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Space Emerges Around My Hand

If I am to define the difference between more traditional kinds of dance, such as African dance or salsa, and what we are trying to do with our movement systems,then the notion of isolation is important. The isolation of movements creates aspace - the body causes space to emerge. The difference is between entering a space and starting to dance, and creating space through dancing.

You might compare it to when a mime evokes a rope or a wall. Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly have taught me a lot. In some films, instead of conceiving choreographies, they would employ props like cans, litter-bin lids, and lamp posts. We all remember the choreography from Singin' in the Rain, but I think it's the lamp post that really sticks in people's minds. There is a man dancing with an umbrella and a lamp post. It is a lot easier to relate to than a man dancing in an empty space.

If I hold my hand up in the air, I can walk around it with the rest of my body, and those who watch me will detect a space emerge around my hand. I often use objects when I choreograph, and it wasn't until I started choreographing with objects that I discovered the isolation of movements. I would often use a keyboard, which is flat and rectangular, and it enabled me to make very clear and precise marks, and people watching remember these movements because I was dancing with a keyboard.

But the same kind of space production can actually happen in more traditional kinds of dance, if one applies the same techniques of movement isolation. You could do the splits, keeping one foot fixed as a point of departure and moving around it with the rest of the body. You could do the same with pirouettes or other parts of the ballet vocabulary. It's a technique that creates a threedimensional space around the dancer.

Many people involved with dance question how much the brain controls the body. There is a point of contact between the brain and the body. If you work with different systems and start to think about what lies between these systems . . . it is often in the transition from one system to another that new forms of movement emerge. If I watch a recording of a performance I've done and detect a mistake, this mistake often turns out to be the most interesting part.

If I invent a system for doing virtual boxes, I can use this system as an instrument to get around the room or to change levels. And if I lie down on the floor or jump up in the air, I can use the virtual box to connect one position to the next. To this system of movement I can then add other techniques or instruments, so that in the end I face a lot of different possibilities. This makes it almost impossible for me to not invent something I haven't done before.

If I move extremely slowly, I get a sense of control, almost as if I were under water or as if a greater outside force were holding me back, and if I move very fast, the feeling of my movements becomes very machine-like. I think people use music to accompany their dancing because it adds an extra layer to their memory. It becomes a more complete feeling, whereas without music it is almost as if the imagination has to add sound itself. Many elements are at play when movements are stored in the memory - how they look, feel, and sound. And you can rework your memory by adding extra information.

Most martial arts and meditation techniques relate to dancing. If you imagine a willow - the feeling of it, how it bends back and forth in the wind - you can transfer this feeling to your body and make your arms move like the tree. The way I understand tai chi, many of the basic principles are taken from nature, how it feels inside the human body to imitate nature's movements.

If I am rehearsing a dance alone or with someone, a small mistake may occur. The mistake may be microscopic and invisible to others, but it is instantly felt. The feeling you have when you fall out of synchronicity, for instance, is quite intense. It takes up a lot of space in relation to how brief it is. This feeling has a different relationship to time than if you watch it in a mirror or on video. If you compare this with the North Korean military, they are intimidatingly synchrononous, and if you watch a ballet, it very quickly becomes a test of synchronicity. Robozee and I are actually not moving synchrononously; it is a matter of shapes corresponding to each other.

  

Steen Koerner started his career as a self-taught robotic dancer in 1982, and has since been a driving force in the urban-arts community. In 2004 he was awarded The Hip Hop Lifetime Achievement Award. He founded the Steen Koerner Studio as an urban art company engaging in dance, music, poetry, graffiti, art film, architecture, city space development, and theatre.

 

by Steen Koerner