Day 3: New Movements - Walking (Part 2) My Walking Is My Dancing by Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker / Rosas


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Day 3: New Movements - Walking (Part 2)

Sun 31 May 2020

De Keersmaeker wants to demonstrate that walking is dancing, and that everybody has the ability to dance, anytime, anywhere.

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My Walking is My Dancing is a fascinating project by Belgian choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker (Rosas), who was due to bring A Love Supreme to the Abbey Theatre as part of our 2020 Edition.

Exploring the idea of walking as a form of dancing, the company invited people in cities around the world to join the Rosas dancers on a slow walk, as they examined how we are able to transform this everyday movement into a mindful and unique experience. When we say slow walk, we mean a very slow walk; with an average pace of less than 5 metres per minute, it took approximately 4 hours for each group to complete its trajectory.

As the world ground to a halt during the current Covid19 crisis, we found ourselves considering the hectic pace of city life and how we can cope with its enforced slowing down. By deliberately hampering the speed of travel, My Walking is My Dancing invited participants to experience the city and its inhabitants from a new perspective. To pause, reflect and attempt to make the city part of them again through the most basic form of movement conceivable: walking.

So, take a breath, slow your mind and watch these meditations in motion.


Bruges. SLOW – 23.02.2019

This video was filmed in Bruges. Presented by Rosas, Concertgebouw Brugge & Cultuurcentrum Brugge.

Paris. Festival d’Automne – 23.09.2018

This video was filmed in Paris and presented by Rosas as part of Festival d'Automne à Paris.

Brussels. Dag van de Dans – 23.04.2016

This video was filmed in Brussels and presented by Rosas as part of Dag van de Dans.

An essay by Floor Keersmaekers on the art of walking and the genesis and evolution of pedestrian movement in meditation, in art and in dance.

"Slow walking" has its origins in Buddhism. There is a long tradition of walking as a form of meditation in this religion. Chinese Chan Buddhism, for instance, refers to it as 'kinhin' and is the opposite of 'zazen', the sitting meditation we traditionally associate with Buddhism. But also in other branches of Buddhism like Theravāda Buddhism, walking meditation(video) / (video 2) plays an important role.

Walking meditation is a meditation-while-moving but also a meditation-of-moving. The main focal point is that of the body moving in space and the awareness thereof. The walker centres his attention on the separate movements, and this typically involves coordinating stepping and breathing. Contrary to sitting meditation, during which the eyes are usually closed, this practice is much more outward; the physical experience of walking strengthens the connection between the individual and his surroundings.

Walking is something we usually do automatically, without thinking. At the same time, it is the most elementary and straightforward of human movements. It is from this aspect that walking draws its power when suddenly it is experienced consciously and it is presented and taken out of its everyday context. It is no surprise, then, that walking is an often-recurring element in various forms of performance art. There are numerous examples of artists who try to manipulate time or draw attention to the process itself (and not to the end result) through this simple act. Others appropriate a space or give that space a new meaning by tracing it with their body. Take, for instance, Francis Alÿs who pulled a little magnetic toy dog through Mexico City until it was covered in metal scraps of street litter (video). Simon Faithfull followed the Greenwich meridian from Peace Haven in Hampshire to Cleethorpes in Lincolnshire without avoiding a single obstacle (rivers, fences, bushes, etc.) (video) / (video 2). Janet Cardiff earned fame and recognition with her 'audio and video walks' guiding the audience along a trajectory in and around New York's Central Park and in the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington (Video) / (Video 2). One of the most famous examples may very well be The Great Wall Walk (1988) by Marina Abramović and Ulay. They walked down the Chinese wall in opposite directions until they met in the middle after ninety days and made their farewells.

In other words, there is no shortage of examples. There are even books dedicated exclusively to walking and the way it manifests itself in art. Dance plays a considerable role here. Postmodern choreographers like Trisha Brown, Steve Paxton and Yvonne Rainer explored the boundaries and produced a movement art that exists on the line between dance and pure performance. Just as the nature of performance art allows it to take place outside the walls of a museum, the early work of Brown broke out of the theatre. Pieces like Walking on the Wall(video) and Roof Piece (1971) (video), are characterised by the interaction between the body and a specific environment, an interaction that is not commonplace. Dancers are running (suspended in harnesses) parallel to the floor over walls, or pass on a series of movements to each other while they are each standing on a different roof.

Some years earlier, Steve Paxton had already integrated the everyday movement vocabulary in dance performances like Proxy (1961) and Satisfyin' Lover (1967) (video). These choreographies consist mainly of a carefully orchestrated variation of walking, standing still and sitting, continuously applying different tempi. In addition to Brown and Paxton, other participants of the New York Judson Dance Theatre, like Yvonne Rainer, were working with fundamental, everyday movements. By doing so, they wanted to strip the dance of any expressive or dramatic meaning so that the body becomes a neutral object to experiment with in terms of speed, stability, gravity, rhythm and (im)balance. The choreographers Anna Halprin and Simone Forti worked at Halprin's workshop in San Francisco along the same lines. In that period, their pure, non-narrative  approach to dance inspired Bruce Nauman to make performances like Walking in a Exaggerated Manner Around the Perimeter of a Square (1967-1968) (video) and Slow Angle Walk (Beckett Walk) (1968), filmed at a tilted angle. As the title of the latter example suggests, Nauman also drew inspiration from the work by Samuel Beckett, depicting characters with no hope for the future and caught up in pointless, repetitive acts.

As it happens, Samuel Beckett also got the idea of a 'geometric mime' in the sixties. Ultimately, the idea would grow into the television play Quad (1981), 'a ballet for four people' that he wrote for television. The piece consists of four people dressed in white, red, blue or yellow walking across a square stage in fixed patterns and variations (just as, remarkably enough, was the case with the performances of Nauman). (video) / (Video 2) Although technically, this is not a dance performance, it still clearly pertains to the pioneering movement art in postmodern dance. But also more recently, in 2005, choreographer Jonathan Burrows took to walking again in The Quiet Dance (video), a co-creation with the Italian composer Matteo Fargion.

It's clear that walking has come to play an important role in art, not in the least in (post)modern dance. However, walking is one thing, slow walking is quite another in the way that it is a very specific way to address and draw attention to certain themes. We could say that generally it deals with the same aspects that are the key element in walking meditation. Consciousness focuses on a physical experience in which the walker is (again) introduced to both his body and the environment that body is part of in a fashion that is much more intense than usual. In doing so, he is confronted with a challenge that is in theory quite simple, but in practice is only rarely part of our contemporary sensory world anymore. In his short films Beautiful 2012 (2012) and Journey to the West (2014), the Malaysian director Tsai Ming-liang introduces a Buddhist monk moving extremely slowly through very hectic city centres (e.g. Marseille) (video). The contrast could not be greater which explains why it is so powerful. The filmmaker who regularly works with very long, uninterrupted shots, considers this slowness as an act of rebellion, a manner of protest. Making the passage of time not only visible, but also deliberately slowing it down, ensuring the viewer feels uneasy, tense and eventually even frustrated.

It is also remarkable that when slow walking is carried out in an artistic context, it is also often accompanied by a very deliberate intent to establish a change in the public's perception. The slow walk not only serves as a statement, it isn't walking for walking sake. The spectator is not just a passive observer, his changed perception is part of the performance. This is doubly so when the audience is asked to participate in the process and start a slow walk themselves. In 2015, Marina Abramović set up "Project N° 30" on Pier 2/3 in Sydney for the Kaldor Public Art Projects. For twelve days, the public could engage in a series of exercises that were all set up around the concept of 'duration' that explored physical and mental boundaries and magnified details through a simple assignment or act. In addition to counting grains of rice or staring into the eyes of another person, it also involved the 'slow walk' (video).

Coming back to dance again, we see that slow walk has also made an entrance here. As early as in 1970, Yvonne Rainer integrated a slow walk ('M-walk') in the anti-Vietnam performance War. A more recent example, closer to home, was 100 pas presque during the Festival Kanal in Brussels in 2014. The choreographer Taoufiq Izzediou travelled 100 meters in one hour with his dance company. In doing so, he said he wanted to ask some significant questions about the relationship between the individual and his environment but also, and especially, about the place of modern dance in today's world and in public space.

It certainly isn't the first time either that Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker makes a connection between walking and dance. One of the fundamental principles on which she has been building her choreographies in recent years she refers to as 'My Walking is My Dancing', just like the title of this project. The productions En Atendant (video), Cesena (video), Partita 2(video) and Vortex Temporum (video) were based on this. In doing so, De Keersmaeker chooses the "simplest of movements; the movement of walking and running and the changes therein. The rhythm of the body appropriating the space." It is a form of improvisation in which the act of walking undergoes a variety of transmutations (e.g. by walking backwards or going twice as fast, etc.) giving rise to a broad range of means of propulsion. One of the most recent creations, Golden Hours (As you like it)(video), for instance, starts with a slow walk. It is carried out by all dancers to Brian Eno's song that shares the name and which is looped endlessly.

And then, on 23 September, during the Festival d'Automne, Rosas presents the project 'My Walking is My Dancing'. With the slow walk and the workshop, De Keersmaeker wants to demonstrate that walking is dancing, and that everybody has the ability to dance, anytime, anywhere. It is an opportunity to prove that dance can bring people together in the public space in a unique, spontaneous and accessible manner and may furthermore contribute to changing our perception of that space.

REFERENCES

Exhausting Dance: Performance and the Politics of Movement. André Lepecki, 2006
The Art of Walking: a Field Guide. David Evans, 2013
Walking and Mapping: Artists as Cartographers. Karen O'Rourke, 2013
Meditation for Peace: a Comprehensive Guide for Discovering the Joys to Achieve Peace and Calmness. Calista Dion, 2015