Injury as Teacher

I’m often able to tell other people when they are injured how much every injury can be a teacher. When it’s not me having to hold back from moving with physical abandon, I see the benefit of learning about our limitations and our vulnerability through our injuries. When I have an injury, my vision is a lot murkier and I have to wade through a lot of resistance before I come to some kind of acceptance of what happened and a curiosity about what I could learn in the new situation. So it helps me to have concrete instances to remember when I’m having a hard time getting the “message” in an injury or obstacle.

Yesterday we had our first showing as part of my CounterPULSE residency. Even though it’s supposed to be a low pressure event, I nonetheless found myself wanting to impress whoever was there in the hopes of receiving a lot of validation about where I am in my process. (Art-making can be such an uncertain path sometimes, and one fraught with insecurity. It’s interesting for me to notice how much I seek affirmation from outside–and how soon after I get such affirmation I’m already “jonesing” for more.)

We had a few things to show, some farther along than others. One that I was especially excited about is a duet I created collaboratively with performers Mickey Kay and Anne-Lise Reusswig. We had made it on the very first day of the residency. It is an exciting duet, with lots of falls, catches, turns, sweeps through space and risky partnering moments. Mickey let me know before the showing that his shoulder was still really bothering him so he shouldn’t move much. I was disappointed by that, but figured if I gave them the assignment to re-craft the duet so that it felt okay with Mickey’s shoulder, but retained as much of the original energy as possible, that probably they’d end up being able to do most of it.

I underestimated Mickey’s injury. Moving athletically was completely off the table for him, and he was thinking that he shouldn’t really dance at all.  So I told Mickey and Anne to just do what was easy for them, and to think of it as a duet in which not much could happen. I thought we’d return to the more full-bodied version of the duet as soon as Mickey was ready.

Then it hit me that a big goal of mine for this next phase is to edit my
choreography way down–to create things with lots of space, stillness
and silence in them. Perhaps this was an arena to experiment with that. And I love what they came up with. Yes, I love the high-powered partnering and momentum of the first version as well, but it was something that is more familiar to me. In having to minimalize their movement, Mickey and Anne found a partnering relationship that drew me in. Rather than blowing me away, it whispered softly and invited me to lean close and witness something much more vulnerable.

Mickey’s injury guided me to a place as a director that I could not have found on my own. There was lots of stillness and understated movements. The physical form of the duet became quite minimal, and that seemed to encourage these dynamic performers to reach out with their energy.

I love the new form this duet has taken, and feel that it’s given me a foothold for the entire work. I can trust spaciousness in choreography, not just theoretically, but from a place of lived experience. I’ve just seen it at work and been touched by it. I was reminded by this duet how presence is really what I’m interested in from performers, and that sometimes we can access presence more powerfully by “doing” less.

Without this injury we probably would have done the duet yesterday as we had first choreographed it. And I’m sure it would have been wonderful, but not nearly as much as it ended up being by holding back. I don’t want Mickey to have his injury, or anyone for that matter. But I am grateful for this lesson, and the many more that I’m sure lie ahead.

Here is a video of some brief excerpts from our showing, followed by the duet I wrote about in this post.
(Note: If the video seems narrower than it’s supposed to be, it might be cut off by the blog’s formatting. You can just click on the video and it will take you to the YouTube site’s version, which should be full size.)

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