Monday, September 1, 2014

Learning to Learn in the Present Moment

This summer was our third Artists Retreat, concluding just a few weeks ago. Why do we go there for a week each year right at the start of the season?
Continued study has always been a core tenet of our company. Eugenio Barba writes of the phenomenon he calls learning to learn. "This is of tremendous importance for those who choose or are obliged to go beyond the limits of specialized technique. It is the condition that enables us to go beyond technical knowledge and not be dominated by it." As we experience and learn from on-going theatre trainings, we wanted to share our disparate methods with one another. Peter, through a series of events and meetings only to described as synchronicity, was introduced to the owners of Chanticleer Gardens, an idyllic flower farm. So Matthew said, "Let's go to the farm all day every day for a week, share, and see what comes of it."
In addition to sharing our own methodologies of the Michael Chekhov training, psychophysical improvisation, and Viewpoints, we brought in guest artists to lead workshops in modern dance, poi spinning, Lessac Kinesensic training and more. What we discovered, and continue to discover every year, is that the similarities and commonalities among all these practices far outweigh the differences. All of them seek truth, a unity of something both inside and outside the self, which is recognizable beyond culture, medium, or even time.
For the last two years Aaron Butler, a master of several martial arts who teaches at The Training Station in Manchester, NH, led a workshop in Tai Chi and I Liq Chuan. This work became some of the most profound of the retreat for me. At the core of both practices is developing a mindfulness and awareness to the present moment. The vocabulary is different, but the ideas the practice is driving toward are familiar. Aaron's teaching reminds me that there is so much in this world that I don't know, there is so much I can learn.
This summer we had a new guest artist, Valentina Lattuada from Barcelona, Spain, who shared her work which she calls Integral Transpersonal Theatre. I prefer the alternate name she uses - the Poetics of the Invisible.  Her work began, like so much does, with a connection to the breath. Again, the vocabulry was different, but the goal a familiar unknown. Breath is one way we can check in on five levels: physical, energetic, intellectual, emotional, and transpersonal. The exercises she led each session point to that same mindfulness and awareness, and even reception of the present moment.
Just a few weeks before our retreat, I read a blog post by John Britton of Ensemble Duende about the challenge of returning to "real life" after an intensive. "Could that even be our job as artists, to help our communities (re)discover the wonder of each passing moment and the connections between us, across time and geography?" Yes, I think so. And that is why we return to Chanticleer Gardens each summer, why we meet monthly for Open Training, and why we work hard to keep learning, and keep striving to connect in the present moment.
~Carey Cahoon

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