The Opening Night

Yesterday I felt like I was performing on the opening night. How wrong could I be? Tonight the audience seemed to fill the venue, and the atmosphere had cranked up another notch.

I was reminded of my interest in invisible disability as my own personal plague of mental health problems started to play up. Despite arriving early, I felt panicked, anxious and simultaneously ‘out of it’. As I dressed, my self confidence dropped to the bottom of my (admittedly excellent) gold high top trainers, and my mood began to follow suit. My head tried shouting “this is not a convenient time!! CAN’T WE DO THIS NEXT WEEK???” although I’m not entirely sure why it bothered, that tactic has never worked before.

Last year I performed in the show Red Line, directed by Caroline Bowditch, and comparing that performance to this one it is astonishing the difference in my movement. Then, I was between medications and felt totally disconnected from the world around me. I tried to engage in rehearsals, but my energy dipped constantly, meaning that any movement I created showed a minimal amount of the movement I am really capable of. I am now on a new gang of medications that seem to be doing a good job, and the development in my movement has been significant. People who had worked on Red Line with me for 15 weeks were genuinely surprised to see me perform in Glory… I can’t pretend I wasn’t chuffed.

The links between mood and movement are inextricable for anyone in my experience. Someone who is terrified moves very differently to someone experiencing joy or anger or grief. In this sense, mental illness can be very visible on the body. However, it is worth remembering that like light or air we can only see the effects, not the force itself.

This show went well, although I felt much more shaky as I entered the stage. My balance felt off, and my limbs felt as much in control as if I was operating them with complex pulley systems. I did OK, and only the ‘solo groove’ proved challenging. I had previously sent his phrase as a chance to really indulge in movement your body loves. It is this, but I underestimated how vulnerable this can be. To offer my authentically moving body up to the eyes of the audience felt for a split second impossible, but I managed to combat this fear with two things; eye line and breath. Eye line – I don’t need to stare at the audience if I don’t want to! I can keep them directed in to the world of the movement I was creating. Breath – this feels like the source of authenticity for this movement, and it also allowed me to remain calm and grounded. I found that after experimenting with breath yesterday I gained a lot by brining it into this performance. I managed to find my breath and the soles of my feet a various times throughout the performance, which not only kept me calm but allowed me to really be in the moment.

I feel slightly bizarre having performed with the company in front of a paying audience, it seems so recently that we were meeting for the first time in Govan! What a journey it has been for everyone involved. I hope that we can continue to raise the focus and energy of the piece over the coming nights, and continue to find joy in sharing our movement with others.

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Breathing Body Moving

Tuesday was our chance to run the show in front of an audience whilst still in rehearsal period. Included in the audience were a team of social media gurus who would help market the work across the twitter- and blogo- spheres.

I was in positive mood as I stepped (wearing my new trousers) into T4 to go over notes from the previous rehearsals. As I listened to the notes, it felt that they were all about the breath and intention of each movement. A voice tutor of mine once explained her technique of “breath mapping” every performance before she did it. By tracing the journey her breath was taking, she became more mindful of her breathing during that performance making sure that she was performing sustainable and that she was constantly resourced.

In a mini-rehearsal of some movement phrases before our main run through, I tried to return my attention to my breath. Noticing breath was difficult, as more often then not I was out of it. I became horribly aware of my lack of fitness and stamina, and began to panic and tense up. However, by trying to remain with the breath I found it began to come more easily, as I wasn’t holding my chest rigid and was relaxed. More air came in, the breath was easier, the movements flowed easily. This felt particularly relevant in the ‘try and try again’ movement phrase, where I discovered that I was unknowingly holding my breath during the pauses.
Forgetting breathing is rarely helpful in performance.

After the performance I had a chance to question people about their experience of the show. One audience member observed that the installation type start was a lovely way for someone who rarely went to theatres to get an idea of the mechanism of a show; how it works, who is involved and what the process is like. They also commented on how seeing the performers in this way reminded them of the human-ness of everyone involved, we weren’t gods or mythical spirits or apparitions, just normal everyday people.

This performance felt more like an opening night than a rehearsal, the atmosphere felt as electric as it would have been for a full audience. I sometimes feel that performing for close friends and family can be more daunting than a packed theatre … maybe that says something about my friends and family!! I enjoyed the feeling of sharing in the movement,, of inviting the audience to see and experience our work and process and joy in what we were doing. Another audience member commented on how connected as a community we all seemed, and I was delighted to tell him that we were a vibrant community of our very own.

Sweaty Saturday – going all out

Today we spent the day securing our spacing within the choreography and doing technical runs. Despite my previous pessimism the technical run was incredibly smooth, with minimal hiccups and no stops! This is definitely a first for me. Working without tape markers on the floor was also far easier than I had expected. In fact, the whole piece flowed incredibly well and there was a boyant atmosphere within the group.

During breaks I have had the pleasure of talking other members of the company about disability within dance, especially ‘invisible’ disability. There is a reoccurring theme of the need to take responsibility for you own body, something that many people struggle with. With an invisible disability it is incredibly tempting to try and ‘pass’ as able bodied, pushing yourself to work beyond your limits and comparing yourself to others. It is also very hard for a lot of people to disclose their disability to a teacher or choreographer, for fear of being treated differently. This can lead to all sorts of problems, as you begin to over strain your body, but don’t feel you can tell anyone or stop straining. Eek!!!

For me it is often a lack of energy that is my limitation. I want to give everything to every exercise, be stretching and practicing in every spare moment and do every run with 100% energy. This is probably unrealistic for the most able of able bodies, but for me with often severe fatigue it is destined to failure. When we start to perform our personal dances during the piece, starting from the feet and working through the body, I often want to move much more but within 30secs every bone doubles in weight and I’m desperate for a lie down.

It is only slowly that I am allowing myself to work more gently and take more rests. One of the problems with invisible disability is that often people don’t understand why you aren’t doing the movements ‘properly’, and put it down to laziness. Having been accused of this in the past I am reluctant to allow my body rest in case it is rad this way. However, I know I am doing no-one any favours my exhausting myself, and that if my body is healthy it will feel, look and dance far better.

Tomorrow we have a day off to rest and recoupeate before we start what will be an intense, but exciting, week. I cannot wait to get back to Tramway, let alone start to share our work with audiences.