic principles. This “conversation” will explore several aspects; what is somatics, and how, historically have somatic principles presented themselves in the choreographic process.
This was my initial response to her first question.
SOMATICS AND CHOREOGRAPHY
What is your definition of a “somatic” approach? It has become a very popular term and seems to include many different systems of “body work”. Klein technique, and Klein/Mahler, in its evolution over the past 30 years was developed by dancers, for dancers, to experientially and intellectually learn and integrate in parts of equal balance, how to make better use of their bodies. As in many other systems striving to connect the body/mind/spirit, its practice creates very real and deep changes, not only in the body’s structure, but also in the person. These changes are carried into creative realization through time and daily practice. They become integrated and become a part of the individual’s use of their body. It need not have specific aesthetic. It can be applied to all styles of movement, including daily life. The goal – to create, dance and live with a healthier and better functioning body. It therefore has no real “style”, or choreographic process. If the choreographer creates all the movement for his or her dances, then the movement quality, grounded ness, sense of space, body articulation and its connections show in that movement. The transmitting of this to one’s dancers will take place if the dancers themselves are in their own bodies in a similar way or through the art of coaching and teaching.
The work grounds itself through the process of learning. One of its fundamental goals is learning movement without copying shape and form, but to know, on a deep body understood level, (kinesthetically), the pathways to achieve the choreographer’s goal, realizing his or her vision. It works the same way from the perspective of improvisational processes – the dancer must be connected, grounded, with and in their own body.
I do not know if others choreograph from the perspective of bodywork. I do not. My movement and ideas comes from within. The way movement and form shape itself in space is the aesthetic choices of the choreographer.
Systems of body-oriented, or somatic movement techniques (i.e.Feldenkrais, Alexander, Yoga, Pilates, Klein Technique, Body/Mind/Centering (BMC), to name a few, work best, in my opinion, in undiluted ways. When in a class the immersion of and mindful work of one technique, rather than the attempt to integrate many, will, I believe, be more affective. As my teacher Dr. Fritz Smith often says “I wish you could see the world (of the body) the way I do”.
I believe we, as a culture, have come to think of somatic work as having a loose and undefined physicality, as well as the opposite, which is dance as a conglomerate of outer-worldly movements and contortions, acrobatics and legs wrapping around one’s head. That is not all there is to choreography, dancing and performance. For me, choreography has form, structure time, design, composition, emotion, perspective, clarity, movement invention, and rigor; and the many parts make up a whole.