March 14, 2023

Introductory Meetings: Dance performer Kristīne Brīniņa visits Liepāja Catholic Primary School

On March 8, the dance performer Kristīne Brīniņa held a workshop at the Liepāja Catholic Primary School with students from grades three and seven. The visit was part of project Artist is Present – Contemporary Art Residencies in Schools. The artist felt wholeheartedly welcome at the school, and this was indicated by the warm greetings she received, with a blackboard sporting the text “Greetings to the artist who is present!” awaiting her at the entrance.

The artist recalls the third graders as being particularly energetic: “Before the workshop, the boys were running around dance-like around the classroom. It reminded me of contact improv with elements of street dance, hip hop and breakdancing. Principal Elvita told me that everyone had their spirits up as it was not usually as dynamic. Their excitement made me happy. In addition, everyone wanted to share something personal. One of the girls said she was crocheting a two-piece swimsuit for the summer and showed us her work in progress. Another of the girls tried to see if it suits her. A hearing-impaired girl danced some polka every now and then and told us how she’s doing at dance class. One of the boys approached me and told me, happily, that he has diabetes, while another was demonstrating his dance moves. Of course, the curiosity-driven question about how old I am was also voiced at some point.”

The first part of the workshop was spent in the classroom, where students were asked, via presentation, as to what counts as dance and what doesn’t. “The children replied to the question, “What is not dance?” by saying that dancing is not standing, sitting, running, looking, walking and so on. When asked “What is dance?”, they replied by saying that dance is dance, the polka is a dance, and dancing is when everyone is moving in the same way. We did some analysis as to whether it counts as dance, for example, when someone walks across the stage. Opinions were divided on this particular issue, but we jointly examined as to why this could in fact be dance. Interestingly, when I asked them whether an elephant swaying its trunk means that it’s dancing they said unequivocally that it is,” Kristīne said.

The students were introduced with the beginnings of contemporary dance at the Judson Memorial Church in New York. In the 1960s, a number of different artists – dancers, composers, visual artists, and writers – were working together at the church, trying to arrive at a different understanding of dance, one that dismantles the elitist limitations on beauty and what counts as correct. Brīniņa introduced the students with the No Manifesto, a manifesto penned by the choreographer Yvonne Rainer, as well as Rainer’s Trio-A choreography. They were likewise introduced to the works of choreographer Trisha Brown. There was a discussion with the children as to the fact that, for contemporary dance artists, everything can be dance provided that they see it that way themselves, and this way they draw the audience’s attention to what else can be called dance. The children were quite elated by Willi Dorner’s choreography in the city (Bodies in Urban Spaces), and the artist and the students jointly found some similarities between this and graffiti art, associating Dorner’s work with choreographic bodily graffiti that leave no traces behind them – except in memory. The students delved deeper into the notion of “architecture” and the way in which choreography can arise in collaboration with architecture. They were captivated by Matteo Fargion’s work The Solo Piece – an audio instruction interacting with movement and the relationship between the spoken word and gesture adding up to choreography. At the outset, the children would ask incredulously: “What is it that he’s doing?” But a few moments later, they started repeating the gestures seen in the video.

The second part of the workshop was held at the sports hall. The students warmed up and rehearsed the introductory game – movement + word – while keeping in mind that every movement can be a dance move. Afterwards, a tableau was created, meaning a group composition made by going to the center of the room one by one and taking one’s place. The students came up with names for the composition they had come up with based on associations. The children’s suggestions were as follows: some sort of chaos, macaroni, color palette, a toppled shelf from which clothes have tumbled off. Then they decided once and for all that it’s a wardrobe! Kristīne adds the following: “To me, the composition was reminiscent of the relief of a mountain. We could repeat this exercise in the following workshops, imagining an iceberg as it gradually melts or a mountain as it crumbles and thereby participating in ecological processes that can also be seen as dance. At the end of the session, we stretched ourselves, and that was that.”

The artist pointed out that, during the initial meeting, they came to agree about the first rules that should be observed by everyone: you can laugh, but not at somebody else, and you should try to observe and listen with curiosity, being open and allowing the processes to carry you away. The students were interested in these activities, showing courage and curiosity and not being afraid to ask questions if they didn’t understand this word or the other. They expressed their opinion and partook in the discussions. Importantly, the children saw – responsibly – that they and the artist are a single creative team making an artwork for an exhibition. It was evident that they were pleasantly excited about this. The school collective is ready to go the extra mile to arrange the workshops to be held at a time that works for everyone. All the necessary prerequisites for the students to really get into the process together with Kristīne are already there.

The next meeting with Kristīne Brīniņa is to take place following spring break.