a personal account of my experiences on Lasqueti Island, 2003
"There seem to be two faces to creativity-
One, that all you do must be new.
Two, that you can never be original."
by Danya Elraz
- A -
There seem to be two faces to creativity-
One, that all you do must be new. Two, that you can never be original.
* * *
From January 11 to March 31 this year I lived on Lasqueti Island, BC, Canada, participating in Karl Frost’s Winter Improv Intensive. I thought this would be a short letter about my experiences there, but when I started writing, the text quickly grew and came to include many other thoughts and topics. Looking back I see that the body skills are only a small part of what I learnt. In fact, I learnt many things that I did not expect at all.
When I decided to attend this intensive it was because I needed a break from Israel, my life there and my work. Going to Canada was a way to back up my decision to focus on dance and contact improvisation
. At first, I was quite hesitant about learning from one teacher for three whole months, but the fact that there were to be guest teachers in dance, rhythm, voice and performance convinced me.
Upon arriving, I found myself rather disoriented and lost in a large foresty island. Having been told Lasqueti is a small island I had expected a small and personnel environment. But it turned out that Lasqueti is about 30km long! Expecting a Sinai type experience, I felt like Gulliver in the giants’ land - all dimensions multiplied tenfold. My sense of centre was sent off balance and it took me several weeks to get accustomed. I shared a big log house with 4 other people. The house was situated 20 min walk from the sea, used water from a well and had only firewood heating!
Over the 11 weeks of the intensive, Karl directed work in composition, authentic movement, contact skills and release technique. Helping him teach and organize were Jez Parus and Lorrie Ray. The guest teachers were excellent (Amii Legendre, Jeff Mooney, Joey Blake, Kieth Hennesey). The 4-10 days they each stayed were a huge addition to our learning experience. We were 19 people in the group; we met for 8-9 hours a day; 5 days a week. It quickly became clear that the group was very special, with various talents, backgrounds, experiences and ages. We studied for the ‘NOW’, but were orienting ourselves towards a week of performances in the last lapse of the intensive.
Throughout the intensive, group dynamics played an important part in our learning process. Being together so many hours a day, I guess it was inevitable. Even so, I was often struck and touched by peoples’ honesty as to what they were experiencing, and by their willingness to share it with others. Many questions were brought up as to the place of the individual within the group setting. Does this group have room for me as an individual? Can my unique talents be brought into the workspace? Can the actor or singer in me find expression, even though this is a dance intensive? How about my intellectual or leadership qualities? And can I safely express my argumentative, protagonist or angry sides? One of the biggest and unanswered questions was whether this can be a democratic group process even though we are under Karl’s leadership?
From quite early on, people were asking questions about the meaning and importance of this kind of work. Information about the then upcoming war on Iraq reached the island like some distant tale, as did fragments of our lives in the outer world - friends, family, lovers. We felt disconnected from the world, feelings of guilt came up. Can we excuse ourselves for not taking part in anti-war protests, for ignoring other peoples plight, for immersing ourselves in ourselves? I was happy to know that these thoughts were part of the group “thought pot”. It is important, however, to note, that although we were cut off from everyday politics, much of our lifestyle was very politically aware. Lasqueti is, for the most part, an ecological community that enhances respect for the land. We lived, ate and thought in ecological terms. We ate organic food, gathered plants and seafood, washed with biodegradable soaps and were very energy conscious. I learned, for the first time (stupid me) about the intricate connection between ecology and politics.
Later on in the intensive, during Keith Hennessey’s workshop, we deepened into issues of self and group, self and politics. Keith encouraged us to bring up issues that made us rock - power dynamics, fears, sex and politics. Under his guidance, words like Iraq, 9/11, Israel, racism, demonstrations, police and murder - became matter for charged and empowered art making. Rather than being confused and unsettled by these words, rather than trying to hide from the reality they represent, we were encouraged to take our feelings into the artistic process. Keith would often attribute the exercises he brought to his teachers, and by doing so he placed them in their social, political and historical context. Thus, he created a delicate web of connections between our workspace, personal space and the outside world. As an Israeli I found this to be particularly important.
Maybe one of the biggest presents that this intensive gave me is the understanding that doing contact is in itself a political act. By teaching contact we give others the opportunity to connect in ways that are new and oppositional to the urban lifestyle. Contact is an excellent teacher for change. Just doing contact is in itself a political act /art.
Being the only Israeli in the group felt somewhat special. Exotic even. I had a strange language no one understood, a strange set of rituals, songs and prayers. I was automatically special and original, in a way I could never be in Israel. I often used Hebrew in the improvisations or sang simple traditional Israeli songs. I would probably be embarrassed to sing these songs in Israel for fear of being unoriginal. Having this new realm of expression that was totally mine gave me freedom I don’t usually have. Language became a vocal exploration rather than a semantic one. Finding my voice had to do with finding my song. Through learning to sing I reconnected to my own personal individual voice.
I realise now that I am scared of going back to Israel. I realize how scared I am of voicing an overtly political or controversial opinion back home. I am afraid of being labelled things, although that’s what I am. Labelled. Why is there fear in voicing a political opinion? Why is there shame in being political? Is it because of an understanding of the uselessness and powerlessness of it all? I want to re-own and fully inhabit my political position, but I’m afraid.
Throughout the intensive, I had a recurring feeling that much of what I was learning was not new to me, but had been learned at some previous time. And I don’t mean the actual classes, but the deeper focuses and understandings that came up through them. For example, feeling my centre clearly, allowing myself to fly, having a deep connection to the ground and earth, feeling the juicy and yummy qualities of being in the body, being grounded yet liquidy, having an external eye, silent communication, egolessness and more. At first, I was disappointed to realise I had forgotten these lessons. Hadn’t my body held on to that material strongly enough? Then I started enjoying that some basic things about me are different than I thought.
I, the grounded one, am not so grounded after all. I, the round one, move in straight lines.
I found out I am more direct, harsh and distant than the calm person I wish myself to be. It was a great to re-learn myself, fun to re-notice who I am. It seems that some of the lessons I must learn in this lifetime are so important that I must re-learn them again in every stage of life. Through acknowledging my personal cycles of learning and forgetting, filling and emptying, I came in touch with larger cycles; the female cycle and the seasonal cycles of the year.
Both the group work and Authentic Movement (A.M.) were essential for this process. I had to allow myself to be seen while abstaining from taking responsibility for the person/shape/form that is projected. Although I didn’t like A.M. when I arrived, I soon learned its value as a tool for allowing myself to be seen, and for practicing seeing others. Listening and doing can look like so many different things! During the weeks, we took our ‘permission to be seen’ into the performance work, and it helped us overcome the panic connected to solo movement. The A.M. practice helped me find my movement, and to start “curing” myself of my need to conform to dance languages and audience expectation.
Some moments touch me deeply. I learn self-sufficiency, how to give myself what I want. I am disappointed that none of this is really performable. What I have learned here is now in me. I feel good not needing to hold on to any of it. It is really in me. But I would like to surface it just one more time before I leave. In a dance, maybe, I hope.
The performance week was probably one of the climaxes of the intensive, but I find it the hardest period to write about. The tour was 7 days long; we had six performances in different towns; every night in a different venue. On the whole, our performances were very good. We had combined our musical, technical and compositional practices in a very special way. Each performance was 1.5 hours long, made up of three half hour improvs. I had many special moments, and succeeded in surprising myself often. But my most special memory is from Victoria, where we did street performance:
Wishing to take our improvisation skills to new places, 5 of us went to a little caf?, and practiced invisible improv - we entered separately and acted in ways that were just slightly different from usual; Cobra moved extra slowly, Rick read a newspaper upside down, Rae was obsessive compulsive towards the salt and pepper and I cried loudly for over 40 min, without ordering a thing! Leslie decided intuitively to be our witness, and therefore created our collective memory.
After learning about ourselves and stage life for so long, it was very powerful to cross the lines back into every day acting and life. The street performances allowed me to take off my middle class prestige, to be in the street as though it was my home. The dirt was no longer dirty; strangers became my allies and colleagues. I found myself learning how art can be used for personal investigation and as an entry card into different modes of being. I felt introduced, no less, than to the transformative powers of art.
- B -
“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win” Mahatma Gandhi
* * *
So, I’ve been away for three months and now I’m emerging into a confused world; a war, truth, information, ethics, justice, knowledge, belief system, faith, trust, love confused world. Part of me is unclear, feels that it needs to catch up with it all, and yet another part knows, as you probably do, that nothing is essentially new.
And still, re-emerging after all this time has crystallized what I see:
America is using the media to create a fictitious war, in which it is winning. The media is playing an essential part in the brain washing of American citizens. And America is still, unbelievably, trying to portray these attacks as something that is for the good of the people of those counties. (I now know America to be a colony as well, and know that they used biological warfare to kill 90% of the natives that lived here – smallpox.) More and more Americans are waking up and are choosing to get information from alternative sources. More and more journalists are questioning the American justice and belief system. Numbers in the media are too huge for us to comprehend and maybe that is why it is easier to identify with 122 dead Americans than with 100,000 dead Iraqis. We choose to identify with the strong rather than the weak.
Being far away allows me to see Israel as something other that the centre of the world. It is a tiny dot on the map that is filled with so much hatred. It is not an independent state, but an American arm. Fighting for justice in Israel is even more useless that I thought - we are not fighting Sharon and his gang, but are up against American forces. This war becomes much more futile, because these are forces we cannot even begin to comprehend. Civilians of both countries are increasingly unable to even conceive of influencing world affairs. But, ignoring what is happening in Israel is like ignoring the violent, ugly parts of the psyche: it causes you to live a narrower, less full life, in which the ignored parts will attack you in your dreams and subconscious. Now I understand the deep connection between American money, American Jews, and Israel Internal Affairs.
It’s so hard for me to read the papers. I hate to admit that. I hate how serious articles are set beside fashion ads, how the papers have no feeling, how the graphics, the black and white texts have no feelings. I hate myself for having no feelings. I want to use my art practice, my dance, my pen, to learn why I don’t feel, to learn (re-learn) how to feel, to learn (re-learn) how to integrate the different parts of my psyche. Why did I shake more when a woman was hurt in Aries’ class than when a bomb blew up 100 meters from me? Are the two pains connected?
I enjoy reading ADBUSTERS. The graphics, the titles, the separation, the specificity, the cynicism, the unapologeticness, the sharpness, the directness excites me. Such shamelessness. Things that I question, things that confuse me are turned into statements. The facts remain, but the hesitancy is taken out if them.
These thoughts bring up several questions I wish to answer:
What is spiritual growth suitable for a war zone, suitable for our times?
What is the place for what we (artists, improvisers) have to give in a fundless, violent society?
I share with Israeli contacters a love for creating, dancing and exploring, but also a country, a lifestyle and a reality. How can these combine?
1) Bringing the art into the world
2) Bringing the world into the art and studio
3) Leaving both separate, but making space for each – allowing them to complement each other in unexpected ways.
Art is a means of investigation. All art processes are laboratories. The studio is a sanctuary, a place to hide, an empty place of purity. Dance is my practice, my meditation, my best teacher of the “OTHER”. Yet, it will always be hard to go into the studio, and hard to believe that what I am doing is worthwhile. So I try to make it worthwhile to myself. I allow it to be meaningful to me.
- C -
“Back to life, back to reality”
* * *
And now, three days before I leave, I feel as though I have finally arrived.
I thought these last days on the island would be days reminiscing and days of planning; days of collecting and days of arranging. But no - these are days of still arriving, just moments before I leave.
Today I feel the time creep by.
I am not tired (I have slept), I am not hungry (I have eaten well), I want to munch on some food (there is nothing to munch on), I ate two spoons of quinoa, two fingertips of raisins, drank two cups of tea. I have stretched, massaged, talked on the phone and napped. It is too rainy to go for a walk. My self-sufficiency in terms of interest is dwindling. So now I write. Or shall I read?
Today I wish to dance, to perform solo, just in my body, yet I don’t know how.
Evidently and obviously the journey of creation will give me some answers. Why is it that after making 4 pieces of reasonable quality, I still feel incompetent? I seek for a formula and at the same time I am totally aware that none could ever satisfy me.
So I look into the mirror, and see images for future dances.
Some of these images are connected to pain. They are connected to finding things I do not have. Things I want to have but cannot find the way to have them. This is my practice, this is my dance, the only dance I want, but my blocks are so real:
Moving myself has to do with the loneliness of not finding a dance partner, the need to find one and the decision not to give up - I will always dance even if it is alone - but it also means giving up my dream of dancing with others. It means to give in to my loneliness, to explore being in a studio alone, still imagining myself dancing contact.
Feeling my back reminds me of Arie. Touching the back, the past, the unseen parts of me, grasping in the dark, not being able to touch, wishing to touch, to be forward, to see, being afraid of the world, of looking others in the eye, hiding but trying to touch the contours of my cage. Trying to break free.
But today it is time to practice silence. It is time to practice non-sharing. Hibernating. Time to practice being inside the body, time to let the ideas grow and develop like a seed. I feel like my ideas have been inside for a while (aren’t all ideas already inside?) but I have not nourished them as such - I have not fed them, noticed them, looked at them, seen them, held them, felt them, moved from them, spoken from them, allowed them to embody my space, my soul.