Where does the Magic come from?

A quiet moment for ‘her’ in 15 Ross Street with Vivi Frehner & Barry Hill

I was considering this question two weeks ago in a Curious Body session after a profound duet showed up and the room went silent with wonder at the beauty of it. What made it beautiful? The magic, the profound connection , the timing, the felt experience as witnesses. The two movers were not trying they were in the magic. You could call it flow state perhaps, or the zone, or as I have referenced in previous posts, I could say they were totally “dropped in” & that’s why they could create it.

I don’t want to over analyse the magic, but I do want to acknowledge it. Sometimes we are in this state for a short time. Sometimes moments of divine timing happen in an Improvisation and we take those moments as gifts of the practice. If the magic is there from beginning to end that is something extra special. It’s special to be in it as the creator and it’s special for the witnesses also. I can’t say I live for these moments but I find them deeply satisfying. It also makes me very happy to be part of the reason that the conditions are present so magic can arise.

Patterns – A collaborative piece with Vivi Frehner, Collen Coy, Phil Blackman and composer Barry Hill live at the Quad, Lismore 2018

Maybe it is worth a little analysis. What are the conditions from which magic can arise? What are the blocks to magic? Laziness is a block. A busy mind is a block, and doing what you always do is also not helpful. People think Improvisation is easy, but it is not. It’s not easy to watch and it’s not easy to do. But if you do it well, it is easy to watch. Ha.

To begin we have to arrive, and then we have to notice we are beginning. Noticing takes attention and attention takes effort. So you cannot be lazy and still expect to notice. You cannot be lazy and still expect to drop in and shift states from normal everyday person to a body aware person. We want our attention to be heightened, we want to notice everything. Breath is key also, as it is with meditation training, noticing the breath while you are moving and using it consciously can bring you into a sensing body state that is ready to play and engage.

If movers run through yoga poses to arrive and warm up, they may stretch this or that, but it wont bring them into new moving territory, it wont wake up their creativity. So we need to get these habits out of the way and start noticing the body and go from there. It sounds a bit scary with nothing to hold onto, as a teacher I will offer images or speak of body parts or thoughts on seeing, sensing & feeling to help enable movers to unfold into not knowing. From this place I think we can become interested. That is the ideal, that curious, interested state.

I tend not to use music to bring people into a state although I know this can be done very well, but the effect is different and the practice is different. I could say coming into a moving state through music is like having a drip feed, we don’t have to hunt for our food. If we just go with the music there is not so much work to do. It’s not better or worse and the practices are not mutually exclusive, but you do not get that easy drip feed ride in a Curious Body class. I try to use music that is obscure in form so that it cannot be hooked into by the mover. Curious Body is about working at being interested, so certain music or silence will support that evolution best.

Al Wunder was one of my teachers. He used language like ‘initiator’ & ‘responder’, putting us in duets making us choose a role each, possibly throwing out another imperative like ‘left elbow as primary mover’ and off you went to work with that to sound of his hand made hum drum… Curious Body is full of all my past teachers. And I’m grateful for them all.

Some moments arise as divine, when no one in the solo, duo or group appears to be doing anything special and yet the listening & responding is happening in such a way that the unfolding choreography is perfect. This is a skill. It is the magic, and the movers that practice know how to make it. They know when it is there and if they don’t cling to it they could find themselves in it for minutes at a time. Perhaps I do live for those minutes because they feed the rest of the hours in my day. They keep me going as an artist, a teacher and as a maker. They keep me reaching for the next collaboration, the next project.

OMD – Old Men Dancing – An inspiring ongoing project since April 2019

Age and experience are no barrier to the magic. I feel it and see it often when I dance with this group of local men at the Mullumbimby Drill Hall. OMD members are in their 70’s (we do have one young one who is still waiting to hit this golden decade) and dancing and improvisation have not featured widely in their lives before we started the project. We practice a little differently in OMD than in Curious Body, but the conditions we need to make magic are the same. It takes effort to listen and tune in, and it take desire to try different things and make them your own. The magic I am actively cultivating with OMD is about finding the groove and tuning in with timing & listening. I feel like this is gold and the good vibes that leave the session show me how much gold is worth on a Monday afternoon.

In praise of magic moments please share where you find them in your practice or how you notice them in your everyday…

Returning to Practice: A new way of Continuing

What does it matter where you dance as long as you dance?

Why are some places or spaces more conducive to ‘dropping in’?

Is it the place/space or the people?  Where is the safety?

Where in lies the reverie? How do I go inwards yet still play?

Curious Body: a practice of being in & being seen

Continuing outdoors

Coming out of the pause into restricted possibilities of continuing, not like before because normal is not back yet, we have to find another way.  Local halls, venues and studios are still navigating the easing of restrictions for some the procedures are too annoying to tackle so they remain closed. For others, they do what they can to tick the boxes, keep a list of who has been where when and with whom and soldier on one spray & wipe at a time.

For my practice of teaching and holding sessions of Curious Body I have gone outside and one of the lovely things that has happened to me over this time is that the way I’ve adapted has become more rewarding than the way I was doing it.  So there is a sense of gratitude for the need to adapt and change that was forced upon myself and so many others in recent months.

Teaching Curious Body outside these last four weeks has been profound, fun and totally satisfying on many levels. Firstly, there is being in contact with an area of my town that I previously spent no time.  A grassy area adjacent to a track & field space with cement netball courts and a skate ramp off in the distance. Huge Camphor Laurels give us the option of shade on one side and on another give us an amazing green backdrop. In a way it is a not a ‘special’ place, we are not hidden, yet we are also not on show. We are part of the community that shares these spaces at different times of the day. This was part of the good feeling; practicing deeply and doing our thing but being in the world.  The other wonderful part of outside practice that anyone who does this type of work will know is that nature stands out for you. All of a sudden something that was always there comes into your awareness.  The sound of the wind in the leaves. The wind that comes from nowhere, and then goes back to nowhere. The birds, the ones far up in the sky and the little ones, hoping about on a post right beside me. The Galahs in the trees, and the flocks of Ibis soaring through the sky just as I turn my head.  I am listing the biggest non-events of any given moment in daylight hours, yet I am also listing gifts that are always available yet so often go unnoticed.

Outside class evolving throughout restrictions

Curious Body in a two hour session; First we drop in by paying attention. To what? To everything or to one thing and then everything.  ‘Dropping in’ is the technical term for becoming cellularly aware of where and what your body is doing in space. There are different pathways for getting there and mastering the ‘drop’, the more one practices the quicker one gets there.    I facilitate dropping in by going there myself and then inviting participants by making verbal offers that hopefully land in the body & focus the attention. Once people are ‘in’ (or on their way) we continue. Continuing is a solo inward journey that naturally progresses to noticing more, sensing more, noticing others & the environment. As we continue further the art of responding can come into the practice. Everyone comes to this in their own timing, although I encourage it to move things along, not everyone needs to interact yet the dynamic and feel of the practice shifts.  Once we have moved in this attentive and responsive space we find a pause and take a break. That whole process from arriving can take 30-45 min. The next phase can go in any number of directions depending on the group, usually I like to go deeper into partner work,  I could call this the embodiment phase.  With the aid of our partners either by touch (once upon a time) or by witnessing we go further into what we  found in the arriving phase. Our partners attention offers a portal to pay even more attention to notice more and to inhabit & develop what we notice. If possible we layer into this phase the option of interacting with other movers.  The skill of ‘being in’ & ‘being seen’ coupled with playing/crafting the moment is the essence of Curious Body.

Myself & Vivi Frehner captured in class by Vanessa Kellas 2019

I have many tools & scores for experiencing this way of creating solo and together.  I am grateful for the movers who practice with me and resonate with Curious Body because their experience drives the work forward. And I am grateful for all those inquisitive movers out there who are interested but who haven’t yet come along. Curious Body has developed over the past 4 years from my dance experiences for the last 25 years. I was going to reflect on those experiences and influences here, but I think I’ve said enough for this post.  Anyone reading this post who would like to practice or learn with me, I am contemplating keeping an outside practice for movers familiar with this work and adding a studio practice that is open to all.  Please feel free to comment or reflect or drop me a line if you want to be kept in the Curious Body loop. Currently practice is based where I live in Regional NSW, Mullumbimby.





2020: The year that paused


I love a good pause, a weighty pause that is felt by the dancer and the audience. A pause that can be caught by your dancing partners and enhanced by their joining stillness. A beautiful moment of pausing before moving continues. And how will it continue? With the same force one went into it? Or no, perhaps everything changed in that pause, perhaps now it will all melt backwards slowly before a little jig starts stage left. Who knows? Who is more surprised?

A moment with Suzanne Martin in residence at Im_fleiger Vienna 2019

It’s been a year since I headed overseas on a grant from Ausdance and Create NSW. I can reflect how lucky I am that the opportunity to travel and #innovate my dance practice came in 2019 and not 2020 when Covid-19 fell on the world and stopped business as usual for so many people. We are coming out of that pause now, out of the lockdown measures that we all ‘agreed’ to do. Out of that beautiful moment of stillness and inwardness; no cafe catch ups, no live theatre, no sporting events, no travel, no dance class with real people in the room, no school! So many no’s… because it was time to pause. Time to become a beautiful collective ensemble just for a couple of months. Most people around me definitely found pros and cons to the pausing, but mostly I feel like it was good. I feel like it was quite amazing. I’m perhaps not sure how to come out of it, how to start that little jig in the back corner that might catch on and be allowed to develop, I’m not sure how to start ringing bells again because I have actually enjoyed the quiet.

I rediscovered the quiet and wonder of the ocean during the pause. I managed to make a new habit of swimming the bay. Byron Bay the number one tourist destination of the East Coast practically empty. “Enjoy the beauty but keep moving” those were the rules and so I did, I walked down one end of the beach and swam back, and the water blessed our little swim team with crystal clear visibility and another world to be free in. How very grateful I have been for the pause that brought ocean swimming back into my life. Swimming was the new dancing, turtles were the star drop-in guest dancers that delighted my being and were a highlight of my new practice.

I know other people re-discovered simple pleasures, even if it was ‘just’ a daily walk or a bike ride in the neighbourhood. So simple, and the choreography of the timing of the walking, the regular passings of neighbours as the local streets suddenly got more social than ever before was a wonderful thing. But now it’s time to resume or to remake, rearrange the beginning of that little jig. I’m staying with the outside arena. Dancing outside with up to 10 people, even as I type this restrictions are easing even more, but I stay outside for now. It is simpler and actually more wonderful. And as my friend reminded me recently wonderful is a lovely word and something worth holding onto as we release from the pause.

Light & Shadow

Light & shadow, good and bad. Interested or indifferent, engaged or bored. Delighted or dulled. Challenged or not.

The Berlin experience so far is many colours. I soak it up as a human, as an artist, as a dancer. I soak it up as an ignorant tourist, and sometimes it’s this mode where I can let a lot in. Having received a grant and organised myself, my life, and my ambition to get myself over here. I sit here now in Cuccuma, a coffee shop/workspace next door to where I stay. It has great wi i and very nice coffee. I am willing to reflect on anything and everything, but will be specific to my dance experiences first up.

I am already stimulated by simply being in Berlin, wandering free and meeting the atmosphere and the tempo of the people and traffic whilst trying to remember to get off the bike track as I ponder my next move.

Tanz Fabrik where I will do most of my dancing while I am here is a short bike ride from where I’m staying. After I register for my first workshop I make my way to Studio 3 for Rob Hayden’s workshop ‘The Awakened body’ . I turn up everyday for 4 hours to see what will be asked of me and to see how the group will evolve together. Some conceptual questions are posed to us. We needn’t answer them now, just reflect on “why we are here? What is our greatest joy / greatest fear? ” Ha! That is my greatest fear, being asked to make sense of a question like this or make an honest answer of a question like this. Anyway it was left in the air. The workshop involved many modes from completely open improvisation following long guided meditations of dissolving our human form and then rebuilding it so that we might meet the space with pure sensation. How well did this work? It worked better on day two. It worked better I would muse because the connections and trust had progressed between the group. I felt bolder in my choices and felt more allowing and that allowing seems to make things more interesting for me. If I feel free to do things and follow impulses with others in the space, then I am stimulated and if I’m stimulated and free to be, then I am also creative and interested. As an artist I have a desire to be interested and engaged while I’m working, and if I’m performing I have a desire to be interesting and engaging. In a workshop setting I can usually put a hold on the later and just focus on how I notice the former growing or diminishing in my being.

We followed many other invitations over the 4 days . We met each other through the eyes. We did sweet dances of meeting, married, died, and gifted each other back to life again and again. We struggled with obsessive partners till we were gasping for breath. Sounds like a psychological rebirthing when I write it like that. It did leave some impressions on the psyche, I think it was supposed to. It was all real you see. We really died, we really fell for each other, caught each other, and gently lay each other on the floor. It was all very tender until it got obsessive. How does this all filter back into the dancing… Good question. What stays, what can be contacted later when it’s needed or when you have an impulse. I guess if a group of movers have practiced these states then it is possible, however over 4 short days it was not really the case. I do have traces of experiences that are lingering almost a week later when I am working in different contexts. Moving on day three was a like boot camp of heavy partnering work which was a bit tough. I missed my slow dying and rebirth into open impro that day. Day 4 should have wrapped it all up but somehow it didn’t come together in a satisfying way for me. Maybe too much was put into the three days prior for that to happen, or perhaps the structure of day 4 just could not capture all we had done in a satisfying way. It’s a tricky task taking a group through something and finding a good ending.

This was my other inquiry besides being present to what is being asked of me when I’m in a workshop, I am also deeply interested in how the teacher is holding guiding, offering and supporting the the process. I am keenly interested in the way they do this and noticing if they do it well, (from my point of view as a participant) and if not why not. This is useful to me as a teacher. I try to keep it a secondary task and often only reflect when it is all over. Of course I cannot always control my urge to notice what is going on and how well it is ‘working’ or not. When the ball is in the air and when it is noticeably on the ground for example.

Frey Faust and Axis Syllabus was my choice for evening workshop 5:30-8:30 for 4 days following on from my morning workshop. I took this class for a pure movement experience and because it fit into my schedule and filled my day completely. With a 3hr break in the afternoon it was doable. Energy would sometimes wane and if Frey talked to long I would indeed get a little sleepy. As soon as he started dancing however and we followed him down the room I was awake. His rhythm has African influences to me, and his constant swinging and throwing of limbs is pure ‘release based technique’.

If you clicked on the link and read about how axis syllabus describes itself you may understand a bit of how the form is discussed. It’s not really a form, more evolving principles. For the most part, in class people are just trying to copy the movement which is quite effortless and free without being overly technically. I was having constant flash backs to dancing with the late, great Janis Claxton with all the flying and release. So I was a bit confused by all the technical anatomical talking which seemed to be unnecessary to me. I come from a style of learning that involved the use of imagery to facilitate understanding in the body. Frey Faust is offering a very different often clumsily anatomical way in. It seems a bit out of balance with how the learning really occurs in the room, which is by watching and doing, and hopefully getting some special attention. Everyone learns differently however and some of the anatomy discussions I found interesting but much of it I also let go of following. The amount of talking doesn’t seem the point. In the end people who struggle to “get it” need one on one attention to be told where they stop their flow and where their support should be, to enable this or that move to happen more easily. This is all very easy for me to say, and it is only my experience of being in the room, noticing doing and sharing the space with 30 other movers. What I loved about my 3 hour evening was the dancing that eventually took over from the talking and went down the room again and again in a flow of joy and release. It was fun, and towards the end of each session Frey would get creative an put some of the moves together and invite us to dance them close together in small groups and this was fun, and the best way to assimilate any movement is by tuning in with others.

Berlin Note: Since I landed and I found my way to Susanne’s flat in Kreuzberg. I realised pretty quick that she lives in a very cool part of Berlin. Lucky me. Like all cool places the arty people who live here have lived here for a long time, otherwise they couldn’t afford to live here at all. The landlords just wait for them to leave so they can double or triple the rent. Until then those that are already in can only have their rent raised 3% a year.

Just as a wrap up, I went to a stimulating garden party on May 1st, I’ve seen a show at Dock 11, and I plan to see more. I’m alive. I’m inspired. I’ve thought many things as I participated in workshops and classes, and sometimes no thought – just fully in the experience, maybe grunting in order to do what was being asked of me or tenderly doing so, and many shades in between.


Photo Credit: Ingrid Pullen.
Performance On the Roof 2017

Soon I will be heading overseas to Berlin and Vienna for a month of dance exchange and collaboration. I’m very excited to be supported by Ausdance NSW, and Create NSW, as without this funding, I doubt I’d be making such a trip this year.

I will spend just over two weeks in Berlin doing workshops at Tanz Fabrik’s Oster Tanz and collaborating in exchange with Dance Artist Susanne Martin exploring dance making and improvisation practice. The following two weeks will be spent in Vienna, a city I am very fond of since first studying there in 1997 as a young emerging dancer. I will be in residence with Susanne at Im_flieger studio for one week and will also be able to take professional morning training sessions at TQW.

I feel very privileged to be supported by Ausdance and the DPI program to undertake this month of immersive professional development at this time in my career.

The seed was planted in 2018 when I accepted a lovely invitation to travel to Austria for a holiday. It was my first time being back in Austria after 20 years, and with the help of a beautiful friend I had a wonderful 3 week holiday reconnecting with Vienna and old friends. Professionally I had the opportunity to perform my solo the Funeral Plan at an incredible artists run venue URHOF20 in Grünbach. I also offered a community dance class of Curious Body and although I had some doubts that it might not transfer, it was successful in bringing cohesive improvisational play to those that gathered.

Austria has some amazing spa opportunities and a day trip to the Hundertwasser designed Rogner Bad Blumau spa was a fantastic birthday gift to myself on every level.

This year as I head to Europe for another Spring season I will be stepping up as a grant recipient travelling in order to innovate and extend my practice, my network, and myself as I engage deeply with fellow artists and take up residence. I am looking forward to the adventure and to spending a month in a zone of blue sky research. Literally not knowing yet staying curious in my workshops with Rob Hayden, and Frey Faust at Oster Tanz and my exchanges with Susanne and anyone else I meet during my month of innovating my practice in Europe.

Curious Body