Jan 04, 2021 in DIS-TANZ-SOLO

Page Title - Free Play - Dis-Tanzen

Before I start diving into some of the more sober reference books on anatomy and physiology and the core principles of sports science I wanna introduce FREE PLAY – IMPROVISATION IN LIFE AND ART by Stephen Nachmanovitch. I discovered this gem of a book through a dear friend while touring SUNNY by Emanuel Gat & Awir Leon.

I quickly re-read it as a preparation for this research since a lot of my findings are to be integrated not only into my technique classes but also into my version of a guided improvisation – a method that I regularly use to prepare professional dancers for a busy day of work, especially when I don’t want to occupy their brains with additional choreographic information.

FREE PLAY is one of those books that you can read again and again. It is frankly a never-ending source of inspiration and wisdom. Stephen Nachmanovitch is an improvisational violinist who writes and teaches about improvisation, creativity and the spiritual underpinnings of art. Nachmanovitch studied at Harvard University and the University of California at Santa Cruz, where he earned a PhD in the History of Consciousness for an exploration of William Blake. His thoughts and discoveries are clearly based on his work as a musician but they can easily be adopted to any other art form or everyday life. I highly recommend his publications, not only to dancers and artists but to pretty much anyone…

Cover FREE PLAY – IMPROVISATION IN LIFE AND ART by Stephen Nachmanovitch

by Stephen Nachmanovitch

Publisher: TarcherPerigee; Reprint edition (1 May 1991)
Language: English
Paperback: 224 pages
ISBN-10: 0874776317
ISBN-13: 978-0874776317
Dimensions: 12.8 x 1.45 x 20.29 cm

Here are my personal notes or better said my personal key passages. Most of these are easily understood and are open enough to be adapted to a variety of contexts, so I won't add any annotations and let them speak for themselves:

…the work of creativity is not a matter of making the material come, but of unblocking the obstacles to its natural flow (P.10)

Every attempt we make is imperfect; yet each one of those imperfect attempts is an occasion for a delight unlike anything else on earth. (P.13)

If you are giving a public talk, it is fine to plan what you might say in order to sharpen your awareness, but when you arrive, throw away your plans and relate, in real time, to the people in the room. (…) The teacher’s art is to connect, in real time, the living bodies of the students with the living body of the knowledge. (P.21)

To do anything artistically you have to acquire technique, but you create through your technique and not with it. (P.21)

Surrender means cultivating a comfortable attitude toward not-knowing, being nurtured by the mystery of moments that are dependably surprising, ever fresh. (P.21f)

Reasoned knowledge proceeds from information of which we’re consciously aware – only a partial sampling of our total knowledge. Intuitive knowledge, on the other hand, proceeds from everything we know and everything we are. (P.40)

Mastery means responsibility, ability to respond in real time to the need of the moment. (P.41)

The outpourings of intuition consist of a continuous, rapid flow of choice, choice, choice, choice. (P.41)

Technique itself springs from play, because we can acquire technique only by the practice of practice, by persistently experimenting and playing with our tools and testing their limits and resistances. Creative work is play; it is free speculation using the materials of ones chosen form. (P.42)

…play makes us flexible. (…) Play enables us to rearrange our capacities and our very identity so that they can be used in unforeseen ways. (P.43)

Play is different from game. Play is the free spirit of exploration, doing and being for its own pure joy. Game is an activity defined by a set of rules… (P.43)

Play is without why. (P.45)

For Art to appear, we have to disappear. (P.51)

It is possible to become what you are doing; these times come when pouf! – out you go, and there is only the work. The intensity of your focused concentration and involvement maintains and augments itself, your physical needs decrease, your gaze narrows, your sense of time stops. You feel alert and alive; effort becomes effortless. You lose yourself in your own voice, in the handling of your tools, in your feeling for the rules. Absorbed in the pure fascination of the game, of the textures and resistances and nuances and limitations of that particular medium, you forget time and place and who you are. (P.51f)

Dancing is not getting up painlessly like a speck of dust blown around in the wind.
Dancing is when you rise above both worlds, tearing your heart to pieces, and giving up your soul.
Dance where you can break yourself to pieces and totally abandon your worldly passions.
Real men dance and whirl on the battlefield; they dance in their own blood.
When they give themselves up, they clap their hands;
When they leave behind the imperfections of the self, they dance.
Their minstrels play music from within; and whole oceans of passion foam on the crest of the waves.
– Rumi (P.53)

If I try to play, I fail; if I force the play, I crush it; if I race, I trip. Any time I stiffen or brace myself against some error or problem, the very act of bracing would cause the problem to occur. The only road to strength is vulnerability. (P.64)

We think of practice as an activity done in a special context to prepare for performance or the real thing. But if we split practice from the real thing, neither one of them will be very real. (P.67)

…we can get so used to knowing how it should be done that we become distanced from the freshness of today’s situation. This is the danger that inheres in the very competence that we acquire in practice. Competence that loses a sense of its roots in the playful spirit becomes ensconced in rigid forms of professionalism. (P.67)

When skill reaches a certain level, it hides itself.“ (P.74)

I need physical energy, intellectual energy, libidinal energy, spiritual energy. The means to tapping these energies are well known: Exercise the body, eat well, sleep well, keep track of dreams, meditate, enjoy the pleasures of life, read and experience widely. When blocked, tap into the great block-busters: humor, friends, and nature. (P.75)

Structure ignites spontaneity. Just a touch of an arbitrary form can be introduced into an improvisation to keep it from wandering off course, or to act as a catalyst, as in the seeding of a crystal. It is not necessary that the rules dictate the form of the piece, thought they may. They may simply present a definite situation that can provoke a definite, if unpredictable, reaction from the artist. (P.83)

Commitment to a set of rules (a game) frees your play to attain a profundity and vigor otherwise impossible. (P.84)

Good judgement comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgement.
– Tom Watson / IBM (P.88)

The troublesome parts of our work, the parts that are most baffling and frustrating, are in fact the growing edges. We see these opportunities the instant we drop our preconceptions and our self-importance. (P.92)

I play with my partner; we listen to each other; we mirror each other, we connect with what we hear. He doesn’t know where I’m going, I don’t know where he’s going, yet we anticipate, sense, lead, and follow each other. There is no agreed-on structure or measure, but once we have played for five seconds there is a structure, because we’ve started something. We open each other’s minds like an infinite series of Chinese boxes. A mysterious kind of information flows back and forth, quicker than any signal we might give by sight or sound. The work comes from neither one artist nor the other, even though our own idiosyncrasies and styles, the symptoms of our original natures, still exert their natural pull. Nor does the work come from a compromise or halfway point (averages are always boring!), but from a third place that isn’t necessarily like what either one of us would do individually. What comes is a revelation to both of us. There is a third, totally new style that pulls on us. It is as though we have become a group organism that has its own way of being, from a unique and unpredictable place which is the group personality or group brain. (P.94f)

A blank canvas or piece of paper is without form and void (Genesis 1:2) but a single mark on it sets up a definite world and poses an infinite series of creative problems. (P.103)

…you can’t express inspiration without skill, but if you are too wrapped up in the professionalism of skill you obviate the surrender to accident that is essential to inspiration. You begin to emphasize product at the expense of process. (P.119)

It is relatively easy to judge and evaluate technical brilliance. Spiritual and emotional content are not so easy to evaluate. They are intuited directly, subtly, and often become apparent to the world at large only after a considerable passage of time. (P.120)

The creative person can be seen as embodying or acting as two inner characters, a muse and an editor. (…) The muse proposes, the editor disposes. The editor criticizes, shapes, and organizes the raw material that the free play of the muse has generated. If, however, the editor precedes rather than follows the muse, we have trouble. The artist judges his work before there is yet anything to judge, and this produces a blockage or paralysis. The muse gets edited right out of existence. (P.133)

Constructive judgement moves right along with the time of creation as a continuous feedback, a kind of parallel track of consciousness that facilitates the action. Obstructive judgement runs, as it were, perpendicular to the line of action, interposing itself before creation (writer’s block) or after creation (rejection or indifference). (P.134)

It’s great to sit on the shoulders of giants, but don’t let the giants sit on your shoulders. (P.136)

Only unconditional surrender leads to real emptiness, and from that place of emptiness I can be prolific and free. (P.144)

Any time we perform an activity for an outcome, even if it’s a very high, noble, admirable end, we are not totally in that activity. (P.146)

When work and play are not one, when work and worker are not one, when self and environment are not one, then quality becomes an irrelevancy, a frill; and presto – we fill the world with ugly places and things. (P.151)

The systole-diastole of effort and relaxation sets the stage for the luck of the well prepared. (P.155)

Originality does not mean being unlike the past or unlike the present; it means being the origin, acting out of your own center. (P.179)

…the more you are yourself, the more universal your message. (P.179)

To give away our creative ability to professional artists is like giving away our healing ability to doctors. (P.183)

We shall not cease from exploration,
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
– T.S. Eliot (P.192)

Header photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash


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