The body is the original resonating chamber. There’s no instrument, no recording studio, no cathedral that listens and responds more intelligently than this one does.
In her landmark book Sensing, Feeling, Action, Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen suggests that the most powerful therapeutic processes involve both movement and sound. Repatterning one affects the other, which then has a chance to be repatterned in turn. In the womb, we hear before we see. Before either of those we are contracting and expanding our minuscule forms, receiving and giving the pulse of breath and life.
I like working with sound in my own teaching and creative work. There are some tensions, some questions, some tender places or hot places, that can be accessed more directly in the body through passively receiving a vibration than through consciously articulating an action. Sometimes, if I’m having trouble finding what comes next in a particular movement passage or phrase, I will make the sound of the movement that came just before — a high hum, maybe, or a low rumble, or a quaver, or a laugh. Learning to trust the sounds my body produces leads me to trust the expressive shapes and gestures and trajectories my body develops.
Brief Kingdom, the evening-length dance I’m making this season with Tulsa Modern Movement (April 24-26 at Studio K), includes bodies and voices — the bodies of the dancers (which will appear both two- and three-dimensionally), the voices in the choral music which makes up much of the score, and the voice of the narrator, who tells the story in poetry. But the dancers also have a voice, as the narrator has a body. I am interested in allowing all the parts of everyone to exist together with a give-and-take of weight onstage. Sometimes you will see the narrator being involved as a body among bodies, sometimes more heavily as a voice. Sometimes the dancers will be “telling” more vigorously than others. Sometimes one speaker will hand off the story to another. And there will be other sorts of sound uniting it all, created by the brilliant Scott Bell, who has a uniquely intuitive and skillful understanding of volumes and vibration. There are different kinds of speaking. Speech of all kinds allows a resonance, a reverberation — of meanings and of literal physical vibrations — to travel out of the chamber from which it originates.
There’s another “chamber” here: the story itself, an ancient resonating box into which generations of individual imaginations have come looking for wisdom, reassurance, adventure, or help. The story we’re working with is “The Frog Prince,” and then there’s another story that grew out of that story: the poem by Amy Page that serves as the text we are engaging directly in this production. Amy is a translator as well as a poet, with a vast knowledge of Greek gods and German maidens and all of the symbols and animals and blessings and curses in between. Her poem somehow makes the original chamber — the tale of the princess and the frog — bigger, brighter, so you can see and hear more of what’s inside, so that what your fingerprint lands on shines more vividly back at you.
(Think about the resonating chamber of a frog’s throat, or what might be echoing inside the princess’s golden ball. Think about the empty space of a broken heart that’s ready, or waiting to be ready, to be filled with the sound of someone’s voice again. And there are many other kinds of chambers this image suggests to me as I let it travel through.)
Sometimes, we make resonance together. Sometimes we are the chamber — we who sit together in the dark inside a theater, with our own stories pinging around inside our skulls and sinews. Some of us speak more easily than others, whether in words or in movement. We are all looking for more ease, more efficiency, more wisdom, and more joy. When we sit and listen together — when we listen with our body-chambers inside the chamber of a story and ultimately inside this whole vast world of chambers — the resonance can reach more parts of us, more deeply, with a more gentle touch in places of resistance or weakness. It can reach us on our own time, with less threat, because the chamber of us can bear it for us for however long we need it to.