How to use the resource of the body to pursue ideas?

How to use the resource of the body to pursue ideas?

By Sabina Holzer

corpus: Could you please give a short introduction: Where are you working? What kind of schools are these? How old are the students and how many are there?

DD Dorvillier: Anne Juren (choreographer), Roland Seidel (conceptual artist), and I worked in Schwanenstadt and Grieskirchen. We had three simultaneous projects. For Project A we met twice a week for several hours with a group of 22 students from the HTL in Grieskirchen between the ages of 17 and 19. Our last week together with them was everyday from 4 to 6 hours for four days. Project B was with 22 students ranging between 7 and 8 years old at an elementary school in Schwanenstadt. We met them twice a week for shorter sessions. Project C was a weekly encounter with local schoolteachers from the area where we led movement classes, mostly focusing on developing physical self-awareness,  taking some time for the imagination and discussion.

corpus: How did the three of you share the work?

DD Dorvillier: We collaborated on all the decisions of the first two projects, including how to structure the work sessions, the schedule, and the shape and artistic decisions concerning the final presentations. Often, a single person would take the lead for a specific part of the session. Our great assistant Thomas Pressler did a lot of translating for me as well as Anne, neither of us native German speakers, when we were leading things. I relied quite a lot on Roland for the translating as well. Anne and I shared leading the sessions with the teachers, mostly in English.

corpus: Did you have any plan, idea, concept, imagination before you started working?


Dorvillier: We had some ideas. We were not so prepared in terms of having one shared specific method or approach that we wanted to take, none of us had worked much with people this young, and our expectations were a bit all over the place. The question of pedagogy or not arose many times daily (“Do we teach them or make something with them, and if we make something with them do we direct it all ourselves, and how do we find ways for them to make decisions within the work, so they learn to rely on their own knowledge?”) We generally took the approach of attempting to produce experiences that could strengthen confidence, self-awareness, concentration, and imagination, and simultaneously work towards the presentations.

At the onset we discussed a theme which could be a kind of global reference for all the projects. We came up with the idea of “the body is a time machine”. The idea as a thread evolved over the course of the project and we did not attempt to produce something that literally reflected it, but often used the idea to answer questions and doubts along the way, and to make sense of things when quick decisions were crucial. It remains a traceable line through the presentations we made together with the young people.

It was suggested by the „I Like to Move It, Move It“ team that we arrive with no expectations and no big plans, and that from our encounter with the students we develop a concept. On paper it’s a nice idea, but the time frame of these projects was very tight, 16 sessions for the little ones, a bit more for the HTL-ers. Having a general thematic direction helped us to work quickly and collaboratively without much personal artistic negotiation during the meeting times, as we had never worked together in this constellation. “The body is a time machine” established that we were aiming to bring the body into focus as a kind of affective and effecting instrument, able to cause change and produce unexpected ways of seeing the world. What was produced relied on the students‘ awareness of the difference between what they experienced internally and what was being experienced outwardly by each individual viewer. So “the body is a time machine” expressed not the  goal of transporting us away from the present, but aimed instead for transformation and the emergence of alternative perceptions of what is possible in the world around us.

corpus: How did you approach the students? Was there any resistance?

DD Dorvillier: It’s impossible not to think about sharing knowledge and information when you are working with young people on a project. Young people have generally quick access to curiosity and a sense of play, which are pillars for the production of any knowledge. As I understand it, the “Move It” project had as a goal to inject artists and their projects into the Upper Austrian school system with the idea that this disruption could produce positive catalysts for that innate playful inquisitiveness.

In general the students we worked with had very little exposure to contemporary art or performance, and its associated theories. It was clear therefore that relying on specific cultural and art references to make a point or raise a question about a student’s choice was not always going to work. They seemed as much in shock about confronting me as I was to discover them. There was tremendous resistance initially, by some of the students at the HTL, yet in the end there were great surprises from those same resistors. For me it was an important lesson in how to keep a level of closeness and trust while observing from enough distance to not take the bad moods of adolescents under a lot of pressure too personally …  there were definitely some tough days.

The Volksschule kids in Schwanenstadt had expectations which moved and changed quickly. We practiced “skills” such as: moving in slow motion, moving fast without sound or touching, becoming invisible, animating objects while being invisible, holding the breath, reproducing objects with the body. Then we were to transform these practices at the last minute into a series of tableaus which they could repeat for the presentation. Through this there was a certain consistency in the sessions, yet every time we met there were new creative actions and outcomes that arose, within the context of “the classroom becomes alive”.

When we worked in the big gym the students began to be able to focus on a big physicality and still have fun together. In the classroom, we chose to do some writing and drawing, but also some unusual actions, such as a practice of disappearing completely in the room (under desks, behind curtains, under the sink, in the closet) being completely silent. The release from this, exposing only one part of the body, and then moving in extreme slow motion back to their desks, was a crazy storm of laughter and screams. In general the teacher was not so present during our sessions, until the final days.

At the HTL things were a bit different. It was clear to me that the HTL group had simply been in the school system for a longer time and grown accustomed to doing things they did not have the desire to do. They had learned to expect a lack of results from themselves, and there seemed to be a certain mistrust of our presence there. What were we doing there? What did we expect them to do? Were we going to make them take off their shoes and make up some dances? I think they were all basically mortified, and from their stony faces I gleaned a kind of disdain that I had not expected at all. No fun to be had. They did not express a lot of interest.

I was convinced of the fact that they needed some kind of physical outlet, as well as a practice that could reveal a certain power of accomplishment after a few weeks. We looked for ways of engaging them in their own ideas, giving tasks that were defined through parameters, but not classroom style rules. It was crucial to find ways of getting them to produce something on their own so that we could have something common to reflect upon, and also so they could experience the power, or not, of their creative ideas manifested. We insisted that they must do, and not just think or talk about it. It was a strange negotiation that was very personal for me, to not bother too much if they respected me initially or were interested in me at all, and still work hard to find a frame within which they could feel themselves changing through action and participation, led by their own choice and willpower.

Eventually I believe these students came to see us as  equals, instead of some confusing sub-form of non-teacher authority, and we were able to share a mutual interest in each other.

corpus: How did you feel as an artist being placed in a school system?

DD Dorvillier: There is not much of an education in contemporary art or performing arts, its history, or formats in these schools. We were more or less the exotic strange people, which in some ways made me feel a bit irrelevant, and also angry. I was not surprised by this but I was confronted with the poverty of the situation for these young people. What a wasted opportunity it is, to miss the chance to explore what is contemporary culture and art in school, with your peers. I guess that’s why we were there. For the young people who will soon take over the world, to be able to understand the role they play in the shaping of culture through awareness, curiosity and participation, seems like it should be more than just a luxury for the lucky ones, but instead should be treated as crucial component of their growth in and presence in society. I felt good about being there for this reason, and even the strangeness of my presence was something I was actually happy for, because it served the purpose of catching the students‘ attention, even if they would prefer to not show their interest. When we were curious about them, they reciprocated.

corpus: What did you learn from the pupils?

DD Dorvillier: That sometimes they are boring or bored because I’m boring. That school is hard and truly not designed with the individual student in mind. That school bells are too loud and schedules are terribly ill-conceived. I learned that young bodies and minds have lots of energy but get tired fast, and need intermittent short breaks where they can relax without blowing out their concentration. I learned that I have to leave my ego at the door. A good day is not because I’m great, and a bad day does not reflect that I am a failure. We have to work together in learning, not just pass off information and expect a young person to be interested and find some way of transforming that information into genius fuel. Structures which are clear but oblige students to make decisions by and for themselves are very important. Young people make art and they need art. When you invest energy in a student’s growth, you cannot expect nor demand a specific return, only continue to assist them in their discoveries and in cultivating awareness and knowledge of their own ways of thinking and making sense. I guess that is a teacher’s role as I see it, but I cannot separate this from my work in making performances. I learned that these approaches about learning are already inherent in my approach to art making, and reflect my attitude about the world. The experience gave me the opportunity to re-fresh this understanding.

corpus: What kind of relation do the children have towards movement and dance?

DD Dorvillier: All the groups, including the teachers, seemed to really need to move, and likewise each group had their own share of difficulties in the process of approaching any kind of structured movement practice. For the few people who enjoyed dancing in the different groups it was not so difficult, but for others it was initially quite intimidating that they would potentially be asked to dance, and especially in public or in front of their peers. For me, to dance or not was not the point. I wanted to focus on physicality and imagination, how to use the resource of the body to pursue ideas. I was interested in finding ways of getting the students and teachers to be able to include their bodies in a creative process, not for the sake of dance, but in order to take advantage of the resource of the body, and also to be confronted by the questions that arise when we move into activating an idea physically in the world, with just ourselves as instruments.

In Schwanenstadt often we practiced in a circle. We worked on the idea that each student could be autonomous, taking care of him/herself, without policing or relying on the other for validation, and yet all arrive at the center together at the same time, fast, without touching. With repetition you could say that this practice became a kind of rhythmic choreography, a contracting and dilating circle. A sense of rhythm and  musicality emerged from the tasks, instead of being placed on top. We used making sounds, and holding the breath and then suddenly releasing it into running or moving slow, or walking at a normal speed. There were successive dynamic changes together with an awareness of different spatial and physical articulations occurring simultaneously. It looked like a kind of play circle. The work and ideas being arrived at, though basic, were sophisticated, and these 8 year olds were very much into it. I think eventually it would be interesting to have introduced the question of music, but only after having done this work. It might have been interesting to see if their relationship to listening (or to mathematics) was affected by these new awarenesses.

At the HTL we used a structure borrowed from  a practice called Body Weather, developed in Japan by a group of artists lead by Butoh dancer Min Tanaka. It was not the actual practice of MB (the name of the physically demanding portion of the Body Weather practice, done in lines to rhythmic music for about 2 hours) but a mutation of it, that lasted around 50 minutes and included pre-existing exercises and some invented by the students, and us. The point was to work with the music and move across the floor rhythmically with specific articulations of the body in space. To be moving in a coordinated way for almost an hour without stopping was unusual and difficult for them, but most of them became engaged and did not stop when the movements became more complicated, faster, or disorienting. They seemed to appreciate the challenge, and the fact that I assumed they were capable of doing all of it. I saw their confidence growing, despite the fact that the movements were sometimes strange or un-cool (skipping, walking with your toes turned in, undulating the pelvis, spinning). With this over-abundance of complicated movements they began to realize that there was no one single reading or aesthetic that we could attribute to a move at a given time. It was about form, time, and space. They explored basic formal ideas with their bodies, moving shapes and steps, through space, in time with the music. We never called it dance, even though, in my mind, it was a big dance that we performed together every time we met.

Despite the fact that I have been teaching and making group works for many years I was stunned by the amount of energy this project took. Not only an Austro-American culture shock, but a culture-culture shock as well. I encountered many of the same issues and problems with education and cultural awareness that I’ve had in the states and other places. The project brought up many questions for me and also shed light on my thoughts and convictions about education. I think some of those students involved may have had as profound a time of it as I did myself, and for this I am very happy and proud to have been a part of it.

Anne Juren (FR/AT): Anne Juren was born in 1978 in Grenoble, France, and has lived and worked in Vienna since 2001. Following graduation from the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Danse in Lyon, she was awarded a state grant that enabled her to study in New York under Trisha Brown. In 2001, in addition to her activities as a dancer for several choreographers (Laurent Pichaud, Saskia Hölbling, Jennifer Lacey), she created her own solo piece entitled “OSO.” She followed this up with the solo “A?” and the duet “J’aime” (2004) in collaboration with Alice Chauchat, a work that was produced at such venues as Buda Kortrijk (Belgium), Tanzquartier Wien, Festival Impulstanz Wien, Sommerszene Salzburg and Maison du Theatre et de la Danse in Paris. In 2005, her solo “Code Series” premiered, and she collaborated with Krõõt Juurak on the creation of “Look look,” which was co-produced by the Austrian styling agency Unit F and Tanzquartier Wien and performed in many European cities. For apap V (Advancing Performing Arts Project), she created “Sport und Tanzformen,” a three-part project with professional athletes that was produced in each of the project’s six European partner cities. 2006-07, Anne Juren was artist-in-residence at Tanzquartier Wien. In May 2008, her new group piece entitled “Composition” had its world premiere at Tanzquartier Wien. In Fall 2008, she performed her latest piece, “Magical,” and worked as a curator at Tanzquartier Wien.

DD Dorvillier (USA) is a choreographer, performer, and teacher from New York City. Her work has been shown in venues such as The Kitchen, PS122, Danspace Project and Dance Theater Workshop in NYC, as well as internationally in Australia, Spain, France, Austria, Japan, Croatia, Holland and Russia. She has been teaching worldwide since 1995, both the Skinner Releasing Technique as well her own approach to choreography and physical training. In 2008 she was the Artistic Mentor of the DanceWeb Europe Scholarship Program. She is a double Bessie Award winner (Dressed for Floating, 2002), and a 2007 recipient of the prestigious Foundation for Contemporary Arts Fellowship. She has worked for or collaborated with Jennifer Monson, Jennifer Lacey, Sarah Michelson, Peter Jacobs, Yvonne Meier, Karen Finley, Alain Buffard, Jan Ritsema, and Pavol Lishka/Kelly Copper, among others. In 2008-09 she will perform in Parades and Changes, replays, a reconstruction of Anna Halprin’s seminal Parades and Changes (1965), initiated by choreographer Anne Collod in collaboration with Anna Halprin, as well as performing in Jennifer Lacey and Nadia Lauro’s Les Asistantes.

Roland Seidl (DE/AT)

Roland Seidel was born in 1974 in Augsburg, Germany, and lives and works in Vienna. He studied painting and graphic arts at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna with a major in concept art, and graduated summa cum laude in 2004. As a graphic artist and filmmaker, he has shown his work at numerous exhibitions and film and video festivals in Austria and abroad including Vienna, Germany, Switzerland, France, England, Japan and Spain. A selection: Liste 07, Basel; Galerie Amer Abbas, Vienna; diagonale, Graz; Kunstfilmbiennale in Filmforum Museum Ludwig in Cologne; Media Art Week at the Goethe Institute in Kyoto.
Since 1997, he has been a member of the duo BitteBitteJaJa in which he collaborates with Ulu Braun on joint projects. His artistic work focuses on encounters with the phenomenon of everyday life. Their spontaneous, performative and integrative application of all media engenders a poetic reinterpretation of the social drama: “Where are we coming from? Where are we headed? What’s going on?” As a stage set designer, Roland Seidel has worked with contemporary choreographers including Anne Juren. His work has been honored with many awards.