This week’s guest on Between the Art is somatic dance and movement educator Laura Colomban.
Laura grew up in Venice, Italy, and began dance lessons when she was six years old. This included a range of dance styles, such as ballet, contemporary, hip-hop, and musical theatre. A few years down the line, Laura decided to go to California to train under Anna Halprin at the Tamalpa Institute, studying Halprin’s life-art process. Laura then went to New York to learn from choreographer Daria Faïn who previously worked with poet and architect Robert Kocik to found The Commons Choir. Faïn works with Chinese energetic practices in relation to the body and performance, while Kocik has done research into linguistics, prose study, and the sound and vibratory effect that these bring to different languages. Both Halprin’s and Faïn’s uniquely different methodologies opened up Laura’s eyes in her approach to movement and working with the body. Since then, Laura has been to China to grasp further knowledge of Chinese movement practices. She also started training with breath and voice work, and these two areas have become the main focus of her work.
Now living between both Venice and London, Laura has a working space in Italy where she is co-opening a community space for her somatic-based work, as well as studying at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance on the MFA Creative Practice: Professional Pathway programme.
Each artist on Between the Art is unique in their own way, and this could not be more true than for Laura! Here she gives a thoughtful insight into her practice which combines sound, movement, and most importantly, listening to discover the body’s own intelligence.
Where do you work? What makes this place important for your creative process?
My environment really informs myself and my work. Location is important in the sense that when I’m in Venice, I’m surrounded by water. I love to move outside, so this climate becomes part of my questioning – the sounds of the waves and the energy they bring. When I’m in London, I work in a studio a lot. A studio is like a blank page, you are yourself; there are no objects to influence you. I prefer not to work in a dance studio because the mirrors and the barre already bring certain expectations as to what I should create. I try to disconnect from this expectation, and stay connected to the practice itself.
Both of these environments need to be there for me. These two realities inform my work: the urban, raw space of a white box with only yourself; and then feeling smooth, in the presence of nature and connected to external sounds, such as birds singing. The sounds of these places also heavily influence me as they become a part of what I create.
How would you describe your creative process? Do you use certain mediums/techniques to develop your creative ideas?
I have created almost a ritualistic structure for myself to enter a space of creativity. The mind becomes occupied in doing the same thing over and over again. It can exit in different directions because I’m keeping it occupied with something meticulous that I have to do. I always start the creative process the same way.
How I work in the space is really important. I acknowledge south, east, north, west within the space, and position myself in the centre. Creation stems from there, listening to the space and listening to myself.
What is the main subject of your inspiration?
My intention is almost to feel non-human. What structures or parameters can I give myself to enter spaces in which I can go beyond what I am physically, culturally, spiritually?
I aim to find ways in which I can manifest the abstract realities that happen inside of me. I hope that this creates a condition where an audience or other people in the space can enter and experience our collective vibrational energies. By creating spaces of resonance and listening, we can be more aware of each other and talk through this vibrational medium, rather than talking how we are used to.
I plan these collective experiences rigorously so that we all become occupied with them, however I don’t want to know what is going to happen! It’s essential for me to go beyond this control in trying to arrive at something in particular.
What are you working on at the moment?
I wanted to do the MFA programme at Trinity Laban as you have a year of self-development study. I have a lot of information and resources to draw upon, therefore I felt I needed to find a way to integrate this with my body and find out how it then shapes the way I create work. Prior to starting the programme, I was doing a lot of research rather than creating for a performance or end product. Now I have realised that the research itself can be the performance: performance practice as research.
I’m working on a research project called Vibrating Choreographic Material. It’s looking at the sounds we produce, including the layering of voices to create soundscapes, and how this affects the choreographic, creative process. I started with Halprin’s cyclical process of collaboration, which goes from gathering resources, creating a score or map, then evaluating it, performing it, evaluating it again… It’s a spiral that works to facilitate collective creation. Halprin first created this in the 70’s when these types of approaches were used. Now in 2021, it’s interesting to see how this same process may work. Although this started out as my initial question, the spiral shape has affected how I move. Everything seems to be taking on this spiralling, cyclical shape!
I’m also questioning how to facilitate and create spaces where people’s voices are heard. I’m developing workshops that encompass everyone’s experiences together. Firstly, I need to understand what is happening for me to then be able to try and build places of resonance. I want these places to be where people can bring their own perceptions and manifest a perception of how they are experiencing the world. Everyone has their own way of manifesting their own perception of the world.
I also teach classes, which are currently online. One pathway is called Mythology of the Body, which is facilitating the life-art process of Halprin. We look at imagery in the body and connect this to cyclical processes through movement, drawing, writing and performing. It’s a process that brings people to a self-portrait, which is then performed. The last time I facilitated this process, the results were very strong and emotionally charged. The other pathway is called The Anatomy of the Voice, which is where I focus on the voice and breath, drawing and writing in response.
"I’m developing workshops that encompass everyone’s experiences together and build places of resonance. I want these places to be where people can bring their own perceptions and manifest a perception of how they are experiencing the world."
What does “sense of place” mean to you? Is this concept present in your work?
Perhaps this is influenced by my current research, but for me sense of place encompasses the vibratory sense of the place, including its energetic quality, and its past and present. There is an element of listening to the place. For example: if I stand in my house, how can I centre myself and perceive the raw essence of the place without the influence of my habitual ways of being there? Every place has its own particular energy, but you can change it by what you do there. If you sing, dance, cry or shout, then the place changes quality. Your mood changes the sense of place.
However, the place can also influence you. Some places make you feel peaceful; others might make you feel on edge. The place almost becomes another human being and you get to know each other if you spend time there.
How can I be as porous as possible to be influenced by the place, rather than put my own perceptions upon it?
Are there elements of your work that connect with or are inspired by the natural world?
Yes, for sure. Even working at certain times of day has an influence of the natural world. In the morning, everything lifts and becomes brighter. If you look to the east you can feel the build-up of energy; at midday, looking to the south you see and feel a brightness of energy; whilst in the evening, things become lower and quieter. This influence of nature has an impact on our bodies, such as on our internal systems or our emotions.
Because I work a lot with the act of listening, I always try to be aware of how the natural world is acting upon me. There is a centre between the Earth’s core and the cosmos above where the space feels almost suspended. I’m always trying to find this point. There is always an awareness of the natural world through this act of noticing: perhaps the temperature, types of birds that are present, or the season.
Does the natural world have a part to play in your everyday life?
I often start my day outside because it’s a way of creating a relation with myself and the world. I listen to the day before I start any work or creative practice. If I don’t go outside on any particular day, there is something not quite right! My mind ends up not being in a healthy state.
Ideally, more often in Venice than London, I go for a run to wake up and then I practice Qigong, standing by the water and facing the sun. I usually do this for about an hour or so. I like to start my day with movement in this way because the body has been lying down overnight, so I feel the need to move and clear my head. It’s also a way to check in with my emotions and internal voice. I physically breathe out any worries so that I can start the day a little less charged full of negative energy.
Do you have a favourite artist or creative individual? Someone who has artistically inspired your work?
People I have met in person have inspired me the most, such as Halprin, Faïn and Kocik. A lot of these practitioners work with movement.
I have also been influenced by Chinese monasteries and temples, and their work within body energetics.
Meredith Monk is a really big inspiration because of her use of words and voice.
Recently, I have been looking at an artist called Julie Mehretu. She designed the cover of the album Promises by Floating Points. She creates these huge paintings which are very striking using bright, flashy colours. I often look in awe at her work.
There are so many names I could mention from many different disciplines and practices.
What would your top piece of advice be for creatives navigating their way in the arts industry today?
Be courageous. It sounds cliché, but now more than ever it is hard to donate time and energy faithfully to art and culture. Hard times require strong responses and, at the same time, this specific historical period requires a soft energy, between acceptance and perseverance. We need to keep questioning through art, raising voices and continuing to allow others to affect us. We need to listen to the resonances in the everyday life. Think outside the box. Talk to different people from different generations, different backgrounds and with contrasting points of view. We need to look for conversations and confrontation. It’s not an easy ride but it’s a fun one!
"Think outside the box. Talk to different people from different generations, different backgrounds and with contrasting points of view."
Do you have a message that you hope to give to the world?
Ground in the body. Listen to what is being said around you. And sing!
Laura's Book List:
1. Resonance by Hartmut Rosa
This is a sociological study of how resonance works in the world and in different cultures.
2. Listening to Noise and Silence: Toward a Philosophy of Sound Art by Salome Voegelin
This is a study of sound, the use of voice and noise in art. How Voegelin writes is quite astonishing! It’s both academic and poetic at the same time.
3. Listening by Jean-Luc Nancy
In this lyrical meditation on listening, Nancy examines sound in relation to the human body. How is listening different from hearing? What does listening entail? How does what is heard differ from what is seen? Can philosophy even address listening, écouter as opposed to entendre, which means both hearing and understanding?
To see more of Laura's work, visit her webstite inhabitingthebody.org and Instagram @lauracolomban and @inhabitingthebody
Laura also has a podcast called Dance Outside Dance initiated with three other movement-based practitioners. You can find this at podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/danceoutsidedance or wherever you listen to your podcasts.
Images 1, 3, 4, 5, 7: Artist's Own
Image 2: Sara Meliti
Image 6: Jean Lorin Sterian