Photo © 2009. Nannette Bertschy & Ann Moradian.

looking at the world and challenging our assumptions, definitions and creation of it through the lense of the body, movement, the arts and science.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Reflections on Performance: Richard Siegal

Richard Siegal and The Bakery
If/Then Dialogues
The Arts Arena at the Door Studios, Paris
Monday, November 21, 2011, 7:00pm

© Ann Moradian

Richard Siegal, an American now based in Paris and Berlin, talks in Paris. Okay, he actually dances--long legged, loose-limbed power with articulation, and play-- and talks at the same time. And he even makes a lot of sense, despite the fact that he seems to be running off on tangents right and left, lost in his own stream of consciousness.

Richard Siegal. Photo © Arnaud Ferry.

If/Then Dialogues is not a lecture-demonstration, nor a performance, nor a presentation. It really is a 'dialogue.' Okay, Siegal talks and moves the most in the first half of this informal presentation in the lower level loft space at the Door Studios. This is true. As he dances, moves, doesn't move, he is chatting with us all the while (“Is this music getting boring? Should I change it?”).

Siegal has made a series of what I think are very conscious choices, like: movement and words that seem casual, lights that keep the audience almost fully visible, sweats and tee-shirt for a costume, water when thirsty, chocolate to munch, sound system within reach. He gives us permission to be something other than “fine", a word he hears all the time in the States that isn't really fine at all. Added together, these choices create an environment that gives us permission to be honest and vulnerable, as Siegal is. (I mean, if we want to be).

Richard Siegal. Photo © Arnaud Ferry.

In his tangential stories (that are not really so tangential), I pick up on the bits that speak most to me: like 'we're all aging,' the body getting 'a little rickety' (Sigh). I am strangely reassured by his re-telling of Simon Forti's story of coming across a dead man lying on the sidewalk in front of a Paris bakery. As she tries to get information from the two policemen standing guard she meets their unyielding denial: "Rien à voir" (Nothing to see). Faced with a dead body on stage and the solid mass of unyielding police-flesh, 'aging' and 'a little rickety' start to seem pretty “fine” to me!

Richard Siegal. Photo © Arnaud Ferry.

But can you believe he gave away the secrets of dance, and I missed it?! Eccentric contraction and concentric contraction did he say/show (shay?)? I must have blinked in the flurry of spitting movement. Rats! I'll have to ask him about that.

I hope this gives you a vague impression of the first half of the evening. It felt like a series of looping, sweeping, rolling non sequiturs, but... by the end of the evening it is clear that they were not all tangents.

Richard Siegal and the audience. Photo © Arnaud Ferry.

The second half begins with all of us shifting from the ground floor up a level. "Follow me..." to a second and equally charming space. A little champagne, “un petit goûter” (a little snack) and we, who were the audience, start to mess around a little, moving in (and out) of the totally white performance space--a studio usually occupied by upscale fashion photographers and their models.

Who would ever think you could get a very mixed group of usually reserved French people (well, to be fair, the Arts Arena has a very eclectic and international following) to, not only move together and improvise for hours, but to touch each other -- even touch each others leggings! (I send my apologies to the lady in the lamé.)

The audience. Photo © Arnaud Ferry.

This is a Paris I've never experienced before outside of the Contact and 5-Rhythms dance communities. I was telling a couple of friends about it this morning and the French woman's jaw dropped open in disbelief. Unheard of here!

It just seemed to happen. In thinking back on it, it is clear that Siegal designed the evening specifically for this possibility, and that his casually sharing the definition of "Affordance" (the intention of the architect that is left behind through the parameters of the design itself) was anything but an irrelevant aside.

Looking at the design of the evening, Siegal first and foremost prepared us to be willing to move–to accept our limitations, and to forgive those quaint or outright bizarre expressions in movement that show up from time to time. (I mean, how could we not find Siegal's danced “sheep” – that looks nothing like any sheep we have ever seen – completely endearing? “That's supposed to be a sheep,” he tells us, about as surprised as we are!).

The audience. Photo © Arnaud Ferry.

Of course, the champagne helped a bit, too. So while Siegal joined us to chat a bit (now in a black suit, like many of us), some of his dancers must have discreetly got a few willing souls moving. By the time I noticed anything interesting happening, there was a group moving in unison against the smooth curve of the wall that seemed to invite me, too, to touch. And to be willing to be touched too!

Thank you Richard, and Arts Arena, for such an extraordinary evening!

If/Then Installed can be seen at the Centre Pompidou in Paris as part of the exhibit “Danser sa vie

Saturday, January 7, 2012

How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body

Last fall, I began working with a private student who had practiced yoga for many years, mostly on her own with videotapes for guidance. She had developed spinal stenosis and, after a year of limited movement and severe pain, wanted to verify that she was working safely in her home practice before returning to it. She brought this article to my attention, and I think it is worth sharing. (Click here to link directly to the article, How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body, by William J. Broad for the New York Times.)

It is easy to mistake Yoga for "exercise" and to imagine that its goal is perfected postures or a beautiful body. But yoga postures are only a very small part of Yoga, and not even a mandatory part. Yoga is the calming or stilling of the whirling activity of the mind, and it comes from the Sanskrit root word "yuj," which means union or yolk.

According to Yoga philosophy, our individual consciousness or mind (chitta) is comprised of the ego-mind (ahamkhara), the senses (manas), and discriminating intellect (buddhi). To still the illusory dramas and stories of the ego is Yoga practice. To release the attachments, desires and aversions provoked by the senses is Yoga practice. To distinguish between the information the discerning mind provides and our feelings or ideas about that information is Yoga practice. To yolk the "mind stuff" and unite it with mahat, that "cosmic intelligence" that is the "womb of all creation," is practicing Yoga. And transcending all of this is the aim of Yoga: samadhi.

Asana is simply "a steady, comfortable" posture. Unlike many forms of exercise, the asanas work deeply on every level, affecting not only our muscles, tissues and joints, but all of the body's systems, including the nervous, endocrine and cardiovascular systems.

For me the article, "How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body," serves as an important reminder to seek ease and stability in our posture work, and in our lives. We open into our fullest potential simply and gracefully when we are ready, not when we are forced. I am grateful for this reminder of how important it is to listen to and work within the body's limits, and to take the time and attention to be honest about what is driving us in our "doing."