Body regimes

RealTime-Performance Space Forum, June 4, 2001 (long version)

At the fifth of the RealTime-Performance Space series of forums for artists working in contemporary performance, 50 performers, academics, emerging artists, students and teachers of a range of skills and body regimes gathered to discuss the meanings, functions, effectiveness and availability of training. Visiting scholars and artists from Victoria, Queensland and Western Australian joined in the dialogue which was informally hosted by director and performer Nikki Heywood and RealTime editor Keith Gallasch.

This transcript records most of the discussion, but not all of it. Tapes had to be changed and we ran out towards the end.

Nikki Heywood
I wonder, can we feel our training in our body. How aware of it are we? How useful have those training methods been and what particularly attracted you to the particular discipline?

Mémé Thorne (performer)
My specialty is the Suzuki Method otherwise known as stomping. I started in 1989 doing classes with Nigel Kellaway who was probably one of the first Australians to go to Japan and study with Suzuki Tadashi and his company at Toga. So I found the classes most enjoyable and useful. The Suzuki Company came to Australia in 1991 and performed The Trojan Women. What excited me most about seeing that show and the demonstration of the method of training afterwards on stage was that although Suzuki was working with something like 35 people on stage it was possible for me to look at every single person and feel, wow, I’m getting something from every single one of them. What is it that they do that enables them to harness this kind of energy, this kind of presence and make not just the principals interesting and able to engage your attention? Even those who didn’t speak a word. Even the one who stood for an hour and 10 minutes without moving! So I wrote to Suzuki and asked if I could participate in some kind of training with his company which I did in 1991. In 1992 he invited me to go back to Japan and train as a teacher of that methodology and I’ve been teaching it ever since.

There was a moment of realisation that it was possible to find a training method which would prepare me for performance in such a way that I could harness that energy and translate it so that audience members would look at me. That, after all, is what we’re after as performers on stage. You want to stand there and you want to say to everyone look at me. And I believe it worked. LAUGHTER

NH
Had you gone to performance before that and not found that sense of presence?

MT
I use the word “presence” but, of course, the word encapsulates so much more. If you stand on stage, you want to be able to say something and have it received in the way you mean it. And I think that’s a difficulty for a lot of performers. You have an idea of how you want to be received and what you want to say but often the two pictures don’t come together. Through the Suzuki training I have found it more possible to arrive at those two ideals and bring them together. It happens because through the training I’ve been able to understand what it is my body does at any given moment while I’m on stage. I can do away with extraneous gestures, I can be crisp and precise and I can make a clear picture and I’m talking not just about what I say and do but the visceral qualities, the aesthetics of the whole thing. To me it’s much more possible to bring that to fruition through this methodology. I think you can do that with other regimes as well. This is what worked for me, but in conjunction with other training. I don’t do Suzuki exclusively when I prepare for any performance that I do but that is my main focus.

Simon Woods (Performer, Zen Zen Zo, a Brisbane-based performance group)
I think MéMé has summarised what the Suzuki Method can give you in a really fantastic way. We also found that there were a lot of wonderful benefits in the training which I believe transformed our company and took our work to a whole new level but there were also some elements that we found a bit limiting. It’s a highly structured style of training, very formal. We found when we were working only with Suzuki Method in rehearsals and eventually performance, a lot of the acting was rather stilted, a bit lacking in freedom and vulnerability. We’ve looked for other systems that might complement the Suzuki Training and bring out other elements of the performance. Our main influence has been not so much the Suzuki Company of Toga but one of their children, the City Company in New York run by Anne Bogart. Our training now comprises Suzuki as well as the Viewpoints Training which is much more improvisatory and much more freeform.

KG
Could you describe the Viewpoints Training?

SW
I thought how am I going to describe this if I get asked. It’s like all of these training systems, very difficult to describe. Suzuki is very much focussed on the individual, on your sense of concentration, your energy, your focus and your relationship to the audience. It certainly takes into account the group dynamic but it’s much more about you as a performer. Viewpoints is about the group. It’s a series of improvisational exercises that allow the actor to take into account their relationship to the rest of the company. It focuses a lot on spontaneity, on creating material in the moment, on reaction to the other performers. There are actually 9 different viewpoints that enable the performer to create that awareness. There is a book, a collection of articles called Viewpoints and it was put together at a conference in the states. It’s been a fantastic influence for us. And as well as that, we do yoga and some Butoh exercises to work on the emotions more.

Alice Cummins (dancer, teacher)
I enjoyed the first part of your response because I was thinking oh, your approach and discipline has gone straight into performance. I think mine is doing something else but I’m not sure. In 1985, I think, thanks to Russell Dumas I first met Lisa Nelson [an American teacher of Contact Improvisation] in Melbourne and in the process of working with her she said one day, you might like to read this article on Bonny Bainbridge-Cohen [Body Mind Centering] from Contact Quarterly and I was smitten. I saw the light. Something tucked itself away and I was deeply curious. But I had to wait until my children grew up and I got Australia Council funding to go to do the study because it’s hugely expensive, especially from Australia. And I did that study, as Silver Bud did who’s also here, from 1995-98. I think one of the things to say about Body Mind Centering is that it’s an approach, not a technique and it’s really hard to be specific. It informs all of my work. I don’t necessarily always teach a Body Mind Centering class but it informs everything because it’s part of who I am now, part of my bodily intelligence and how I approach both working with people one to one or in a group or in a performance situation.

Yana Taylor (performer, teacher)
There are people of many different ages here today and that’s fantastic. And people with many different experiences both in Sydney and around the world. Physical practitioners are a very mobile mob and they go lots of places and come back. So I take you all as members of this broad church, this grouping made up of a set of networks taking in contemporary performance and physical theatre and that whole gamut. I have a series of questions related to that so we can all see who we might be.

I’d like everyone to stand up who has found only 1 of his or her training backgrounds useful in performance, whatever exciting thing it is that hooks you and engages you. How many people have found 2 things in their background that they’ve carried? OK 3, 4, 5, 6? (this is much more than I’d thought), 7, 8, 9, 10? Put your hands up if you think I haven’t reached your point yet…11, 12, 13, 14? Stand up anyone who thinks their training has been totally useless for them.

I did this to see how you might think and partly because of my own experience. I have a range of training backgrounds. The short list of decisive ones: years of classical ballet, quite a substantial amount of work in corporeal mime, Suzuki, I’m a tap dancer and I’ve done a lot of other things but in some ways all of those things have a relationship with where I am now. I remember one of my earlier teachers who came from Europe. A very fierce person she was but I worked with her for about 4 years. And one of the things she kept saying about Australians was that we were all dilettantes who didn’t take ourselves seriously and that we would therefore be cast out into the cultural tundra. And something about my rather adolescent and flimsy wavering sense of what I was doing still went ‘No, I’m gonna stick by this dedicated eclecticism’ as I’ve come to call it and see if in fact I might find others who are in the same situation because they live here too.

KG
Celia White, your background is in physical theatre. When you wrote to us you said when a regime becomes “useless” it should be thrown away. This is quite different from everyone else so far who’s spoken as if they’ve found heaven.

Celia White (director, physical theatre performer)
I started performing because I got seduced by circus and the idea of it–not circus circus but circus tricks as an avenue to doing other things with them in the late 70s. That was to do political theatre that became feminist theatre when there was the idea of making the female body strong. There was also the ooh-aah factor, the kind of spectacle that you could access really easily with circus. This is an interesting thing for a body like mine. There was no training. There was make-it-up-as-you-go and probably hurt-yourself-in-the-process. I love Feldenkrais now. Then that idea of whatever circus theatre was, which we never really knew, became very limiting and we found ourselves calling it something different. And in the process I grabbed at anything that was passing by. I have a dance background and I rebelled, unfortunately perhaps, and stopped because my teacher was my mother. So it’s interesting I don’t have a training as such. I’ve invented my own training. But there’s still that little sense that I haven’t had a regime to hook into and perhaps I’m looking for one…but perhaps I’ve missed the boat. The idea of another regime on this body seems impossible now.

KG
You can train in these methodologies and these are often about getting into a state of being or certain preparedness for a work but they can be quite different from the work itself.

CW
I think that’s an interesting question. People can be working on particular skills but when they take them into performance there’s something missing in terms of how to create the performance of the work. There’s a sense that your training won’t quite give you all the things you want for a particular performance. We’re opening things out all the time and creating new work that we’re not perhaps comfortable with. It is that sense of visiting as many things as possible to find for yourself what resonates for performing of your skill.

NH
There are so many layers here. One of them is where does aesthetic of the discipline start to shape the aesthetic of the work we make and how does that break new ground and create form?

SW
In Zen Zen Zo we’ve found the relationship between performance and training to be a very circular one. You go from training into performance and that creates problems and issues and question and then you’re back into training to address those issues and back into performance to test the answers. One of our founding members has been in most of our shows since 1992 and every time we do a show together it’s almost like we’re asking fundamental questions. He’s very good at the work, the best person in the training room in terms of ability and skill level, but when he goes into performance it raises for him a whole lot of new things which he has to address in the training.

NH
The training becomes the research and the performance becomes part of that research.

SW
It’s nice to have that ongoing context outside of the performance space where you can address performance issues.

Young performer
I’m just learning. When you’re starting out, is it better to go into these techniques and be totally open to them or do you try and gauge it in terms of your own person?

AC
You’re constantly making decisions. Unless you have no ego at all, you would be making decisions about what it is you enjoy, what it is makes you physically strong, what stimulates you intellectually, makes you curious, makes you a better performer. You’re not just going be a blank piece of paper that constantly stays blank. It’s not possible. There’s interaction.

Shannon Bott
I'm Shannon Bott, a dance-theatre maker from Perth and really new to it. I remember back to my training in dance at the WA Academy of the Performing Arts–the one question for me the whole way through was, who am I in this technique and is anybody going to ask me that for the 3 years I'm here? I’ve found a way into the self and the emotional self behind and with the movement. But I can see that you can be encouraged to separate yourself so that you become rigorous. So as someone asked earlier, when are you ready for performance? For me, I don’t know if there’s ever a “I’m ready now” but if I’ve been asking those questions and the awareness is there as the development and the process is taking place, then you’re ready when you’re ready.

Amy Salas (performer)
Could I combine a couple of things with the idea of when you are ready for performance. I came originally from a very strict gymnastics background with an Eastern Bloc-style coaching that was very intense. I found through that and through the subsequent acquisition of skills in circus performance that once you are starting to accomplish life-endangering skills, that your ability to turn on and turn off in a conscious performance mode refines itself. So I have found when that question is asked of me, when am I ready, the answer has been since a young age–always. What happens in the performance is another matter. [WAVES HER CRUTCHES. LAUGHTER] If you’re ever hesitant about whether you’re ready for performance, the best thing you can do is to develop the ability to put yourself into a physical position where you’re in danger of falling and then prove you can catch yourself. It’s not necessarily the rigour of training that pushes you to that point. You push yourself to that point, no matter what training you have.

KG
Gavin Robins, you’ve worked with Legs on the Wall but you’re also working on movement with actors in the Bell Shakespeare Company. Why are you doing that and what do you hope to achieve there?

Gavin Robins (performer, teacher
When I think what attracted me to physical theatre it was also about what I wasn’t getting in my training and the kind of theatre that I didn’t see and I wanted to see. I felt that the virtuosity that you see exemplified every Saturday at the VFL finals or even any sporting arena around Australia, that risk-taking wasn’t apparent in the theatre. But I’d walk down to the Dance block–I did a drama degree at Kelvin Grove in Brisbane–and I’d see virtuosity there and I’d see some of the Physical Education people doing it and I’d say,, why can’t theatre embrace this and why can’t actors be as developed in their physicality as they are in their intellectual ability and their vocal skills? I was driven by that. When I went to the NIDA Movement Course I saw a lot of stuff and I was involved in a lot of conventional work, as you are there. It’s a very classical training, and it was boring and kind of anti-physical and it really got up my nose. Then in 1994 I saw Legs’ on the Wall’s All of Me here at Performance Space and it was that first step towards a merging of virtuosity and eloquence with storytelling–the text maybe wasn’t as well integrated as other things but it was a step towards a vision. So part of my experience with Legs has been touring throughout the world and performing and really locking myself into a system. After a while I thought that’s it, I need to go out and apply these skills in other areas. I think you know when that time comes. It’s a gut feeling. Just as you’re attracted to something on stage or you’re not. You just feel it.

And Bell is an exciting company for me to work with at the moment because John has embraced this notion of the ensemble. He has 11 core performers who work with him for the whole year and I teach them yoga and basic balance acrobatics–things to empower the actor so that they might be able to lift a person above the chorus or have Ariel run across the backs of people. And then it’s a question of how that language furthers the theatrical aesthetic–does it say the same thing?

NH
And does the director integrate that physical language?

GR
He’s attempting to and I’m attempting to and I’m on this other learning curve about how that works with text. That’s why he’s got me there, to train the actors on the one hand and to look at the theatrical challenge of making a Shakespearean work something other than head acting. That’s where it’s brought me and that’s my desire. We see examples of it working in great companies like Théâtre de Complicité who have a seamless merging of so many skills. And it is that search for holism that I’m excited by and dynamic, eclectic training. And I think that’s what we should be striving for.

YT
Physical theatre has become a bit of a genre in Australia and it’s kind of different in other parts of the world, and in the ways people have reflected on it here. And I think what I’m hearing from you, Gavin, is that it’s Bell’s commitment to the ensemble, ie bodies in space and places, that actually provides the ground for any of that sort of exploration to take place. That's one of the thing that afflicts this network, that training regimes are considered an uncreative area and are very hard to support and fund unless it’s a creative development or rehearsal because it’s considered somehow unconstructed. This is why I respect the project of the Omeo Studio [Sydney] crew because they’re working really hard to create the kind of milieu where training is possible. And without that, these things stall despite all the sacrifices from generations of performers in a whole range of related work.

One of the things that I think I might be seeing here tonight is that institutional practice is all right–it’s okay to go to Kelvin Grove or WAAPA but it ain’t enough. And beyond that these tracks are ones of people self-teaching and finding their own path through. There needs to be room for that and it’s getting increasingly difficult to find space for it.

Fiona Winning (director Performance Space)
Omeo is a really interesting example in that there are a range of artists who have decided to have an ongoing practice and through this very fundamental decision are able to link a whole lot of training and research and performance imperatives in the one place. Unfortunately, too many artists who have all sorts of excellent training don’t have that opportunity or drive to make their practice ongoing.

YT
Some of it has been by subterfuge. A lot of people have been very creative in how they’ve used creative development and rehearsal.

KG
One of the most contentious areas of contemporary performance is the voice. You have the situation where you have a marvellous rhetoric of the body which is trained and a funny little voice pops out. It’s not always the case, but companies will employ a dramaturg if they can but not very often will they address the issue of voice.

Matthew Fargher (performer, vocal teacher)
My training is largely in physical theatre and traditional theatre via Philippe Gaulier and people like him, Yoshio Ida, a Japanese actor in Paris and subsequently a bunch of voice teachers who had a very body-based approach–people like Linda Wise. I feel like I have absolutely no light to head towards. There’s no really interesting physical vocalists performing that I’ve come across anywhere in the world probably because I haven’t had time to go and look for them. A lot of my time over the past 10 years has been spent really just saying, okay I have these disciplines side by side in myself, as a musician and an actor and a singer and someone who has a physical training and someone who does a lot of work with physical performers. I work a lot with Stalker Theatre and that’s recently taken me to be working with Aboriginal dancers and singers in the Marrugeku Company.

My understanding of the relationship between the body and the voice came from an accidental moment in the lead up time for a class I did for a Contemporary Performance Week at Sidetrack in which I went partially deaf due to an ear infection. Suddenly I realised that I could hear my body from the inside. I could hear my breathing and suddenly sense the whole voice thing at a kinaesthetic level and suddenly it was like, there’s the clue. You can translate all of that body approach, feel the interaction between yourself and the space and yourself and another, whether that’s from a contact improvisation point of view or any discipline that puts an individual in a space with a degree of sensitivity. You can suddenly translate a lot of that work into voice work. And subsequently, I feel like everything that’s come in since then has made sense in the context of that discovery. I feel like I don’t need to say I follow such and such a training. It’s just me and everything that comes in and then everything that goes out. It sort of changes a bit depending on where I am at the time.

The tricky thing is then deciding what you can actually do with it in terms of performance. And maybe this is yet another question. The discipline of getting an individual or group of people to do physical work and then translate that into voice–I’m doing it every week with the choir I sing with. We do a lot of physical work in the lead up. Every time I work with a choir that doesn’t do that, they’re like, oh, you mean, you can kind of move before you sing? It’s a revelation. I think it’s easier to bring physicality to people who use their voices already and have an effect than the other way around. And maybe it’s because I haven’t really had the opportunity. Even in the work I was doing with you Nikki, there was an emphasis on the voice in where we said we were going but in the voice and the training I was the shag on the rock making noise all the time amongst these beautiful performers for whom the noise was limited to what comes out of the body by shlapping about on the floor.

I would love to see it as a discipline and find a way of using it but part of the problem is what do you look at to give you an example of where to head? And part of the problem with all the disciplines that have sprung up in Australia in the last 20 years is that they have created some specifically Australian languages of physical performance and you could say that there’s this school and that one. But apart from a few individuals who make noise while they perform there isn’t anything like what you might call a school of vocal physical performance. So I’ve had to look elsewhere within Australia to see if there is a cultural lead and the obvious thing for me is the way that the Cook Islanders and a lot of islanders perform because they have a very physical way of singing and the singing and the gesture are one. So there’s a lead. There’s probably a number of examples like that.

Interestingly, a lot of the other places where there is a strong vocal tradition and a strong dance tradition, like Africa and the Aboriginal traditions, often voice and movement don’t go together. I’ve had to develop another understanding about the relationship between the sound and the performer, another traditional form. I think there are examples of that where you have someone doing physical performance and somebody singing and the relationship that can develop between the two. There’s myriad traditional examples of that throughout the world and I think quite a few good examples in performance here. But it’s the other one that's the issue– people moving in space and doing physical performance who yack on as well or sing or whatever.

KG
Mémé, in the Suzuki Method you've said the approach to voice was of muscularity rather than relaxation.

MT
It’s quite contentious. I don’t know how many people here have any idea of how the voice is used in the Suzuki Method. In terms of talking about training “regimes”, the Suzuki Method fits. It is quite militaristic and the vocal work tends to be that way too. It’s the way you apply it that tends to be completely different. It’s a means of arriving at a certain point of preparation as a performer. That’s how I see training, it doesn’t matter what the regime is.

In terms of the use of the voice, the basis of the Suzuki Method is to place yourself physically in a state whereby all your means of vocal production is harnessed in a powerful and dynamic way. For instance, while I’m speaking now, I’m placing my body in quite an arduous position. I’m holding myself in such a way that my thighs, my abdominal muscles are actually being held. What happens while I do that is that my diaphragm is engaged and for me to create the sound, I have to use my diaphragm quite strongly to push my words out. In other words, to use my body physically, strongly, I free myself to project because the means of vocal production are being utilised. You’re training your muscles to memorise the state in which you are able to produce that sound, or that emotional quality or whatever it is. You use the training to prepare but when you walk on stage you leave the training behind and you take with you onstage the sensibility and the sensitivity that has brought you to that point from your preparations. I’ve worked with Linda Wise, Bill Pepper with Mathew Fargher and most vocal training relies on learning how to breathe in order to accommodate and facilitate the sounds you want to make, whether you’re speaking or singing or just breathing. They generally work from a point of relaxation and opening up and allowing your lungs to fill up. It’s the same in Suzuki except that you also harness your physical strength as the base from which to create the sound.

Silver Budd
I’m not sure whether I leave my training behind when I go on stage. I’m a Body Mind Centering practitioner and I actually feel that through that technique I get tools or ways of working with myself. Say, right now I’m having to talk and I feel nervous and so I’m looking for my belly and I’m looking for my blood and I’m looking for what connects me more with the earth and I’m going into my body to find what can soften in my organs, how can I make more space in my throat and all the time. I’m using this inward vision that I got from Body Mind Centering which very much has taught me about all the different systems of cells in my body that are making me be here at this moment, the way I’m being here.

I was interested in the answer to the question about when you might be ready for performance, when you can do life-endangering things, and I just immediately had the response, oh yeah life-endangering is also about psychologically and emotionally life-endangering. I’m an improviser. I don’t actually do cartwheels with no hands or triple somersaults or anything but I think performing is about wanting to give my presence and my self, my very specific self which can also be life endangering.

KG
You speak about differentiation, about relaxing or controlling certain parts of the body. How do you reach that state?

SB
It’s really quite simple. Whenever you read descriptions of Body Mind Centering, we always go through the system–the fluid system, the bone system, the nerve system, the glandular system, the muscle system. The thing I love about it is that it gives you a total full-time practice which is to learn about those systems and drop into them any time all the time. So I jump, not always in a disciplined way. I check out my ligaments and then I think are my glands all working together to really help me produce myself, project outwards. Am I being more central, am I coming out to the periphery? Tons of different questions that I can ask on any level.

KG
Sue Broadway, what happens to your body in performance? You’re calling on everything from tap dancing to whatever?

SueB
All of my training from when I was quite small right up to more recently is the exact opposite to Silver’s, starting from the external. I’ve only come to learning about any kind of internal training much, much later in my career. I counted 20 training regimes for Yana and I was only counting the ones I'd done for a month or more, including some exotic ones like Peking Opera and Balinese mask and Kathakali. You can learn a duet in Peking Opera where 2 people learn it in different rooms and then stand opposite each other, someone says go and it works. And you don't hit each other with the sword! I think I'm with Mémé, I think they all become so ingrained and in the body that when I go out to do the work I feel all of that at a subconscious level, in the muscles and not in the brain at all.

I started training as an actor. In fact, I failed NIDA at 17 and in the last 5 years I've come back to talking–I didn't talk as a performer. Surprisingly, all of that voice training actually returns. It's amazing. I haven't touched it for years. I had to dig it out but it was there waiting for me. So that was good. Now I take risks–the risk of making a complete idiot of myself. I do things where I can be standing in front of an audience with broken glass all over the floor. A lot of the things I do are about focussing on getting one throw right. You know when the object leaves your hand, you know as you take the beat, you know whether you've done it or not. It's not in the body but in the state of mind that you've managed to locate, a tempo in your body that repeats the action for you.

AC
You do it in your mind but your mind is in your body. Your intelligence is all over your body. That the Body Mind Centering training. Intelligence isn't just from the head up–this is this thing that reacts and responds unconsciously. It's bringing it into differentiation and consciousness so that it can do whatever it needs to do–save your life. That's what your reflexes will do for you. That's how you know when you throw at that moment, you know it hasn't come together the moment it leaves your hand.

Lowell Lewis (academic, anthropologist)
My embodied theatrical practice is university lecturing, an unusual form of physical theatre but somebody's got to do it. And I'd just like to return to this idea of voice in motion. For me there's an interesting dynamic in the strength of vocal training. Can you run across the room while holding the tongue, for example. And you can learn to do that. It's a strength thing. So that you can run across the room and not go ah-ah-ah-ah. There's also an aspect of vocal training that is the relaxing part. Some bits have to relax while others are tense. And different trainings work with different dynamics to do with how much tension and relaxation. It becomes embodied in your intelligent body. By the way I agree with what you (Alice) say although I think it's a duality. I call it the embodied mind and the intelligent body, trying to get to a third place that is somewhere in between. Somebody brought up this notion of rapping and hip hop where the vocal and physical do come together. But when they start breaking, they don't sing. You try singing while spinning on the top of your head. It's like another degree up. The artform that I've worked on quite a lot is Capoeira, the Brazilian martial artform which also involves singing. And the best players can actually do Capoeira and sing at the same time. Although they'll only do certain movements. They won't do the really strong acrobatic movements–because nobody has that degree of strength–where you can go into a headstand or handstand and still be singing.

The limits are kind of interesting. Could you do a breakdancing routine while rapping at the same time? That would be a big ask. So there are reasons why these have been divided and some interesting limits that are involved in that.

MF
Absolutely. I think the big question there is the appropriateness of training. There has to be a different training involved in trapeze work from certain softer forms of performance that require an incredible sensitivity. And an incredible sensitivity is difficult in certain kinds of circus because it just hurts too much.

CW
I remember there was certain work we were doing in Legs on the Wall in a show like Hurt. A physical action takes an incredible amount of focus especially in balance acrobatics or trapeze–whenever someone's holding you and you're supporting someone else. Whenever you're responsible for somebody else as well as yourself, there's an incredible amount of concentration required. Then there's the performance–your interaction with the audience with your co-performers. Then there's the speaking, the text, the song. And it was like, choreography, words, concentration and it was like…and it took…time. To do this kind of work you've got a 4 week rehearsal period if you're lucky you might be able to stretch it to 6. In that time you've got your training as well as rehearsing. You're finding repertoire and training and putting it in performance. Somewhere in there you're speaking. You're thinking how the hell do you find the money or the time to train plus integrate all those things together to make it work effectively?

David Williams (performer/producer)
That's actually where a lot of trainings came from, from performance, from trying to work out how it is possible to do all of these things at the same time. For instance, the Suzuki training came out of the SCOT (Suzuki Company of Toga) performances and it developed over a long period of time and it's constantly being updated. Simon Woods was talking about rehearsal feeding back into training and if you do look at the history of Suzuki for instance, it came out of the actual work. So if the training is not about the work, then why train?

Alison Richards (academic, performance studies)
I wanted to address the person who was asking, well what should I do? I was interested in Yana's experience talking about her first teacher who came from a really structured tradition and for whom that was the only gate–‘No person cometh unto performance but by me.’ And then Mathew talking about putting different trainings together. I think it's really important to understand that every training produces a different you and comes in at a different point. It isn't just static. It's dynamic and you are making yourself all the time as you do it. So in a way, it is really interesting to hear from people who are all at different stages of their journeys because in some ways it's always a dance, if you like, between certainty and uncertainty and at different points in your life, you're ready for different things. You can only ever respond to what is calling you and sometimes you can only respond to what's there.

GR
I think whether you've got an eclectic approach or if you follow one path, whatever style it is, you follow it right to the end. You're in it for the long haul. And you've got to polish the diamond yourself. No one else is going do it for you. And it takes a long time.

YT
But I think you can polish the diamond by rubbing up against other bodies.

MF
The thing that I come to more and more in body training the voice is that the best practitioners for what I want to do are the under-3s. I've just been watching my 2 year-old doinging up and down on the bed and singing “doinga doinga doinga.” It's such a perfect synthesis of movement and sound and joy and everything wrapped into one. There's a whole school of vocal and body teaching that very much focuses on that state of being of very young children who have a strong sense of connection with the base of the brain and the systems we have evolved that produce sound and movement etc. If you start bringing disciplines together, the root of everything is that we have these systems that function within the body that can go places. There's things that you might want to do with them that we weren't designed to do like ride on unicycles, or throw each other around at extreme velocities.

YT
Or sing opera.

MF
Or do co-ordination things that babies weren't designed to do. And in a way, if you start with those 2 things in mind, it doesn't really matter whether you start with an internal approach and try and re-find something or you learn tapdancing and become so perfect at it that it's just a state of being. It almost doesn't matter. In music you find a lot of people who've gone beyond their training or people who are way before their training and they're just like poetry. And in between is agony for years.

Paul Selwyn Norton
Choreographer, autodidact, I never went to formal school. I'm interested in what you say. If your kid said Dad, I really want to perform, where would you send the kid?

MF
Because I live in the eastern suburbs, I'd probably send him off to do Capoiera because it's a very integrated form that encapsulates a spiritual tradition as well as a martial arts one, as well as a musical one, as well as a body one. And I like the people who teach it and they play soccer.

PSN
You like the holistic approach?

MF
Yes. It almost could be anything. It would probably be easier to decide what instrument to start a kid with. If I wanted to lead them towards music I'd say look, sing all the time, but probably start with anything you can get a sound out of quickly. Don't start with a bassoon. Start with a piano and it's probably a similar thing with performance. Choose something you can get your teeth into and jump somewhere.

NH
Paul, what, would you put your performers through if you wanted to make work and they weren't trained dancers? You work mostly with highly trained dancers?

PSN
I was very fortunate to be taken off the disco floor and put on stage at the age of 23 so while I didn't do any formal training. I had quite a strong sense of proprioception, this ownership of what we have here.

Andrew Morrish (improvisor)
I was taken from a disco floor too but asked to stop doing that! LAUGHTER

PSN
You are asking what training I would put dancers through to be able to approach the poetics of my work. Well as a choreographer I believe I'm privileged to be able to manipulate body/space/time mechanics which is what we all do as artists. That's fundamental. So if I was working with say, a gymnast, I might teach them a sense of musicality, rhythm, timing. If I have a room full of gymnasts and I want them to approach my sense of choreography, I would have to reorganise them. That's what I do. I just put them through different spatial, body, time modulations or ways of moving in order for them to be able to approach my way of choreographing. There are many, many systems that I've picked up over the years. I spent my first 4 or 5 years dancing for other people, not too happily, and ended up having to choreograph by default. I became a hunter-gatherer for resources that suited my poetics best. I think the poetry governs the work and you find the tools which will best express the poetics of that work. For me it's the poetics that govern the work, not actual technique.

KG
Nigel Kellaway has said that significant Australian dancers have either been trained by Russell Dumas or Leigh Warren. Russell Dumas has yielded a body of very distinctive work over the years. What do you expect of people who come to you in terms of training?

Russell Dumas (choreographer, dancer)
Access to an embodied heritage. My own practice embraces the modern and postmodernism and I worked with Merce Cunningham, Trisha Brown and Twyla Tharp and everyone in between. I think it's interesting in the last 20 years, for reasons that I think are associated with (economic) rationalism and globalisation–by which I mean Americanisation and free markets and the way this is playing out–that there are no significant breaks to the canon. It's habitus, this notion of what you need to forget so that you can have a present. It's more what you can have–you need to forget the past so that you can have a future. But you also need to have a practice to have a future. And having a practice in Australia is like being a homosexual in a Roman Catholic seminary. It's all right as long as you're not out.

You're talking about technique, but what for? This whole thing is like some Foucauldian notion of bodies and disciplining bodies. About 30 years ago I came across the notion of the thinking body and experiential anatomy. Basically it comes down to the sense of touch, the fundamental, or lexical sense of touch. It's probably the first sense and the one through which we know the other senses. That relationship to touch is distinctly related to the mother's touch and it's often denied as a sense of knowing or a way of knowing.

You're also talking there about embodiment. There's a history of denial to do with the body. We're always talking about the body of knowledge, the body of wisdom, the body incorporated but what's the relationship of my body to Dance Exchange Incorporated? What's the relationship of the private and the public of this body? It's not so much about the visual.

You're talking about wanting people to look at you. I became interested in dance as a homosexual growing up in central Queensland where I did ballet and became interested in the notion of a performance of absence. If people looked at you, you got bashed up. The performance of absence was something that later was quite useful to me. Cunningham asked me to work with him because he was interested in that quality. It also got me jobs with any number of people.

The notion of when you're ready to perform I think is something that is profoundly about when you lose yourself, when you're not there. So that someone looking at what you're doing is not in this didactic relationship. It's like fascism. The notion of a text that involves an audience and how they might respond and the way that text is created and where the meaning is created is what interests me more. So I don't care about the number of bodies I work with and the different bodies. Probably the most interesting bodies I've worked with have been the untrained ones like Keith March and Nick Sabel. The other ones are either very trained, who have had ballet training. In a sense I'm interested in the notion of a colonial ballet practice and how people talk about Republicanism with this world of dance. It's something that's barcoded into children's bodies.

But anyway, the thing that interests me is a sense of touch that is not suppressed by visuality. I think the relationship of visuality to patriarchal society is the issue. We have a room full of practitioners who are on the edges. Meanwhile you have all these companies that all do ballet. The dancers all applied to the Australian Ballet School and the ones who didn't get into the ballet companies then become the contemporary dancers.

KG
At university you might get a semester or a class or a module in some aspect of physical theatre or voice. Elsewhere various artists and groups offer short term courses. What about the lack of availability of ongoing training?

Performer
I rediscovered performing last year through the Impact Ensemble at PACT. I'd been studying at the Centre for Performance Studies which has also fed what I'm beginning to see as a practice. I've subsequently started up a group meeting once a week to continue practicing and pooling our money to have tutors come in on a needs basis, depending on what we want to work on at the time. By feeling what we need we try to access that through who we know of the more established practitioners. I've had an incredible support from those practitioners.

AS
I've struggled with this since I finished with gymnastics because I found the process of doing gymnastics 6 days a week 30-40 hours a week both fearful–I was scared of it–and painful. And I've tried to be a producer and I've discovered something wonderful that has helped me. It has to be integral. I find it hard to get motivated for all sorts of reasons and I have to start right from how I get up in the morning, how I have a shower, and how I organise my day to day practice, I need to stick to repetition. While I'm ironing, I'm doing my knee evaluations. When I'm in the shower, I'm waking up my system turning the hot and cold and giving myself a vocal warmup at the same time. For me it has to be continual consciousness.

DW
As a young person, who doesn't always feel very young, I can feel my current embodied practice of lifting heavy things professionally in continual lower back pain. I used to find it very easy to train, to go and pursue workshop training extra-curricular to my studies. I studied at the University of Western Sydney at Nepean. Yana Taylor was a pivotal teacher in a way because she addressed my dissatisfactions with what I was learning and said, go to these other places. Subsequent to leaving university and subsequent to the Contemporary Performance Week milestones that I had come to know, these are all disappearing. We all know what they were–Open Week at Performance Space, Contemporary Performance Week at Sidetrack. There were structures, people practicing who had workshops so I could do a workshop with Mémé Thorne and then several workshops a week with Mémé Thorne. They were good. More recently, I'm interested in putting on shows. I have to earn money to pay for these shows, so I am engaged in lifting heavy things professionally. This really compromises my ability to train. And this is not a sob story. This is just observation. There is no ongoing practice. There's a series of influences, a series of trainings that I draw on in particular circumstances. But no ongoing practice and I feel the loss.

YT
The opportunities and support mechanisms around them have become thinner on the ground. At the same time, the appetite for them has been circulating. So we are actually at an interesting point. I can think of some ordinary things to do–when people are making applications to funding organisations, that there is some support for the idea that training is part of the creative pursuit and intimately woven into it. At the other level is the way the field's run for a long time. Making do, bartering, exchange. But in Sydney there's less and less infrastructure for that to happen ie space, time and access to it.

4 June 2001