Biomechanics/Movement Class, Day 3: Poetry of Language and Movement

To help test our focus, we’re slowly memorizing parts of this poem:

Ulysses (part 1)
Alfred, Lord Tennyson

It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Matched with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
I cannot rest from travel; I will drink
Life to the lees. All times I have enjoyed
Greatly, suffered greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone; on shore, and when
Through scudding drifts, the rainy Hyades
Vexed the dim sea. I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known-cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honored of them all-
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough
Gleams that unraveled world whose margin fades
Forever and forever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!
As though to breathe were life! Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains;
but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this grey spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

What I’ve put in bold is what I’ve got so far. The point of all of this is to pair choreographed or improvised movement with language, because, well, when you’re on stage, you have blocking AND lines to worry about, so your brain has to be able to choreograph your emotional reactions, physical movements, and language centers. And, for a class like this that focuses so much on movement — and so far its been mostly improvised movement and body awareness — the point is coordinating known words with new reactions, unexpected events.

I don’t know if this is true of anyone else, but I like, now that I have the words memorized, how the meaning behind them changes in different exercises. Sometimes it was desperate, sometime it was boastful.

We also learned the “bookend” movement in Biomechanics — the Dactyl.

The Dactyl is the arm swoop and double clap at the beginning and end of this video. THIS is the weird crap I signed up for! I’m really excited, and I have a lot of fun performing this motion. I don’t do it well, but I enjoy it. I enjoy it so much that I overextended my back several times and nearly threw my back out. So now I’m more conscious of where the swoop should be.

We also talked, at the beginning of class, about how to focus yourself before class begins. George, the instructor, didn’t seem to fall into any camp about how to do that, although he of course landed on the side of warming up and actually focusing your mind. So I think that I’m going to re-learn the Sun Salutation to use as a warm-up. Back in my senior year of college, I was taking a yoga class at the same time as I was in rehearsals for a production of The Country Wife, which I affectionately refer to as the 3 1/2 Hour Monstrosity (the director didn’t cut a single word of the Restoration script, but insisted on only one intermission instead of the Restoration’s customary two — because plays back in the day were long! It was a travesty, and I’m thankful I was only in 4 scenes of that show). Anyway, so I was learning these great movements in yoga, which I noticed helped me clear my head. So, since my homework was to practice the Sun Salutation every day, I did it every day before rehearsal. And because of that experience, I associate the Sun Salutation with focus.

Since I have taken one yoga class, and a smattering of different yoga classes since I graduated, I am also interested to do more of that in order to compare it to Biomechanics. The basic stance is different — either that, or I’ve been doing the mountain pose wrong for years. But, mountain pose is, as I recall: 1) shoulders tucked back and down, 2) arms relaxed, 3) gaze forward, 4) tail bone tucked under just a little, 5) feet shoulder width apart, 6) legs bent and knees squeezed out (not so much to hurt your knees, but just enough that you feel like your legs are flaring out a bit). Meanwhile, Stoika in Biomechanics is: 1) feet about shoulder width apart, where they are comfortable, 2) legs very slightly bend, with a bounce to them (like a spring, not stuck in a bent position), 3) solar plexus engaged, 4) arms the same as legs, with a slight bend to them and spring-like, 5) tail bone not tucked, but not extended, positioned just so that the sits bones are pointed to just perfectly follow the curve of the spine (we figured out what this felt like by using chairs), 6) shoulders will fall into place once you get your back aligned, 7) neck extending up slightly, just to hover your chin and nose forward, but not thrust forward.

Both positions are comfortable, and I find myself feeling more and more that Biomechanics and yoga are two systems designed to create similar effects. Yoga is more tied to religion, but Biomechanics is so tied to performance and emotional life that I can’t help but feel it has a similar effect, ultimately. Of course, it’s also harsher than yoga — there are more sudden movements, faster paces, while yoga is slow and steady, not really interesting to watch as a performance. But both systems make you in tune with your body, and attempt to create a centeredness, an internal peacefulness or calmness.

Also, while I was trying to find the Dactyl video, I ran across some Butoh videos.

Is this my next project? I feel like it might be. It looks like it takes more dance training than I have, but its still fascinating.

Here’s the extent of my dance training: Blues dancing.

But movement really is a fascinating thing. It’s been far too long neglected in Western theatre and performance. Now that TV, movies, and video games are becoming the dominant forms of visual narrative, I am less interested in internal forms of acting, because they are so ordinary, so pervasive. Most people, though, rarely go see dance shows, especially modern dance, or dance-based performance art. But it really can evoke some intense feelings, without having a clear or objective narrative. The story can become entirely subjective as your brain tries to rationalize the sequence of movements. I find this interaction totally fascinating.

So yes, I’m looking forward to finishing this movement class, then possibly finding another.

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