Part of the magic of this class is the opportunity for hands-on learning and creative problem solving. In our last meeting, we were asked to provide variation on different phrases without guidance.
Having learned a phrase that relied on rhythm and precision, we retrograded that phrase as a class and checked the precision of our work against the mirror and each other. Deceptively easy at first, this turned out to be a challenging exercise. While some parts of the phrase were symmetrical, tracking the movement from one point to another revealed that in order to rewind the motion as on a VHS tape, we needed to follow the path we set up in the original phrase rather than simply exchanging right for left or vise versa. The work we have done increasing the specificity of the movement through practice made tracking these paths easier, which I took away as a lesson for the day. Having the phrase itself thoroughly in the body allows for alteration or combination in new ways—much like acting truly begins after memorization. I liked finding this connection with my own field of study, and I am once again excited for the opportunity to use these critical thinking skills we are honing to make every movement a conscious one.
Next, we challenged our critical thinking skills further by using the right side of our bodies to go through the phrase we had previously retrograded, while on the left side moving through the everyday poses we had previously learned. I was reminded of an early childhood memory, sitting at the piano and practicing a piece with both hands after learning each hand’s part individually. At this point, each of my classmates’ expressions of the movement began to become more noticeably different and individual as we combined the two phrases in our own bodies. My combination lined up in such a way that, at one point, my left leg was supposed to be up with the support of my right in the everyday poses, and my right leg was supposed to be up with the support of my left in the rhythmic phrase we learned. I had to decide to jump and tuck my legs up underneath myself or go down to the floor. It seemed that at every step there was more that could be analyzed and combined to create the finished product. I feel heartened that we have weeks of class time to devote to this project—there is so much to discover in Tharp’s technique and process!
The entire process of quickly analyzing and processing the information we received was a catalyst for creative thinking and problem solving. The exercises that we work on in class combine the foundational work of alignment and core strength with stylistic choices that set Tharp’s work apart. It is impossible to feel disengaged in this class when you are not only relying on your own body and mind working in tandem to find a heightened level of specificity and precision but also facing puzzles and challenges in real time. I love conceptual puzzles and critical thinking exercises, and in this class, I have found a place to solve them in real time while making something that makes me feel both artistically proud and fulfilled. Hopefully, this program will be made available to other students like myself with less of a dance background so that more students can explore the ways Tharp’s work engages with our desire to create.