Sunday, July 7, 2013

Open your eyes

The CHI Artists Summer Workshops are in full swing and I'm so excited to have the opportunity to take class with so many awesome artists! These posts won't be in any particular order, but I'm compelled to write and share my experiences.

Scott McPheeters taught June 24-28th.
Qualities I admire in Scott include:
Scott has an honest presence when he's performing and dancing.
His spine is supple and articulate.
He's fearless, but attacks everything with a calculated, energetic control. When I'm watching him, his body has a clear understanding of what's happening in the present and what's going to happen in the next few moments; he's prepared to take the risk and gently, gracefully, and graciously return from the result.

Scott McPheeters in motion. Photo by BillH

In class, I softly heard him say, "Jess, open your eyes."

Now, for the record, my eyes were open, but I was admittedly holding a "modern dance gaze". This "look" internally consists of seeing without really seeing. Perceiving but not committing to what is perceived. Sometimes it's called a "soft focus." And, often "soft focus" means different things to different teachers.

What purpose does it serve? In performance, and in life, we can direct attention with our eyes, our visual focus. I've had a lot of students write about facial expressions in performance, although the whole body is engaged. We communicate with our eyes. As a performer, I can direct the audience to look at something if I make eye contact with my audience, "catch them," and then guide their attention to something else in the space. I think the soft focus developed as a way for the performer to guide the audience into themselves and invite the audience to go to an internal place with the performer. Sometimes this is effective. Sometimes I perceive it as the dancer ignoring the audience in favor of an internal place.

I've begun playing with a soft focus as a means to direct my own body to be softer. My early training was in lines and extension - outward presence. Performance was about PERFORMING! I was a smaller person, so I worked really hard at being BIG. EATING THE SPACE with my body.

Now, as I'm maturing, I'm working to contrast that BIGNESS with a softer, smaller(?) energy. But, Scott reminded me that softer does not have to mean smaller. And I can still be BIG without being OVERPOWERING or PERFORMING.

"Jess, open your eyes." See the space. No, really see the space. I don't need to DIRECT attention with my focus, I just need to use my focus to address the space, the other dancers around me, and the audience. See, as in really be present to accept the movement and my body. See, as in be mindful of the dance.

In seeing, I am actually dancing more fuller. I am able to capture the calculated fearlessness that I admire in Scott. I am more honest and more vulnerable.

I have wonderful friends and a supportive community in which I can really explore the nuances that allow me to continue developing my performance practice. Thank you, Scott! And thanks, KYL/D for offering these classes!

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