[Editor’s note: Stacy Willyard, a teaching artist, peace activist, and conflict scholar with an MS in Conflict Analysis and Resolution from George Mason University, was Dance Exchange’s environmental stewardship/production work/study for our 2013 Summer Institute. She shares her reflections and learnings in this blog post. –S.L.]
In the field of Conflict Analysis and Resolution we call it reflective practice: a method by which we grow as human beings and as theorists, researchers, and practitioners; it refers to the process by which persons learn, with others, from reflection on their experience. What do you do with the experience after it’s over, how do you process the process? Are we changed forever? We say: yes, I’m inspired, I’m renewed, I have received artistic energy. And so many of our exercises at the Institute were just that; allowing oneself to receive messages, to surrender weight into the floor, into your partner, the witnessing, the receiving, the sourcing, the creating and the sharing of ourselves.
When engaging with movement, transformation is easy to understand. You feel it in your body; it is the pushing of self to the edge. The Summer Institute proved transformative, and a group of artists quickly became a true community with honesty, transparency, support and a poignant understanding of emerging needs. The point of inquiry moved through a framework by sourcing knowledge through movement and then dynamizing that expression with designed sound and dramatic monologue.
The experience was ten days, with sixteen dancers (coming from all over the United States & Australia) working with three resident artists, one artistic director, one sound designer, one lighting designer and one production manager to craft a reflection of the compounded process. What was really going on was long days of labor, fatigue, body ache, singing, writing, breathing, rolling around on the floor and a collaborating flow of creative cooperation. There were powerful moments witnessed and an authentic desire to be seen; humbling moments that overwhelmed and yet each day we were all present, ready to commit ourselves to what was being asked. Our process was not without struggle: we witnessed Gabi’s need to adapt to an injury on stage and still courageously go on with the performance.
You see transformation (to reference a line of text from our performance) “is never just one thing… it’s the arm, muscle, cells of water, bodies of water.” It’s all a process that “never stops happening even when you think it has ended.” So let me return to my academic concept, reflective practice. We are no longer together in the Dance Exchange creative incubator, we have returned home. Will we as dancers take the time to truly reflect, before diving into the next project? Will we use the tools introduced, will the work ethic continue, will inspiration manifest into action? How will the relationships formed continue? All questions to be asked as you start the reflection process.
To my fellow dancers, it was an honor to have shared creative space with you, as artists, scholars and friends. Critical to any creative journey is the need for creative support. Matthew, Sarah, Cassie, Shula, Ouida and everyone at Dance Exchange: your support was bountiful and the journey was beautiful.