Saturday, January 30, 2010

Preliminary Research - Wheels of Light

I invite you to view Wheels of Light before reading this post.

or go to and type in Wheels of Lights Jessica Warchalking. You should be able to find it.

What do you see? What do you feel?

In the Spring of 2009, I had the opportunity to take a course titled "Yoga and the Tantric Mystic". I have been practicing Western Yoga for about a decade; at this point in my practice, I began to develop an interest in enrolling in a Yoga certification program. I want(ed) to know more about my body, about the subtle energies that I (was) feel(ing), and the ways that my mental processes, my synaptic impulses, my chemical properties, my bony and muscular structure, my living fluids interacted and responded through this process of meditation and postural exploration.

I knew how I felt after practicing. I had a basic understanding of what my guides spoke during a practice. Before embarking on a deeper journey of my own, through a certification, I wanted to learn about Yoga from an academic perspective.

What followed has been transformative!

My first meeting with Dr. Allen, a scholar in religions of Southeast Asia, is forever burned in my memory. He simply smiled and nodded when I told him I was a dancer and interested in how the body and mind are connected through yoga; he suggested that my (pre)conceptions of yoga might be challenged during the course.

Three early mornings a week (with the exception of a few mournful snowy Wednesdays) I sat enthralled. We dove into the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and "The Origins of Yoga and Tantra: Indic Religions to the Thirteenth Century" by Geoffrey Samuel. Some notes from my limited understandings:
  • Yoga means to yoke. Dr. Allen suggests that it refers to the yoke used in an agricultural environment to train a young bull to till the fields. The farmer yokes the older bull to the younger bull and the younger bull learns the path of the field by being dragged along by the older bull. Similarly, yoga involves the yoking of a teacher to a student. Yoga is a practice that is taught and not something that can be endeavored alone.
  • "Yoga" the word also can refer to a discipline or training.
  • Contrary to (my previous and many) popular belief, yoga is not a yoking of the mind and body. It's not a self-help technique. The basic idea of yoga is a separation of purusha and prakriti. Purusha can be translated as pure consciousness. Prakriti can be translated as material stuff. (This includes thoughts and constructs of the mind). Yoga is atheistic dualism, which means that "god" is not anthropomorphic and that two realities exist: purusha (pure consciousness) and prakriti (materialism).
  • There are eight limbs of yoga - asanas the postures popular in Western culture are only one of these eight. Yama - self restraint from actions (violence, lying, stealing, greed). Niyama - fixed observance (ritual cleanliness, simple living, fasting, studying the sacred texts). Asana - postures. Pranayama - breath control. Pratyahara - controlling the mind and withdrawing the senses. Dharana - concentration. Dhyana - meditation. Samadhi - realization. The Yoga Sutras explain these in great detail, which I am not. The Sutras are written in a specific meter, so it is vital to have a teacher guide you through them.
My mind is blown. It takes serious time and work to begin to wrap my thinking around these principles and ideas - especially with my previous context.

Jump to another classroom, spring 2009 - my students and I were exploring imagery to find the center line of the body. The chakras were suggested. At this point in time, I don't know much about the chakras except for their placement along the mid-line of the body. I e-mailed Dr. Allen for help. He suggested that I investigate these as a research project. Okay.

My research begins. I poured over old books and new websites. The search led me to Tantra, which we were reading about for class. I'm still trying to understand Tantra as a religion, but it's basic (is anything basic about religion?) philosophy is that the body is a microcosm of the universe. BAM! If the body is a microcosm of the universe and all of the power of the universe is contained in the body, then the body must - it MUST - be deemed sacred. If the power of the universe is sacred, then, the body is sacred.

At this point, I invite you, dear reader, to insert any and all ideas of the body that have been presented to you, up until this point. How the body is to be treated. How the body is supposed to look. How the body is separate from the person/soul that inhibits it.

I'll wait...

Our world is thwart with violence to the body: our current health care system; domestic violence; street violence; sexual violence; political violence... Violence occurs when power is enacted over a living body. It's hard to harm an idea - violence harms a body. To me, this philosophy clearly speaks against violence because the body is sacred.

It makes sense. I am a dancer. I use my body. I teach others how to understand and use their bodies. I believe in the power of education to empower. When someone has knowledge of their body, they are empowered. When someone is empowered, they have responsibility and ownership. They are less likely to give that ownership to someone else. Knowledge is power. Knowledge about the body provides the learner with ownership, responsibility, and power! Like anything researched for the greater good, this power can be manipulated. I believe that empowering an individual through knowledge about that individual's body gives him/her an opportunity to prevent someone else from taking that power away. Perhaps power will be another post... I'm getting off track...

The body is sacred.

As I read the academic literature, my body began to move. Could I locate the root chakra? Was my heart chakra open? I decided that if my research was about the body, I needed a project to reflect that research. This was a dance.

Wheels of Light is an academic investigation of the chakras. Through it, I do not seek to activate my own or the audience's chakras. I am not intending to provide the audience with a religious or physical experience. The piece is a pure reflection of what I have read and researched in the dance studio.

The piece begins with a minute of introductions. I introduce a motif that begins at the crown of my head and travels down the mid-line of my body. It "touches" each of the seven chakras, beginning at the seventh: crown. third eye. throat. heart. naval. sacral. base. ripple through like the kundalini. introduction of the wheel, the image of the chakras, energy centers, that have been described through time and distance. wheels of light, energy... circling...

The specific exploration begins downstage right. the root chakra. four spokes. located in the pelvis. emotional connection: physical strength, courage. in performance: four rocks of the pelvis. the movement is initiated by the pelvis. the hands form the shape of the kidneys. A shoulder stand - strength.

the sacral chakra. related organs: the digestive system, the sex organs. six spokes. emotional connection: desires, emotions, creativity, sexuality. my body stretches and breaks. how do you perform the birthing process? how do you show sexuality without being sexual? i fall into a plank. my body rocks.

the naval chakra. related organs: stomach, liver, gallbladder... emotional connection: personal power, ambition. ten spokes. what does ambition look like? in a negative sense, i imagine it is paralyzing. tension. i shake for ten counts. i release but recover and drop. controlled yet with a clear destination, my body contracts in the air.

the heart chakra. emotional connection: love. twelve spokes. gestures surrounding the area flow as reflections of things felt in the area and repetitions divided into 12.

the throat chakra. color: blue, silver, green - like water rippling. association: sound (waves). emotional connection: communication. sixteen spokes. initially, i tried to ripple sixteen times, but for artistic purposes, that was paired down. questions in performance: how does sound move? what happens when it's strangled?

the third eye chakra. intuition. indigo. seemingly 2 spokes, but really 92. what do i feel when this is activated?

the crown chakra. last and most difficult to activate. headed toward the path of enlightenment. when you're out of your body, what does/can the body look like? the movement is extending out of my head , my crown, into the greater space. how does that manifest in physical time and space? i release my body. my energy leaves and returns to familiar motifs. is it really possible for me to release into the seventh chakra when i'm in physical performance?

my mind races too much when i'm performing, but i realize it's because of my research... initially, Microcosmic Currents was a larger manifestation of this first research, but it's become so much more....

Ms. Deva Premal graciously granted me permission to use her music for Wheels of Light. I encourage you to seek out her music.

Dear Reader, I invite you to view Wheels of Light, again, in light of this information. I welcome your thoughts.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Mucking around

I finished watching a video of our last rehearsal. I'm performing in Microcosmic Current with seven other very talented women. Videoing the rehearsal allows me to be inside of the piece and reflect on it from a performance standpoint. I have the opportunity to leave the piece ad return to it, often with a different perspective as the choreographer when I come back to the video.

I'm happy with the piece and the structure, but now the questions and the mucking begin to get deeper... is it communicating what I want to say? Am I being effective? Where do I need to speed up the intention - to slow down? I mean the intention of the movement and the shapes in space...Does the arch of the movement need more tension or breath? In picturing speed, I do visualize fast movement in terms of time, but I also visualize very tight energetic molecules bouncing closely in space. If we (the dancers) can extend our movement lines and energy through space (like kite tails?) the speed of the movement and the speed of energetic molecules will create a tension between performer and performer and performer and space. The energy needs to come from within the performers; this is something that will require intensive investigation and direction. I also need to listen to the needs of the work in designing the movement. I must trust my performers with the work and the intention but I must provide them /us with the direction and movement that allows them/us to extend our energy into space. This relationship is delicate, but strong, and when properly cultivated, can (and will) sparkle like a spider's web after the rain. I love this challenge as a performer, educator, and choreographer.

Up until this point, the process has been internally motivated by the body. We will continue to go deeper into the dancing, human body and into the body of the work.

I had a dear mentor tell me once, "You just need to get in there and muck around. Then you'll find it." Writing is part of the mucking process. Being in the studio is part of the mucking process. Opening my senses to smells, sounds, tastes, feelings... sensating without filtering is part of the mucking process. This is all very messy... but it's wonderful and exciting!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Welcome to the process

Yvonne Rainer wrote a lot about her dancing and her process. Because of this, we are lucky to have insight into her journey as an artist. In an attempt to follow her lead, I am creating this blog. My current project, working title Microcosmic Current, will premier March 26th and 27th in Philadelphia, PA.