This week we - Ingrida Danytė and Jurga Šidiškytė – had a great joy to interview a representative of the contemporary dance, a bodywork and movement therapist Aiste Kriukelyte. We talked about her life as a performer and therapist, her long standing therapeutic and educational experience, upcoming projects and the already born ones, her personal discoveries and insights.
INGRIDA: Aiste, today we decided to talk about dance and somatic practices with you. Would you like to tell us how these two themes intertwine and complement each other in your work?
AISTE: Somatic movement helps me to create a dance. For the past few years, I have been intensely researching developmental patterns of infant movement („Basic Neurocellular Patterns“ according to B.B. Cohen). Over time they revealed a completely different colour, maybe even moved to another level. Now I prefer to use basic things they rely on rather than the specific patterns - such as giving away my weight, the sense of which body parts I am leaning against the floor with, allowing myself to lean in. I am researching how I can do that with my eyes closed since closing the eyes helps me to feel them better. Later, I observe how I can maintain that feeling with my eyes open and seeing the environment I am in. And even further, how I can maintain that feeling if one of my body parts is reaching out, for example. I transfer this experience into a dance or apply it in the therapeutic work. That yielding and seeking reflects our whole life – in order to achieve something in it, we must lean onto something.
I also love to move following my body’s offering. For example, I can imagine that my palms have eyes of their own and investigate the room with my imaginary palm eyes – ceiling, walls, floor, objects in it. Immediately, movements arise; by the way, these are movements that everybody can feel brave enough to do, even if they think they cannot dance. In these movement experiments I find what is fun for me and after finding words for that experience, I deliver these instructions to the dancers. We often begin lessons with such freer explorations. Let’s say we explore what happens when we just raise our hand and how it changes if while raising our hand we simultaneously think that our shoulders are going down. Or, for instance, last week we moved freely, explored giving away the weight of the body and reaching out, we did various improvisational tasks with it. Later, we moved on to a dance combination that we knew previously. People shared that it was fun to have an introduction where they were allowed to move freely and explore. And afterwards check how those principles of movement still work in a very specific combination and how that combination changes as you become aware of them.
INGRIDA: Could you tell us how you discovered dance and how it happened that somatic practices appeared in your life?
AISTE: How did I come into the dance world… In Soviet times, a child either dances from the first grade or if they do not dance from the first grade and then that means a child cannot dance at all and no other dance group would accept them later on. And I probably figured out that I wanted to dance in the third grade. And I did not really have a place to go to. However, in the fifth grade I happened to find a ballet studio where I danced for a bit longer than a year. And later, only in the twelfth grade, did I find a place where I was accepted. That is when everyone usually leaves ‘useless’ after school activities and starts preparing for graduation exams, I started dancing five times per week in the classical and modern dance group ‘Polėkis’. Since I joined it while being older, they specifically offered me to try out modern dance. I had seen it once, maybe on TV, and I really did not like it at all, it seemed like nonsense to me. But I thought to myself that if somebody dances it, they must like it. And I decided to go and see for myself – maybe I could discover what they liked about it. That first time made a huge impression on me. Especially when at the very end of the dance more advanced girls did a dance combination – it had a lot of strength, some wild energy. It touched me deeply.
INGRIDA: And somatics?
AISTE: Yes, over time I got curious about how the body that dances feels. While exploring I have noticed that some images help to change the movement. It seemed to be pretty magical to me. And one day I saw an IBMT (Integrative Bodywork and Movement Therapy) training advertisement that intrigued me. Since this training was organized for the first time, at that time there was no requirement to participate in the entire cycle. So I just went to the first module to try it out. And I felt good in that module. I thought it was very interesting there. But compared to the rest of my life it seemed to be a complete cosmos. When I returned to the regular rhythm of my life after the first module I felt such a sense of incompatibility. I thought either I was crazy or it was them. At that time I did not even know how to explain to my loved ones what I was really doing there – breathing and sensing my cells... Tell this to a normal, rationally thinking person... So after the first module I was not even sure whether I wanted to continue studying. It was too weird and unusual. Then I started a second module after which I realized I wanted to stay. So that was the beginning.
JURGA: Aiste, you started dancing in the twelfth grade, meanwhile I ended up not trying at all. I was enrolled in the ballet class at National M.K. Čiurlionis Art School. But my father did not approve of it. He seemed to be bought into the idea that I would not become Prima Ballerina anyways. So up to this day I have an unfulfilled dream to dance. But my question is not about that. We once talked with you about standardized dance paradigms on which, for example, classical ballet, flamenco etc. are built. These paradigms determine, for instance, which posture is correct, which movement is appropriate, acceptable, and which is not. I wonder what your relationship with standardized movement patterns is?
AISTE: Relationship changed over time. I live with dance for more than twenty years now... The beginning, as for many, was copying the forms. Upon seeing a movement, I had to make the same one. Watching with the eyes of today, modern dance is very close to ballet. Well, the toes can point upwards, the back does not need to necessarily be straight, I can even collapse inside the body… But many things, even the structure of the training itself, often relied on the ballet – plie, tendu... Later, I discovered a so-called release technique where the movements are executed in a relaxed manner. Over time, there have been more various approaches and techniques.
Now it is important to me that the movement would be real. And the word ‘real’ means that the movement would represent how I feel inside. This aspect does not always find a friendly way to coexist with the more professional dance field as there it is often more important, how things look. Dancers make movements or tasks that need to be performed and do not necessarily feel the way they show it. And I find it interesting to look for a concord. And even if I come up with a combination - let’s say I have to stand up firm now – it is still interesting for me to search for how I can feel that firmness, how not to pretend, but to do that in such a manner that what I show would not contrast with my inner feeling.
JURGA: When does an ordinary movement become a dance movement?
AISTĖ: I think that if you feel that you are dancing, that means that you are. And it means that your movement or whatever you are now doing, is a dance. There may not even be a movement – just one or another position of the body.
JURGA: Do you need a spectator – another person who receives?
AISTĖ: The word ‘need’ can be understood in various ways. If you are asking whether I need a spectator in order for me to dance, then the answer is no. If you are asking whether a spectator is important to me, then yes.
JURGA: Is there a difference when you dance for yourself and when you dance for a spectator? How would you describe it?
AISTĖ: Yes, there is. Again, in many ways. If I dance for myself, then I think about myself, about my body, about its relationship to space, to environment. And when I dance for the spectator, my relationship to the viewer contributes to all the above. And it can change other dimensions quite profoundly.
JURGA: It seems that another person can change your movement.
AISTE: Yes. They change how I want to dance, how I want to move.
INGRIDA: At this point it seems relevant to ask you about your project ‘Human. Impulse. Movement.’ Would you like to introduce it? As far as I know a spectator is important in the project and there are many other things as well.
AISTĖ: Yes, for some time now I have been moving towards finding a different relationship with a viewer. A relationship where it is more important not to show something cool but to rather share more of what I am interested in, to invite for a discussion or reflection. The core of this project is The Discipline of Authentic Movement. It is a movement which occurs while one follows their inner body impulses without evaluating them or dividing them into pretty or not, appropriate or inappropriate. The second element is the connection with a spectator. The essence of the research is to study kinesthetic empathy and the activity of mirror neurons while dancing for one specific spectator. I listen to the impulses of my body and observe how those impulses are influenced by the viewer. It feels very vivid when I dance for one spectator and then I dance for another. I was often surprised because for that other spectator I want to dance completely differently even though it is the same body, maybe only five minutes have passed, no big changes happened. If I look at my viewer, let’s say it is you, Ingrida, now and I believe that thanks to mirror neurons my body is getting some clues from your body and if I listen to the impulses of my body then my body should dance some of you. And if I am dancing a little of you, then watching me, you should feel that there is something about you here as well. It was very interesting to explore whether ordinary people from the street - unfamiliar with such subtleties or contemporary dance - would feel that. And many did indeed. Especially when we did live explorations. More than a few people told me that there was something about them there. Now this project moved even further.
INGRIDA: Yes, I actually wanted to ask you what stage the project is at now?
AISTE: At the beginning it was interesting to dance for another. Later I decided to share this experience with other dancers. I was curious to invite people who had trained dancers’ bodies to dance authentically. We had such an exploration group with dancers in the autumn. Then we did not quite come to the dancing for spectators, we had limited time. But we discovered many other things. We danced in open spaces, parks; and we allowed our body to be in such a manner as it wanted to be in relation to itself; relation to the environment: trees, benches and with everything that I see, I hear, I smell; in connection to the other dancers and finally the connection to passers-by. There are a lot of things, and I observe myself, observe what my body wants to do and I allow that. I see other dancers doing something, I can react to it the way I want to or not to react at all. Dancers used to say that moving this way the feeling of great freedom appears and shame vanishes. Being in touch with your senses and impulses you allow yourself to lie on the sidewalk even though normally you would not do that and to do many other things that you really did not expect to be doing. Here it becomes normal. And for me it is beautiful, I experienced a lot of joy. That real presence, again. Real movement. I really want to inspire more people to experience that. Invite and show how good it feels to just be.
INGRIDA: So, I think, Aiste, invite us somewhere for something.
AISTE: I can still invite you Thursdays to move remotely from 10 a.m. And when the weather gets warmer, we will move outdoors. But at least for a month we will practice inside. So at 10 a.m. on Thursday. You can find more information here.
INGRIDA, JURGA: Thank you for the interview.
Aiste was interviewed by Ingrida and Jurga – a practitioner of Integrative Bodywork and Movement practice in EMBODIED PRACTICE.