By Kalpana Raghuraman
This is an article about how I use the tools of Access Consciousness® in my work as choreographer: traveling over the world creating dance performances and using these potent tools to bring arts and consciousness together.
I love traveling for my work. I get to meet all kinds of people, learn from them and share my ideas. As a choreographer, I spend many days of the year on the road. I mainly spend large chunks of time in different countries to create performances for a dance company, or for a specific dance project.
People often ask me – how does it feel to travel to an unknown place and teach your choreography to dancers you do not know?
Well actually – there is much more to it!
First of all, I do not necessarily just ‘teach’ my choreography to dancers. It is not that I create the work in my studio in the Netherlands and then travel and ask the dancers to do exactly what I have cooked up. Most of the work happens with the dancers and their bodies. It is about the alchemy of the moment, the beautiful creative mix that unwraps when we are all together in a specific location. I look at the qualities of the dancers and see how I can use these to bring them out and make them shine. I look at how I can make these dancers see themselves from a space of limitlessness. And in that way allow them to step into a version of themselves that they might not even know exists, and is beyond what they can imagine.
Discomfort is the new Black
Is this work fun? Yes! Is it easy? Not always!
Each context is specific. Being brought up in the Netherlands and working as a full-time choreographer at a dance production house, I have the privilege of rehearsing in a well-equipped studio and a team to back me up regarding various things. Working with a team of people over a longer period of time allows you to grow together and this creates a comfort zone. Certain things come naturally and we become unaware about the way things and people actually function. Yet when you travel to a new theater, a different dance company or an unknown city, there is nothing and nobody that you can take for granted. The comfort zone disappears and you have to function from a completely different space. What I have learned is that discomfort can become the new comfort zone and a breeding ground for a creative edge.
As an artist, I am always looking for new ways and perspectives to bring out my ideas. Unconsciously we have a tendency to base our creations from some past reference point. This is especially true for the Indian classical forms, since it is continuity with the past that functions as the golden rule. For me, I have learned that I can be more true to a creative process if I let that go. And what easier way to not have any past reference to function and create from, than in a new setting where there is no real reference or past? The novelty of the situation brings you immediately into a space of curiosity and new possibilities.
Working in another country also brings the added new elements of climate, culture, cuisine and atmosphere. These very much permeate the creation process. When I was working in Malaysia to create ‘She Ra’ which deals with the superhero inside of us (inspired by the Xmen of Access) for example, the luscious green surroundings, the Ramadan festivities and the local culture, greatly inspired both me and my music. Or when I was working in Burkina Faso (West-Africa) during the winter of 2011 for the duet ‘Towards Dawn’, the warm tropical weather clearly influenced the creation process, which was also partially taking place in a cold Dutch winter.
Working and creating with dancers is often times more connected with leadership than with artistic talents. I am not saying that one can do without artistic vision and talent. Yet what is paramount is the ability to inspire dancers. If you have a great artistic idea but you cannot connect with the dancers you are working with, and you have not found a way to get them on board to travel with you on this artistic journey, then your vision is not going to be enough. This has been my experience time and again. Be it in Europe, in America or Asia. To me, a great creator and artist is a leader who is willing to be an invitation without requiring people to follow.
So how do I inspire dancers and get them to look in the direction I am looking? And how can they help me look in that direction? First of all the issue of hierarchy needs to be resolved. As soon as the choreographer is the ‘master’, there is a separation that does not nourish the creative flow. The choreographer surely makes the decisions and makes the ‘final call’ on all levels, not just content: music, costumes, light and set design. Yet, this is the job of the choreographer. There is no sense of value in it: it is not good or bad, it is just a different job than that of a dancer.
What I have also experienced is that if you keep the door of possibilities open by using questions instead of functioning from conclusions, you get a much quicker and deeper connection with people. And this feeds the creative process tremendously.
So instead of thinking: ‘ Oh that dancer is the youngest dancer of this company. I guess she is not that mature yet’. I could ask: ‘What energy can I be for that young dancer to feel comfortable enough to go for it? How can she know that she cannot really make any mistakes when she works for me, what energy can I be for her to know and receive this information?’
By asking such questions, I function from energy and not words. I function from an invitation to possibilities instead of merely looking to solve problems. The fact that we do not know each other or do not necessarily share a history, becomes totally irrelevant. In a way the freshness of ‘not knowing’ becomes the key to surprises on all sides. Dancers have literally bloomed in front of my eyes. This way, traveling to different places and working with diverse dancers is enthralling. And having the Access Consciousness tools is truly something I am grateful for.