In July, I had the pleasure of working with students from the Trisha Brown Dance Company Summer Intensive, during a new workshop “Mapping Complexity.”  The purpose of this workshop has been to understand each student’s interests and connections to the work of Trisha Brown as a premise for exploring their own creativity.  Much of what we explored has been my own interpretation of Brown’s work – not meant to be a direct representation.  My interest has been to give tools and strategies that are inspired by aspects of Brown’s work as a way for students to learn more about themselves and their own creative interests.  With students I brought in specific source material – visual, written, and videotapes of performances.  I assisted them in identifying specific elements and patterns in Brown’s body of work – including the use of line, space, weight, and rhythm.  I then guided students through a creative process to see how they could connect themselves to these elements in their own bodies and from their own unique histories. Over the week, students began developing their own dances and improvisational scores.  We used an improvisational practice of drawing and writing throughout to document, map, and play with our discoveries.

Brown’s work has been incredible to observe.  There are multiple ways in which she maps the complexity of her own practice.  Using drawing and writing in a variety of ways – at times as documentation, as a kind of schema or mapping, as journaling, and last but not least as artwork in and of itself, I witness the composing ideas of Brown’s work unfold through these varied material processes.

Here are some of the ideas we explored:

Day 1:  mapping space (within their own bodies and within the environment)

Mapping the body as a territory in relation to gravity.

We then looked at understanding their own affinities for how they embody space in a simple walk.  What spatial planes do they organize around – is there a tendency or preference?  Horizontal, vertical, sagittal?

Then we played with Laban ideas to understand the 26 kinespheric directions in space.  This Laban cube is no different from Brown’s Locus cube, though Brown inserts a 27th point at a center point in the cube.

We looked at the pathways in space to understand how each student maps space:

  • Near, mid or far reach
  • Center or periphery
  • Sequential, successive, or simultaneous

From here we created our own movement improvisations bringing awareness to the ways each person maps his/her space.

Day two:  mapping weight (accessing the ability to layer and shift body qualities and states)

Imagining the body as a sac of fluid, we moved from the fluid systems of the body as a way to explore weight and textural shifts in movement.

  • synovial (loose, rubbery, free-flowing, relaxed) – of the skeletal system, produced in the synovial membranes of the joints
  • lymph (exact articulation, specificity, clarity, directness) – fluid of the lymph system, deals with defense and survival
  • arterial (expanding high energy, heartbeat, pulse) —  flow of blood away from the heart
  • venal (swinging and rebound, cyclic) – flow of blood back towards the heart
  • intercellular (sensual and flowing) – surrounds the cells of the body, foundation of vitality and flow of power through the organs and muscles
  • cerebrospinal (moving from center) – fluid of the nervous system, travels within brain and to the spinal column
  • cellular (approaching stillness)  — the fluid within the cells

Day three:  mapping rhythm – motor

Warm-up – working with grounding and “up from the ground” – bounce/spring to later play into how they are organizing rhythm in their bodies…

I taught Kai Kleinbard’s Emergent Rhythm Form – looking at complex polyrhythm in the body…

We looked at the following cycle in improvisational structuring, beginning with:

  • Uncovering interests
  • Gathering information
  • Tracking pattern
  • Development of forms – selection process
  • Emergent structuring

We also played with principles from Trisha Brown’s seminal “Water Motor” as a key embodiment of complexity.

Day 4 & 5:  Student projects

The last two days, I worked with students as they built their own projects.  Each person was able to land on a very specific set of interests.  I was moved to see each student, with their own neuronal mapping, understanding how to track and map the complexity of their own behavior.  Then, in taking this into creative practice, they were able to use this information, now observable on the conscious plane, to direct and focus their own explorations.

– Cori Olinghouse