February 12, 2014
FIELD NOTES FROM LIZ LERMAN
ART MAKING, ARTISTIC PROCESS, HIKING THE HORIZONTAL, TEACHING
(Performers from left to right: Ted Johnson, Alli Ross, Keith Thompson, Marjani Forte, Tamara Pullman & George Hirsch. Photo courtesy of Chris Cameron of MANCC)
I have been trying to harvest my own intuition. I think of intuition as our knowledge…just really, really fast. Before you can do this, you have to realize you are having an experience. This might be something as conscious as moving improvisationally, problem solving in rehearsal, or veering of the plan while teaching. If I take the time to discover WHY I did what I did I can usually uncover some new tool, or concept or a particular variation that is worthy of note.
Recently, working with the wonderful dance program at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia we were engaged in just such a practice. Students and faculty had gathered for a workshop. I admire teachers who are willing to learn again in public, especially among their students, and on that day there were several present. I had just directed the whole group in a process that included making some movement material that they could repeat. I asked them to pair up and then interview each other by asking, “WHY did you do that” at certain key points in the phrase. Usually this leads to naming a series of excellent choreographic practices that can become catalysts for future rehearsals. They may begin the process with “I don’t know why I did that,” but if pursued by their interviewer with something like …”well lets say you did know what would you call it” and then all kinds of connections are made. There was enthusiasm and great joy in the room as everyone realized how much knowledge was being excavated.
Performers from left to right: Ted Johnson, Alli Ross, Keith Thompson, Marjani Forte, Tamara Pullman & George Hirsch. Photo courtesy of Chris Cameron of MANCC
Later I was approached by one of the teachers, Rob Kitsos who said to me “I hate that word WHY.” He went on to explain, that for him, the word meant he had to justify himself and his work. He was tired of having to explain it to funders, or critics or even well meaning friends.
I had a moment of real comprehension. Of course he hated it. It made him defensive and I believe that once we are defensive we cannot learn, or rather we cannot discover. I responded with a newly articulated thought, taking place in that moment between us: I use WHY to lead to deeper inquiry and find it akin to that of wonder and awe. I don’t think of the word as generating a justification. Why did I do that comes with a tone of voice and a world view that suggest I did something magical and maybe I could figure out what it is. Not that I had done something that needed to be justified.
How does the same word do such different things to us, and have such different outcomes? I am so grateful to Rob Kitsos for the question he put to me that day. Because now I understand that there is a big difference between justification and wonderment and I intend to live with the latter.
Oh, and I think I am going to try it the next time I am asked to justify the need, the desire, the essence of art. I will turn the why into wondering and turn the questioner into a co-researcher, harvesting their intuition too.