Thoughts on Research Week at Y-Space, November 17, 2015

Ellen Gerdes

Ph.D. Student, Culture and Performance, UCLA

Thoughts on Research Week at Y-Space, November 17, 2015

This week, I experienced several guided improvisation workshops by international guest artists and the Y-space directors, Victor and Mandy.  In the first workshop with Victor, he explored the idea of space: What is body space?  What is urban space?   He was thinking about the often-neglected space inside of our bodies as well as that space outside of our bodies, such as architecture, built environment, and even as far as outer space—to the cosmos.  In fact, the whole globe is moving through space.  He mentioned the porousness of our skin and places in our bodies that involve exchanges into and out of.  I felt this concept as we explored the idea of a spiral moving through our body from the top of our head inward.   I imagined the insides of my body and focused on my spine, realizing that I often forget to think about my organs and soft tissue in addition to my skeleton.  I have a small metal rod and screws in my spine from a surgery I had in my adolescence, so my mind tends to fixate on this as a place of imperfection, fear, and necessary stability.  I tried to imagine inner space as fluids this time, not merely elements of a skeletal structure.

When we finally moved our perspective outward, it felt a bit difficult to connect to the space of the room.  Was I only thinking of linear movement because a studio is a geometric rectangular space?  How else could I feel inspired?  This blank space of the studio felt spacious and sparse compared to the urban environment of Hong Kong.  Victor mentioned that he thinks the tight living spaces of Hong Kong discourage people from developing a strong kinesthetic intelligence.  When I visit Hong Kong, I note unique feelings of space due to its extreme density; it is one of the densest cities in the world.  I notice that it is not common to feel sunshine on your skin due to the height of many of the buildings.  I also observe the constant stream of people when using the metro, especially the flood of people quickly switching lines.  There are moments when crowds slow requiring you to pause… and moments when you can’t help but walk quickly.  It’s not completely fluid, and sometimes I wish I had a turn signal, like a car, to change lanes!

Victor encouraged us to cut space and mold space with our bodies.  In this moment, I see the common thought held by scholars and urban planners—that urban space is not just built.  People affect space, and architecture should invite people to move effectively and to experience their senses.   Space is also sight, sound, and movement, not merely a container.

In another workshop, we investigated more contact improvisation with a guest teacher.  The importance of the pelvis was emphasized, but also a type of contact improvisation that highlighted conflict and made me uncomfortable.  I wondered if this type of contact described as an encounter of crashing like waves might allude to another issue in urban reality—that of conflicting identities, goals, and opinions, not only in space but in social relationships.  This workshop reminded me how important it is to trust your fellow dancers.  Because I did not know the dancers very well and several of the men seemed intent on showing their strength, I mistrusted whether I would stay safe.  So, I became an observer.  It made me think of urban perimeters of public intimacy and trust.

*Continue reading archival notes by Joanna Lee:*