The thin red yarn was used to create a 10X10 square on the sprung hardwood floor in room 9190 located on the Nalanda campus at Naropa University in Boulder, CO.
I was in my second year of graduate school where I was studying contemporary performance. I chose this MFA because I wanted to further explore other improvisational forms that were more body-centric like dance, a methodology called the Viewpoints, and body-mind centering work. One of my classes, taught by the contemplative and brilliant, Barbara Dilley was called The Red Square.
The exercise was originally developed by Chögyam Trungpa as a form of practice in Dharma Art. It is about training the eye compositionally: the inner eye, the ensemble eye, the audience eye. I remember sitting as a student, noticing the space, seeing myself in the space, and then placing myself in the space where I compositionally saw myself in relationship to the boundaries of the string and in relation to time and space. Other students would then add on to the composition until we collectively felt it was complete. All of this was done in silence.
Here is what this exercise taught me: To not be reactionary to circumstances, but rather intentional. You can still trust your impulses while still giving yourself permission to hold, feel, and give. Instead of just hopping on stage, notice it first, see yourself on it and then move to the place where you will compositionally connect with the stage and with the audience. Once you have done this, then it is easier to give.
The eye practice is also about this. Inner eye: noticing your internal space- how do you feel in your body? how is your posture? Are you breathing in a way that is helping you? Ensemble eye: open up your awareness to everything you are sharing your space with — this could be your team or the objects you share your space with (podium, screen, etc.), and the Audience eye: open your awareness to bring in your audience and the space that surrounds them.
This is presence.
The Red Square also taught me that I am not always needed in a composition. Not just physically but also vocally. When we started to add on layers like sound or text, I learned that my voice wasn’t always needed. Strong storytellers and presenters are good at finding the composition within their delivery by allowing the space for the pause or questioning if a certain message is necessary depending on who the audience is.
This improvisational form definitely gave me valuable insights and it was a practice that we repeated again and again. We would experiment by playing outside of the square, we would bring in costumes and add music. It was a very playful structure that begged for creativity, collaboration, and curiosity.
Is there a recipe or a structure that you can give yourself in this new year that will support your creativity, your collaborations, and your curiosity?