The Geometry of Attention
© Nita Little - 2010 - Published in Encounters with Contact Improvisation, Edt. Ann Cooper Albright et al.
Making a classical Contact Improvisation (CI) move, I travel on a pathfrom Ilka’s hand, through a rolling point of contact to where I am now pouring my weight through my stomach and into her back. My feet dangle. The broad surfaces are the point of contact through which my weight is continually pouring, mass into mass, volume into volume. I can choose to attend to this action on any one of these geometric levels. My attention oscillates through them, checking the situation. I move into and through the point of contact to feel the substance of her volume. I then enter her boney structure and track its path to where she meets and anchors into the floor. I note how she is managing her weight … and now my own. Because of my skill, I direct my weight along her skeletal path to the floor, increasing her stability. She feels me doing this action and moves her awareness to meet me. I know this because of how she is rising energetically along her skeleton in an upward motion that meets my effort. She even wags my legs. We shift our attention from the paths of our structures in order to concentrate my weight into a finer meeting point, narrowing our connection - my body arches and rolls. (I would not do this action without having known her body’s mind - because that would have meant I was treating her as an object.) I have noted the contour of her back’s surface as it changed and checked its the textural state for the feeling of ease at this narrowing. The action of her awareness in my body’s structure as it shifted from knowing my volume to identifying this point of contact allowed me to roll further, capture the weight/force of one of my legs and reach in the direction of my roll. As I do this I enjoy the bowing arc of a full body reach out the opposite arm - I am a taut line of energy, moveable around a point. We both track the path of my motion as, briefly on my side, I weighted a leg, toward the front of her body. Reducing a surface to a point allowed me to articulate around it with greater ease. She moves to standing, rotating and carrying me further, and we both roll to a moment where our bodies slide, surface to surface into this new orientation, back to front… weighting/waiting.
Contact Improvisation can be called an art of embodied attention. Although all attention is embodied, for CI dancers the way we attend to the world in our embodiment is critical to our movement in the sense that every physical choice we make depends upon the depth and breadth of our knowing what is currently happening. We place our lives at risk by this knowing so we really need to know the potentials each moment unveils. Attention, the action of prioritizing awareness, is key to my knowing the dance. When I understand its action, as when I understand bodily action, I gain clarity, appreciation and greater capability in my dancing. In this contact improvisation dance with Ilka Szilagyi, I notice the way my attention plays into, through and around her body and the space it inhabits. My attention is another level of the dance, one that with skill becomes clearly visible not only to me, but to others, especially my dancing partner. The action of my attention is both profoundly sensuous and full of inquiry.
How we move through levels of knowing is one of the distinguishing skills and the arts of the CI dance. Although the information contained in each millisecond of this dance with Ilka is complex in its character, the way I retrieve it is simple, which allows my knowledge of bodies to calculate distinctions in time values and spatial impacts that are slightly different in Ilka’s body than in my own - information that is vital to our action together. I do this information retrieval when I shift my awareness through a geometry of attentional forms. There are four primary levels of attention: points or places of contact with Ilka and the environment; lines, which in motion form pathways into and through the space including the space of Ilka’s body (I use these terms interchangeably); planes which are the contoured surfaces of our fleshly meeting with one another and the floor; and volumes, the full forms of our material existence which are the structures, including the earth, by which we come to be.
Each of these levels requires that my body action shift in order to align with the physicality that is inseparable from my access to knowing. Through these actions of the minding body I engage in knowing Ilka and being known by her. Thus it is that in dancing with her I move my body and my attention through a pointof contact, and making a micro shift on my own body surfaces I slip into the volume of her hand. I add more of my own boney structure into the action so that I can travel along the path of her bone, meeting her juicy jointed connections where I then open my joints in a diffusion of attention as I arrive within the belly of her body’s volume. There, I might travel a skeletal path through her body and into the earth where I enter her anchor, a place (think either point or volume) where the distribution of her weight and energetic intention meet and enter the ground. There I find myself, too, as I join her in this action with my own body’s weight. All of this is done with my extended body, my active attention. My physical body has barely moved.
The geometrical progression of information increases from points to lines to planes to volumes. Each step contributes more information as dimensions of space become more significant. Depth is not as significant to a point as it is to a volume for example. When I pay attention to surfaces I know the world utilizing a geometry that is planar - and these planes are contoured with respect to Ilka’s body. But this is not mere mechanics … I am different with each state of knowing. The levels of my attentional action change me and my experience. When I seek the planes of Ilka’s body surface interesting characteristics arise that are distinct to this kind of inquiry. Although surfaces, like geometrical planes, are dominated by their two-dimensionality, they are characterized by their third - and it is this third that reveals their texture. The texture of surfaces is filled with information that we move across with both our tactile and visual bodyminds.
Try doing a dance - one that promotes what I call “cloud touch.” Move across another dancer with the lightness of a cloud - having no weighted impact upon your partner’s surfaces as she/he is also moving. The “mountain” moves and the “cloud” changes as a result … and yet your moving bodies are touching. The cloud slips and slides across the mountain’s surfaces. Experiment with levels and depths of penetration into that surface without committing weight or altering your partner’s flow. Be present. Adhere lightly while forming to the landscape’s contours. Change roles. Weave roles. Later, discover how cloud touch appears and disappears within the full contactual complex of movements. Notice how your attention travels to surface awareness when you move physically on this level.
Notice how your attention travels across surfaces while your awareness may slip into the volumes they contain. Enjoy this geometry of attention as you enter the physics of dancing.