Between is not an auxiliary construction, but the real place and bearer of what happens between men; it has received no specific attention … it does not exhibit a smooth continuity, but is ever again re-constituted in accordance with men’s meetings with one another. (Buber 1965)
Emilyn draws on her practice-based research as a choreographer and Gestalt/existential psychotherapist. Interweaving the two fields, this workshop offers opportunities to experience relational encounters through simple movement-based choreographic tasks. Through a practice of here and now presence, phenomenological enquiry and dialogic relations, participants experience how awareness of intersubjective processes – between performers and between performers and spectators – can affect performance making and instigate impactful change in the world. Theoretical and philosophical engagement with issues of self, subjectivity, uncertainty and nothingness will be discussed through the embodied tasks.
Our bodies live “opened up to” situations, especially other humans – two people are derived from their specific situational relationship – so what happens when one person is no longer there? (Madison 2005)
WORKSHOP – Wednesday 27th February 2013
I make my way from the hotel to TEAK, walking tentatively on well-gritted pavements; snow banks piled high on either side, aware of the expansiveness of streets, bright light and sounds of trams. I enter a glass-covered arena feeling the immediate comfort of heat and notice what appears to be a scattering of intimate performance spaces randomly positioned in the square, sofas and chairs, tables with empty coffee cups and magazines. I take the lift to floor 5 and walk into studio 535. I am early so I talk with the technician to sort out a projector and I wait, lying on the floor, while the cold winter sun pours in through the windows of the studio. Participants for the workshop begin to arrive and I am introduced to students, artists and conference delegates, from fields of arts therapy, theatre, dance and performance – approximately 15 people in all. We begin sitting in a circle sharing a round of names and I introduce my research.
As a performer, choreographer, professor and writer I now bring a further professional practice into the mix – that of Gestalt existential psychotherapy. I practice in two distinct fields – choreography and psychotherapy – that influence one another. Choreographic processes are enriched by the skills of existential Gestalt i.e. presence, phenomenological enquiry and dialogic relations. While bodywork, movement and choreographic strategies are integrated into psychotherapy. As a consequence these practices open up a third space of research, through workshops, teaching and performance making, that interweaves the two fields. And the kernel of this third space of research is here and now relational practice between myself and others – that also becomes the focus for this workshop.
For me, this micro engagement – the intersubjective between-ness of encounter – is key to method, process and content of performance and giving attention to the embodied interactions of our here and now relations opens up potential for growth and change.
As part of a “relationist” theory of art, inter-subjectivity does not only represent the social setting for the reception of art, which is its “environment”, its “field” (Bourdieu), but also becomes the quintessence of artistic practice. (Bourriaud 2002, 22)
A relational practice demands a here and now engagement, where we bring our whole selves to the meeting. So I am curious how we work in performance with the tension between our here and now, space and time sensitive bodies and our technically skilled bodies; a tension between what Foster calls a perceived body – resistant, pedestrian, everyday and an ideal body – technical, stylised and codified. (Foster 1992) Dancers, particularly, tend to relate through codes of movement language whether that be the conventions of ballet or more contemporary forms such as release-based movement techniques. There and then of habitual movement codes tend to override a spontaneous here and now engagement.
Research begins with embodied work in the studio. Reflecting on this work invites a set of questions that can be investigated through contextual, philosophical and theoretical parallels, in writing. These in turn lead to further studio based research. This interweaving of studio and writing practices creates a core methodology for practice-led research.
This workshop focuses on face-to-face contact with each other, slowing down the process of meeting, to notice impact and how interaction affects our phenomenology and, as a consequence, physical movement responses. Using movement-based tasks, dialogue and critical reflection we attend to how we meet each other and the affects of meeting otherness. And following this face-to-face interaction, we experiment with a particular theme: embodied acts of falling-in-relation.
The workshop has a two-part structure:
- A Method for Relational Practice. We begin with embodying a method of relating through three tasks: a practice of presence, phenomenological enquiry and dialogic empathy. As we relate in the world these three interweave, creating the core elements of intersubjective face-to-face encounters. In this workshop we are separating them, through practice-based tasks, to slow down, notice and experience the processes of meeting each other.
- Falling. Embodying this method of meeting we explore various physical falling tasks.
… Walk with externally focused attention, notice objects in the room, notice how looking outward affects walking, talking, energy, direction, use of time and space, how we relate to the environment around us…
… What do you require from the environment to support you – light, floor, warmth, interaction, sound, smell…
… Walk with internally focused attention, focus in on somatic experience, notice how looking inward affects walking speed, direction, use of time and space, engagement with your own flesh and blood, with breathing, with sensation, notice how your relationship with others has changed… looking inward…
… Standing still, play between inside and outside focus, as a practice, as work, shifting attention from the environment to bodily sensation, notice how one affects the other – in the here and now…
… Walk towards each other, walk around each other… notice how you are affected… looking at and being looked at… notice sensations… being here and now…
We perceive and interpret almost instantaneously. “You cannot not interpret” (Staemmler 2009, 74). Here we are slowing down the process.
…Begin face to face with partner… with words describe what you see, without interpretation… let partner respond…
… Sense impact on your own body of what you see and what you hear… avoiding interpretation…let partner respond…
… Add your interpretations…
… Notice, describe, sense impact, interpret, respond….
…With movement… begin face to face, in stillness.
…Notice your partner’s movements, sense the impact, notice your interpretation, respond in movement…
…Pick up from each other, use the impact of what you see to follow your own movement narrative…
…When your journey ends, return to observe your partner, noticing impact on your body as impetus to move again…
… An intersubjective, improvisational movement dialogue begins…
… Listening, sensing, as a practice of empathy…
… Tell a story to a partner, a recent experience that has affected you in some way…
…Partner listens, and gives a body based movement response…
Using embodied presence, enquiry and empathy as a relational practice method, the workshop continues with an exploration of falling-in-relation. Participants experience each other’s falling, from simple loss of eye contact, to slow falling, to falling and catching, to falling out of a hug. The focus is not only the faller’s sensations but also the impact of the falling for the witness. Questions of existential uncertainty, nothingness and not knowing are welcomed into the space between us.
Lack of time meant that the practice of falling-in-relation was short and reflection as a group was limited. So I include here some philosophical background to face-to-face encounters.
In his sociological study of human behaviour and interaction Goffman describes keeping face as a “line” (Goffman 1967, 5) of behaviour by which an individual is known in the world, by others and himself. To keep face is to maintain a consistent image of self in relation to others. “Face to face interaction… is that class of events which occurs during co-presence and by virtue of co-presence”. (Goffman 1967, 1)
At such times the person’s face clearly is something that is not lodged in or on his body, but rather something that is diffusely located in the flow of events in the encounter. (Goffman 1967, 6–7)
Face-to-face interaction is key to intersubjectivity. I understand my sense of self as between us, so my individual separateness is dependent on the togetherness of an encounter with you. We are dependent on one another for our independence, and through our interrelations we know our separate selves – a tension between uniqueness and relatedness. “Developmentally and in principle, the self is always secondary, the other is always primary…the other is therefore always already contained in the self”. (Staemmler 2012, 27)
I am seen, therefore I am. (Altmeyer 2003, 261)
Intersubjectivity… and its empathic basis, begins to move us away from the simple Cartesian picture of discrete individual consciousness… to one in which subjective realms of experience interpenetrate one another, so that identity and individuality are relative rather than absolute matters. (Midgley 2006, 104)
Martin Buber, theologian and existential philosopher, sums up an intersubjective encounter with the words: “in the beginning is relation”. (Midgley 2006, 104)
Between is not an auxiliary construction, but the real place and bearer of what happens between men; it has received no specific attention … it does not exhibit a smooth continuity, but is ever again re-constituted in accordance with men’s meetings with one another. (Buber 1965, 203)
Buber focuses on the inseparable double words I-It and I-Thou. He differentiates an I-It encounter, where someone relates to another as an observer i.e. information gathering, from I-Thou, a dialogic, relational, inclusive contact.
For Levinas, another theologian and existential philosopher, face-to-face is an ethical issue: “the face is what forbids us to kill”. (Levinas 1985, 86) Levinas takes the idea of self-in-relation further than Buber. Intersubjectivity is not reversible, equal or symmetric. Contact is ethical first and foremost and face-to-face is an intersubjective encounter where my responsibility for you pre-exists my right to be.
The Other becomes my neighbour precisely through the way the face summons me, calls for me, begs for me, and in so doing recalls my responsibility, and calls me into question. (Levinas 1984 in Hand 1989, 83)
Face-to-face does not only imply eye contact, but what existential psychologist Gendlin calls “bodily interaction”. (Gendlin 1966 in Madison 2005, 200) “Our bodies live ‘opened up to’ situations, especially other humans – two people are derived from their specific situational relationship – so what happens when one person is no longer there?” (Madison 2005, 200)
Just as the member of any group is expected to have self-respect, so also he is expected to sustain a standard of considerateness; he is expected to go to certain lengths to save the feelings and the face of others present, and he is expected to do this willingly and spontaneously because of emotional identification with the others and with their feelings. In consequence, he is disinclined to witness the defacement of others. The person who can witness another’s humiliation and unfeelingly retain a cool countenance himself is said in our society to be “heartless”, just as he who can unfeelingly participate in his own defacement is thought to be “shameless”. (Goffman 1967, 10–11)
Socially and culturally, in the West, we are expected to keep face-to-face, as a metaphor for holding each other up, holding to expectations of each other. And it is this embodied intersubjective sense of face-to-face that is key to the consequential affects of falling in relation – practice-led research that is further documented in Can I Let You Fall? (Claid 2013, forthcoming)
With thanks to the participants of the Face-to-Face workshop in Helsinki.
Emilyn Claid, Dr., Gestalt psychotherapist UKCP, Professor of Choreography at Falmouth University.
Emilyn is Professor of Choreography at Falmouth University and a Gestalt/existential psychotherapist. Her career stretches back to the 1970s when she was co founder of X6 Dance Space in London and editor of New Dance Magazine. She was artistic director of Extemporary Dance Theatre in the 1980s; then worked with Phoenix Dance Company and Candoco Dance Company in the 1990s while performing and producing her own shows such as Virginia Minx at Play (1992). In 1997 Emilyn was awarded a PhD and now works between academic and professional contexts as a writer, lecturer, therapist, choreographer and director. In 2006 she published a book, Yes? No! Maybe… Seductive Ambiguity in Dance Theatre Performance (Routledge). Recent choreographic commissions took place in Singapore and Beirut. She has acted as external consultant for courses at Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts, University of Auckland and La Salle in Singapore. She has recently published an article “Rise & Decline” in Theatre, Dance & Performance Training Vol.3 issue 3 (Routledge 2012) and is currently co-editor for a forthcoming issue of Performance Research 18 Vol.4 “On Falling”.
Altmeyer, Martin. 2003. Im Spiegel des Anderen – Anwendungen einer relationalen Psychoanalyse Gieβen: Psychosozial-Verlag.
Bourriaud, Nicolas. 2002. Relational Aesthetics. France: les presses du reel.
Buber, Martin. 1965. Between man and man Trans. R.G.Smith New York: Macmillan.
Buber, Martin. 1970. I and Thou. Trans: R.G. Smith. New York: Charles Scribner & Sons. Original work published 1923.
Claid, Emilyn. 2013. “Can I Let you Fall?” Performance Research 8.4 (publication august 2013)
Foster, Susan Leigh. 1992. “Dancing Bodies.” In Jonathan Crary and Sanford Kwinter (eds.) Incorporations. NewYork: MIT Press. pp. 480–495.
Gendlin, Eugen. 1966. “Existentialism and Experimental Psychotherapy.” In Clark Moustakas (ed.) Existential Child Psychotherapy New York: Basic books Publishers Inc.
Goffman, Erwing. 1967. Interaction ritual Essays in Face-to-face Behavior New Brunswick, New Jersey: Transaction Publisher.
Hand, Sean. 1989. The Levinas Reader Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd.
Levinas, Emmanuel. 1984. “Ethics as first Philosophy”. First published in Justifications de l’ethique Bruxelles: Editions de l’Universite de Bruxelles 1984 pp.41–51. Trans. for S. Hand (ed.). The Levinas Reader 1989. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd.
Levinas, Emmanuel. 1985. Ethics and Infinity Michigan: Duquesne University Press.
Madison, Greg. 2005. “Bereavement and Loss.” In Emmy Van Deuzan & Claire Arnold-Baker (eds.) Existential perspectives on Human Issues. New York, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 197–207.
Midgley, David. 2006. “Intersubjectivity and collective consciousness.” Journal of Consciousness Studies 13.5 pp.99–109.
Staemmler, Frank-M. 2009. “The Willingness to be Uncertain: Preliminary Thoughts about Understanding and Interpretation in Gestalt Therapy.” In Lynne Jacobs, Richard Hycner, Erving Polster (eds.) Relational Approaches in Gestalt Therapy. pp. 65–111.
Staemmler, Frank-M. 2012. Empathy in Psychotherapy New York: Springer Publishing Co.
Van Deuzen, Emmy & Arnold-Baker, Claire. 2005 (eds.) Existential Perspectives on Human Issues Hampshire & New York: Palgrave, Macmillan.