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Animated Edition - Summer 2020
Improvisation and change
Helen Kindred is a dancer, choreographer and movement practitioner, and co-curator of Queering the Somatic symposium with Dr. Adesola Akinleye. Queering, for Helen, is a process of questioning; the possibility of change, of resistance, of questioning assumptions, blurring boundaries, embracing difference and defying a singular definition. Here, she describes the improvised, participatory performance/presentation she shared at the symposium and the thinking that expands from it

This short article offers my reflections on sharing work as part of the Queering the Somatic symposium in 2019. The symposium brought together my thoughts around community, change, empowerment and responsiveness. My area of practice is within dance improvisation underpinned by the somatic movement practice of Bartenieff Fundamentals (1). I am interested in how my practice explores multiple narratives and individual responses, disrupting, disorienting, and questioning each other and, in turn, the practice of Bartenieff Fundamentals through the brief encounters of our dances.

I chose to contribute a short work, espacement (spacing) created with filmmaker and lighting designer Mikkel Svak. It is essentially a meditation on Bartenieff’s work, focusing on the principle of Breath Support and articulated through three short, flimed solo improvisations of my moving spine. It questions the body in fluctuating relationships with space-time by exploring the breath as an act of ‘space-ing’ bodily-space-time relationships (2).

Experiencing espacement

As we gathered on the theatre floor, I invited everyone to be in the space in a way that felt comfortable for them - lying, sitting, on a chair, propped up by the wall or another body - and to observe the moving images of espacement projected into the space or to close their eyes and focus on the aural, kinaesthetic environment. They could move between these sensory emphases as they felt a desire to.

We began to improvise. Words and movement came together through my body as I began, with a focus on the breath, to narrate verbally my somatic experience of Bartenieff’s body patterning in that moment. As I offered my embodied sensations of the breath, I questioned my body in relationship with the space-time of its dance. Rhetorical questions emerged, forming this ongoing narrative offered as provocations for others. As we moved in relationship with espacement projected into the space, now shared with others, the sharing in the work became vital in its meaning-making.

Bartenieff Fundamentals is in essence a solo practice, but, sharing in this offer of a framework of patterning the body’s connectivity through this group improvisation, I witnessed the possibility in our collective responsiveness. I observed the movement experiences of others as their dances emerged from their own internal sensations. Moving, sitting, sensing with eyes open, eyes closed, we navigated the space-time of our dance as we co-constructed it in that moment.

Reflecting the out of sync nature of the three filmed improvisations, which offer different spatial and temporal entry points, we emerged resilient, beautifully out of sync in our dancing; improvising with a shared curiosity and acceptance of change continually feeding the process.

Queering Bartenieff Fundamentals

Taking Bartenieff Fundamentals as a framework for the body and queering it through the process of improvised individual responses in community fosters a recognition of change as the fluidity of life. Queering the somatic in this way provides the (beautifully) unstable, fragmented, disrupted ‘body’ a sense of agency. The need to respond to change, feels strikingly present in our current global climate, as does a sense of community.

A queering of Bartenieff Fundamentals, for me, means nurturing an acceptance of change as bodily resilience, in order to respond to and live in the flux of change.

In queering our movement practices and challenging the limitations of dominant frameworks we can perhaps make space for multiple narratives and identities to be heard. The potential for queering our experience comes through the co-creation of it; in the relationships between image, words and embodied movement responses in a fluid process of change and exchange. Our individuality, our identities through improvisation can only be present in this flux of Self, other and environment.

Queering the Somatic

Across the whole symposium, each rich sharing moved between the experience of those presenting and the conversations, play and curiosity of us all. Open to exploring difference, we invested in the many possibilities of queer. There was an invitation to change; sharing in the experiences of another, sharing space physically in moving together; sharing in conversations, concerns, hopes, desires for social, political, global change; of acts of resistance, of empowerment of bodies and spaces.

Improvisation, for me, is a queer practice; a practice of questioning, of resisting binaries and accepting, living change. Improvising in the environment of the symposium, where, (with hope), there is a greater acceptance of individuality and difference, where ‘norms’ and conventions are turned upside down and inside out in acts of curiosity and artistic endeavour, we are queering dancing, queering life.

Improvisation, from the Latin improvisus, literally means ‘not possible to see ahead’ (3). Dance improvisation promotes an education of not knowing. We build skills of resilience, acceptance of change, responsiveness to gestures and interruptions in the moment. We learn simultaneously to offer and respond through movement, navigating spaces together as their identities are shaped through our movement in them. Life is always unpredictable. We cannot know a future, only be aware to attend to our present. At a time when life feels incredibly uncertain, improvisation can be seen as an act of empowerment. It invites change, embraces vulnerability and allows us space to (re)consider, (co)construct our environment in the moment of moving in it together.



Photo credit

Mikkel Svak | 2019 



(2) Manning, E. 2007. Politics of Touch: Sense, Movement, Sovereignity, University of Minnesota Press

(3) Cerqueira da Silva Junior, J. 2017. Reflections on Improvisation, Choreography and Risk-Taking in Advanced Capitalism, University of the Arts Helsinki publishing: 35.

Other references

• Fernandes, C. 2015. The Moving Researcher: Laban/Bartenieff Movement Analysis in Performing Arts Education and Creative Arts Therapies, London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers

• Hackney, P. 2002. Making connections: Total body integration through Bartenieff fundamentals. London: Routledge.


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Animated: Summer 2020