One year choreographers residency at Daghdha Dance Company in Limerick. I worked with seven women (not trained dancers) from the community and created the dance film “Land of Dragonflies”. The artistic process was based on collaborative dreaming and physical practices.
Choreographer and artistic manager – Freï von Fräähsen zu Lorenzburg
Dancers: Colette Ahearn, Ailish Claffey, Sinead Dineen, Jennifer McMahon, Holly O’Brien, Michelle O’Sullivan, Maire Walsh.
Film artist: Laura Gahan
Composers: Cian Murphy, Ronan Murphy, Billy Walsh.
Costumes: Frej von Fräähsen & Colette Ahearn
”Land of Dragonflies”
In a dream I am swept away to a beautiful sunlit field where many people are wandering around laughing and jesting. I see glistening pairs of dragonfly wings hanging in mid-air, silently humming and vibrating in anticipation. I reach out and grab a pair of wings and attach them to my back. Flying around in the air are friends and relatives that have left this life, they are all happy to see me and are reassuring me that all is well. For many nights I journey back to the Dragonfly Land, encountering oracles, monsters and unlikely angels.
Entering the Labyrinth…
In the old days the labyrinth was a metaphor for the journey inwards/downwards and outwards/onwards. In this creative journey of ritual, dreaming and dance I have chosen to use the Labyrinth as a representation of a mysterious dreamplace /dreamtime called the Dragonfly Land.
At the heart of this project were seven women aged 21 – 45 (all non-dancers). My reason for working with non-trained dancers was to empower the local community through dance. By working in an area where there were few high quality projects aimed at community dancers, I wanted to give young potential dancers a professional experience that would boost their confidence and interest in dance and to prepare them for further dance studies. The mature participants had a chance to realise a “secret dream” or just to take on a challenge and have the experience of their lifetime. Throughout the project I trained the participants in basic skills and vocabulary in dance as well as improvisation and choreography.
My choreographic research has been revolving around dream imagery and dreamt characters/entities and how to recapture the dreamlike qualities in movement and film.“The Pearly Embryonic Oracle”. “The Thorny Serpent” and “The Child Baring Fangs” have been part of the colorful menagerie of dreamt characters, that myself, and my group of dancers have explored in movement. The Infant Movement Development material has been a rich source to draw from in the embodiment of these characters.
Throughout this project, I introduce the “Archetypal” movement patterns underlying the motor development of most humans on this planet. Some of the characters that I have met on my nightly journeys corresponds quite clearly to specific stages in the movement development of the embryo, foetus and infant. By exploring and embodying these universal movement patterns (E.g. Bartenieff- navel radiation, Homologous, Homo-lateral, Counter-lateral patterns etc. Also Bainbridge-Cohen: pre-spinal Mouthing Pattern Landau Righting Reaction etc.) I hope to anchor the dreaming and dancing experience more firmly in the body.
By using principles of Body-Mind Centering™ and Authentic Movement Practice I had a framework on which to hang the somatic/choreographic material in developing the Archetypal Characters of the film.
Before one can enter a place one has to find the gate. In my research I found the gate to the world of dreams through an ancient practice called Dream Yoga. The technique is fairly simple but takes some practice:
Concentrating upon a white letter A for 5 to 10 minutes before sleeping, letting the thoughts arise and pass without following them, I visualize a luminous A in the centre of the heart and imagine I hear a deep vibrating AAH in the area. As I fall asleep I try to maintain the image and sound. When successful, the exercise allows me to float into sleeping and dreaming while staying conscious of the fact that I am sleeping. This method was taught to the participants of the project and they were also required to keep a dream diary throughout the project. This ensured that the process was continually fed with new material as well as creating a shared ownership of the Land of Dragonflies.
Working choreographically with the archetypal figures and other characters in the Land of Dragonflies:
Pembyorcl – The Embryonic Oracle
From the Dream Journal:
“I am on an artificially created luxury resort Island, floating on the ocean. It seems the base of the Island is made of thick rubber as the landscape and the roads heave gently with the rhythm of the waves underneath. I drive a car (I don’t have a driver’s license) through the beautiful landscape and picturesque villages until I reach my hotel.
Entering the shower in my room, I see a single strand of black hair sticking up from the depths of the drain. As I bend down and pull the strand a whole lump of hair comes loose. Examining the bundle of dark hair I see small luminous embryos nestled among the curls. I have a conversation with this “Embryonic Oracle”.”
Working With the Embryonic Oracle
Pembyorcl is the first dream character we work with in the making of The Dragonfly Land. Mythologically this oracle corresponds to the “Omphalos” or “Axis Mundi”, the world’s navel or sacred centre. Accordingly Pembyorcl, being the first dream character I encountered in this work, acts as a centre of the Dragonfly Land. The vertical quality of Pembyorcl, hanging from the sky and touching the earth links them with Yggdrasil, the world tree in Norse mythology. As such the oracle unites heavenly, earthly and “underworldly” experiences, giving access to a wide range of knowledge and wisdom through intuition.
In our work with Pembyorcl, we seek to see and hear more clearly from a deeper layer of our body/mind. Exercises are designed to help us quiet the constant internal monologue in order to loosen up inhibitions on our creativity. Glossolalia (speaking gibberish for lengthy periods of time), gazing upon a black mirror or strange writing, word association, Authentic Movement practice and chanting melodic harmonies without words.
At the centre of the Pembyorcl work is a practice called Authentic Movement (developed by Janet Adler amongst others). In this practice we seek to develop a clear “inner witness” that take part, but doesn’t get lost, in experience.
Typically we work in pairs, one mover and one witness, where the mover improvise movement for a predetermined length of time and then retells in detail what they did. The witness function is to support and see clearly the mover’s process. In moving freely with a heightened concentration we may integrate the physical event more fully with other aspects of our being (emotionally, mentally and creatively).
I invented the Dream Script as a means of bypassing the waking everyday aspect of consciousness. Writing in a foreign alphabet requires a heightened concentration, and also looking at a text we don’t understand but identify as writing we may have a sense of “meaningfulness” detached from meaning. In this process I will at various stages give the participants a text written in Dream Script to create an altered state of consciousness (directing it inwards). Also we may use the Dream Script to create symbols or glyphs that are meaningful to the individual.
Imagine that you could compress everything that comprises who you are. Reverse the process as it were, until you are contained in one single cell. The Cell moves within itself and contains within itself a whole universe of experience and consciousness. As you breathe, imagine that you are this Cell, expanding and contracting – taking in and releasing with each breath cycle. Now try to visualize the whole cellular collective in your body, breathing in harmony with each other, each cell aware of the whole collective. When we rest into the cellular awareness, we rest into the “being” aspect rather than our “doing” aspect of ourselves. This quality is the embryonic oracular knowledge that we try to access in our work with Pembyorcl.
Synrhotep – The Serpent
From The Dream Journal:
“ I am walking in a moonlit garden of roses, the smell of flowers is heavy in the air and I hear the gentle moaning of the wind through the branches. Walking in this park I realise the path is curving, spiralling inwards toward an unknown centre. I reach out and touch the rosebushes on either side of the path and as I enter the centre area of the spiraline park I see a single flower growing there. The beautiful rosebud is aflame with a luminous, but non-consuming, fire. As I reach out to it, the flower starts to open up in response to my touch and I see a golden snake inside it. The snake, thorny like the rosebush itself, sinks it’s fangs into my hand and I feel a strange venom course through my veins. I know that this miracular poison will give me great pain but will also give me the power to heal.”
Working with the Thorny Serpent means a willingness to transform from the inside even if it hurts. When we shed our hardened skin and re-emerge tender and soft, the Venom becomes Medicine, the ugly becomes beautiful and fear is transformed to power.
In our creative work we identify our fears and create a “demon” in order to have a personality to relate to. By examining this demon closely, by identifying it’s traits and characteristics and then exploring it’s movements, we start to see the underlying energy that fuels the fear. By dancing the fear, exaggerating it and sensing it’s presence in the body, we may drop the storyline that usually accompanies our fears. Abstracting the fear and giving it a personality may allow for communication with it. And where there is communication there may be negotiation. Maybe working honestly and bravely with a fear brings the realisation that we are more afraid of the fear itself than of what it represents? Working with these “Demons” led us to a menagerie of entities that are collectively referred to as “The Theatre of Demons” and the material form part of the ending of the film.
In the embodying work Synrhotep corresponds with the movement of our own internal “Serpent” namely the spine. Integrating the undulating pre-spinal movements of the embryonic soft spine, or the spiralling turning and twisting of the infant is the basis for more sophisticated motorical developmental stages. The spine is closely connected to our sense of identity, and the way we feel is almost certain to reflect itself in our posture. The dancer chosen to portray the Serpent in the work, was asked to engage for extended periods of time (up to 40 minutes) of rolling her eyes upwards, hissing (sssss sound) and undulating her spine.
By snaking around on the floor, undulating the spine in waves and twists, the head-tail connection is explored and integrated more fully. This allows for a greater sense of ease and grace in our vertical posture. Exploring the spinal relationships is a shapeshifting journey and with each new spine we try we become someone else.
Thëaphunglas – The Child Baring Fangs
From the Dream Journal:
“I find myself on a beach next to a lake of murky leaden waters. There are tall pine trees all around and the air is chilly. Thick clouds hide the sky and the gloomy greyish light that filters through them makes all the colours look washed out. There are lots of people on the beach, laughing and splashing water on each other seemingly unaware of the absence of sunshine. I join in the game and soon I feel light hearted and care free. Suddenly a women cries out, she has lost her baby in the water and now she can’t find it. Everybody start searching the lake and I too take a deep breath and dive into the cold water. I glimpse the baby in the deep and manage to take it in my arms as I swim up towards the surface and the oxygen. Once I come up to stand waist high in the water, I look at the baby in my arms as it starts to transform horribly. The face opens up to reveal a huge gaping hole with sharp fangs.”
Working with Thëaphunglas means opening up to the wounded child inside most (if not all) of us. She/He corresponds with all the lost children or lost childhoods in the world. We may have had the most idyllic childhood and upbringing may have had the experience of being seen and heard and supported, and still there may be a tiny voice inside that keeps whispering of half forgotten disappointments, losses and suppressed needs. By working consciously and compassionately with Thëaphunglas we may engage our adult understanding in the task of nurturing and healing our own inner child.
Thëaphunglas holds within us the child within the adult, the aspect of suppressed playfulness and of being “socialized” away from the natural spontaneity that is so beautiful when present in children. In our work with Thëaphunglas we enter a series of creative exercises designed to help us reach out (or in) towards our inner child and say “I see you, you are fine just the way you are”.
The group’s first meeting with Thëaphunglas:
The space is welcoming though dimly lit and I receive the group sitting in a chair with Thëaphunglas in my lap (I have two dolls, one normal and one identical that is mutilated where the face is gone with only a hole full of teeth). Each member of the group is asked to come forward to introduce themselves to the doll. I then ask them to lie down on the floor as I guide them first through a relaxation exercise and then through a journey/story of imagery and movement. Half through I ask each person to sit up in turn and open their eyes. As they do I quickly show them Thëaphunglas (in her monstrous aspect), and so doing I hope to create a micro shock, as it were, before I ask them to enter the guided story again and a state of relaxation.
The weeks following the initial meeting with Thëaphunglas, the group engages in play, storytelling and cake eating as well as symbolic actions in order to establish a channel of communication with their own inner child. At the end of the period the group performs a healing ceremony for the monstrous doll. Every participant may hold the wounded child, speak lovingly or perform healing ceremonies for it, until I switch back to the unwounded doll and we celebrate.
The archetypal movements corresponding with Thëaphunglas are those of bonding and creating boundaries through yielding the weight of the body into a supporting surface (another person, the floor etc) or by pushing into it in order to move away from it.
In the infant motor development the baby rests/nests into the floor, bed, another’s body, surrendering the weight of their body completely. There is a sense of symbiosis or of merging with the supporting surface. At this stage the baby can’t differentiate between itself and the rest of the world. This is the yielding needed in order to be able to push away from the support to elevate the body and come to crawling.
By embodying the yielding and pushing movement patterns we embody the basic yes and no. In this way we can establish a sense of boundaries, of being able to choose what to allow near us, and what not. Embodying these basic movements may allow us to find the mental/ emotional equivalent of boundaries. This allows for a clearer understanding of “This is me” and “This is not me”. As we work with the Wounded Child, understanding the yes/no (yield/push pattern) response on a physical level we may better distinguish what we want (need) and what we don’t want (don’t need).
In developing the mythos surrounding Thëaphunglas we found inspiration in Abraham Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs” as well as the Inferno from Divina Commedia by Dante. Each step in the Hierarchy of Needs was ascribed a symbol, or glyph, in a process of sigillization – the constituent letters of the statement were pulled together to form one symbol. These symbols were thought of as an “Alphabet of Need” and in a similar process the various areas of Inferno were ascribed a symbol of inverted need to create an “Alphabet of Sin”. Then breaking up these symbols into smaller (non-meaning bearing) parts I asked the dancer to interpret the symbols physically in order to create the Thëaphunglas solo in the film.
The Cockroach People
As we deepened the Thëaphunglas work a new class of entities arose. We referred to these as “The Cockroach People”. These characters were thought to be ghosts emanating and being emissaries of Thëaphunglas. By utilizing a Butoh-esque aesthetic in the studio we came to create these beings as gliding menacing spirits roaming the city in search for living souls to devour.
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