Greetings from Moscow!

Greetings from Moscow!

What a busy demanding and interesting month I’ve been having! It is certainly going to take a while to digest. I attended and taught three classes, for children and adults together, at the annual, New Year, family-friendly, Contact Improvisation festival in a holiday village in the countryside outside Moscow. I taught the main 5 day workshop for adults there last year and was flattered to be invited back and able this year to spend more time dancing as well as teaching. On a personal level it was especially nice to be able to spend a lot of time with my children Dara and Mira who joined in with the wonderful programme of creative children’s activities throughout the week. As well as dancing they had story-telling, cardboard box castles, dressing up, painting, music, walks in the snow… and lots of running about with the other children making it up as they went along. This festival is organised by a team involving Masha Grudskaya who many from Derry will remember from The Motion Ensemble in 2013.

After the festival, for about six days, I led Masha Grudskaya (a close collaborator for many years), Zhenya Dibovskayar (who organised everything), Nastya Sayeevitch (a key person in the Contact Improvisation scene in St Petersburg), Tatiana Fateeva (a core organiser at contemporary dance centre TSEKH in Moscow) and Tonya from Echo Echo, through an intensive introduction to and exploration of some of the key ideas in “poetic movement”. This included a short improvised performance. We were mainly based in the beautiful wooden “dacha” (countryside house) that belongs to Zhenya’s family where she has a small studio and trees and deep snow all around. It was wonderful to be able to work on ideas and practices with dancers with such deep experience in “somatic” practice and to see ways beginning to open to activate the depths of understanding that can be reached through “somatic” processes into public and poetic compositional form. I am inspired by this and its connection with the performance, teaching and talk that Mirva Maakinen brought to the Echo Echo festival in November last year.

In Moscow itself I taught a four day open workshop with around 40 participants. They ranged from self-identified beginners to very experienced dancers, directors and actors. I have always found over the years that the quality of attention and engagement of students in open workshops in Russia (and other parts of the former Soviet Union) remarkable (I continue to wonder why this is) and this course was no exception. The amount of things we managed to cover in some depth was quite astonishing. We explored the ideas of embodied memory and imagination and the link to the intuitive poetic sense in our movement. We investigated phrasing in some depth. We looked at the effect on the compositional attention of the light thought of “maybe this is watched” and we moved our attention away from “the body” as the compositional object and onto the real movement, in real space and real time, itself. We looked at how we share space in action, reaction and interaction and how this relates to watching each other dance as we dance and to the ideas of embodied memory and imagination and phrasing. We also touched on some aspects of “proximity” which allowed those with extensive Contact Improvisation experience to apply the framework I offered to the typical movement patterns that emerge from close proximity, weight bearing, sharing structure etc.

I gave a two hour workshop to a group of people with interests in teaching dance and movement. They are studying in Moscow with a colleague I have known for many years and they come from backgrounds in many forms of movement and dance. Two hours is very limiting, so I concentrated on the question of whether we are good examples of what we ask our students to do. Are we brave and creative in our practice and do we see our students as colleagues in movement art? I related these questions to the founding principle of all my work, that we should keep returning to the root source of dancing in our natural universal human tendency to be poetic in movement and to recognise the incredible sensitivity to “meaning” in both how we make and how we watch human movement. This might seem rather obvious on paper, but a lot of dancing seems to have lost this connection to its roots. I felt the participants enjoying the excitement and nervousness that comes with realising the beautiful transparency and emotional exposure of moving poetically and possibly being watched and how wasteful it is to dance with the intention of putting armour on to defend oneself against this beauty.

The final part of the epic three weeks of teaching was an incredibly intensive weekend at TSEKH, one of the main centres for contemporary dance in Moscow. This included two three hour sessions with dance teachers and others with a professional interest in working with children. We covered some of the principles and basic forms that we use in Echo Echo explaining and contextualising the use of the circle and set circle dances, passing “hey!”, crossing the circle dancing, passing taking and sharing the dance. My main intention was to get the participants thinking about the underlying purposes and values of their own practice by describing my own in detail and relating specific forms and exercises to my own perspective on dancing and teaching. The sessions seemed to focus very much on the importance of letting the pleasure of watching and being watched be a core and essential element of classes and on respecting and enjoying the already highly developed movement abilities of any child. As with the other group of teachers, there was also an emphasis on the quality of “presence” of the teacher. I taught six classes for children from toddler age upwards, with parents/adults joining in. In some of the classes there were more adults than children, which made the dynamic a bit different from what I expected but this reflected the level of enthusiasm around for new ways of having cross-generational classes and workshops. I particularly enjoyed the parent and toddler group and am looking forward to being back at Echo Echo for the four Saturdays of Parent and Toddler classes coming up in February and March.

I also taught the children’s dance group from TSEKH. They were in the “upper primary” age group and they all do several dance sessions each week with a variety of teachers. Sasha, the teacher who joined them for my classes was lovely and inspiring and, unusually for this age group insists on improvisation and composition as the core elements of their classes rather than “technique” and copying. I have to say that I have never taught a group of highly committed young ones who had less of the fearful, fixed and competitive attitude so prevalent in dance schools. These kids just loved to play in movement and it was very encouraging how they took so enthusiastically to the material I offered. The level of energy was quite amazing! I wondered whether there would be a way to get some of the Echo Echo kid’s classes participants to commit to extra sessions each week. After all kids who learn a musical instrument or a foreign language practice more than once a week, don’t they?

Masha Grudskaya invited me to teach her weekly Contact Improvisation class. It was such a pleasure, and so simple, to lead a session of meeting and falling gently to the floor together, rolling, pushing and leaning with ease and enjoyment. It was great to re-visit a simple and somatic approach to moving in the context of so much movement practice framed by analytical conceptual material. Dancing in the jam afterwards, and a week later was such a joy and a reminder that finally the point is the dance not the ideas or concepts.

To work with so many people in such a short time was challenging and inspiring. On the night before the last day of teaching I really wondered if I had enough energy left to survive the day (but of course when you dance with people who are happy to dance… especially kids… the energy finds its way to you)! I was inspired, enthused and encouraged by the depth of interest in the idea of “poetic movement”, and the associated forms of practice and how it can change the perspective on dancing, open new doors to creativity, composition and pleasure and re-open ones that may have been long closed and locked for everyone from professional dancers to kids.

Several people asked if there was a book about this “poetic movement” approach to dance… I have heard that question so many times over the past few years…Perhaps this should be the priority?

Steve Batts

Echo Echo Artistic Director

Kids and adults Dara on leg
Steve and Dara with group at Contact Improvisation winter festival outside Moscow – Image by Sergey Bessmertny
Tonya and Masha
Tonya Sheina and Masha Grudskaya – Image by Sergey Bessmertny

 

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