I AM…present not perfect.
I take a breath, close my eyes, and feel grateful to be right there in that instant - the exhilarating juncture just before magic happens…
The unfurling moment before a performance is when I feel most alive— most present. Through accumulated experiences, I have learned how to cultivate this presence by releasing control at the time right before the proverbial curtain is lifted; surrendering just at that edge of unpredictability. Through an inspired abandonment of expectation/certainty/pursuit of perfection, presence readily materializes and spills out into the performance space. If I’m very fortunate, my presence resonates with those I am sharing the space with, impacting both other performers and audience members alike, and manifesting as a deep feeling of connection and co-creation. True presence is an elusive slice of timelessness; of spaceless-ness; and of placeless-ness. It transcends context, identity, ego, circumstance, and any other strictures distracting us from the power of the here and now.
Feeling this transformational force during a live performance is like being swept up by the wind and carried to new unimaginable heights. Some schools of thought describe it as flow. Some cultures describe it as duende. Some athletes may link it to adrenaline. Perhaps it is simply a surge of inspiration that comes from our most authentic selves. Others can recognize it as something indescribable — a ‘je ne sais quoi’ quality which can’t really be defined. Whatever it is, wherever it comes from, it serves as a channel liberating creativity and joy. This ethereal and, quite often, inexplicable presence bonds audience, performer, time, space, place, and the universe into a profoundly moving memory — a dynamic testament to the beauty of the tumultuous human experience.
In an artistic and personal quest to champion the inevitable inconsistencies and fluctuating complexities of not only live performance, but also of life as a whole, I have become totally devoted to the realization of presence. In my line of work, one becomes acutely aware of how powerfully affecting genuine presence can be both in self and witnessed in others. One also observes, however, it isn’t just an isolated phenomenon only found in the realm of dance and theatre. Presence can be found everywhere: in the dining room of a restaurant, a conversation with a stranger, walking along the water’s edge, a dialogue with a friend, kissing a significant other, cooking a meal from scratch, piloting an airplane, or responding to a crisis. Moments of sincere presence and, in particular, a shared awareness of presence provide sensorial gateways to buried treasures like raw emotion, expression, purpose, and ingenuity.
No matter how much we rehearse or try to perfect our techniques, life will always serve up the unforeseen. Accordingly, I always tell performers before a show: do not strive for perfection, strive for presence. Inevitably, to do this requires trust in serendipity, spontaneity, gut instincts, and intuition. Look beyond attaining the ideal, fixed expectations, desired outcomes, curtain calls, or good reviews; strip away the fear of failure or uncertainty… and, what remains is something much more robust and meaningful: freedom — guised as a readied imagination.
Almost 10 years ago, I was completing my MA in Choreography in London. I was experimenting with repetition, ritual, aesthetics of risk, and gestures that were particularly representative of ‘femaleness’. I played with different body movements, body positions, stillness, exhaustion, and ultimately, I was curious about innovative ways to express womanhood through the dancing and performing body. This is a journey I’m still on and although the outputs are evolving, it still inspires me to share the strength, power, and vulnerability of being a woman. Most significantly, I have always been drawn to really making the audience feel something and feel like they are a part of the world I am creating.
I was and am still very much interested in pushing boundaries and creating different modes of communication and exchange for performers and audience in order to create a dynamic, genuine moment for everyone to share. Whether it’s one of our original productions or entertainment for an event, I want the audience to experience dance and performance in ways where they can wholly feel the passion -- the strength, the endurance, the joy, and the humanity. I respect the stage and the traditional division between performer and audience, but I also think it’s not the only way to experience the performing arts. In fact, I personally believe removing boundaries and the spectatorship of a performance, we make room for spontaneity, unexpected interactions, connection through eye contact, new sensory modes of perception, new experiences of a body’s pulse and rhythm-- through this new way of experiencing performance, intimate revelations can be shared. This is why I make immersive work.
Essentially, I have discovered through my decade of creating non-stage work that by transforming conventional exchanges between audience and performer, genuine connection is possible. This is the power and the beauty of immersive experience. In changing the modes in which the audience relates to and discovers my body’s expressions as a performer I discovered the following: traditions of male gaze are disrupted; the importance of meaningful connection through empathy and intimate proximity is reinforced; the performers feel empowered; and the audience feels a more personal relationship to the art. All in all, immersive performance truly connects us to the present moment. A decade ago this felt very revolutionary.
‘Immersive’ has become a buzzword recently. I have it as a google search word and when I get an alert for ‘immersive dining’ I get excited thinking innovative experiences are being embraced somewhere in the world. Unfortunately, all too often people think they can throw entertainers or any artistic element or random artistic elements to a space or event and call it an immersive experience. Immersive experiences are such because they consider connection, presence, space for personal micro-transformations, and unexpected interactions. Immersive means genuinely creating a world for audiences and artists alike. And although the work I have been doing for so long suddenly feels trendy, I believe erasing the archaic relationships between artists and patrons remains innovative and honourable -- when it is done with intention and artistic merit. I AM commits to their immersive work as always being developed and performed in the spirit of truth and revolution.