Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Gravity Management & The Art of Getting Down

I so wanted to title this post something more illustrative of the energy and motion of the elusive concept of "getting grounded"; something eloquent like Irene Dowd's tome, Taking Root to Fly--a little flowery for my taste, but brilliant nonetheless. She teaches workshops in kinesthetic anatomy and neuromuscular re-education in the city. If you get the chance to study with her you won't be sorry.

In just about every aspect of my life, this summer was about the ground: gaining some, losing some, finding common ground, and getting comfy with groundlessness; basically what supports us, but what's of more interest to me is the complex relationship between foundation and freedom. On the one hand we all want to enjoy the literal and metaphoric sensation of having something solid under our feet, but root too deeply and you're buried--no movement, no growth. On the other hand, a more tenuous relationship with the earth promises more movement, but no direction, or control. What we have here is a gravity management issue. We need to change the conversation from one about being grounded vs. not, to how to approach groundedness as a means to an end: how to get down to go anywhere.

I've been exploring this a lot with the actors I work with. We've all been in the theatre at one time or another, and have seen really good actors, with tremendous energy, weaving about the stage like a wino, or allowing nervous ticks to get the best of them. What they're saying comes through loud and clear, but do we believe them--more importantly, do we feel them? Grounding. Direction. Control.

Without grounding performers are victim to the myriad and vast amounts of sensory information coming at them from the outside and inside. Human beings are by nature chaotic--there's a lot going on. It all shows up in the body. As an audience, we believe the body. An actor who cannot connect his body (his center) to the ground, can't hope to channel the elusive, ephemeral energies of ideas and emotions, without grounding they remain abstractions that can't be transformed into the palpable.

Sooo. What have I been doing with these guys?

Pilates: Find, feel and strengthen the center.

Yoga and Alexander technique: creating space in the body for breath. Without breath, can't connect to center.

Release work: release energy blocks (tension).  Channel energy into the lower body.  Connect center with ground.

Extra credit: get rolfed by Marie Zahn to release that really stubborn tension to facilitate new movement patterns.

As I continued to work with these guys I was especially inspired by two performances:

1) Alan Cumming in Macbeth

2) The entire cast of Shun-kin, Complicite's new show

Cumming's one-man physical extravaganza, which included multiple characters, extreme emotional and mental states, and a clear depiction of multiple relationships, would not have been possible without a discernible physical center. At moments he appeared to fly up stairs, he would often have a very fast paced dialogue as two distinct characters. To achieve that kind of speed and physical range demands a firm connection with the ground if only as springboard and an unfailing sense of center if only as the glue that holds your many pages together.

 Even though I wept for the duration of Shun-kin, through my tears I marveled at the detail and dexterity with which the puppet (and title character) was imbued with humanism, personality, and eh-hem sexuality--how the puppeteer/actors, through movement, humanized a piece of fiberglass to such a degree that when a live actress replaced the puppet, you couldn't quite tell the difference. To make this kind of realism happen takes commitment and an openness to the present moment that requires a great deal of  endurance. Not just concentration and attention to detail, but the ability to endure the sensation of groundlessness--of not having any idea what's going to happen next, of being vulnerable, of feeling lost. The longer you can stay in those moments, the more interesting things get. If you find that your performances are stuck in a physical rut, this would be the next thing to work on. Building an endurance for uncertainty (which you can work on physically), not judging sensations, but using them as information, and then resisting the urge to use that information for a desired outcome will, ironically, ground you--it's like Irene Dowd says, "Taking Root to Fly."

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