Tekhnē Sessions were primarily designed to explore the performative space between training and performance structures, i.e. the space that is generally viewed as leading to the genesis of performance material. Tekhnē Sessions engage this space not as an intermediary stage towards a further end (a ‘performance’) but as an end in itself that explores the interplay between the performative, the improvisational, and the structural. In so doing, Tekhnē Sessions aim at localising the performative condition and, in the process, giving a glimpse of an area that is rarely, if ever, witnessed by non-practitioners. As the name Tekhnē implies (Greek for ‘skill’, ‘art’), these Sessions also provide an insight into the Project’s technical procedures.
Arriving at the Tekhnē Session Concept
The Tekhnē Session concept is an evolution on the three-hour sessions that characterised the final months of the First Phase work in January-June 2003. These proto-Tekhnē Sessions were made up of a sequence of exercises that, though structured on a macro level (i.e. Yoga sequence was followed by Plastics exercises, leaps work, Voice exercises etc.), it was quite flexible on a micro level (e.g. though the Yoga sequence was set, the sequence of plastics exercises was determined by the conductor of the session). These First Phase sessions aspired to engender the performative mode (a kind of heightened physical awareness) through an extreme engagement of the body (be it in a yoga position or an acrobatic leap) that, however extreme and engaging, still pertained to a structure and therefore resisted the risks of sliding into anarchical and unrecoverable improvisation. The structure adopted, however, did allow instances of glimpsing and experiencing anarchy as a means of extending the limits of the known. It also made possible the evolution that led to the Tekhnē Session concept in December 2003.
The objectives that had given shape to research procedures in the First Phase were still essentially the same that gave birth to Tekhnē Sessions in the Second Phase. The key differences between Tekhnē and previous work structures include:
- the design of a highly codified structure of actions dependent on a progressive reiterative dynamic within a continuously flowing frame;
- the awareness that this structure is not just ‘technique’ but a possible form of ‘performance’ in its own right; and
- the presence of at least one and at most fifteen observer/s as an essential element in an investigation of the performative.
Localising the Performative: Identifying a Structure
Tekhnē Sessions attempt to engage elements connected with the performative condition within a structure that (1) though emerging from technique, is not merely technique, and which (2) makes space for something that resists presentation to achieve some kind of allusive ‘form’ in front of observers.
Facilitating the Improvisational
A key to the localisation of the irreducible elements of the performative was felt to lie in a structure that made possible the activation of improvisational dynamics. A conventional performance structure was not deemed to be conducive to a laboratory-like localisation of the performative. The semantics of a conventional performance structure (which include those of the clothes worn, the language/s used, the texts selected, the sequence of actions followed, the theme and dramaturgy adopted) were seen as accessories to, and therefore a kind of obfuscation of, the irreducible elements of the performer’s condition in performance. This consideration led the Project to search for a performative structure other than that of a conventional performance. The quest for another kind of structure that satisfied the Project’s criteria for the improvisational led to the development of a new research branch. This branch eventually evolved into Tekhnē Sessions.
The process that led to the Tekhnē branch of the Project was not as clinically scientific as it might appear in this account. At the time we were totally immersed in developing a technical procedure that assisted the performer’s composition and habitation of action (‘organised presence’) in performance. Nevertheless, ‘semantic formlessness’ and ‘divestiture of form’ had always been a guiding factor ever since the inception of this branch. Whether it was the design of the actions to be implemented (e.g. derived from yoga and acrobatics) or the items of clothing used (minimal, neutral, and functional), or which language to use during the Text and the Song Sequences (we utilise a codified nonsense language aimed at exercising vowel/consonant articulation), the process that led to the formulation of Tekhnē Sessions has from the start been marked by an effort to limit as far as possible the semantic weight of already-meaningful structures.
Avoiding Pre-Determined Meaning
Such an uncompromising approach should be viewed in the context of the idiom of allusion rather than that of re-presentation. The resistance to pre-determined meaning is viewed not as some kind of glorification of the ‘abstract’ or ‘meaningless’, but, rather, as a catalyst for the emergence of ‘meaning’ (‘images’ and ‘associations’) in performers and observers alike. The guiding principle here has been that for the tapping of ‘something’ that resists pre-determined form to occur, the practitioner needs to research (i.e. to return to and in a sense re-invent) the grammar of one’s practice; hence this branch’s emphasis on approximating, as far as this is possible, the irreducible action of motion, of speaking, of singing, in terms of its physicality.
The structure announced by Tekhnē is seen as a space sited in between technique and performance. This locus, where form is endeavouring to emerge from the magna of the formless in a dramaturgy of improvisation, is indeed a place where performance (‘meaning’) is generated. Observers have been invited not only to partake of this process by witnessing it, but also, by their presence, to help bring it about.
The Active Agency of Observers
The presence of observers during Tekhnē Sessions marks a crucial development on previous work structures within the Icarus Project at the same time as it extends the Project’s investigation of the performer’s work upon himself. The presence of observers is an indication that these Sessions explore a space that is not merely technique and not quite performance but can be sited somewhere in between technique and performance. It is a window into the creative moment.
In order to investigate the performative, the presence of at least one observer is essential. However, it was also felt essential that the number of observers be limited or else their status would become that of an ‘audience’ which would then generate dynamics pertaining to a ‘performance structure’. It is indeed a fine line to tread between, on one hand, the frame created by the presence of observers within which the practitioner can organise his energy, and, on the other hand, the presence of an anonymous audience that restricts a practitioner’s improvisational capabilities by imposing upon him the responsibility to ‘perform’ and ‘make sense’. For this reason, the number of observers per Tekhnē Session was limited to a maximum of fifteen. In this way, practitioners were allowed to attune to the fine balance between ‘performative tension’ and ‘personal work freedom’ aimed at during Tekhnē.
A Tekhnē Session without an observer is thus not possible because it would lack a constitutive structural element. It is possible to ‘exercise’ the structure (especially the First Movement) but to go beyond that structure (especially the Third but also the Second Movement), the presence of an observer is essential.
Tekhnē Session Format
The Tekhnē Session format is made up of three seamless movements, each exploring different possibilities of the performative, the improvisational, and the structural. Whereas the highly structured format of the First Movement allows for a habitational kind of improvisation to occur (i.e. how to do a codified action), the seemingly ‘free’ structure of the Third Movement is in practice an improvisational recall of actions from the first two movements and other exercises not incorporated in the Tekhnē structure (i.e. how to do becomes one with what to do and why do).
The First Movement
The First Movement is akin to a martial arts form that seeks to inhabit the performative and improvisational within a highly codified and synchronised structure of action sequences. The design of this movement, which incorporates six sequences of mostly stretch action-positions, provides practitioners with a ‘point of entry’ allowing them access to the performative condition. The highly structured quality of the sequences (and of the individual actions themselves) is aimed at providing practitioners with a point of entry that facilitates the shedding of physical blocks (such as stiff muscles) and psychological obstacles (such as inhibition at working quasi-naked in front of ‘strangers’ and ‘friends’), thereby creating the conditions of possibility for the improvisational and the performative to occur in the Third Movement.
The Second Movement
If the First Movement serves as a ‘point of entry’, the Second Movement functions as a ‘springboard’ that propels the practitioner away from the highly codified First Movement towards the liberated and liberating structure of the Third Movement. The Second Movement is made up of two task-sequences which permit the practitioner more improvisational freedom than the first but which still provide a structure within which intentions/actions can be based.
Though in this and the following movement, the practitioner is no longer bound by the demands of synchronised actions with the other session practitioners, it has been noted (by observers and practitioners alike) that a kind of ‘synchronicity’ and ‘contact’, without the traits these terms usually denote, does take place between practitioners, particularly in the final movement. One suspects that this kind of latent synchronicity/contact is symptomatic of some kind of (1) heightened pyscho-physical awareness and (2) organic habitation of the performative space, which in turn is symptomatic of the performative condition.
The Third Movement
The Third Movement’s formal freedom is rooted in the structural frame of the previous movements. It is viewed as the culmination of the ‘point of entry’ and the ‘springboard’ processes that precede it. At this point in the development of the Project, it is not possible to attempt the final ‘flight’ movement without the preceding two. It is envisaged that this movement will evolve and inform the entire Tekhnē structure.
The current format of the Third Movement contains the seeds of its transcendence and already anticipates the direction which the Tekhnē branch of the Project intends to follow: i.e. a mastery of improvisation entailing the combination of (1) physical actions (currently being done), (2) text sequences (currently done by conductor of session), and (3) song work (currently done on its own, independently of physical and text improvisation). An uncompromising mastery of physical, text, and song structures is seen to provide the optimal conditions for the localisation and identification of the performative condition to occur. n
Tekhnē Sessions Structure
First Movement: Point of Entry
- Primary Sequence
- Crescent Sequence
- Dive Sequence
- Half-Lifts Sequence
- Floor Work Sequence
- Horse-Riding Stance Sequence
* Every Sequence incorporates various Sets of Actions (e.g. Squats, Rolls, Half/Full Turns, Waves, Twists, Half/Full Windmills).
Second Movement: Springboard
- Rooted-Hands Floor-Work Task Sequence
- Floor-Work Task Sequence
Third Movement: Flight
- Improvisation Structure with Material from First/Second Movements and other exercises not incorporated in the Tekhnē structure.
- Consonant/Vowel Articulation Text Sequence (by session conductor) leading to Song Sequence.
Sessions include a brief introductory address and last about fifty minutes. Due to their nature, all Sessions are unique. Tekhnē Sessions can be presented in solo, duo, or trio format, in various frontal or circular spatial configurations, and in diverse ways of coordination.
Tekhnē Structure Concept:
- to codify a body of exercises
- within a continuously flowing frame
- by means of a pattern of sequences of positions and actions
- based on a progressive reiterative dynamic
- leading to an improvisational habitation of the structure’s constitutive elements.
It is possible to design a Tekhnē Structure not only for various aspects of Physical Work but also for Text Work (‘articulation’ and ‘projection’), Song Work, and any other area of the performer’s craft.
That state of presence that occurs in a scenic space and within a dynamic where the performer’s being is conditioned by the presence of at least one observer to such an extent that the performer’s motivation for and implementation of action goes beyond the exclusively organisational, mechanical, and technical execution of physical actions.