Investigating the Space of the Body through Shaking

In her research paper for her M.A. in Contemporary Dance Performance at the University of Limerick, Ireland, Murni Omar explains how a single movement can open up infinite possibilities, as she discovered while making her final project in 2014 titled “Lost”. Here is a revised excerpt from the paper.

 

During my M.A program at the University of Limerick, I created “Lost”, a dance based on the investigation of internal and external space. I decided to start by working with clothes, and I imagined them being hung on a clothesline onstage, from downstage right to upstage left. I thought this would create a powerful image and, subsequently, I thought of how differently I could approach the clothes, how to manipulate and make use of them. The image that came to mind was that clothes, besides being that which is worn, could also signify or look like people.

The whole creative process was spontaneous and intuitive, mainly because my initial idea kept changing, evolving and developing. I rehearsed several times and explored the ideas with a dancer. However, I found the process hadn’t been moving satisfactorily. Although I had some specific tasks like body contact, exploring movements from the images of the clothes and exploring the texture of the clothes, I still hadn’t discovered an anchor. Later, when I watched the rehearsal process on video, I noticed that there had been a moment when I had shook one of the items of clothing. That particular image really caught my attention. I imagined what it would be like if that shaking happened to my entire body.

Murni Omar rehearsing with clothes, University of Limerick, July 2014. Photo © Murni Omar

Photo © Murni Omar

From that image, I decided to continue my investigation about the space of the body with this shaking or shuddering movement as the main movement motive or anchor. I also decided to make it a solo instead of a duet. I investigated shaking and its various meanings from a dictionary, from medical and cultural perspectives, and discovered it was also a symptom of Parkinson’s disease. However, these investigations were for my additional knowledge; I was not necessarily going to use all this information in the work I was going to create.

From this initial starting point, I came up with some tasks for my choreographic process. In one task, I imagined a conversation between both my shoulders. The shoulders are near each other anatomically, and while they are mobile, their movements toward and away from each other are limited. I thought that that could be the source of the tension that I had been experiencing in both my shoulders. So I wrote a simple short story in order to inspire myself, and to use it as an exploration tool:

I am a single mother and I have twin daughters, Shoul Right and Der Left. We live in a very small village called Body. Unfortunately our house is too small and cannot fit the three of us. Both my daughters are very spoilt because I love them too much. I was always fulfilling their demands. Actually, they are very lovely daughters but they have trouble changing their bad habits. They don’t realize they give others a bad impression of their mother and the entire family. I keep thinking about their lives, whether their habits would have some unpleasant effects for their future. I became worried about them so I met with a counselor to find a solution. The counselor gave me the suggestion to get to a place called The Brain to find medicines named “Do Not Assume” and “Don’t Give Up”. After I found the solution to cure my daughters, I started a new job in a place called Space so I could get some money and make our house comfortable enough for the three of us.

Because I used this story only for inspiration, and I did not create movement based on a narrative, it felt difficult to develop choreography that would be captivating. Therefore, I gave myself tasks related to listening and conversing in order to explore the shakes. The tasks were inspired by two poems—one is by Eva Karczag and the other is from Eiko & Koma—published in a book called Body, Space, Image by Miranda Tufnell and Chris Crickmay

Listening
 

                                        To myself, and

To my surroundings,
To the song that rise up inside me and spin out beneath me,
And it’s as if I stand back, inside myself and observe….
Available to constant flow change, I can balance at the edge of the unknown and experience fearless
         (Eva Karczag)

Begin listening          eyes closed
Listen to the movement of the body/air
a still dance

Let one part of the body come to your attention
a hand
a foot
Let its ‘voice’ emerge in movement
allow the rest of the body to float/follow               

Listen to the voice of the fingers/toes
where they want to go
Offer support from the rest of the body
hand   wrist   elbow   shoulder   whole   body

Allow these other parts some voice too
Accepting ‘disagreements’ if necessary

Enjoy dialogue between parts of the body
and its surroundings
          (Eiko & Koma)

I found the tasks important to my process because it reminded me of something Jonathan Burrows in A Choreographer’s Handbook wrote about the dialogue between the choreographer and the piece: “Sometimes, the material knows more than you.”

In “Lost”, I did not have many static shapes, especially in the middle section. I had a few static postures at the beginning, because I was shaking some parts of my body individually, such as my thighs. When I moved into the middle section, my movements expanded and the shakes shifted to the major parts of the body. I had more asymmetrical movements, because the shakes influenced the way my body moved. I then realized that my asymmetrical movements implied excitement, unpredictability, and risk because they always contained an off-balance element. As Lynne Anne Bloom and L. Tarin Chalpin wrote in The Intimate Act of Choreography, “Asymmetry is the shape of racing, of animals on the hunt. It is the language of distortion, pain, and the grotesque or deformed.”

Murni Omar in rehearsal for “Lost”, University of Limerick, July 2014. Photo © Maurice Gunning

At the beginning of the dance, I was facing the diagonal towards the audience. At that moment I used minimal and subtle shakes in my thighs. My purpose was not to create choreography that was suggestive as I wanted the audience to see the symmetrical shape of my body first and then slowly begin to notice the shakes happening in the thighs. In the middle section I moved in a horizontal line with various shakes and changed my orientation towards and away from the audience. I could feel that whenever I was facing the back wall, the energy that was projected from my back into the space was powerful. In addition, the shakes indicated a quality of mystery and ambiguity. It is difficult to read something portrayed with the back of the body because there is no facial expression to decipher and the body language is possibly vague. However, this does not mean people cannot read the back of the body. A good performer can project powerful intensity from the back. Dr. Mary Nunan, the course director of my M.A program, would always remind us, “Do not forget your back space; always put your attention to the back space every time you move.”

Floor patterns played an important role too because I was creating a solo. I could have created a dance just by standing still in one spot but I wanted to further my investigation with the use of space, utilizing the shakes.

As I had learned during my course of study, each floor pattern creates a different effect. In traditional ritual or folk dance, a circle signifies great strength. A solo dancer who travels in a circle establishes infinity, because the beginning and the ending is vague. By contrast, geometric floor patterns with straight lines create direct impact or a projection like shooting arrows. Therefore, a combination of these two types of floor patterns (symmetrical and asymmetrical) establishes both a dynamic and a symbolic performance space.

My main floor patterns in “Lost” are a circle and straight horizontal lines. In my mind, these two floor patterns had meaning in relation to the performance space. The circle established a projection of energy from the shakes towards the surroundings, equally in all directions, while the horizontal lines indicated a dialogue with the audience, as the body kept changing, facing towards or away from the audience.

Through the process of making “Lost”, I found that the unlimited possibilities of space could be used as a tool for the exploration of choreography, and variations in the intensity of the performance could likewise create infinite possibilities for any single type of movement. I am compelled by a quote from Martha Graham: “Dancing is just discovery, discovery, discovery.” Ultimately, the studio-based research employed really allowed me to perceive interesting territories within my mind to keep generating thoughts that are relevant to my practice as a dancer, choreographer and artist.

 

Murni Omar is a dancer at ASWARA Dance Company. More

To contact the author:
murnibintiomar@gmail.com

 

Featured photo: Murni Omar in rehearsal for “Lost”, University of Limerick, August 2014. Photo © Maurice Gunning