Veli Lehtovaara

 

Natural resources and dance art

The relationship of humans and nature, from a choreographer’s point of view

 

How is it possible that we need to look away from the human to see what a human being is?

 

I recently started an artistic research with the working title Natural resources. My aim is a deeper understanding of the relationship and conceptual difference between nature and culture, both in general (as a human being and citizen) and specifically in my artistic practice. Culture and nature are concepts that we often use unspecified and contradictory. My research focuses on the concept of natural resources. The concept can be redefined by re-evaluating the relationship where the content and meaning of this concept is defined, i.e. the relationship between the human and nature. Our relationship to nature is tripartite: it includes a human’s relation to oneself, to other living creatures and to inanimate nature. In my own experience, dance can change the human relation to the self and the surroundings in a fundamental way. Therefore, I believe that it can also provide a chance to redefine the concept of natural resources as well.

My aim is to combine the practices of dance and moving in nature. A central starting point is corporeality. The body is built by nature, and corporeality is existence in nature. I locate myself between these two surfaces: the inner body and the outer interface with nature. I am the sum of this interplay and the observer of it – an interconnected natural creature.

A simplified starting point is to understand nature being both in and around the human. My awareness is the thin and porus borderline between inner and outer nature. From there, I make my observations and choices. One could say that awareness lives both in and of the relationship between inner and outer nature.

The starting point of my artistic work is outside of the stage and theatre. As the environments of my work, I have chosen two very different locations: wilderness and a metropolis. In the first location, the presence of human and culture is almost nonexistent. In the latter, it is immediate and prevalent. In June 2016, I worked in residence at Mustarinda, located at the edge of Paljakka Natural Park in Kainuu. My second residency takes place in the city center of London. Through the difference between these two locations, I try to understand the relationship between pristine nature and cultivated nature, from the perspective of movement and perception.

The aim is to articulate nature relationships that are neither consumptive nor consumed. I apply the concepts of dance to ecological thinking and vice versa – ecological concepts into my dance practice. My intent is to create a choreographic application that operates in different environments, from the wilderness to the populated metropolis.

In short, the aims of my artistic research are: (1) To redefine the concept of natural resource, currently dominated by capitalist and industrial discourse. (2) To strengthen the human relationship to oneself as a natural creature and to surrounding nature through giving attention – instead of consumption. (3) A deeper and wider understanding of the difference between nature and culture. (4) To propose alternative practices and viewpoints to political discourse, where nature is reduced to a resource of material and energy, and humans to consumers or resource, and where the model of infinite growth is the only alternative. (5) To view nature and the human relationship with nature through choreography and dance, as an ecology of giving and receiving attention. In this economy of attention, the movement of information and energy is not subjected to the ethos or practice of capitalism and market economy.

In this text, I present the starting points and characteristics of my work, but first I write about the art of dance and its importance to me.

 

Dance art

In the Western tradition, dance art stems from European royal courts and court dance, which were mostly based on dance and music from folk traditions. Court dances evolved into ballet, followed by modern dance, postmodern dance, and finally contemporary dance. Contemporary dance has slowly developed into a hybrid art form, often combining performing arts with other forms and practices of art. Its boundaries are ambiguous. In the recent years, dance art has increasingly included other dance forms, styles, and traditions as choreographic material. The biggest difference to court dances and other social dance forms is that art has become performing art, it is intended for watching instead of participation. A performance requires a performer and an audience. People are invited to gather collectively in one place and time. This is the common root of democracy and the performing arts.

Traditionally, dance art takes place on stage. The stage is an empty space. Anything that is brought onto the stage has a meaning. Often the stage itself is black and dark, so that light as well can be brought in. On the other hand, the historical stage is full of shared and private memories, meanings and feelings of what has taken place before. The history of theatre, dance, and music is present in the events happening on stage, both through the makers and the audience.

For me, what is most significant on stage is a human being. A human being that questions one’s own existence and its meanings. The play of meanings, their assembly and disassembly, is at the center of stage action. Meanings are not necessarily linguistic. Especially in dance, they are often pre-linguistic: relations based on intuition, energy, form and movement. Feelings are a central part of this rival and interplay of meanings.

 

Concept of nature

Everything is nature, including humans and cultures. Culture is cultivated nature. The practices of cultivation are created in communities. The central prerequisite of culture is a community that practices certain conventions in relation to the environment and to itself. Practice means creating, upholding, applying, and developing conventions. Various tools, techniques, and technologies are included in these conventions. They mediate and change our relationship to our environment and ourselves. The conventions are constituted of possible possibilities and impossible possibilities.

French philosopher and writer Tristan Garcia does not view the concepts of culture and nature as opposites, but rather places culture between the concepts of nature and universality. He writes: ”Culture, more precisely, is not particularly opposed to nature, but it is what holds some sets of living animals together between nature and universality.” Culture is related specifically, but not exclusively, to humans. Some actions of animals can also be considered part of culture. Nature, on the other hand, is in everything; it is the fundamental. Nothing is natural, because nature is what enters in everything, but nothing enters nature. The universe is what includes everything, but nothing includes the universe. And the cosmos as a concept is an intention to see order in the universe, instead of chaos.

 

The practices and nature relationship of dance art

My practice for approaching the relation of human and nature is art, and more specifically dance and choreography. The practices of dance art include various techniques, which can be addressed in different ways – for example as dance, somatic and movement techniques. Choreographic techniques are rarely discussed, but they exist as well. Dance techniques are often connected to aesthetic values that stem from traditions, as well as the choreographers, dancers or teachers that have developed them. Somatic and movement techniques can be seen as fundamental research of the moving body, instead of aesthetic values, the focus is on functionality – the understanding, mastering and developing the substructure of body movements. Movement techniques include a wide array of techniques that arise not only from the traditions of dance, but that are utilized for dance.

In the past three years, I have worked a lot with the gaze and the transfer of weight. Gravity is something that places humans in direct relation with planet Earth. When I move, I always move in relation to this force that takes place between my body mass and the mass of the Earth. Isn’t it amazing? When I dance, I always dance with this celestial body, so much bigger than me. Each body movement can be viewed as a transfer of weight, from taking a step to breathing. Even if I don’t travel in space, but merely lift up my arm, a transfer of weight takes place. And this always includes a reorganization of the work in the body. How the weight of my body is distributed in space, my position and pose, has an immediate effect on the work my muscles need to do. The structure, shape, and abilities of my body set the physical preconditions to what positions, movements, and movement phrases are possible. Other preconditions are cultural and psychological factors. Also the environment has an effect: a human being moves differently in water than on land, in the forest differently than on an beach. And lastly, equipment such as shoes or a bicycle also affects the coordination of movement, or the transfer of weight. To move is to control the transfer of weight, to have a conversation with the Earth and the environment that you are in.

Another focus of my work has been the sense of sight and its relation to movement. I develop and search for practices involving movement and sight. In a simplified form, these combine information transmitted through light to information transmitted through gravity. The aim is to develop sensorial sensitivity and awareness of how these two channels of information merge in the perception of the environment and movement. Our sense of sight has a significant role in the way we perceive our surroundings. Equilibrioception, on the other hand, is a prerequisite of controlled movement. For an able-bodied person, these senses co-operate so well that we hardly even acknowledge this co-operation. Practices provide an opportunity to become experientially aware of the relationship between sight and movement. Awareness influences our sense of self and the environment.

The sense of space is built in relationship with sight and touch, in early childhood. The understanding of object dimensions and the ”empty” space objects create, is formed when visual and sensorial information is combined. Sensitivity to this connection and the renewed awareness of it has been a transformational experience for me. Space and its bounding objects have become touchable with sight – experientially, not literally. In dance, the space and objects in it become material that one can relate to with movement. When this principle is applied outside, a walk in the forest or around the block can become a choreographic event, a small dance, constructed from my movement in relation to the surroundings. Any outdoor space is materially more interesting than a dance studio laboratory or black box theatre. For example, walking in a pine wood provides an excellent opportunity to notice the distances of objects, in this case trees, to my location, which in turn provides the opportunity to become sensitive to the three-dimensionality of space and the understanding of how objects create space and movement creates perception of space.

It is difficult to describe the shift in my relationship to my environment that this practice has caused. It is like wearing 4D glasses for the first time. Spatial relationships, dimensions, volumes, and distances are enhanced, and even the slightest movement creates a huge change. Minor transfer of weight creates a major change in perception. Bodily presence becomes meaningful. I believe this to be an effect of the increased sensitivity to the connection of sight and movement, which was once the prerequisite for survival. I believe that we have lost much of that sensitivity, resulting from the shift of hunting and gathering cultures to agricultural societies, and to different nature relationships, which are still unfolding.

In dance, movement is not merely a tool but mindful in itself. Nature relationship created through movement is experiential and corporeal. We can be more or less aware of it. Various perception techniques and practices are part of a dancer’s work, alongside dance, movement, and somatic techniques. Dance practice includes heightened awareness in this area. Awareness can also be applied to other areas and cultural layers, not only dance. In Natural Resources project, I apply embodied practices to new environments. It is essential to articulate these practices in such a way that they become accessible and meaningful also for those with little or no experience in dance.

The propositions to relate to myself, others and nature, that I investigate and develop in different environments, draw from these somatic techniques of perception and movement, but they can also be applied to other areas of culture and life. One very simple exercise, suitable for the everyday life, is as follows:

Let yourself stand still in the sun, turn towards the light.

Close your eyes

Let your weight travel through your body, towards the ground.

Remember the time you were standing for the first time.

Listen to the swaying of the weight of your body.

If you notice tensions in your body, give your attention to it and see if you can let go.

Breathe in, and out.

Listen to the movement of your breath and the sounds around you.

If you are in an environment of haste, let it highlight your stillness.

Open your eyes before you continue on your way.

 

American thinker Henry David Thoreau (1817–62) moved to a small, self-built house by Walden Pond in the woods. In 1854 he published the book Walden based on his diaries. Thoreau reflected on the relationships of individuals, nature and society, in an era when industrialism and commercialism were quickly expanding in North America. In his secluded cabin, Thoreau wrote perceptive notes of his surroundings and living. ”Music is perpetual, and only the hearing is intermittent”, was one of his observations of nature. Composer John Cage (1912–1992), who was active in dance and performance, picked up this idea and applied it to his artistic work in the late 20th century. This idea can also be applied to dance: Dance is perpetual, only the dancing is intermittent. This holds true especially if the concept of choreography is viewed to encompass all movement in space and time.

The concept of choreography has recently found its way into scientific discourse. It has been used by physicists studying crystal structures, for example. According to new theory, certain symmetrical structures can be understood through dynamic order, where basic elements follow a detailed choreography. From the viewpoint of my artistic work, these conceptual overlaps are interesting. They create linguistic bridges across different practices and cultural fields. Sometimes the meanings of concepts change, which is noteworthy. For example, the concept of energy has very different meanings in Western physics than in movement traditions based on Eastern holistic worldviews. In Western dance art, these two understandings on energy intermingle in an interesting and sometimes confusing way.

Early in the morning, right before sunrise, we can hear birds singing the loudest. Sunrise travels the globe, uninterrupted, and so does this morning concert of birds. The movement of song around the globe can be thought of as choreography, created by the orbiting dance of the Earth around the sun, and the response of the birds to this daylight rotation. A song dances around the Earth, if that is how we want to see it.

 

Sources:

Henry David Thoreau: Walden (1854)

Tristan Garcia: Form and Object – A Treatise on Things (2014), s. 280

http://phys.org/news/2016-01-animated-crystal.html

 

Literary inspiration:

Paavo Järvensivu: Rajattomasti rahaa niukkuudessa (2016), Tere Vadén & Antti Salminen: Energy and Experience: An Essay in Nafthology (2015), Henry David Thoreau: Walden (1854) ja Civil Disobedience (1849), Karen Michelle Barad: Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning (2007), Tristan Garcia: Form and Object – A Treatise on Things (2014), Martin Heidegger: Rakentaa, asua, ajatella (Bauen Wohnen Denken 1951), Kirsi Monni: Olemisen poeettinen liike (2004), Juha Varto: Tanssi maailman kanssa (2008), Deborah Hay: Moving Trough the Universe in Bare Feet: ten Circle Dances for Everybody (1975), Timo Klemola: Zen ja fenomenologian harjoittamisen taito (2003); Taiji. Liikettä hiljaisuudessa – hiljaisuutta liikkeessä (1990), Janne Eklund: Ammattina eräopas (2003), Jan Gehl & Birgitte Svarre: How to study public life (2013).

 

veli_nature

NATURE

Arrangement of plastic pieces found on the beach of El Hierro island (Canary Islands, Spain). In their colorfulness, they create a contrast to organic matter not created by humans. This can be seen as an aesthetic value. The island was considered the most Western edge of the world until the 15th century, when Columbus stumbled upon a new continent.

 

 

Veli Lehtovaara

Dancer, choreographer
Brussels/ Härkölahti (Jyväskylä)

 


Veli Lehtovaara’s Clandestine sites: Displaced had its premiere at Moving in November festival 2015. Veli Lehtovaara was also a member of Dasha Mazurka group, with Doubt in Frame / Queen of Sweden Killed Descartes in 2011.


 

 

Moving in November festival has coproduced new works by Finnish dance artists for over ten years, To celebrate its 30th anniversary, the festival has invited artists 2007–2016 to write and discuss their artistic practice. These texts are published in the festival catalogue. On the Birthday Brunch on Oct. 5, 2016, the artists will discuss the texts together with the audience.

 > Read all artist texts