This ‘situation’ has been dragging on for months, lockdowns, confinement, social distancing. If it’s a crisis, then it’s moving at the speed of a slow implosion. Is it as T.S.Eliot predicted: “this is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper” (The Hollow Men). Will things ever go ‘back to …’?
What is normal?
I adore the solo Watermotor (1978) danced by Trisha Brown, and filmed by Babette Mangolte. In the first part of this work, Brown’s swinging choreography is fast, playful and free. In the second part of the film, Mangolte captures the same piece but this time in slow motion.
During lockdown I watched this piece over and over, imbibing it, I missed space and freedom. It also made me wonder about speed, dynamics and the ‘rhythm of freedom’. The phrase buzzing around was about ‘going back to normal‘. What normal?…was there ever a tacit agreement about what exactly constitutes ‘normal’?
Pondering the ‘rhythm of freedom’ I whiled away many hours watching free-diving videos — I love swimming and diving — they made me thirsty on a cellular level. I was craving this kind of zero-gravity movement. But there was something else: the need for support during this time. Missing contact, touch, interactions with friends and family, at least the sky and trees were still there, drifting by and swaying about. They reminded me that there are much larger entities that have their own ways of touching and holding.
My ‘daily outdoor activity allowance’ during this time, was spent doing Tai Chi in the park. The viscous quality of the forms involve attuning one’s body rhythms to that of tree-energy, chi, which is of course oxygen: its really about breathing with trees and the larger environment. Tai Chi, also called ‘dry-land swimming’: this was my way of free-diving, the air became water.
Free-diving on dry-land
BREATH / freedom to breathe / clean air / what is ‘normal’ is the freedom to breathe, to breathe-with, with the environment, the trees, and also and especially each other / ‘I can’t breathe’ he said / and we were locked inside so that we might survive / our lungs are at the heart centre / and that says it all.
Hypnomotor (2020) takes its logic from Watermotor, separated into two different dynamic sections. This is my way of of moving through the questions: what is normal? what is the ‘rhythm of freedom’? I borrowed some elements from Trisha Brown’s delicious movements and added some improvisation inspired by Tai Chi. Hypnmotor (2020) is my way to ”free-dive on dry-land’.
Sensual speeds, falling in love and slo-mo
But Hypnomotor reverses the logic of Watermotor…In Hypnomotor it’s the first part, (up to 3’37”) that’s been speeded up in the editing, while the second part is the actual speed of the sequence, no editing, no ‘slo-mo’, just the quality of movement.
‘Slo-mo’ actually refers to a technological function devised to alter the speed (or frames per second) of a moving subject:and is often used as a tactic of desire-stimulation, for example in the ‘falling in love’ scene of a film or in showing the intricacies of extreme sports, or in selling champagne, beer, flowers and ice-cream. Why is slo-mo associated with desire, and often joy and sensuality… and if it is, why does our world move at an ever more frenetic pace?
Hypnomotor proposes a liquid and languid dynamic, where breath is essential, breath is what moves, what composes the rhythm of the dance, breathing is fundamental to ‘freedom’, not just ‘my freedom’, but a freedom that breathes with the space, with the environment: how can we change the ‘total climate’ (a term used by Christina Sharpe to describe structural racism) with our collective breathing?
A final note on the making of this work. When I filmed these sequences, I got into what I can only describe as altered states of consciousness. Being immersed in this dynamic quality for long periods of time, made me lose the sense of space and time in the studio. ‘Slow’ movement — at least not fast, production-driven — is known to have a powerful, regenerative effects on the brain, by stimulating activity in the cerebellum at back part of the brain (the spinal eye). This means reduced distraction and mind-wandering which is associated with pre-frontal cortex dominance — our ‘normal’ state in ‘modern society’.
Hypnomotor (2020) was filmed at Chisenhale Dance Space during lockdown. CDS is an artist-led space and had to close its doors due to COVID and struggled to survive beyond lockdown – thankfully it did. I was able to use the beautiful studio for a whole day and it was the highlight of the last six months.
With thanks to Chisenhale Dance Space and Arts Council England Emergency Fund.