Thoughts on Contact Improvisation, Steve Paxton

Steve Paxton

Thoughts on Contact Improvisation 

a cura di Rossella Mazzaglia
Pedestrian movement


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Steve Paxton: I have been interested in pedestrian movement since the early sixties. I don’t know if everybody means the same thing by that term. I am referring simply to what a body does when it is task-orientated. That is,how people interact with each other when they are not self-conscious, howsomeone can decide to go to the store, and get there without much conscious thought, how someone sits down or touches things. As a dancer I suppose I became self-conscious because my body was being trained and then I wanted to find out how to be conscious of myself without being self-aware about being conscious

Folkert Bents: Being aware but not being inhibited by it.

S.P.: Yes; in other words, how to let everything just go along smoothly
without inhibition. Noticing can become an inhibition. I was concerned with how to get past that stage of noticing and into more interesting material. I tried to perform ordinary movement in theatre. The paradox posed in that situation is almost like a Zen riddle, it’s implicit in the term “act natural”.

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I lived with that paradox for about a decade and I never answered the question but I saw other people sometimes successfully make the theatre that I was trying to make.
Lucinda Childs made a piece, Street Dance, in which she had the audience in abuilding looking down on a street. The performers in the street were making gestures, which they had timed to a tape that the audience

was listening to.
People passing in the street became part of the piece and the cars going by became part of the piece. Sometimes the people who were  not aware that there was a performance going on became the stars of the piece. The audience focused on them and the two figures in front of the building faded away, the whole street became the scene. So I saw it done. I saw pedestrian movement posed as theatre. It isn’t impossible to do but it does require a kind of manipulation of a situation. Then I became interested in the awareness that was fed by Tai Chi and by Yoga and Aikido.

Body awareness: Aikido versus Contact Improvisation

S.P.: Contact improvisation resembles Aikido quite a lot, in that they are both partnering forms and both are concerned with a very light and appropriate use of energy in fairly dangerous situations, but Aikido is a response to an act of aggression and Contact Improvisation an act of dance.
They both rely on training or manipulating the instinctual reactions in some way. In Aikido I became aware of movement reflexes acting to protect me because every class was dangerous and often with rather crowded mats, a lot of people working and flailing and falling. You just opened yourself up and had to be aware of both your concentration on the act that you were trying to perform, and on everybody in the space around you. Sometimes very highly active exercises were performed by everybody all at once in whatever rhythm they felt they could work. The class was, I think, an hour and a half, and youwere in these circumstances pretty much the whole time. In a way the very crowding, the lack of organized rhythm to the class and lack of space around each person was an important part of the training, because it gave you a keen sense of peripheral vision.


It’s almost as though, with this visual capability, there was no danger in that situation, or only a slight danger, or maybe the social discomfort of interrupting somebody else’s work brought you to a higher awareness. You had to focus at the same time as you peripheralized. You had to do both at once. I think Contact Improvisation relates to that strongly, but in
some ways they are diametrically opposed. Aikido is a martial art. It’s about a life and death situation, potentially, and Contact Improvisation is just the reverse. Instead of keeping your centre away from somebody else as the martial arts do, instead of fending them off, you are allowing them into your centre, you are allowing them to come close or to depend physically upon your balance, your centre of mass, for their own movement. And you’re doing the same with them. You are mutually employing each other’s leverage. It is an
intimacy that is not granted in Aikido, because one person uses that intimacy, but the other person doesn’t. The attacker is off-balance…

F.B.: So in Aikido you have to get the other person off balance…

S.P.: No. In Aikido you are attacked, it’s a defensive art form; you are
defending yourself against attacks. Now, when I attack, I can’t hit you without moving toward you, I have to move some part of my body toward you. If I just move my arm toward you it’s not much, but if I put real weight behind it and really prepare the blow, then I have engaged my center of mass with my fist in order to use my mass to increase the impact, and I’m a sitting duck if somebody pulls my arm instead of being there to absorb the blow. If there isn’t a target, if the target moves, then I’m at a loss, I’m flying, I’m way off balance.
The body knows that. The body can see that. It seems, in abstract, an odd thing, but one of the loveliest kinds of funny principles in Aikido is that if you see somebody coming to attack you, you present a target. The attacker’s mind is guided toward this target and, then, when the target moves the mind moves with it. It’s an important principle. You guide through both the mind and through the physicalities.

In Contact Improvisation you are doing just the opposite. You do present part of your body as a target in a way, but you allow
Thoughts on contact improvisation any other part of you to be a target as well, so that you might touch on the shoulder instead of the hip and instantly your mind refers itself to that change.

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In some ways Contact Improvisation is the reverse of a martial art, but I only saw that later. At the time I had to train people to become proficient at something I didn’t quite know what it was, in order to be able to find out if itn could exist, and how it could exist. The teaching problems had a lot to do with “how fast do perceptions open up?” and efficiency in training the body for this kind of work.

Perception, projection and proportion in Improvisation

S.P.: Improvisation is very difficult to define. Have you ever noticed that?
It’s an odd, very tricky question for me, I get so confused between perception, projection and proportion. Those words sometimes come together at once as one idea and I can’t separate them out.nota 26 You have habits and you feel like nothing is happening, but what that means is you’re not sensing finely enough.
If you just tuned your senses you would see that, in fact, your habit is changing and adapting, and that becomes a very nice study all on its own. If you see your habit grossly, then you just see it as still doing that old thing, or doing it again with a different partner, but in fact you’re not quite doing that, because things don’t actually repeat.

nota 26 :

These words are never mentioned together in other writings or interviews by Steve Paxton.Thinking about these concepts in hindsight, he has now expanded on their meaning:
“Evidently, I had analyzed these elements of our sensorial means of interacting with the
environment, including perhaps with other dancers. By ‘perception’ I probably meant being
conscious of what I was sensing. ‘Projection’ perhaps meant either how I felt about what I
sensed, or perhaps searching for something not evident; one may note a pothole in the path
and so casually avoid it. More subtle is seeing that there is no pothole, so no avoidance is
required. ‘Proportion’ might be used to describe how one fits into the situation; so adjusting
steps to avoid the hole, but also how all the senses interact to provide information. One may
see the hole, and at the same time hear a car, adjusting by scurrying or pausing. And what if the
situation included pulling a suitcase while walking with a child? We might propose increasingly
simple or elaborate circumstances, and rely on our perception and comprehension (projection)
to provide appropriate proportions within the matrix to more or less automatically see us
through. For the dancer however, these elements are the basis of choices that are ongoing
constant elements of a dance. In a set dance movement, the move will provoke sensations
perceived as the proper phrasing of the ongoing known movement, and the next appropriate
movement sensation will be anticipated. If in an improvised movement however, the sensations
propose the next possibilities, among which the dancer will have to choose to manifest. The
dancer develops awareness of sensing abilities to enable and refine their movement task. I think
the confusion I mention is that of, on one level, being aware of the abilities while at the same
time, those abilities continue to work without consciousness, a duel level of motor activity,
without which no confusion would exist.” (Email communication from Steve Paxton.

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 All this has to do with proportion, which is to do withhow you perceive something. I was trying to define the  problem of how to have
a definable, clear way to improvise that was still improvisation, in movement, so that one could discuss principles and aspects of the body and its physiology and its chemistry that one could sense. It was a question of how to work the whole thing, not through any academic filter, but through the perceptions and the sensations, given that those are two different things.

Focus and peripheral awareness

S.P. (2013): Focused vision and peripheral vision are two modes of
seeing which interact to provide a visual spectrum to help orient the viewer in visually sensing the environment. Peripheral vision provides the field in which the focus can select a subject for closer scrutiny, operating both for the eyes and the ‘concentration’ of the mind attending the vision. It is of course not difficult to shift from focused to peripheral vision and back. More subtle is the awareness that, to change focus, the peripheral is required to provide the range
of possible next subjects. But Contact Improvisation, although using vision, is often more concerned with haptic and kinetic awareness, that is the range of senses of the body, obviously including touch, position, orientation, inertia (that is, rate of relative or total motions). To equate this range of sensing with visual sensing, what elements or conditions of it would become focus, and what could be considered peripheral? Well, focus would probably be the ‘point of contact’, the area of touch between the dancers which provides the possible operating information for the improvisation which they share. So what would be the ‘ground’ or field within which this focus occurs? I chose the sensing of gravity, because it seemed to me that the intricate flowing information of the touch finally relies upon gravity and the physical interactions made possible by the bond with the mass beneath the surface of the earth. Gravity becomes the field, if movement and weight exchange becomes the focus. These counterpoints or contrasts are meant to allow awareness of both components,

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much in the way that vision is enhanced by contrasts in light and colors, or how the figure is contrasted With the ground. That all may make sense, but we must keep in mind that these rationales are constructed to be applied to ßuman /wings; more variable than snowflakes, each on their own paths in life, with various strengths and weaknesses, With ambitions to dance, but also with fears, doubts, mistrusts, vanities, perhaps broken hearts, worries, distractions. From an objective plan of what to say to the students, the teacher becomes the listener, watching and assessing just how each student is coping with the complexities of irnprovised movement and sharing a spherical space with another person, an adventure of tastes and reflexes, impulses and reverses rnediated by the swiftness of touch and the immediate responses of the body. It is mutual between the partners, and if the communication is open and warm, they come to depend upon the others body easily, almost physically conjoined in the movernent.
Now, J.J Gibson has pointed out that people with a cane seem to sense not their hand but the tip of the cane. I think that°s what we are doing in contact.
*We are using touch and with these phenomena, when you sense through the person you are touching, you can sense their relation to the floor. Contact improvisation is based on this principal”.
nota 27
Though Paxton did nor change his point of view on focused and peripheral vision since
1981, he has decided to clarify these concepts for this publication. The original transcript has,
thus, been replaced by his current articulation of this matter.
3” ln his 1981 interview and in his current notes, Steve Paxton refers to Gibson, James ]., T/Je
Seme; cc›r1riderm’ ar Percaptuzz! Systems, Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1966. When asked to explain this reference, Paxton has further extended on this theme: “Through weight-dependent contact with another person you sense the floor and the many shades of energy and alighnment which support and activate the other person. If you feel well supported, it is likely that you are sensing the floor beneath your partner. If not, it is likely that your partner is not well grounded.
Gibson and others use the example of touching with a stick. Like the visually impaired using a
cane to feel their way. Most of us have seen someone do this, so it is an easily visualized
example. But it is not a subtle example, because it poses the effect outside of the human body.
The same event occurs within the body. For instance, how do we know our body is aligned?
How do we adjust our balance into supportive alignment? The positions of each of the
movable parts of the trunlt, head and legs relie on feeling the character of the ground beneath
our feet to move into alignment. If we are using a crutch to move, the tip of the crutch will
supply information to the armpit. If we depend on the support of a partner, the partner’s
system of alignment will be transmitted via touch and weight-dependent points”. (Email
communication from Steve Paxton, 19/12/2013.)

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it seems to me that full sensing allows you to be safe on the surface, or as safe as possible, because your balanced ears, eyes, kinesthetic sense, smell, taste gain an enormous amount of information. \When you focus strongly through the eyes as our culture trains one to do, then you can be quite oblivious to the
fact that something is approaching, or that the surface you are standing on is changing, because you are very concentrated on the eyes – your mind is focused there. You can over-ride, in other words, signals that are obviously coming in.
You can not hear something extraneous because you°re so involved in conversation.

F.B.: The moment you said it, l suddenly realized…
SP.: You suddenly realized… There again we over-rode the focus for a moment; we were focused and then you mention opening the focus, and you over-ride the focus; although you can still keep track, you can still go on With the conversation. The training is full of that, and that experience occurs again and again. I’m sure it is one of those things that has no ultimate end. You just go on opening up in finer and finer detail and far more attention on a lot of levels. There is a potential for that, you don”t just open up and be opened, but opening up on all these levels is itself a journey that lasts as long as you°re
around, as long as you are alive, as long as you are animated.

Ordinary habits and the body potential

F .B.: However I experience that I fall back into my ordinary habits of
sensing and relating to the world.
S.P.: But now you are calling them that, and so there you have a contrast.
That°s already a modification of the old ones because you have a contrast.
FB.: And I know Where I will Want to go. I have a base line next time.
S.P.: Or maybe you realize that you have things like that and you want to change them. Maybe it`s not possible to change them because I think it is very difficult to manipulate or deal With certain basic kind of things about a person.

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But you have information. Maybe you can find some place where, if you wanted not to have a habit, you could have it changed. That to me is what contact is a tool for. It is to point out things like that and then if you want to change it, or if you want more information about it, you can go and get it.
I think the body is designed by nature, or has evolved in nature, to throw itself around the landscape with great efficiency. But the way we live now, since agriculture and certain inventions like the chair, is just the opposite. Watching the body mainly in New York, where I lived, and seeing the city life, was seeing that many people sit and watch television and go to bed. They get up and walk a little bit, then they sit on their transportation to the office, where they sit all day; then they walk a little bit, then they sit for lunch, then they come back
and they sit at their desk again, then they go out for drinks and they sit at the bar, then they come home and they sit and listen to music or watch television.
That`s not an uncommon thing these days, and that°s like one per cent of our potential. And the thing about that potential being so minimal is that our bones, our muscles, our organs and our senses are all both expressive and sensing. There is input and output everywhere, and the more that you can employ and train and get strong in the way you understand the proportions of things, the better adjusted you become to what is occurring on all levels.

The greater the contrast you can draw and keep going in your life, probably the more you’ll see the elements of both ends of the spectrum. live noticed that standing has dropped away from contact improvisation. People have stopped standing still. [_ . .] You have to slow down to do it, way down and get involved in a microcosm activity and it°s far away from the world of stimulation and activity and socializing that seems to be the norm”.

nota 29Standing was introduced in 1972 to be the event where gravity could be observed working
upon the upright body. where the question about why we don”t just succumb to it may be
asked, where the fine harmony of standing reflexes can be actually observed, and where some
appreciation of the speed and fullness of them can provide the mind with reliable support in
the moments at the other end of the spectrum, the fast intricate negotiations in high speed interactions.

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FB.: You used to do standing still classes?
5.13.: Yes.
FB.: And you donit do these classes anymore?
5.1).: No, but I think they should come back. As a matter of fact, in the
pedestrian movement period of my life I produced the most boring works that were done in my circle at that time”. I was really fascinated with them, but they were considered quite boring works, although intellectually interesting, or intellectually the position was interesting to be maintaining, especially as I did it for such a long time. But for an audience, for somebody who was just coming along to see a show, to watch a group of people standing still for fifteen minutes was odd to say the least”. No, there was not a great upsurge of interest
in standing still, and I doubt if there will ever be, but I think it is that kind of contrast that gives the other stuff, the movement, its values. You can see the values inherent in what you are doing, otherwise it all becomes the same. Fifty million changes in position over ten years and a growing result, a finding of discrimination and awareness of reflexes and movement subtleties, an ability to handle quite a lot, and then it stops. You stop growing because there is nothing to push you any further. I don°t think I have at all come to the end of it; I just
think one has gotten good enough to handle it, so that one doesn’t pursue it any further. So there is the question of how to continue, whether to get involved in material of an emotional nature or psychological nature. I am very interested in Grotowski for that reason, because he has played between imagery and physicality and it seems to be an incredibly rich and poetic one. I’m very
interested in lots of contrasting disciplines for that reason, sort of wondering
nota 30: By his “circle” Paxton is here referring to the Iudson Dance Theater.

nota 31: Paxton had an indirect knowledge of Grotowski”s work through a description of his method from Dr. Anna Furse, who had studied with him: “she eplained the exercise discipline of

bringing to rote physical exercise a new mental image to affect it. (By contrast, in studying dance, one often has nothing in mind but the counts and moves. Grotowski went a step further. so the student became aware of what else the mind could do within the physical rigors, which would subvert the natural rendency to dull exercise habit)”.  Howevet, though Paxton admired Grotowski, he did not use his ideas or methods in his work.

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what to do next, because I think we have come to a point where a step needs to be taken, but l°m not quite sure what it is. I think probably the next step is to stop worrying about the next step and to go on and study something else. [. .
FB.: …at the beginning, you wanted to get away from such habits as using vision.
S.P.: I wanted to get away from social taboos. When you first meet a
person, you don”t embrace them, you shake hands with them. Most people in contact classes don°t know each other very well. Their partners might be total strangers to them. So I made a rule which over-rides the taboo against torso touch and I stress torso touching, and that goes on for quite a long time until I see that they are very comfortable with that, that they have themselves found
the reasons for thisrule. And then the rule relaxes and after that hands come into play much more and expressions come into play much more and the eyes make contact much more and that kind of thing. I feel that certain things mask other things, that the habits for one thing mask exploration possibilities, that the conscious mind acting as it does through knowledge, and in pursuit of the knowledge that it can envision, ca_n°t very well see a full spectrum of possibilities. So what Fm trying to do is get rid of these masks, and get down to tuning the body in different ways. In some ways this statement is about what
contact can accomplísh and about why I’rn interested in pursuing it myself. It also says something about the tuning of the body for the activity that you are going to be in, or the state that you ate going to be in, above and beyond contact. You can think of the body as a tuneable instrument rather than as an instrument whose tuning is pedestrian or organic or habitual in your life. It isn”t just that. lt can also be trained to pursue different ways; what I hope is that contacters grasp that point and find ways through various disciplines that they encounter or invent to create tunings that are appropriate, and finally to find a tuning that is more appropriate.

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leadership in improvisation and teaching
FB.: Might a new direction come into contact work through such a
S.P.: l don’t know, because there”s this whole thing of leadership in
improvisational situations. How when you are trained to do contact, you have a teacher and you follow instructions and this is antithetical to an irnprovisational way; it creates a dependency, it”s a hierarchical situation, and I think that that has to be obliterated at some point. The students have to be made aware of it so that they take over their own responsibility for the training.
 What I would like is that other people would just take off, and take over their own responsibility and do their own investigations, based on the possibilities this form has presented. ln other words, use the form as a model.
We stress frequently that the movement is the teacher. In other words, in saying that “ I’m not a teacher but a guide or a moderator in the situation or the organizer or a focus” is saying that the movement is actually doing the work,
and that is what you are actually working with. You are not working with a teacher, but you are working with the movement that you discover. Trying to express this to a student is trying to make them assume their own responsibility, or response~ability.(nota 33)
FB.: That is a political point of view that I think is very important.
S.P.: Well, it°s ludicrous to go on preaching a kind of improvisational
approach and be doing it through a leadership model, because that creates a dependency.
nota 33: Paxton replaced the word “freedom” from the original trascript with “responsability, or response~ability” for this new publication. His previous use of the word freedom is significant, though. ln fact, one can only be responsible for the actions that he/she makes as a free
man/woman. lt is not possible to be totally responsible for actions that are made under constriction. This is true in life but, on a different level, is also true in dance. The more the student is set free to make his/her own choices, the more he/she has to take responsability for

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Analysis and emotion in dancing

F.B. : What is the relationship between the body fluids and the emotions?
S.P.: The emotions seem to arise from states that the fluids are in.
Certainly the glands, the circulatory system and the spinal fluid, cause
sensations which l interpret as emotionally related if not based; the stomach also and the other large organs in the torso, the state of the diaphragm as well.
All these things are inter-related and the state of the muscles in this work are both sensors and actors and what I’m attempting to do in a lot of the training is to emphasize their role as a sensor – as a sensing organ; and to indicate to the student that it is possible for him to act without conscious intervention or conscious prejudice (pre-judging one°s action). lt is possible to witness the action, to use your mind as a lens, so that you can witness the action and the emotion and the imagistic world as a unit. I would like the state where the
sensing is not unconscious, but where it is not the aim; where one is simply aware that one is sensing. lt”s like with sound; we listen to the conversation, ignoring the background sounds. i would like a situation where we could follow and be inventive in the conversational realm and still be aware that the birds are singing, that people are passing by, without being a distraction.
Distraction is an interesting idea because it goes into a broader emotion and patience; distraction means that one’s focus changes from one thing to another.
if you enumerate the parts of the body, you can concentrate on your hand, you can concentrate on your toe, you can concentrate on your fears, on your senses,
but you can also assume an image which is more holistic where you say the whole body, or all the sensations, and in that case you are encompassing all of those individual units that you were considering before. I think both are very healthy things to do. l think that the holistic viewpoint is very much alive by having considered all the individual points. But I consider that looking at the
individual parts is slightly unrealistic because they are all interconnected. If you want to see the connections you have to know the analysis; if you want to have a richer synthesis then you have to understand the elements. So that°s the

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balance that one is playing with, almost constantly playing with these two things.
Some people come to the classes who are very much a subject of their senses; they cannot understand life without an emotion leading hither and thither. They don`t understand that it’s possible to consider those emotions slightly objectively, not completely objectively, but to analyze that aspect of themselves as well. And this is especially so in dance, where, in the older traditions ,nota 34,
emotional projection is a primary quality, not that it is taught very well, but through the technical movement ultimately what they are trying to do is to convey an emotional narrative. At this stage in contact, and in some of the other post-modern works, you have a situation in which emotional narrative projection is seriously questioned. Partly because I think one of the main questions about it is: is it healthy to be pretending this stuff and acting it out,
even if from the first :do it” it°s organic to you? Perhaps you work from
improvisations, or your teacher has a great insight into your personality and knows what part of you to bring to the forefront in a performance, but ten years later you can still be doing the same work, and that means you carry the movements, habits arid emotional. connections with you through all that time.
And there again, it°s something that might lead to this perpetual adolescence in dance, with the emotional projections and roles you begin to assume in your early twenties when you perhaps join a dance company and you might have to do those roles and smile those smiles and frown that frown hundreds and hundreds of times a year.

A comparison  to theatre
FB .: Grotowski seems to have attempted to make it real at every occasion.
S.P.: Yes. One of the things he seems to have done in technique is that he asks the students to malte up a new image to accompany physical action, so supposedly you have a strengthening physical activity rigorously done, but each time you do it, you bring to it a different mental image, and that seems to me
nota 34: By older traditions, Paxton refers to any type of dance from the ballet until Cunningham.

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very healthy, because it counter~poses the two worlds in a very lively way and you get a sense of alternatives, you get a sense of play. But in many of the theatre pieces l”ve seen there seem to be two sets of mental images, one appropriate to the piece and the other the world images, plus the actions which are connected to the projections which are pertinent to the work; and l just wonder how healthy a situation it is. A lot of actors are often not very stable persons; though I don’t know exactly what kind of premium to place on stability or what kind of stability might be desirable. There may be realistic
stabilities and unrealistic stabilities, so to speak.
RB.: People often get easily upset if somebody just plays or acts out
emotions and are often thought of as being unstable, but one could actually define that fluidity of emotion by its appropriateness to the situation.
S.P.: Well, it depends on whether the actors of those emotions become lost or not, whether they lose their base or go through so many changes that they have no basis for emotional involvement. They are having emotions without a base, without an outside connection.
RB .: But you feel they actually experience emotion?
S.P.: Do you think the actor can pretend or do you think that the low
brain, for instance, thinks that it°s pretending when itis being asked to weep? l
mean the whole actor is weeping; the conscious brain has said “O.K., now itls time to weep’, and the whole body has to weep, the glands have to weep, the muscles have to weep, the skeleton has to weep, the chemistry has to weep. I think the imagination affects these things, but I don°t think that some parts of the body realize that they are acting. I think they are really doing it. NOTA 35
ln hindsight, Paxton mentions two examples that influenced his thinking on theatre at the time: one is film and particularly concerns the emotional responses provoked by scary or violent films or by tender filmic moments, which elicit tears. ln both cases, the viewers are aware that they are watching fiction, but they are nonetheless emotionally affected. The other example relates to the New York 1965 run of Murat/Sade by Peter Brook. This work, whose
text had been written by Peter Weiss, described the life of inmates in the asylums. In order to develop its characters, Brook and his actors actually visited psychiatric wards, but when they showed their piece in New York (after the London première in 1964), the news spread that some of the cast were exhíbiting psychological difficulties. Though it was just a rumor that
could not be verified at the time, Paxton remembers thinking that it was maybe “possible that
nightly enacting of inmates of an asylum including the troubling figure of De Sade, and the
politics of violence of the French tevolutionary era, might indeed be destabilizing”. (Email
communication from Steve Paxton, 19/12/2013..



RB.: And the body can repeatedly do it night after night, go into these
deep changes that actually happens?
S.P.: Yes.
FB.: You suggested that he [Grotowski] might use different images in
order to gain this state of his body mind. ls this the right understanding of what you said before?
S.P.: Of Grotowskfs technique, yes. But then Grotowski is a radical, a new view. W/e`re not talking really about the bulk of actors, we°re talking about a relative few, a growing number of people who work this way.
FB.: But who are obviously very influential. \What is your special interest
in Grotowski?
SP.: The fact that he is working with emotions in this way, and images in this way, strikes rne as a very powerful tool, because he has taken a step in which the actor is a direct participant in their own training. They are not passive, they are not following instructions in the usual way, but the instructions say: “Take over responsibility for this area, to do the vigorous exercise, and at the same time invent, be constantly involved in the process of being aware of the contrast between the mental world and the physical worlds,
and in that way it should become a synthesis which is full of analysis of the situation.”
Changing life through dancing
FB.: The really important question for me is about permanent changes in one is mind and body. I wonder if you have observed in yourself or in other people such changes coming from your work. I’m not so much talking about

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extraordinaiy split moments, for instance in time slowing down, but more subtle changes concerning the senses, peripheral sense or kinesthetic sense, or what happens to your thought processes or images.
S.P.: The present seems to be the place in time that I have the talent for. It`s perhaps why I developed contact improvisation, or was interested in improvisation. It was a mental position that I felt comfortable with. It°s all very long term and hard to assess, but I suspect that I have lost to some degree the ability to project in time, to make plans and to care about the development of this moment, and the next moment and so on, ten moments or a year from
now. I have been forced to make certain plans, make certain arrangements for the future, and have a desire to fulfill certain tasks that I have begun that I had to postpone and come back to. I”m very tenacious about those kinds of things, but in terms of actual detailed planning, I don”t do that very well. I sometimes wonder if that isn°t a result of having spent ten years in improvisation and
focusing so hard on the moment. And yet I do worry about the future actually; maybe that°s again a reason why I spend so much time in the present. I was raised in a time of war, and then the Atom Bomb came along, then my adolescence came along, and then another war(nota 36 )and that was about the time, sometime towards the end of the fifties, that I started college and decided not to continue with college but to become a dancer (nota37). In a way itls almost like a
rejection of the normal planning for the future, that whole process you know ~serious business or worrying about money or about getting married or any of those so-called normal American concerns were pointless, because perhaps the bomb was going to drop – you know, a sense of impending doom. So there has been in my life and for my generation consistent worry about the future and a
consistent acceptance of idols or models, like Elvis, the Beatles, where “let’s not care, let°s not worry, let’s get involved in our sexuality, let’s get involved in drugs”. In other words, acceptance of what previously had been considered a wasting or wasteful momentary concern as opposed to serious, considered,
nota 36 The Korean “police action” (1950-1953).
nota 37: Paxton went to University in 1957.

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rock-steady planning for the future, laying the foundation for the career and all that. lt’s a chicken and egg situation, isn”t it? That was how l was raised. I found myself interested in dance and improvisation. It could have been because I just couldn°t take seriously this world of famines and bombs and ugly Warfare,
ugly ignoble Warfare, mechanical Warfare, the dehumanisation of that ultimate act of aggression, which previously was a personal act. Maybe that”s why improvisation has come, because it seems less like those acts than almost any other act. It could be considered a rejection or a retreat from those realities.
Maybe it`s the only positive course available, so to speak, because if you do have to take into effect that your family is going to exist in a world of climinishing resources and increasing population, or in the threat of chemical, germ and atom Warfare, maybe those are such distasteful things to consider that the present, and its potential, seems the only one that you can really get involved in. One could say that l do worry about the future, but in a generalizecl Way; unable to focus on the specifics of how to get from now to then. instead l get very concerned with the specific of what lim doing now and
what it feels like and a whole lot of philosophies and procedures that increase that potential, so that there is more to think about now and therefore less and less time to think about then. And whatever insecurities one may feel in performance improvisation, not knowing exactly what one is going to do next and knowing that in a kind of kharmic way it all adds up and it all counts, and
whatever decision you make is going to be decisive in some way. Yet the insecurities of that moment seem so light compared to more considered projections, and makes them seem more desirable just by contrast.

the end



Di Alessandra Palma di Cesnola

nata a Firenze, nel 1960.

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