Body Weather Workshop with Sherwood Chen, photo by Shige Moriya
Sherwood Chen’s Ludus Lab workshop at CAVE home of LEIMAY was an intensive weekend of physical and rhythmic training, personal movement research and investigation, and sensory imaginations and exercises, a blend of derivations from Chen's fundamental base in Body Weather training, and his own movement research. While the first half of the workshop physically pushed the dancers in strengthening, coordination, rhythm and flexibility, the second half researched personal experience and our connections with others. This combination of physical training and sensorial imaginations, which could seem oppositional, created an incredibly rich experience in its entirety
We began with MB training, composed of proposed movements executed across the floor one after another. These exercises brought up the heart rate and engaged coordination and muscle strengthening. Chen initially trained in Body Weather with Oguri, Roxanne Steinberg and Melinda Ring over twenty years ago in Los Angeles. He subsequently became a member of Min Tanaka's company Mai Juku, based in Body Weather Farm in rural Japan, where farming was an integral part of the day. Chen states that MB training is a common practice of Body Weather proponents, but each person leads differently. The exercises pushed the dancers to try unfamiliar and new movements through use of different muscles and coordinations.
After the MB training, we slowed down, focusing on individual and partnered explorations. On the first day of the workshop we each developed a greeting with a partner. My partner and I chose to incorporate movements that we usually do when greeting someone for the first time. I have a habit of slightly shrugging my shoulders and my partner has a habit of extending her chest forward. We learned one another's habits and performed the greeting at an incredibly slow place. While connecting with our eyes, we changed the frequency of our usual every day habits, rendering a dance of deep connection and vulnerability. We later performed in a densely overlaid group, but without our partners. The image of many people close together greeting invisible, missing partners felt both warm and sad. It was beautiful for me to see my own habits surface in my partner's body while watching her in a motley group of greeters, and to see the invisible phantom of me mirroring her there with her.
Another point of research explored moving from our cowlicks. Each person has a unique pattern, quantity and quality of cowlicks in their hair growth. Our partners traced the pattern of these cowlicks, then extended the implied vectors from our head to our feet, to indicate movement patterns. Our movement was informed by our own literal, personal patterns, derived from and emerging out of our DNA through movement, instead of being imposed on us externally.
Ximena Garnica and Julie Spodek, photo by Shige Moriya
My favorite experience in the workshop was Chen’s treasure studies. Chen explained to me in an interview that this image work emerged from his own inquiry and research. He wanted to generate image-based movement emerging from the individual, to explore this process relative to top-down transmission of proposed or pre-existing canonical imagery.
While in many image-based works I have been directed by the instructor to become a flower, or to move as if in mud, or to break out from an egg, Chen asked us each to envision a personal treasure in our hand, a memory, an object, or a dream, and to develop an image from there. In my hand I imagined giving nothing, in the form of grabbing my mother's finger as a baby, in an every day handshake, in the hand of a new lover, or in the hand of a loved one while passing away on my deathbed. For me my treasure was nothing. An absence. But in my hand, a giving of all I have to offer, what carries me from the beginning to the end of my life. An absence that is full of self.
When we met with another partner, we transmitted our images and embodied one another’s treasures in a circle. I held the image of an acorn (my partner's treasure) in my left hand, and I longed for my own treasure of absence in my right, which my partner had become. With eyes closed, it felt as if we each longed for our own treasure while simultaneously becoming the treasure of our partners. We were tied and mutually implicated by these images, which created a circle of connections of our own memories, dreams and hopes.
Chen’s workshop was an invigorating workshop involving contrasts of challenging physical training and intimate sensorial imagery, engaging both a demanding high energy and complete quietness and stillness. The workshop exercised many facets of the human body, memory, and imagination and was a creatively, mentally, and physically enriching experience.