A performance-research project for The University of Roehampton
I pass from dawn to dusk
I pass from road to field
from field to forest
I pass from the outer to the inner.
I choose to move
I initiate the change
My body responds
a knowledge from the land
-scape of the sound of wind
the pattern of birds
underneath my feet.
My own relationship to the landscape influences my seeing, sensing and moving through it. The concern is not necessarily the body’s being and place, but its becoming, passage and potential displacement; and I question: is this a form of migratory movement?
There are certain kinds of knowledge which
exceed the propositional and which can only
be sensed, as it were, in passing.
(Macfarlane, 2013: 51)
In Passing takes place in Northumberland, where I feel a sense of belonging, and an intangible sense of place. My body has a visceral interdependence to where the dance takes place. This converge of human-land-connection through passage offers an opening of possibilities to consider the relationship between dancing, traveling and migrating. The dance acts as a frame to reflect on how the increasingly changing global mobility affects the individual body, as well as phenomenologically consider the human, bird, and other animal passage that has occurred throughout history at the specific site.
People move through landscapes continually: ‘at what point does one decide whether or not to call this movement migration?’ (Olwig, 2003: 65). In some ways, we are all becoming migrants, as philosopher of movement Thomas Nail describes, migratory figures function as mobile social positions rather than fixed identities (2015: 3). This movement, a change in locality, county, country, and not necessarily resulting in social expulsion, almost always involves an insecurity of some form due to the displacement that exists. There is an emergence of a contemporary migration: recognition of the migrant figure that is apparent in us all with movement being a central part of its definition.
Rather than question the socio-political definition of migration, In Passing is a personal, empathetic view of how migrating from place to place has influenced the body, with the movement-orientation of contemporary migration forming the backbone of interweaving movement, place and passage. The work presented is a lived experience: my own migration from dawn to dusk, urban to countryside, site-specific place to site-specific place. The lived experience is an ‘essential relationship between consciousness and the world’ (Sheets-Johnstone, 2015: 9) and it is this immediate encounter which ‘constitutes the foundation of our knowledge’ (2015: 2). My passing through, and subsequent dancing in, two specific locations allows for an embodied experience of both being present in the body, and also being present in its engagement with the outside world. This practice of paying attention to the lived experience acknowledges that there are learnings to be gained from something outside ourselves, forming an empathy with situations that we may only experience subtly, such as migratory movement. This reminds me of the work of ecologist Robin Wall Kimmerer, who practices through decolonial knowledges, where ‘listening, standing witness, creates an openness to the world in which the boundaries between us can dissolve’ (Kimmerer, 2013: 300).
Trees, birds, rocks and paths cease to be merely objects of contemplation, and instead become actively and convivially present, enabling understanding that would be possible nowhere else, under no circumstance.
(Macfarlane, 2013: 341)
The act of passing and dancing through a landscape, whereby bodily knowledge is combined with knowledge of place, creates the opportunity for a site-specific lived experience. Choreographer Crystal Pite, whose work Light of Passage (2022) responds to the refugee crisis and other intransient themes of the cycle of life, defines passage in multiple ways. Three of these definitions are apparent in the work here: ‘passage as movement,’ ‘passage as change,’ and ‘passage as journey or voyage’ (cited in Crompton, 2022: 29). These definitions enable an acknowledgement of both past and present. My own migratory movement to Northumberland and to the specific sites in In Passing is considered, as well as the history of previous passages of movement contained within the landscape itself.
Passage as movement, from one place to another, brings about an embodied awareness derived from being in the particular places. There is an interrelationship between the self and place. This directly links to passage as change, a process of changing from one condition to another. In In Passing, my body is responding to changes from being in an urban landscape to being in a more natural landscape, moment-to-moment. As well as awareness of the present lived experience, memories of bodily experience also influence the movement. Moving in a multitude of landscapes lives on in the memory after withdrawing in actuality; the recollection of past places and adapting to the present place influences the passage.
Passage as journey or voyage, with freedom to move from place to place, considers a wider view. The movement in In Passing is influenced by the questioning of who has passed through this specific site before me? I am not dancing alone at the site. I follow in the footsteps of previous humans and animals that have passed through the landscape, and I move presently alongside birds that are making a voyage above me. There is a concern for ‘being-with-the-world as human while also being part of something larger’ (Fraleigh, 2018: 40). In considering migratory-movement, the displacement that exists when moving from place to place perhaps creates a heightened awareness in the body that is able to consider past and present alongside its own lived experience: reconfiguring the act of passing as an essential form of motion whereby the body can still attain a sense of belonging and identity.
This empathetic view of interweaving movement, place and passage has resulted in an understanding of the complexity of place-identity. Rather than viewing a place of belonging as a self-contained entity, there is a relationship that expands from body to place and from place to body. This interrelationship that forms, establishing a place-identity, is in a constant state of flux: ‘the places are anchoring points that enable people to both explore […] and to maintain a sense of rootedness’ (Olwig, 2003: 74). Place can become a source of belonging and identification, but in an ever-changing form. The lived experience of the body in passing through and dwelling in certain places inhabits a place-identity by sensory and kinaesthetic means, but also in memory. The present moment is prolonged, becoming a memory carried in the passage onto another place.
Crompton, S. (2022) ‘Leaning into the Unknown’, Light of Passage, Royal Opera House: The Royal Ballet, pp. 28-30.
Fraleigh, S. (2018) Branching into Phenomenologies, in Fraleigh, S. (ed.) Back to the Dance Itself: Phenomenologies of the Body in Performance, Urbana: University of Illinois Press, pp. 37-45.
Kimmerer, R. W. (2013) Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants, Minneapolis Minnesota: Milkweed Editions.
MacFarlane, R. (2013) The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot. London: Penguin Books.
Nail, T. (2015) The Figure of the Migrant. California: Stanford University Press.
Olwig, K. F. (2003) Global Places and Place-Identities – Lessons from Caribbean Research, in Eriksen, T. H. (ed.) Globalisation: studies in Anthropology. London: Pluto Press, pp. 58-77.
Pite, C.(chor.) (2022) Light of Passage. Performed by the Royal Ballet [Royal Opera House, London. 3 November].
Sheets-Johnstone, M. (2015) The Phenomenology of Dance. 5th ed. Temple University Press.
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