Artistic Directors; Ewan Downie, Anna Porubcanksy
My week with Company of Wolves was a great way to start 2017. I knew already my comfort zones in my body; I tend to begin movement with my hips (I remember constantly being told in ballet class to stop moving my hips so much!) or moving my arms, and my comfort zone is resorting to spinning and moving gently on the balls of my feet. This course definitely pushed me out of my comfort zones and I am so grateful, I was pushed physically and vocally – a great way to start 2017!
Every morning we did our individual stretches before class started. From working with Vincent Mangado from Théâtre Du Soleil, he advises not to stretch too vigorously before the body is warmed up; therefore I either started with a quick jog around the space or a power walk to the venue especially as it was so cold outside. By the last day, I was practicing handstands and frog stands. I gave myself enough of a stretch to awaken the body, before we began feeling the sensations in every part of our body. We generally began by walking around the space paying attention to the feelings in our bodies – the feeling of the floor under our feet, the feeling of the space around our shins, the joint in our knees and hips. It is incredibly easy for your mind to wander during this, so it was a good exercise to “keep coming back into yourself”. After a while we would pick up the pace into a steady run that was easily maintained for a long period of time. It was rather liberating and we tried running backwards and sideways and dodging into empty spaces. I thought back to an exercise I did with Al Seed; the purpose was to find near misses with people (walking towards or past someone and at the very last minute change direction or pass inches behind them). I did not actively search for near misses, but when it happened accidentally it was great fun.
Over the course, we looked at body isolation. The first time, on Wednesday, I found that everything I did became very internal and it was almost like I was finding secrets between my mind and my body. Suddenly Ewan asked us to “look outward” and suddenly I felt very exposed (I used the word “vulnerable” at the time, and now realise that was the wrong adjective). Everything I had been doing was so internal it was almost selfish, so when I brought my eyes up to the space – even though there was no audience – I felt very exposed, as everything I had investigated was now no longer just for me. As a performer, we concentrate on the audience. We do everything for the audience, so our characters and their stories captivate them, if we do stuff for ourselves, the audience cannot get invested in the way a character feels. This is why I felt selfish – I was doing this completely for myself, and the idea of looking outward suddenly wobbled me. However – when we did it again throughout the week and I kept my eyes in the space and looking outward, I did not feel exposed or selfish, and felt like it was a connection between my body, the space, and the people in the space, which I always seek while on stage.
We also spent time challenging our “awkwardness” at touching other people’s bodies. A helpful exercise was to feel our partner’s back as if we did not know what it was. Then we were to construct an image for ourselves. On Robin’s back, I felt mountains where his shoulder blades were, and a canal where his spine was. On Sam’s back, I found a treasure chest between his shoulder blades that I desperately wanted to open but could not. Robin tried to find the bottom of my ribcage on my back and found it fun to play with the squidgy parts where my organs are in between the tougher parts of bone and muscle. My collarbones intrigued Sam, in particular, the balls-like bones at the part where the collarbone meets the shoulder bone. He thought of poles for pitching a tent, and tried to hold each vertebra between his thumb and index finger. It is very important to be comfortable with touch, as we balance with each other and lift each other. Trust is a huge part as well as comfort. We also explored breathing into our backs and feeling the vibrations in our partners. I wondered what would happen when the pitch of the hum changed. We then went on to “river bed” singing which was feeling your partners back and singing a note to them, and the person being touched with sing a note – not necessarily the same note – but in reaction to that one. By the end, the entire group was touching each other and singing. I had five hands on my body at one point all feeling a vibration. I eventually reached for Ewan and Marta’s collarbones and it was very strange feeling the vibrations there as we had been so focussed on our backs.
On Thursday, we continued looking at breathing into our backs, but while resting in “Child’s Pose”. We were to imagine ourselves as cells, with only liquid in our bodies. I could not connect to this image, but when we added in humming – my hum being so deep -, I suddenly found myself as an image of a boat in the night, and wherever Stacey touched on my back, I felt a beam of light come out as if I were a lighthouse. Other members of the class felt like watercolours blending together (which made me think of a bath-bomb), Stacey felt as though there was a tube where her spine was and the air was coming in and out of there. Next we tried “pouring into the floor” from all parts of our bodies. I really enjoyed this because I felt as though I was in really thick water and just moved slowly throughout the room across the floor. I even got to a wall and managed to pour my legs and hips up off the floor up the wall. I kept my eyes looking out into the space and watched as everyone almost melted across the space. I wondered what would happen if we melted into one another, so at some points I poured my leg or arm under someone’s body where they had created a bridge.
As we moved further into the week, we did more singing. I was very nervous, but I worked very hard at overcoming blocks. We would knock on each other’s backs releasing/forcing sounds to leave our bodies. This was great fun. It reminded me of when children shake themselves while shouting and their voices start vibrating. We worked on Drone Singing – inspired by a Bulgarian Women’s Choir; The Mystery of the Bulgarian Voices. By the end of the week we had worked on Dissonance, and sang and danced together. It was a truly beautiful sound that we had created.
On Friday morning, we had a full body massage, which was very much needed! This was also a great way to get used to being touched and touching someone else’s body. After this, we told our partners what had happened to us in the past year going from month to month for 5 minutes. We were to ask our partners what we wanted to hear more about. Then we sat facing away from them and told our stories again. After this, we sat back to back and told each other memories that suddenly came into our heads. Each time we were to start with “I remember …” it surprised me how many memories came flooding back to me. Now that we had built a strong bond with our partners from massages to memories, we stood a length away from each other and were to walk with focus towards and around our partner to find where the “strongest current” was between us both – where tension was strong. Again, I thought back to Al Seed. Working on tension with him meant that we had to hold eye contact with our partner (with CoW, we were to avoid gazing into each other’s eyes for a long periods of time) and walk very slowly towards them. As soon as you saw your partner begin to smile or their gaze shifted, we were to take a step back, as this showed discomfort and that the tension was very strong.
By the end of the week, we were singing the song “Confitemini Domino”, we were moving in the space confidently, we were aware of our bodies and their limits, and everyone had grown in confidence. We learned aspects of Grotowski, and spoke of inspiring companies such as Song of the Goat Theatre. I thoroughly enjoyed the Winter Training Course, and I cannot recommend this company enough. Ewan and Anna are superb teachers and artists. I hope to work with them again soon!!