HOW TO TRAIN ONESELF TO CONNECT TO THE MOST BASIC UNIVERSAL PRINCIPLES
By Damien Jalet
In the past I have taught a range of classes
at ImPulsTanz, such as; contemporary technique, repertory and composition and
the coaching project (with Erna Omarsdottir). I will reflect on all of these,
mostly centering this article around contemporary technique, as it deals with
the essence of what I focus on transmitting in my work.
I have only been teaching dancers for a few
years now, and what I teach is completely linked to my performing and creative
experiences, as a dancer and a choreographer. It is by dancing on stage and
creating work that I have developed the techniques I transmit to other artists
now. I think this is because it translates itself in a very concrete manner. In
the past few years I have been performing very physical work (my various
collaborations with Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Wim Vandekeybus and Erna Omarsdottir)
on a very intense rhythm. The dance material has often been challenging and has
produced the necessity to sustain a very high energy level during performance,
for more than one hour forty minutes every evening.
There is often a lot one
can learn from extreme situations. One of the most important discoveries I made
was to find a way to be able to use, recycle and channel my energy in order to
be able to finish a performance without having to dig too deep into my
essential resources. Even if what one tries to convey is an uncomfortable
feeling, one still needs to find a certain level of comfort as one is
performing. This is how I develop the techniques I teach; by finding a strong
physicality without reaching exhaustion, whilst combining fluidity, an organic
approach and speed, in what seems like athletic and complex dance material.
When someone dances, I love the idea that this
person is changing the energy in the room. How one generates and saves energy
is an interesting and contemporary subject. It fascinates me. The way we are
realizing today that we can warm up our houses with solar energy or light up a
football stadium with eolian power. This is very inspiring. Not to say that I
am asking participants to lie down in the sun to warm up, but I think that the
best way to create and make energy is to acknowledge and train oneself to
connect to the most organic way, to the most basic universal principles.
The first principle is breathing.
I think of performance as a ritual and I like
to use the same approach for preparation of the body. Whether I am teaching
contemporary technique, repertory and composition, or a coaching project, I
like to use the idea of preparing the body in a ritualistic way. Yoga and
Shiatsu have been real discoveries in my career, as they combine deep tissue
stretch, inhalation and exhalation, body pressure and circulatory activation.
As all rituals are linked to function, these ones are used to center one's
thoughts in the present moment, and to focus one's attention onto one's body in
a very practical way. When I started dancing (and even sometimes now when I
perform), I became so concentrated on all of the movements and qualities, that
I would sometimes forget to breathe. The day I realized I could breathe on
stage was a revolution! Now if I suddenly feel exhausted during a performance I
just concentrate on breathing. It might sound clichéd to say but breathing
changes your whole presence, your whole dancing, your whole energy and then the
energy of the audience. This is the first principle to connect to and it is the
first one I concentrate on when I teach.
The next principle is gravity.
This is the principle I find the most exciting.
Due to the fact that this principle is responsible for the freedom and joy in
dance. The whole magic of dance, for the ones who still believe in it, is in
its apparent escape, special resistance, or in its game with the force that
nothing on this planet seems to be able to escape. I have been developing my
entire class on potential and kinetic energy and centrifugal forces. How to
play and use the energy of the weight falling in order to increase the speed of
the movement or to make it more effortless while keeping a strong physicality.
Whether I teach repertory, composition or technique I always use images or
metaphors in order to define a quality, an impulse or the way to execute a
movement. In my technique class I use the image of the pendulum, or an image of
a cyclist going down a hill using natural acceleration to go up the next hill,
in contrast to the image of the cyclist who would stop at the bottom of the
hill and have to work much harder to get up the other one. The idea is to
always use the gravity as a partner in order to sometimes be the leader and
sometimes the follower. To accept a kind of passivity to gravity, in order to
rebound actively. To not be in control of everything but to use gravity like a
partner. Basically, to find a balance between what you do and what you let
happen. When one needs to contract one's muscles and when one does not need to.
I compose phrases that deal with the concept of action-reaction, for example,
the action being a bow being pulled back and the reaction being an arrow
In my repertory class I use the section
"stones on water" (a movement section I created for the piece "tempus
fugit " from Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui), using inspiration from an image of stones
being thrown across the ocean or a lake and bouncing across the surface of
water. For me, this kind of metaphor is also at the center of "physical
verses", a composition and repertory class I sometimes teach at ImPulsTanz, and
at the centre of the coaching projects I have been leading alongside Erna Omarsdottir. When creating a piece with Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui or Erna
Omarsdottir, we confront very precise physical tasks, where rules or
restrictions are used to generate a physical vocabulary or to create a scene or
For example, creating a phrase where one must keep their hands and
feet connected to the floor, or where one moves on the floor without using
one's arms, or a staccato phrase where every count is like a beat one receives,
another one might be where every fold of the body becomes a place one can give
birth from. All of these precise physical tasks have in common an
active/passive quality, what one does and what one lets happen, muscular
tension and release, inhale/exhale, action and reaction.
These are all
principles included in my technical class. Perhaps it is possible to add the
idea of instinct versus rationalism to the list as I am asking the student to
use both in order to compose or develop the previous tasks in a more personal
way. In any case I think every dance starts with a tension, a contradiction, an
opposition between two poles, and the more one develops and works on those
extremes, the stronger one's dance becomes.
(July 6, 2008)
Damien Jalet in Performance