Trauma and Trauma Healing. Movement, Dance and Performance.

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A Comparison between the Work of the Dance-company Emio Greco / PC and Some Principles of Peter Levine’s Theory of the Human Body and Trauma Healing.

by: Bram Vreeswijk

In this essay I make a comparison between the work of the choreographers Emio Greco and Pieter C. Scholten and some principles of Peter Levine’s theory of trauma and trauma healing. The work of Emio Greco / PC is not (consciously) meant to heal traumas, but their view on the human body seems to be related to that of Levine somehow..

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I Trauma

I-I The physical and mental mechanisms of trauma
Peter Levine is a psychologist and biologist. Starting point for his theory of – and methodology for – trauma healing is the observation that animals don’t get traumatized.
When an animal is in a situation of emergency it has three possible reactions; fight, flight or freeze. In all cases a lot of energy – and aggression – accumulates in its body, which is released in the action that follows. The accumulated energy is used for the attack, in the case of the fight, for the run (or swim or whatever), in the case of the flight, but also after a freeze animals release energy. Biologists observed that animals do this by ‘shaking it off’ (a sort of ‘spasms’) when the danger is over. 

It is also possible that an animal chooses the fight or the flight option if this becomes possible after a period of being frozen. In those cases the fight or flight has, besides a practical purpose, also a function in releasing the energy that got accumulated.
So, however these situations develop exactly, animals round off a scene of acute danger on an energetic level. A danger occurs, energy accumulates, an action follows which releases the energy.

The reason that, contrary to animals in nature (1) humans can get traumatized, is that we can get into situations in which it is not possible for us (or we don’t perceive the possibility) to shake off energy after we were frozen. We than more or less remain in the ‘immobility’ after the situation of emergency is over. This can lead to the development of all kinds of physical and mental problems (symptoms of trauma) that limit our potential of being an alive human being. Think off: isolation, a closed body posture, over-sensitivity, shallow breathing, perfectionism, depression, tensed muscles, dissociation, addictions, codependency, fear of authority figures, repeating dysfunctional relationships, workaholism, problems with digestion, paranoia, phobias etc..
I (these are not the words that Levine uses) would say that these different symptoms of trauma could be seen as different distortions of the human ‘potential for movement’; ‘immobility’ in the literal sense of not moving enough (depression, isolation), ‘immobility’ in the sense of repeating the same movements over and over again (addictions) or an abundance of movement while loosing the overview on ones situation – entering ‘tunnels’ (workaholism, creating dramas).
– Note: With the human ‘potential for movement’, I also refer to the human possibility to relax, sleep, digest, breath deeply etc. So it doesn’t necessarily need to imply a lot of activity directed outward. Levine talks about this in terms of the ability of the organism to regulate itself.

The impossibility of humans to release the energy after a situation of emergency can have to do with the social aspects of that situation itself, as well as with our capacity to think.

In nature when an animal gets attacked by a predator, the danger is over at a point (if the animal survives it), and accumulated energy can be released in action. But if you are a child that gets abused in a family, or you are in prison and get tortured, the danger remains around in the social situation that you are in. Under these conditions it might be wiser to give no expression at all to the energy that accumulates in your body; to not fight, to not attempt to flee, and not shake the energy off. To remain more or less in the immobility; don’t scream, don’t cry, don’t talk..
(Particularly traumatizing are situations in which it is also physically not possible to move. If you are bound to a chair, or a (hospital) bed or something. To avoid trauma from occurring, it is important to give a victim of, for instance, a car accident the space to move, and express, and to not tie him or her down in an ambulance..)

The potentially traumatizing effect of certain social situations gets reinforced by our capacity to think. We can suppress an impulse to move because we think that it is wiser to give no expression to feelings and sensations that are going on inside our bodies in that situation. A split occurs between our bodies and minds, or the actual situation (that which our bodies experience) and our thoughts (dissociation).
Unfortunately the way children are raised and educated in most of today’s cultures, put a lot of stress on thinking and language capacities, encouraging immobile states of the body in the process. Think of the way children are learned to sit still and read in schools, or the way they should behave at dinner tables. Our ‘civilization’ forces patterns of behavior upon us that increases the chance on a choice for immobility and dissociation in situations of danger, with the development of traumas as a result..


I-II Trauma and the different parts of the human brain

In terms of the structure and evolution of our brain (including the connections between different parts of our brain and our body), the traumatization of human beings can be explained as follows. The brain stem, or reptile brain, deals with the initiation of movement impulses. The limbic system, or mammal brain, deals with feelings, motivations, interaction and relations. And the neocortex or primate brain, deals with thinking, conscious memory, symbols, planning and the containment of impulses. The reptile brain is the older and inner part of our brain. The mammal brain is situated around the reptile brain. And the neocortex is the outer and most recent part of our brain.
When we get traumatized the neocortex ‘decides’ to overrule the reptile and mammal brain which brings our whole body-mind system in a conflict.


I-III The physical and mental mechanisms of trauma healing
Levine developed a method for trauma-healing called ‘somatic experiencing’. Within this method a traumatized person starts with working together with a therapist on becoming aware of his or her own physical sensations (‘felt sense’). After this the purpose of the treatment is to bring the traumatized person’s present conscious thought and memory in touch with the stored physical sensations of the traumatizing event, the energy (anger) that is still there in his or her body and brain. If this connection is made it is possible to release the accumulated energy after all, to shake it off, and get out of the ‘immobility.
Unlike what many, traumatized and not traumatized, people fear, the release of energy doesn’t have to be an act of aggression. Preferably there is no aggressive behavior involved in the process of healing at all (think of the movie of the polar bear). Also the perpetrator (if there was one) doesn’t have to be part of the process. On an emotional level healing trauma has to do just as much, or even more, with becoming able to experience grieve over the things that happened, than to feel anger.
People that release trauma report; feeling restored to life, experiencing new sensations of energy flowing through the body, feeling light, becoming more communicative, becoming more able to connect to other people, seeing more possibilities and feeling and experiencing the ability to make choices, an improved digestion, breathing more freely, a release of tension in the neck and shoulders, a new sense of spirituality..
I-IV To a certain extent, most of us have experienced the mechanisms of trauma..
Most people associate trauma with a violent event or a series of such events that is the cause of the trauma. But in the last decade more and more therapists have started to work with the idea that the principles of trauma and trauma-healing, as described by Levine (and others), also apply for people that grew up in families in which they felt structurally unsafe, and not loved. Without one particularly violent event in which a person freezes, such an upbringing can result in similar symptoms of immobility, ‘in-expressiveness’ and dissociation. In other words; a state of being traumatized.
Also for people who went through such childhoods, a somatic approach, in which the client works on his or her felt sense, is brought into contact with physical sensations from the traumatizing situations of the past, and releases accumulated energy or stored anger, seems to work. Therapists have come to call this category of trauma, ‘developmental trauma’.

Personally I believe that the mechanisms that Peter Levine describes are basically characteristics of the human organism, body and mind. Becoming traumatized is ‘simply’ a possibility of human beings. And I believe that most, if not all, of us went through experiences in which the mechanisms of trauma to a certain extent apply. Without necessarily getting ‘truly traumatized’, most of us have been victims in events, or had to spend a period in social situations that left us immobile, unable to express and/or unable to perceive choices. Later we might have been able to move out of such immobilities, with the help of friends, the help of therapy, a change in the actual situation, or otherwise..
With this relativisation, I don’t want to disrespect the feelings of people that are truly traumatized by war, disasters, violence, incest, etc.. If they choose for recovery, they have to go through a though process, and they deserve all our support in this..


I-V The work of Emio Greco / PC, Victor and Sawami
Back to Victor and Sawami and the work of Emio Greco / PC. As I said, I don’t believe that the work of Emio Greco / PC is (consciously) meant to heal trauma, and I also don’t want to suggest that Victor and Sawami are particularly traumatized people.
What I do believe is that Emio Greco and Pieter Scholten work with certain physical and mental mechanisms that are related to the human possibility of becoming traumatized as well as the possibility to heal from trauma. Also, I believe that the stories that Victor and Sawami told me about their motivations in the work of Emio Greco / PC can be read as stories about ‘healing’, or about desires to find ways to move out of their particular immobilities.

Note: All interview-fragments (1.2) (2.9.2) etcetera, can be found at Motivations for Movement.

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II Victor

II-I Victor: Getting Stock
Victor has been dancing from an early age and always found joy in this. But also from an early age, he experienced, what I call ‘immobilities’ (‘getting stock’) in certain dance situations. This has to do with the performing aspects of dance; being seen and being in competition with others.

“But always with fear, also. (…) Feeling bad about being so exposed.” (1.2)

“When I feel competition, I get stock. (…) This I don’t like in dance, this auditions and competition, ahh.. really strange.” (1.2)

I believe that when Victor experiences such immobilities, to a certain extent he is leaving his body (looking at himself from the outside), ending up in conscious thinking, or the neocortex. Victor wishes:

“That I don’t have always this overview, I know what I am doing, I know what I look like (…) sometimes I am not crazy enough” (2.3.1) (2)

In a fragment where he talks about an audition he had to go to, his body expresses quite some uneasiness, like nausea or disgust. Also it seemed that his perception of reality in that situation got a bit distorted. Things became ‘strange’:

“this atmosphere.. in the air.. everybody was a bit tense.. and everybody is, you know.. we were all staring at each other, you know.. .. hee, hi.. very strange.. .. this I don’t like in dance, this auditions and competition, ahh.. really strange.” (1.2)


II-II Victor: Breaking Through / We just look at each other
A motivation for Victor to work with Emio and Pieter is his wish to move out or overcome his experiences of immobility. As he formulates this, he wants to ‘break through’:

“I wanted to breakthrough (…) I wanted something to breakthrough me (…) That I don’t have always this overview, I know what I am doing, I know what I look like.” (2.3.1)

So far, he didn’t structurally overcome his sensations of ‘getting stock’ but:

“In ‘Extra Dry’ I went through.. sometimes I went through trips.. where I went beyond what I would allow myself to do, or show to somebody else.” (2.3.1)

“Somehow you don’t think.. You don’t have those thoughts that pull you down.” (2.3.1)

For Victor dancing in ‘Extra Dry’ has been an important experience. It gave him a chance to overcome (at least for a moment) his sensations of getting stock. If Victor arrives in ‘the right way’ at the final scene of ‘Extra Dry’ he has experiences, which I, with the ideas of Levine mind, would label as ‘the opposite of trauma’ or ‘the sensation of being healed from trauma’. He feels: reborn, expressive, free, not in the head, not lying, curious, pure, sensitive, safe.. (2.7.2)

At a point he described this state as being close to him self, which, I believe, also means being ‘connected with his body’:

“It’s not that you go beyond yourself, because actually you feel closer to your self. You feel more connected to your self. It solves something in your self, some stupid issues, I don’t know..” (2.3.1) 

When Victor enters this state, being watched doesn’t feel threatening to him any more:

“I don’t know what I am thinking, but, maybe I don’t really think. (…) I look at them (the audience) as they look at me. We just look at each other.” (2.7.2)

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III Sawami

III-I Sawami: Not living in the reality
In the stories Sawami told me about her motivations to become a dancer there is a sense of isolation, of feeling closed off, from ‘reality’ and/or the world around her. Sawami has the wish to move out of this feeling through dance and other physical practices:

“Since very young I was having the feeling that I was not living in the reality. I am blinded, and what I see is not the reality. (…) I want to be able to have the body that can see the reality. Like a cat. (…) If you look at the cat she is always aware of things, no? She doesn’t enter the space like this.. (making stiff and awkward movements).. She is always sensing the space. (…) I want to train my body to see the reality.” (1.6)

Looking back at this video-fragment almost 4 years after having had these conversations, it still impresses me. And its also puts me off balance a bit.. This has to do with Sawami’s use of the words ‘blinded’ and ‘reality’. I think that I do not know the experience of not being able to see the reality..

Allow me to say two different things:

1) From the perspective of Peter Levine’s theory on trauma and trauma healing, Sawami’s ‘feeling’ of not being able to ‘see the reality’ could be interpreted as a form of ‘dissociation’; a form of consciousness ‘leaving the body’ and ‘hiding’ in the neocortex. In that sense this ‘feeling’ could be seen as part of a larger immobility of the body; a getting stock or being frozen. Which could explain, or give a meaning to, the stiff and awkward movements Sawami makes while she illustrates the opposite of a cat. Her own, or the human, body, being closed off from the space around her..
From this perspective Sawami’s ‘desire’ or ‘fantasy’ to ‘train her body to see the reality’ – ‘like a cat’ – completely makes sense. Dissociation is one of the symptoms that traumatized people can develop, and in order to heal people from trauma Levine helps clients in finding their way to connect directly to their physical sensations and become able to let movement appear from their sensations immediately. So, indeed, to become ‘like a cat’..

2) Another thought, or sensation, this, and a few other, video-fragments of Sawami provoke within me is the following: Could it be that I am not living in and not seeing the reality? That my mind, or being, is hiding in the neocortex? In the way Sawami describes the world, space, other people, and herself, there is a poetic beauty and a quality of wisdom that I admire..


III-II Sawami: Space

To my impression of her stories, Sawami’s feeling of not being able to see the reality goes together with a quite special sensitivity for her surroundings, or maybe she has been able to transform her (former?) feeling of isolation into specific skills of being in contact..
Sawami told me she is interested in the relation between her body and spaces both inside and outside her body. (Before entering the field of dance she studied architecture.)

“This feeling of space was interesting to me. (…) Space, and my body, as matter and non-matter, both of them.” (1.3.1)

For dance it has a practical value to be able to sense the spaces inside ones body:

“It’s beautiful and practical. If you don’t have the sense of space inside your body, than you have to do everything yourself.. (making awkward movements using force). If you think of your body as solid matter than it is so hard to move actually. (…) If you look at a very good ballet-dancer, how she is moving, is not from the muscle solid, but from something else that is making her leg light. She is so soft, no? That is because she is aware of the space inside her body.” (1.4)

But apart from this practical value, being able to sense the space inside ones body has much more meanings (on different levels) for Sawami. Meanings, which all might come together in the light movement of a dancer..
Striking for me is that Sawami says that: “If you don’t have the sense of space inside your body, than you have to do everything yourself..” Instead of saying for instance; ‘by force’. I believe that being in touch with space gives Sawami an experience of not being isolated.

In the following passage on the physical position of holding ones hands in prayer, this theme of a relation between being able to sense space and being in contact is also articulated:

“One of my teachers in Japan told me, that when you do this for prayer (bringing hands together) (…) when you think of the space between the hands, that’s the real praying.. When you praying for ‘ooh, I should get money, or something like that’, (…) than you do like this (clapping hands together)!!, no space inside. When you really are praying for someone, somebodies happiness, than you are doing like this (bringing hands together, lightly),.. you are aware of the space between, and that creates the space inside the body (making a circle with her hand around the torso).” (1.4)

Sawami told me this, in a conversation we had after my initial question to her to do a small movement improvisation on her motivation to be a performer. I believe that this image of holding ones hand in prayer touches upon an essence of Sawami’s motivations in dance. Through physical movement Sawami is able to be in contact with space, herself, ‘reality’ (which has a spiritual quality) and other people (real praying, is praying for other people). See also the fragment before ‘prayer’, where Sawami is moving and talks about the position of holding a baby (1.4).


III-III Sawami: Expression

Besides being closed off from reality, another sense of isolation Sawami told me about was an inability to ‘express’, which she experienced when she first started dancing.
She managed to ‘break through’ this immobility during a butoh-workshop in Thailand. (So, already before her work with Emio Greco / PC. – Sawami uses the same words; ‘breaking through’ as Victor, but talks about this in the past tense.)

“One day I had a kind of breakthrough or something. I felt I had something to express.(…) Doing something (…) which is not just staying me doing something. But it created some kind of atmosphere around me. Than I though, ah, o.k., than I have something to express.” (1.6)

Note that also here, for Sawami, being in contact with space (‘it created some kind of atmosphere around me’) goes together with being in contact with other people (‘than I have something to express’).


III-IV Sawami: ‘The Real I’

For Sawami, working with Emio Greco / PC has been a way to deal with her wish to ‘train her body to see the reality’ (by now she has left the company). In several ways she described the movement material of Emio Greco / PC as very ‘real’, and ‘alive’.

“Emio’s material follows the law (of nature), that’s why it is real, that’s why it allows human nature to come out, that’s why it communicates and it is strong.” (2.1.3)

A key concept for understanding the meaning of the work of Emio Greco / PC for Sawami, is what she calls the ‘real I’:

“The work (of Emio Greco / PC) is .. the dance that evokes the real I to come out.. if I can put it in a simple way..” (2.9.2)

I believe that in this concept of the ‘real I’ the themes ‘reality’, ‘space’ and ‘expression’ come together in a quite special way. Sawami told me about the ‘real I’:

Imagine you are in the ocean and a: “Shark is approaching you.. You would still try to escape from it, no? (looking happy).. You would do anything to defend yourself, no?.. I guess that’s the real I (laughing).” (2.9.2)

Such a clear and uncomplicated picture!! There is no doubt about reality (a ‘shark is approaching you’), a clear relation to space (fight or flight), and pure expression (fight or flight). All of this goes together with a sense of relief (laughter)..

In comparison with the work of Levine, I believe, Sawami’s conception of the ‘real I’ could be called the ‘animal body’ or the ‘body that is able to find it’s way through situations of emergency without getting traumatized’.

In the words of Sawami:

“It (the real I) is connected to body intelligence, the intelligence of the body itself.” (2.9.2)

But the ‘real I’ can also be seen as the human body that has overcome ‘trauma’, or other ways in which human consciousness can be hurt.. The ‘real I’ is a state beyond the ‘ego’, a state of just being there..

“(…) self-image, identity will kill your real I (making a movement with her hands that suggests that something gets repressed – is not able to come out).” (2.9.2)

“Real I, human body (pointing at her stomach).” (2.9.2)

“The sense of you being here. (…) There is no need for you to proof that you are whatever.. you are beautiful, you are.. And you are even small, no?” (2.9.2)

Similar to Victor’s description of his sensations at the final scene of Extra Dry (if everything went well), there is a sense of ‘arriving’ in Sawami’s concept of the ‘real I’. Coming home in one’s own body, having a place in it’s surroundings..

Peace.

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IV Emio’s body

Victor and Sawami are dancers that work for a dance-company. They train their bodies, rehearse choreographies and perform for audiences. But as I described above, for them, the meaning of the work of Emio Greco / PC goes beyond ‘simply’ the role of a dancer.(3) They have a wish to ‘transform’ on the level of ‘being’, or to ‘move out’ of certain ‘immobilities’ that they experienced in their lives..
This meaning of the work of Emio Greco / PC for them can also be found in the way they relate to Emio Greco as a person. They talk about him as someone who ‘knows’ about quite essential things..

In the words of Sawami:

“It seems he (Emio) understands what it means to be alive..” (2.2.1)

“Emio’s material follows the law (of nature), that’s why it is real, that’s why it allows human nature to come out, that’s why it communicates and it is strong.” (2.1.3)

For my endeavor in this text, to make a comparison between the work of Emio Greco / PC and the ideas of Peter Levine, a question is: Could this ‘law’, as Sawami calls it, be related to the mental and physical mechanisms of trauma and trauma healing that Peter Levine writes about? I would really like to do some interviews with Emio and Pieter about this subject at a point, but allow me for the moment to speculate about something. Not about the (conscious) ideas of Emio and Pieter in their work, but about Emio’s body. 

emio

Both Sawami and Victor describe Emio as a very energetic person that has a drive to act. In the words of Sawami:

“It was all (the work) coming from the rich life-force that his body has.” (2.2.1)

But Sawami also told me the following about Emio’s body, which is fascinating to me:

“pffhhhh!! (shaking her body).. He has to release something maybe.. maybe same as animals that he has to go.. ppffffrrrrr!! (shaking).. like this.. A horse.., they do always; ppffrrrrr!!. ppffffffrrrrr!!. No? (laughing..).” (2.2.1)

When you look at a horse shaking, the movements seems to come from deep inside it’s body.. I am not a biologist, but I believe this movement of a horse is exactly the type of movement Levine talks about in his work when he says that animals are able to shake off stored energy after a freeze.. (4)
So, this makes me wonder. Could it be that Emio’s body knows about the possibility of shaking off stored energy after a freeze. In the descriptions of Sawami, he seems to be ‘playing’ with this principle.. He is not completely going into a freeze (there is of coarse also not a real situation of emergency, which could cause trauma). But his body is storing energy and than releasing it, which is also the way he works with his dancers.. Emio’s body has an expanding quality:

“Even if it (Emio’s body) is still, it is not like a stone sinking, … it is on the move.. and than as a result hhhrrmm.. he has to release something maybe.. (shaking hands) (…) maybe same as animals that he has to go.. ppffffrrrrr!! (shaking)” (2.2.1)

“The material in ‘Conjunto (di Nero)’, ‘Extra Dry’.. is all made like that actually.. all made with the body which is charged, excited, inspired..” (2.2.1)

I will come back to this in the discussion below about the movement material of Emio Greco / PC..

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V The movement material of Emio Greco / PC

V-I The movement material of Emio Greco / PC: Finding ones way through situations of emergency
Being amongst the audience, I always experienced a sense of despair in the movement material of Emio Greco / PC. When I told Sawami about this, she described her impressions of ‘Extra Dry’, when she first saw the performance, as follows:

“Their mouths had to open.. as if.. fish wanting to be desperately in the water… aaahh, hhh.. (laughing).. aaahh, hhhh!!.. like this.. (mimicking fish gasping for air).. it reminded me of hh.. just one step before getting crazy, because something is not working, and he is desperately trying to make it.. (…) When you need to open the door, somebody is chasing me, and the key doesn’t work, hhrrrmm, something similar (laughing).” (2.2.2).

Compared to the ideas of Levine on trauma, I would say this description of ‘Extra Dry’ expresses a fear of ending up in a freeze (‘crazy’, ‘not working’). But the dancers don’t end up there. As Sawami said about Emio’s body:

“even if it (Emio’s body) is still, it is not like a stone sinking, … it is on the move..” (2.2.1)

I believe, that there is an (conscious and/or unconscious) awareness of the human possibility of trauma in the work of Emio Greco and Pieter C. Scholte and that they use this understanding in their work to guide dancers through ‘situations of emergency’ without getting traumatized.

Below I will say a bit more more about the way in which, I believe, this understanding can be found in the movement material of Emio Greco / PC, but before I want to mention two things to situate the work of the company in relation to the subjects of trauma and trauma-healing:

1) Like all dance and dance-performances, the work of Emio Greco / PC is ‘real’ and ‘fictional’ at the same time. It is ‘real’ because the dancers involved are real human beings going through real experiences. It is ‘fictional’ in the sense that both the practice of training, as well as the performances, are constructions which are not necessary at all. A performance like ‘Extra Dry’, while dealing with situations of emergency, can be canceled at any moment in the case of a situation of real emergency, let’s say a fire in the theater. Although valuable, ‘Extra Dry’ is only an artwork, and in that sense an ‘illusion’.

2) In this project I gave a lot of attention to the personal motivations of Victor and Sawami in their work with Emio Greco / PC. And I framed this as stories about their wishes to transform, and move out of certain immobilities.
I believe that the personal motivations of dancers are an important aspect of the work of Emio Greco / PC. They work with ‘real people’ (their dancers) that have motivations, a character, limitations, a past etc.. For audiences this is a quality of the work that can be sensed, they do not only see ‘dancers’ but real people going through real experiences..
At the same time, I have no idea to which extend Emio and Pieter talk about personal subjects with their dancers. I just don’t know. My estimation is that they do this a lot less than I did in this project.. The primary purpose of the work of Emio Greco / PC is to create dance-performances, and not so much therapy or the personal development of their dancers. The personal presence of a dancer, can be there in a performance, without necessarily having been a topic of conversation in the process of making that performance.


V-II The movement material of Emio Greco / PC: Survival
A way in which Emio and Pieter bring their dancers in a situation of emergency is that the work is physically though. The body has to look for it’s way to survive. Victor told me about ‘Extra Dry’:

“You get very tired, and then you have two choices somehow. (…) You undergo, or you still have hope. You fight, you fight for life. (…) You have this really deep energy of fighting. Breaking through to get to, eh… an end.” (2.3.1)

And Sawami about the ‘jumping exercise’:

“It has to go through exhaustion.. you cannot hold your daily structure, your daily habit, anymore.. (…) a situation of urgency.. (…) than it is interesting.. than the body itself starts thinking.. the body itself starts surviving the situation..” (2.3.2)


V-III The movement material of Emio Greco / PC: Locking and unlocking
Another mechanism that Emio and Pieter work with which brings the body close to a situation in which it could get traumatized is a sense of being ‘locked’. This can be understood both as a situation the body is put in, as well as a state of the body. Sawami told me:

“(…) just one step before getting crazy, because something is not working, and he is desperately trying to make it.. (…) When you need to open the door, somebody is chasing me, and the key doesn’t work, hhrrrmm, something similar (laughing). That kind of situation of urgency. The motor is not doing it for fun. The motor is not doing it for it’s comfort, the motor is doing something urgently to go..” (2.2.2).

And Victor:

“You know this thing of your in the jungle and in order to continue you go like this.. hhrrmm.. hhrrmm.. (movements with the arms) (…) with the big knife. I could feel the same sometimes, but inside myself, unlocking things in order to go front. (…) You have to go through this in order to find the way, in order to find the exit. (…) You are unlocking things inside your own, in order to go on.” (2.5)

In relation to Levine’s description of trauma, this sense of being locked could be compared to both; a traumatizing situation in which a person feels trapped and doesn’t know where to go, as well as a freeze of the body.
I would like to research these possibilities further. Both in it’s physical quality, as well as in the way dancer’s experience and verbalize this.

For now I can understand this in two different ways:

1) As a mechanism in which the body holds back (partially freezes), and accumulates energy that can be released later. Compare the following fragments and look at Sawami’s movements while talking:

“oohhmm.. and then the flame somewhere here (making a circle with the hand over the stomach area), is flaming.. (…) It was all coming from the rich life-force that his body has..” (2.2.1)

“(…) the motor is doing something urgently to go..” (2.2.2)

2) As a construction within the body in which the bigger muscles on the surface of the body, temporarily block the smaller muscles that are closer to the skeleton. These smaller muscles then start searching for new directions for movement, for other ways to move out.. I’ll come back to this in a minute, in relation to Victor’s description of ‘animalism’ and ‘delicacy’ in the work of Emio Greco / PC.


V-IV The movement material of Emio Greco / PC: Animals
In my conversations with Victor and Sawami animals have been very present. Sawami wants to ‘train her body, to see the reality’ ‘like a cat’ (1.6). And she described the ‘real I’, as the reaction that you would have if you are in the ocean and a shark is coming towards you.. (2.9.2)

Victor told me about the movement material of Emio Greco / PC:

“There is an excitement. (…) Ahh..You feel like an animal yourself. (…) The core of it (the movement material of Emio Greco / PC), there is something very animalistic and primitive. And this I like… a lot.” (2.4)

This excitement has to do with survival and the ‘immediacy’ of the life of animals, a state of being alert and on the move:

“The animals.. of coarse, they have their resting moments.. but otherwise.. This idea of I chase, but maybe I am chased at at the same time. So I am always ready, for anything.. I like this idea.” (2.4)

Yet, Victor stresses that in this excitement and immediacy, of the work of Emio Greco / PC, something happens which is very different from a (stereotypical) ‘beast’ fighting for life:

“But still in this animalistic there is something that is thin, you can see precision, it’s not animalistic in a way like aahhhrrr!!.. (making a sort of gorilla-posture) like, I am just a beast. (…) It’s a lizard you know, this kind of animal. It’s a bird, tsi, tsi, tsi.. So it is still delicate. It is delicate at the same time.”  (2.4)

Which brings me back to the topic of being locked, and big muscles at the surface of the body. For me, Victor’s ‘gorilla posture’ illustrate the body blocking itself by using only (or in the first place) big muscles. And I believe that the delicacy that Victor talks about, has to do with initiating movement from the small muscles close to the skeleton.
You might want to compare this with the gestures Victor makes with his hands while he talks about ‘unlocking’ in a movement sequence of ‘Extra Dry’ (2.5).

I believe that ‘locking’ goes together with big movements of the limbs, and moments of holding a posture, while ‘unlocking’ has to do with finding directions (ways out) using muscles close to the spine.
(I am not sure if ‘spine’ is the right word. Should it be ‘inside the torso’? Victor points at his sternum, but I believe he suggests that the unlocking happens deeper inside his body. See also the discussion below on ‘a thin line’.)


V-V The movement material of Emio Greco / PC: A thin essential energy
In watching the videomaterial of Victor and Sawami, I noticed a difference in their gestures while they were talking about the ‘essence’ of the movement material of Emio Greco / PC (2.11). While Sawami tends to points at her stomach when she talks about for instance the ‘real I’ (2.9.2) or ‘the fire is burning’ (2.2.1), Victor is often drawing ‘a thin line’, a vertical line through his body. This line seems to be situated close to his spine, but it is not his spine. It is an energy:

“After such a trip (‘Extra Dry’) you have only this (moving hand over his sternum).. thin energy. Not in the sense of little, but in the sense of essential (drawing a vertical upward line with his finger in the air)” (2.11)

For Victor this ‘thin energy’ is a subject that is not so easy to talk about. In his dancing he explores if it is possible to use his breathing to activate this ‘thin energy’. An energy which might be the source of all movement:

“How can you use this breathing. To activate this thin.. ..? How can you maybe emphasize the breathing.. in order.. in order for the breathing to make you move.. to help you move from this essential source.. this essential.. this source of initiation.” (2.11)

Although Victor’s words are a bit vague (or searching), for me – in my endeavor to make a comparison between the work of Emio Greco / PC and Levine’s description of trauma and trauma healing – a lot of subjects seem to come together here.. Maybe you want to look (again) at the polar bear movie.

A comparison / Two story lines:

– The polar bear is running for it’s life till it get’s shot with an anaesthetic. / Victor describes ‘Extra Dry’ as a survival trip, before he ends up in the final scene where he feels save.
– The polar bear end’s up in a freeze, and moves out of that. / Victor describes ‘Extra Dry’ as a trajectory in which he is constantly locking and unlocking his body (‘finding the exit) until he feels liberated in the final scene.
– The polar bear is moving it’s whole body to shake off accumulated energy and finishes this by breathing in and out very deeply a few times. / Victor is exploring the ways in which his breathing can help him to move from what he calls an ‘essential source’ or a ‘source of initiation’. This ‘essential source’ becomes more accessible to him after having gone through the survival trip of ‘Extra Dry’.

Now, about this ‘essential source’ or ‘source of initiation’. According to Peter Levine, the reptile brain or brain stem deals with the initiation of movement impulses. The primate brain, or neocortex deals with the containment of impulses. The reptile brain or brain stem is situated on the top of the spine. And most of the nerves that communicate between the brain and the rest of the body, follow the spine. So could it be that this ‘thin energy’ that Victor is experiencing, is the direct communication between his reptile brain and the rest of his body, without, or with only a little, containment of the neocortex?

I asked Victor what his favorite animal is. He resisted a bit in making a choice because he appreciates all animals with their different movement qualities. But after some persistence from my side, he mentioned the lizard and the snake:

“(…) this reptile quality. It can be fluid.. but very.. like this (meandering movement with the hand) and than ffffrrtt!!.. Bram: This alertness! Victor: Yeah.. but it is also.. (soft round movements with the hand) not constantly in this fear.. That I can have the both, of being (making a small meandering ‘dance’ with his whole body).. (…) When they are still it is also hhrrrr!! (spreading hands) .. really stillness that is bbppmm.. (hands pushing down) They become broad, they can even disappear (…) They can hide themselves you know, they really have this quality that you don’t see them (small laughter) they disappear.. and at the same time when you come to close, wwwrraaahh!!! They can explode (laughter), being sharp you know, wwrroem!!.. Not controlled, but very directed, very controlled, this energy.. (…) I would say this.., and I feel it! It is related to me.” (2.4)

It seems clear that the movement quality that Victor is describing is indeed the movement quality of an animal that doesn’t get ‘limited’ by feelings and relations (mammals, limbic system) or conscious thought (humans, neocortex).


V-VI The work of Emio Greco / PC: Being seen
Above, I described some ways in which the movement material of Emio Greco / PC can bring their dancers in a ‘situation of emergency’.
Here I want to focus on another, yet related, aspect of their work, namely composition and the social conditions of performances. The way Emio and Pieter deal with the fact that their choreographies, and with this, their dancers, are being seen by an audience.

As discussed before, Victor struggles with a resistance against being seen. For him (like many other people) it brings the risk of ‘getting stock’ (1.2).
In his texts Levine doesn’t specifically pay attention to the subject of being seen, but for me it seems evident that being seen can contribute to conditions in which one could get traumatized. Imagine that you get tortured.. Now imagine you undergo the same acts of torture while a cheering crowd is watching you and the torturer..
I also have to think of the polar bear movie, the polar bear laying paralyzed on the ground while the biologists are standing around it, watching..

Interestingly Victor proposed to extensively pay attention to the final scene of ‘Extra Dry’, and the conditions of being watched in that scene, in reaction to my wish to talk about the essence of the work of Emio Greco / PC.
In the final scene of ‘Extra Dry’ the dancers explicitly become ‘exposed’; they stand in front of the stage, they don’t move very much, they are tired, they stretch out, and they look at the audience. A quiet scene which comes after an amazing amount of movement. In the way Victor described it, the whole choreography of ‘Extra Dry’ could be seen as a preparation of the dancer’s body for this final scene.

Victor experiences the trajectory of ‘Extra Dry’ resulting in its final scene, as a chance to overcome his resistance against being seen. He calls this ‘breaking through’. Words that can be taken literally as a breaking through his resistance against being seen, as well as breaking through the trajectory and the conditions of ‘Extra Dry’.
Above I wrote, on the level of the body, about the way Victor describes ‘Extra Dry’ as a series of locks he has to unlock. I believe that this sense of being locked gets reinforced by the social conditions of ‘Extra Dry’; the fact that Victor has to move according to the choreography of Emio and Pieter, and that he is being watched by an audience.
For Victor performing ‘Extra Dry’ can go in two different ways. If he ‘undergoes’ he becomes a ‘victim’ (‘prisoner’) of the ‘construction’ (‘Extra Dry’) he is in. His experience of the situation he is in than, resembles Levine’s description of the conditions in which a person could get traumatized. If he ‘breaks through’ he becomes an ‘owner’ (together with the other dancer in the piece) of the situation is in. His experience of the situation than resembles Levine’s description of an animal / person that finds his way through a situation of emergency as well as Levine’s description of the experiences of a person that heals from trauma.

Let us first look at what happens when Victor ‘undergoes’ and becomes a victim:

“The time that it doesn’t work, the times that I am suffering and feel really naked.. I think of the audience, they see me for an hour, suffering, and so pathetic (…) I kind of think they are ‘voyeur’ you know (…) voyeur of my pain. Sometimes I had this thought, not liking it you know. (…) I want to go behind the ‘coulissen’ (wings). I want to hide.” (2.7.2)

If Victor ‘undergoes’ he tends to think (the neocortex) a lot, and his body get’s locked in the shapes of the choreography. About a failed attempt to show the final scene to me in the studio, Victor explained:

“Now I was still busy with the movement, the shape of it, how it has to look. (…) I was to tensed. (…) I was to much in the head. (…) I’m doing it also for you, so I try to do good, my best, but at the same time.. I don’t allow myself, to do.. to do my way.. I can get stuck in ‘how it has to be.’” (2.7.2)

If Victor manages to ‘break through’ the whole situation (his own body, the structure of ‘Extra Dry’, the fact of being seen) changes in his experience:

“It can be just hard. And I don’t like this people to look at me, and I don’t want to look at them. (…) I still think of myself (pointing at his head) looking at them. And other times, I don’t really know what I am thinking, but maybe I don’t really think.. and I feel.. I look at them, as they look at me, so we just look at each other you know.. For a while we are both, just curious of each other.” (2.7.2)

I believe the sense of equality and exchange in looking in this description of ‘breaking through’ is very important. “We just look at each other.” Instead of: “I don’t like this people to look at me”, in Victor’s description of the times that he ‘undergoes’.
When the act of looking is part of a power relation, in which a crowd is looking at a person, and a person / victim isn’t able to look back, than, I believe, that situation becomes potentially traumatizing. Think also of the scene of the biologists looking at the polar bear..

Together with this change in the experience of looking while ‘breaking through’, Victor becomes the ‘owner’ of the situation (‘Extra Dry’). He doesn’t function (anymore) in a construction made by Emio and Pieter, but communicates himself. (Which is, by the way, also the intention of Emio and Pieter..)

“I wish (…) to be able do it for myself. Not that I do it, because it is my job, and there is audience so I do it. (…) But still that this excitement comes from the piece, from the material, from me. (…) They (Emio or Pieter), insist on the fact that it is my partner and I doing it. It is our trip. (…) Everything is in my hands. (…) Those moments are mine. (…) Mine, or with my partner. It is not anymore Emio or Pieter. It is really us. I was talking (…) I was liberated for saying it.” (2.6)

For Victor ‘breaking through’ in ‘Extra Dry’ can be a cathartic experience. Not unlike clients of Levine, that heal from trauma, Victor describes his sensations of the last scene of ‘Extra Dry’ (if he manages to ‘break through’) as a liberation on the level of ‘being’:

“When you get to this last part, you feel like reborn, like pure.” (2.7.2)

zwart-streepdun

VI Retraumatization

I started this essay with describing Levine’s theory of trauma. According to Levine, trauma occurs when a person freezes in a situation of emergency and is unable to release the energy that accumulates in his or her body, after the situation of emergency is over. The result of this can be that a person more or less remains in a freeze (get’s stock), in different aspects of his or her life (for instance; he or she develops a fear of intimacy and/or fear of authority figures). Another aspect of the life of a traumatized person can be that his or her body starts to look for a way to release the accumulated energy after all, to ’round off’ the scene that caused the trauma. This can lead to (unconscious) reenactments of the original traumatizing scene. A well known example of this is the person who gets sexually abused as a child and later becomes a prostitute. He or she, is looking for a way to release the accumulated energy (anger) after all, but can’t, and get’s caught up in circles of repetition..

Above I suggested that there are certain similarities between Victor’s stories about ‘breaking through’ in ‘Extra Dry’ (in relation to his childhood experiences in dance), and the basic story-line of traumatization and trauma-healing that Levine sketches in his work.
Already early in his life Victor experienced a fear of being watched while dancing, and sensations of ‘getting stock’ under these conditions. In ‘Extra Dry’, which generates a “really deep energy of fighting” (2.3.1), Victor (sometimes..) is able to overcome his experiences of ‘getting stock’..

Yet, Victor’s descriptions of the movement material of ‘Emio Greco / PC’ and his experiences in ‘Extra Dry’ could also be read as a story of retraumatization. There is one passage in the conversations that (for me) suggests such an interpretation.

At a point,Victor told me that he feels like ‘getting addicted’ to sensation, in his work with ‘Emio Greco / PC’:

“By learning the training, the technique, you kind of get addicted to sensation.. in ‘Extra Dry’ there are sensations.. ahh.. in all the pieces, there are sensations that are good ahh!!.. it feels good. (Showing some movement material.) I don’t know if it is by working it.. or by doing it so many times, but.. you get addicted. Or maybe it is the way of working, you are constantly in a research of getting it right.. that than, you get kind of obsessed..” (2.1.2)

People get addicted to substances or behavior that give them the illusion of being a solution to their problems, but it is not. Many alcoholics, for instance, tell that when they started drinking they thought that alcohol was helping them to be able to be in touch with other people, while later they realized that alcohol in fact was making them more and more lonely.. Obsessions have a similar function of avoiding the ‘real problem’. A person with agoraphobia might place his or her fear of public spaces, between the (for that person very complicated) act of meeting people, and developing relationships based on trust..

So I could speculate that Victor becomes ‘addicted’ to and ‘obsessed’ by the movement material of Emio Greco / PC, because it offers him the illusion of a possibility to overcome childhood experiences of getting stock. While actually, he is reenacting such experiences without finding a way to ‘truly’ release the energy that has accumulated in his body..

Well.. this could be. It is also just speculation.. Let me emphasize again that I don’t believe that Victor is a particularly traumatized person. With the word ‘addiction’, he probably in the first place expresses that he likes the movement material of Emio Greco / PC very much. And the word ‘obsession’ most likely means, for him, in the first place, something like ‘intensity’.. Ways of using these words that are very common in everyday language, particularly by people that never experienced problems with addictions or obsession..

A more important point for me is the following: I believe that a lot of artists, artworks, and processes of creating art, in one way or another deal with forms of ‘trauma’. And that in art it is often difficult to separate ‘trauma healing’ from ‘retraumatization’. The first examples that come to my mind, are Vincent van Gogh’s self portraits, all the paintings of Francis Bacon, and the struggle with stage-fright of the popular Dutch singer Andre Hazes (yet, similar struggles can be found in the lives of many, many, performance artists). (5)

The relation between art and trauma is complex. Also because the concept of ‘art’ in itself is already complex. What is art? What is the function of art? In this essay I will not try to give answers to these questions, but I allow me to say two things that I consider relevant in addressing the relation between trauma and art.

1) All forms of trauma healing imply a way of ‘revisiting’ the ‘scene’ (which might be the conditions in which a person lived for a longer period in his or her life) that caused the trauma. This scene cannot be changed or made undone, but the memory and (physical) experience of this scene can be ‘reworked’ in the present, according to the principles of a particular approach to trauma healing.
In somatic experiencing the idea is that the physical experience of the traumatizing event is stored in the body of the traumatized person, and that the energy (anger) that was accumulated in his or her body during the traumatizing event can be released in the here and now, if the client is able to have a conscious relation to the memory of this traumatizing scene, while feeling his or her present physical sensations..

I believe that most (6) artists in their work relate to their past (physical) experiences. This can be any experience: being for the first time in a city, sounds from childhood, a dialogue while being in love, landscapes.., as well as experiences in learning a technique of making art, dance-training, earlier works of the artist him or herself and watching or listening to the work of others..
These past experiences of the artist get a place in the process of creating new work. They become ‘reworked’. Not unlike cooking, when you try a variation on a recipe, based on something you have tasted during your holidays..

So a similarity between trauma healing and artistic work is that both have a sense of reworking past experiences.

2) An important difference between trauma-healing and making art, is that the purpose of the process of making art is, not to heal the artist, but to make art-works. Art-works that are more or less separate from the body and being of the artist (interesting about dance and other forms of performance-art is that the artwork ‘remains’ involves the real bodies of real people). And art-works that function beyond the individuals that make the artworks. Artworks are experienced by the sensing bodies of audiences, presented in theaters, shown in galleries, stored in archives, talked about by people, represented in media etc.. Art-works function on the level of the ‘group’, and the ‘collective consciousness’.

About a recent choreography ‘Extremalism’, Emio and Pieter write:

‘Extremalism is about the way mankind responds to today’s crisis. What does a body do in an extreme situation?’

I would like to say that I consider this relation to ‘mankind’, an enormous beauty, strength and value in art. At the same time I would like to say that this involves a risk for individual artists that experienced forms of trauma in their lives. For a traumatized person creating art can have a function of staying in denial of ones trauma and enter into circles of retraumatization. This by reworking material that resembles ones personal traumatizing scene but is not ones personal traumatizing scene. And by working on the collective conscious without (necessarily) becoming conscious oneself.
Similar mechanisms can be found in the life of the traumatized caregiver that get’s addicted to helping people that went or go through the most horrible situations, while the caregiver refuses to look at his or her own past.

If you are an artist that experienced a form of trauma in your life. I would encourage you to deal with this (also) outside of your artistic work. Look for a method, a therapist and/or a self help group that you can trust. I believe that, by now, we can let go of the romantic ideal of the ‘suffering artist’. And more in general; I believe we can let go of the idea that there is an ‘essence’, ‘truth’ or ‘virtue’ to be found in suffering..

We are all flowers moving in the light..

zwart-streepdun

VII   Physical qualities of the ‘traumatized’ and the ‘non-traumatized’ body

In his books Levine (1997, 2010) extensively describes the possible reactions of an animal and a human body in situations of emergency. Also he pays detailed attention to the working together of the human body and brain, during a traumatizing event, in a state of being traumatized, and during the process of trauma-healing.
What Levine doesn’t do in his book, is giving an overview of physical qualities or characteristics of the human body in a state of being traumatized, and in a not traumatized state (or a state of being healed from trauma). In his stories about clients, examples of movies etc. he mentions possible conditions of the human body here and there, but he doesn’t systematically deal with this subject. I don’t know why he doesn’t do this (or didn’t do this yet), but I can imagine two different reasons:

1) The physical characteristics of being traumatized are different for different people.
I am sure that this is a reality. Just imagine a hyper-alert and a depressed person. Both can be symptoms of PTSS (post traumatic stress syndrome), and to make it more complicated, these symptoms can also go together for a person..
Levine mentions at a point in his work that it is important to develop our own body awareness (‘felt sense’). Than our bodies will tell us where our ‘blockages’ are..

2) Levine developed a course for ‘somatic experience practitioners’. It could be that he discusses this topic in these courses, and not in his books, so that this knowledge will only be applied by certified people in the context of therapy.

For me there are two reasons why I believe it is important and valuable to have conversations about the possible physical qualities of the traumatized and the non-traumatized body outside of the context of therapy as well.

1) I believe that the mechanisms of trauma and trauma healing that Levine describes, are working in everybody’s (every body) lives. Also in the lives of people that are not traumatized (or didn’t become traumatized yet). An understanding of these mechanisms can help us to avoid trauma, and can improve the qualities of our lives, including our relationships with others and our planet. (See also Levine’s publication; ‘Trauma-Proofing Your Kids. A Parents’ Guide for Instilling Confidence, Joy and Resilience’ (2008)).

2) Conversations about the possible physical qualities of the traumatized and not-traumatized body can support people in developing their own physical awareness or ‘felt sense’. This doesn’t mean that in these conversations (research) we have to look for strictly defined universal characteristics, or inevitable cause and effect relationships (‘if your muscles are tensed, that must mean that you are traumatized’). But words uttered in an exploring (phenomenological) way, could function as pointers that can help people in becoming more aware of what is going on with their bodies, what happens in the working together of their bodies and minds, and to find out how events or patterns from the past are still working in their ‘systems’..
Similar to the way in which in dance-research, or dance-training, spoken words go together with physical movement, in order to find out what is going on with individual bodies, or bodies in relation to each other.

I would love to do a project in which people who are ‘recovered’ from trauma, or who are pretty stable in their process of trauma healing, do the ‘Double Skin, Double Mind’ workshop of Emio Greco / PC, in order to have conversations with them about the way they experience their bodies and ‘beings’ in this movement material (as well as there daily lives, and the period in which they were still suffering from trauma). The workshop ‘Double Skin, Double Mind’ is suitable for amateur and non-dancers, and includes, besides the ‘jumping exercise’, work on breathing, stretching and improvisation..

Having not done this yet.. allow me for the moment to imagine some directions such conversations about the physical qualities of the traumatized and non-traumatized body could take, based on the conversations I had with Victor and Sawami on their experiences of immobilities and mobility in the work of Emio Greco / PC.

zwart-streepdun

VIII Some possible physical qualities of the immobile body

Traumatized people were frozen (mimicking a death body) during a state of emergency, and were unable to release the energy that accumulated in their bodies during this period of being frozen after the emergency was over. According to Levine, traumatized people get stock in a state in which they are ‘not really living’, and ‘not really dying’.
How is this state of ‘not really living’, and ‘not really dying’ experienced by a traumatized individual in terms of his or her physical sensations? How can this be recognized by that individual, and how can this experience be communicated to others? Could an awareness of such physical sensations, help traumatized people to experience new choices in their lives?
I believe that Victor and Sawami’s stories about experiences of immobilities versus feeling alive, in the movement material of Emio Greco / PC, offer some clues on this subject..

a) Being in the head and the daily structure of the body
After a failed attempt to ‘break through’ in the studio, Victor told me that he was; ‘in the head’, had tensed muscles, and focused to much on the outside form of his body:

“Now I was still busy with the movement, the shape of it, how it has to look. (…) I was too tensed. (…) I was too much in the head. (…)” (2.7.2)

I imagine that this experience of being ‘too tensed’ and being ‘too much in the head’, as described here by Victor, is very recognizable for traumatized people once they become (for instance with the help of therapy) aware of their bodies. I also believe – which is actually a bit of a disturbing thought – that similar physical states of being ‘too tensed’ and ‘too much in the head’ can be found in the daily lives of many, many people, whether they are conscious of this or not..
In ‘The Absent Body’ (1990) the philosopher and phenomenologist Drew Leder argues that without specific forms of training, most (Western) people are hardly aware of their bodies, yet also, that being not aware of ones body implies a specific (for that person familiar and unconscious ) pattern of moving and holding once body.
A lot of people (including me) that work behind computers, or spend a lot of time reading books, complain about tensions in their neck and shoulders. I believe that such tensions in the neck and shoulders are a way to ‘cut off’ the head from the rest of the body, and as such are a physical construction that supports not being aware of the body as a whole.. Just like for Victor ‘being in the head’ goes together with tensions in his body.

In a minute I’ll come back on what Victor said above about being ‘busy’ with ‘the shape’ of the movement, but allow me first to switch to something Sawami told me about the ‘daily structure’ of her and/or the human body.

Sawami told me about the ‘jumping exercise’:

“It has to go through exhaustion.. you cannot hold your daily structure, your daily habit, anymore.. (…) a situation of urgency.. (…) than it is interesting.. than the body itself starts thinking.. the body itself starts surviving the situation..” (2.3.2)

In order to feel alive it is helpful, for Sawami, to leave her ‘daily structure’ or ‘daily habit’. It becomes ‘interesting’, for her, in a ‘situation of urgency’, in which ‘the body itself starts thinking’.
In comparison with the work of Levine the ‘jumping exercise’ could be seen as a state of flight, or maybe also of fight. A state in which the body is able to release energy. While the bodies ‘daily structure’ or ‘daily habit’ might be compared with a state of being more or less frozen (7).
I imagine that the state of being more or less frozen, or ‘not really living’ and ‘not really dying’, of traumatized people, pretty much resembles the ‘daily structure’ or ‘daily habit’ lots of ‘normal’ people live in. Being traumatized is not a state of not moving at all (as the freeze, during a traumatizing event), but a state of limited movement. A state of limitation that in the Western world can easily become part of one’s daily life. As I picture this, these limitations get reinforced by the physical structures of the interiors we live in; chairs, couches, computers, televisions, kitchens etc..

b) Not having space inside your body
Another subject in relation to mobility versus immobility that Sawami stressed in our conversations is the importance of experiencing a ‘sense of space’ inside your body:

“If you don’t have the sense of space inside your body, than you have to do everything yourself.. (making awkward movements using force). If you think of your body as solid matter than it is so hard to move actually. (…) If you look at a very good ballet-dancer, how she is moving, is not from the muscle solid, but from something else that is making her leg light. She is so soft, no? That is because she is aware of the space inside her body.” (1.4)

The opposite of experiencing a ‘sense of space inside your body’, Sawami describes as thinking of ‘your body as solid matter’ or ‘muscle solid’. I imagine this ‘state of being solid’ could also could be a characteristic of the ‘traumatized body’. The body remaining close to death.. While the alive, non-traumatized body, is more likely to be able to experience space inside..
This thought could be checked in conversations with people that are in a process of healing from trauma..
c) The outside form of the body; the gorilla, the shield, the turtle
Above I quoted Victor on his failed attempt to ‘break through’:

“Now I was still busy with the movement, the shape of it, how it has to look. (…) I was too tensed.” (2.7.2)

Victor is not able to ‘break through’ because he is busy with the ‘shape’ or the ‘outside form’ of his movement and/or his body, which goes together with being ‘tensed’. For me, this brings to mind another passage of our conversations in which he told me about the ‘delicacy’ of the ‘animalistic’ in the movement material of Emio Greco, as well as the opposite of this ‘delicacy’:

“But still in this animalistic there is something that is thin, you can see precision, it’s not animalistic in a way like aahhhrrr!!.. (making a sort of gorilla-posture) like, I am just a beast. (…) It’s a lizard you know, this kind of animal. It’s a bird, tsi, tsi, tsi.. So it is still delicate. It is delicate at the same time.” (2.4)

What interests me in the passage (video) above is the ‘gorilla-posture’ that Victor makes, tensing up the big muscles in his arms, shoulders and neck. I imagine that traumatized people tend to tense their big surface muscles, in an (still continuing) attempt to protect the inside of their bodies (or selves), and in that way have less access to, or awareness off, the smaller deeper muscles around their bones. If this line of thought is correct, traumatized people might loose the delicacy of their bodies. The ability to become like; “a bird, tsi, tsi, tsi..” (2.4).
Other images that come to my mind in relation to the ‘gorilla-posture’ that Victor makes, are the bodies of bodybuilders in the gym, lifting weights in front of the mirror, becoming bigger and more tensed while loosing flexibility. And Wilhelm Reich’s (a psychoanalyst) notion of ‘muscular armour’. A term he uses to refer to the tensions that people develop in their postures as a sort of shield to protect themselves from outside threats as well as from internal desires. I believe Reich’s notion of a ‘muscular armour’ is very much related to Sawami’s experience of herself as ‘a turtle’ in the period that she entered the company of Emio Greco / PC.
Having had ‘a shield’ for a while, seems to have been effective for her (look at her movement while talking):

“I had this confidence, that this strange ugly creature like me, will have something strong in there. (…) (She explains a bit about a Japanese fairytale about a turtle:) I had this image that I am a turtle, hiding like this, very ugly.. (bringing hands together, lifting shoulders, bending head). But inside this shell, I am actually hm, hm, hm. (…) I had this hidden strength, I will beat you up some day!” (1.7)

zwart-streepdun

IX Some possible physical qualities of the mobile or alive body

IX-I Some possible physical qualities of the mobile or alive body: a, b, c
I believe that the opposites of the qualities a, b, c mentioned in the paragraph above, are qualities of the mobile or alive body.
a) Being in the body and leaving the daily the daily structure of the body.
Instead of being in the head and holding the daily structure of the body, I believe that Victor and Sawami both experience themselves as being in the body and leaving their daily structures when they feel mobile and alive..

Look at Victor’s body, his happiness, while he compares himself with a snake. (I assume that ‘being like a snake’ is not Victor’s daily structure, but something that he found in dancing or otherwise exploring movement.):

“In the Chinese sign, I am snake (…) I am snake, I move like a snake (moving spine, laughing)” (2.4) 

Sawami:
“It has to go through exhaustion.. you cannot hold your daily structure, your daily habit, anymore.. (…) a situation of urgency.. (…) than it is interesting.. than the body itself starts thinking.. the body itself starts surviving the situation..” (2.3.2)

For me it would be very interesting to have conversations with non-dancers, that are in a process of healing from trauma, after they went through the movement-material of Double Skin / Double Mind. This movement-material has strong elements to take a person out of his or her ‘daily structure’..

b) Having space inside ones body
For both Victor and Sawami being mobile and alive is connected to the experience of having space inside their bodies. Again look at the joy they express, when they talk about this subject.

Victor:

“Your body was on fire for a while. (…) Your flesh, and especially the skin, are extremely sensitive. (…) You can feel your skin touching the air.(…) All the space that is inside the skin it is, eh.. it is space, hi..” (2.7.2)

Sawami:

“If you look at a very good ballet-dancer, how she is moving, is not from the muscle solid, but from something else that is making her leg light. She is so soft, no? That is because she is aware of the space inside her body.” (1.4)
c) The small muscles inside the body; delicacy

Victor:

“(…) there is something that is thin, you can see precision, it’s not animalistic in a way like aahhhrrr!!.. (making a sort of gorilla-posture) like, I am just a beast. (…) It’s a lizard you know, this kind of animal. It’s a bird, tsi, tsi, tsi.. So it is still delicate. It is delicate at the same time.” (2.4)

Sawami:

“As you train yourself to be able to articulate mostly in this area (gesturing around the trunk) you can find much more entrances to the reality.” (2.10)

Also the qualities b) en c) could be checked in conversations with people who are in a process of trauma-healing, preferably in combination with doing movement work.


IX-II Some possible physical qualities of the mobile or alive body: immediacy – the stomach, the spine – the extremities

Sawami:

“(…) somehow it makes sense.. of, hh.. the feeling of, hh.. I here (pointing at the belly).” (2.9.3)

“It (the real I) is connected to body intelligence, the intelligence of the body itself.” (2.9.2)

“All the movement was internal (pointing at the organs).., internal that was transferred immediately to the extremities.” (2.9.3)

At the end of my text in 2012 (3.2) on the conversations I had with Sawami, and particularly her notion of ‘the real I’, I wrote: I am fascinated by what Sawami is saying about the connection between the belly and the unconsciousness, and about the instinct to survive.. And I believe that this is a very relevant subject (for all of us) that is worth researching further.

Based on the comparison with the work of Levine, I now (2016) believe it is possible to say something more about this. I also still believe this subject is worth researching further..

Animals don’t get traumatized, they release the energy that get’s accumulated in a situation of danger with a fight or flight reaction, or by shaking it off after a freeze. For humans such a release of energy, after a situation of danger, is not always possible because of the social situations we can be in, and because of our thinking. When we get traumatized our neocortex overrules the reptile brain, which can become a handicap for the rest of our lives..

I believe that Emio and Pieter in their work experiment with situations of emergency. That they guide their dancers through situations of emergency without getting traumatized, and that in that sense their work is truly ‘animalistic’. I also believe that through their way of working their dancers get trained in specific ways of letting the neocortex, mammal and reptile brain work together. To ‘work around’ the neocortex for moments, or somehow make the neocortex ‘serve’ the mammal and reptile brain.. I don’t know exactly..
In this the relation between the ‘center’ of the body (where according to Sawami the ‘real I’ is located) and the extremities seems to be particularly important. Referring to certain ideas of a Japanese ballet-teacher Sawami told me:

“The department of the brain that governs conscious movement is going to the extremities.. and.. hh.. this part (pointing at the belly), like you say; you have a guts. And this hh.. guts, is where the ego is located, ego or sense of I, the sense of.. hh.. myself. But this sense of myself cannot be consciously modulated. (…) It’s there, or not. (…) This teacher (Japanese ballet-teacher) said that the exercise of ‘fondu’, is the consciousness and unconsciousness, melt together. That is the meaning of ‘fondu’ he said. (…) I don’t understand everything, but somehow it makes sense.. of, hh.. the feeling of, hh.. I here (pointing at the belly).” (2.9.3)

For me the image that Sawami sketches of; different departments of the brain (the unconscious and the conscious), the working together of different parts of the brain with different parts of the body (the belly and the extremities), and the location of ‘the real I’ (the belly), seems to be very valuable..
In comparison with the work of Levine I would say the ‘real I’ is the ‘animal body’, or the reptile and mamal brain working directly on the body without getting blocked by the neocortex.

Sawami:

“Shark is approaching you.. You would still try to escape from it, no? (looking happy).. You would do anything to defend yourself, no?.. I guess that’s the real I (laughing).” (2.9.2)

But more importantly, I am fascinated by the way Sawami maps the working together of different aspects of the brain on the body. I believe this fits with current insights in neurobiology that locate mental processes not in the brain, but in the whole body (brain, nerves, organs, muscles etc.) (see Damasio: 1994). And I believe this sort of ‘mapping’ offers an entrance to have conversations about neorobiological theories (Levine’s theory on trauma, but also the ideas of other scientists, on other subjects) in terms of physical experiences that are recognizable for everybody..

I don’t have the physical skills of a ballet-dancer. But I can recognize what Sawami is saying in my own body. (In this time has played a role. My conversation with Sawami has changed the way I perceive myself.) I (now) imagine the hands; with which we make so much voluntary movements, organizing the world around us, as being particularly connected to the neocortex or conscious thought. And the organs; which are moving without us controlling them, where our emotions are located, and with which we digest ‘stuff’, as connected to the mammal and reptile brain or the unconscious. I also believe we increase our human potential (on many many levels) if we connect our guts to our extremities; our hands, our feet, and the words we speak..

I would love to talk with other people, dancers, and non-dancers, about this subject. Preferably in combination with doing movement work. It would be very interesting to hear how different people express different experiences in relation to this subject. At the same time I imagine there will be patterns recognizable in this. Patterns that are valid for groups of people..
I believe that from the clear image that Sawami sketched, a whole world of complexity can be explored. To ask a simple opening question; what about the unconscious, involuntary movements, of the hands? And; what are our hands doing while we talk? What does this have to do with the different parts of our brain?

As I said, Levine doesn’t talk much about the physical characteristics of the traumatized or the non-traumatized body. But he does stress the importance for a traumatized person to get in touch with his or her stomach (as part of the healing process). The stomach being the source of ‘intuition’, ‘aliveness’ and ‘direction’.. (2010).

For some reason Victor hardly talks about, or doesn’t use his hands to point at, his stomach. I believe I can conclude from the video-material that Victor in general is pointing at, and talking about, ‘a thin line’ through his body (2.11), where Sawami would point at, and talk about her stomach. This is another very interesting topic for me. What are the differences in the way people map their bodies? And what does this say about the persons they are?..


IX-III  Some possible physical qualities of the mobile or alive body: breathing

If you look at the polar bear in the movie, breathing plays a very important role for him to release the energy accumulated at a situation of danger.
Unfortunately the subject of breathing hasn’t got adequate attention in my conversations with Sawami and Victor. While in the work of Emio Greco / PC (including the Double Skin / Double Mind workshop) breathing clearly plays an important role. If it would be possible to do a new project on their work in the future, I would like to explicitly pay attention to this subject.

At a point Victor told me that he explores the connection between breathing and what he calls the ‘thin line’. For him this connection has to do with an ‘essential source’ of movement.

“How can you use this breathing. To activate this thin.. ..? How can you maybe emphasize the breathing.. in order.. in order for the breathing to make you move.. to help you move from this essential source.. this essential.. this source of initiation.” (2.11)

I think Victor would agree that exploring this connection, in some way, involves becoming like the polar bear from the movie..

zwart-streepdun

X Let’s talk about dance

Dance-performances are ‘real’ and ‘fictional’ at the same time.. They are really happening in front of you. The dancers that you see are real human beings going through real experiences. At the same time, dance-performances are ‘fictional’ in the sense that they are artificial constructions which are not necessary at all. And, without any doubt, dance-performances are ‘illusional’; moving bodies, light and sound suggests ‘things’ that are not necessarily there, and magically transforms what is there..
I love this double nature of dance, and I love dancers for doing their work. One reason why I believe this double nature of dance is valuable is, because it creates the conditions for experimentation with physical experiences. According to my interpretation, Emio Greco and Pieter C. Scholten experiment with physical and mental mechanisms that are connected to the human possibility of becoming traumatized as well as to the possibility to heal from trauma. Both in their performances (particularly ‘Extra Dry’) and in their training practice. This allows their dancers to physically experience these mechanisms and to develop their own specific embodied knowledge on this subject. It also allows audiences to physically experience these mechanisms, sensing the bodies of the dancers, while sitting safely in a chair in a theater.
I love to go to a theater and see a performance like ‘Extra Dry’. Yet, at the same time I believe it is a pity that the knowledge and richness of dance-practices, like that of Emio Greco and Pieter C. Scholten, don’t reach audiences in different ways as well. This is why I encourage practices of talking about dance. I hope that my conversations with Sawami and Victor have convinced you that there is beauty, poetry, wisdom and joy in their experiences and the way they articulate these..

I would like to invite you to look (again) at a video of Sawami:

“I want to be able to have the body that can see the reality. Like a cat. (…) If you look at the cat she is always aware of things, no? She doesn’t enter the space like this.. (making stiff and awkward movements).. She is always sensing the space. (…) I want to train my body to see the reality. I think that that is the source of desire or fantasy. (…) I always had the adoration / admiration for cats. (…) They were so beautiful to me. (…) I wonder what they are actually sensing… … …They are my stars..” (1.6)

It is not necessary to have studied dance, art, philosophy, trauma-healing, or whatever, to feel with Sawami in what she is searchingly expressing. And, through the process of feeling-sensing-listening, to understand her (in your own way). You only need a little bit of time to focus on what she is saying, and preferably have some experiences with cats yourself..

I believe that the physical act of talking about dance, and listening to others talking about dance, could open us up, not only to the field of embodied knowledge, but also to the ‘physical attitude’ (or awareness) that is necessary to explore this field – which includes your own experiences.. In the words of Peter Levine; to develop your ‘felt sense’; which is necessary to heal from trauma, and more in general, could improve the quality of our lives..

As already expressed in the text above, I would love to do movement-work with different kinds of people and align these with practices of talking about that movement-work (this could be related to trauma, but there are many many other possibilities as well). I believe the value of this is slowly becoming more and more recognized in our society, hence the popularity of all kinds of body-oriented therapy, meditation etc..

Yet, I also want to stress the value of professional dance-performances (which seems to get recognized less and less, these days..). The conditions of professional dance, allow people like Emio, Pieter, Sawami and Victor to experiment. And to go very far into their specific directions of experimentation. Like astronauts, psychotics, lovers or healers, they have been there.. And it can be transforming to watch them go through experiences, as well as to listen to what they have to say about it..

In the text above I compared my conversations with Sawami and Victor to the ideas of Levine on trauma and trauma healing. This is only one of the many possible ways of looking at the practice Emio and Pieter. Maybe this comparison isn’t even interesting for you.. Maybe you prefer to look at the the conversations with Sawami and Victor and draw your own conclusions..
And then there are many, many other dance-practices developed by other choreographers and dancers as well.. I would say it would be particularly valuable to do projects in which older experienced choreographers and dancers articulate their experiences. I am sure this could lead to beautiful material that is relevant for both dancers and non-dancers..

At the moment I am reading a book called ‘The Minor Gesture’ by the philosopher Erin Manning (2016). Inspired by amongst others Alfred North Whitehead, William James and Gilles Deleuze, she looks at artistic processes, and compares these to the perception of people that are labeled ‘autistic’. I am very excited by her text, and am fantasying on a project on the act of creativity in dance (both choreographed and improvised), and the creativity of those that are not ‘neurotypical’ (people that might be labeled as ‘autistic’, ‘schizofrenic’ etc.) finding their ways in live..
Maybe, I will do such a project in the future..

Hope to meet you!! In a studio, theater or somewhere else..

Bram

zwart-streepdun

Notes

1: I didn’t study this subject, but I believe that animals in captivity can get traumatized, and often are traumatized. Think of a tiger walking ‘neurotically’ up and down his cage in the zoo, or the mass suffering of animals in the bio-industry. See also note 4.

2: I like Victor’s use of the word ‘crazy’ here. Apparently a certain amount of ‘being crazy’ can help to overcome a psychological problem..

3: Such relations with choreographers or dance-teachers that are about much more than dance or dance-technique are very common in the dance world.

4: On the internet you can find quite some discussions on the ‘horse head shaking syndrome’. This is a compulsive behavior of horses in captivity. Until now there is no agreement on the cause of this. (Again) I am not a biologist, but based on the work of Levine, what comes to my mind is that these horses could be traumatized. They could have been in situations which they experienced as very threatening, without being able to release the energy caused by this situation, maybe because they didn’t have enough space, or because they were forced to stay calm by humans..

On a website I found this text:

Some say it is caused by stressful events. This theory doesn’t sit right because horses are prey animals and you can’t get much more stressful a situation than being eyed up as a predator’s meal! If this was true then head-shaking/flicking would be observable in wild herds which it is not.

I believe Levine’s theory could offer an answer to this.. Horses don’t have a neocortex, but could it be that they are intelligent and/or social enough to get traumatized? And that this syndrome is a failed attempt (like an addiction) to release their traumas?

5: The documentary ‘Zij gelooft in mij’ from John Appel, beautifully shows the struggle with stage fright of Andre Hazes, and suggests a connection between this struggle and his troublesome childhood.

6: Maybe artists who work very conceptually form an exception on this..

7: Apart from the ‘jumping exercise’ or similar ways of bringing the body in a ‘situation of emergency’, I believe that there are also ‘softer ways’ to bring the body out of it’s ‘daily structure’ in a state that it ‘itself starts thinking’. The thirst image that comes to mind are the slow movements of Tai Chi practitioners.. Levine advises people to do soft movement-work (yoga, dance) aligned with somatic experiencing to get in touch with their ‘felt sense’.

zwart-streepdun

Literature

Damasio, Antonio R
1994 Descartes’ Error. Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain. Harper Collins Publishers Inc., New York.

Leder, Drew
1990 The Absent Body. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

Levine, Peter
1997 Waking the Tiger. North Atlantic Books, Berkeley California.
2010 In An Unspoken Voice. How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness. North Atlantic Books, Berkeley California.

Levine, Peter and Maggie Kline
2008 Trauma-Proofing Your Kinds. A Parents’ Guide for Instilling Confidence, Joy and Resilience. North Atlantic Books, Berkeley California.

Manning, Erin
2016 The Minor Gesture. Duke University Press, Durham and London.

Motivations for Movement

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