What is your expressive range?
I teach movement for performers, primarily actors, and I use Laban Movement Analysis as my framework to do so. In my first class with a new group, I usually ask the participants whether they have heard of Laban, and if so, what springs to mind. Almost every time the answer includes, and is often limited to, a vague remembering of a few key words: Flick, Punch, Dab… “isn’t there something about poking?”. Nope, that’s Facebook.
These words (except poking) are three of the eight Basic Effort Actions, and in the acting curriculum, often the first thing taught from Laban’s theories. For good reason too, as these verbs are excellent for tasks like ‘actioning the text’ and giving performers an immediate sense of opposing qualities.
What can sometimes get forgotten amongst all these doing words, is the bodily experience that must infuse them in order for the verb to stay connected to Laban’s concept of its usefulness. It is vital to know in our body how Flick feels (Sudden like a bubble popping and Light like the touch of a feather and Indirect like goosebumps reading the air all over your body), so that we don’t end up limiting that action to the flick of our finger against our thumb to shoo a fly away.
Each of the Basic Effort Actions are built from a combination of three Effort Elements. Waaa? Yes, this is where the Effort theory of Laban can start to feel a little bit ‘heady’, what with its many possible permutations and configurations. To counteract the brain freeze, I urge my participants back into their somatic listening, with a healthy dose of irreverence – it doesn’t matter if you have it perfect, it just matters that you notice what you are doing differently.
It is through this process of encouraging unambitious, yet specific, exploration of the Effort spectrum that we create a map of potential. All those possible combinations are simply signposts on our map, and we can use them to identify where we usually live, where we often excursion to, and where we have never been before. For an actor who nearly always plays the ‘caring parent’ role, they might rarely have the opportunity to embody the combination of Strong and Free, giving a potential quality of unwieldy, dangerous, power. By using our Effort map as a way to warm up our expressive selves, we increase the availability of our dynamic range by making sure we have checked in with the entire terrain. Just like you should completing your entire workout rather than simply squat for 30 minutes, your expressive range needs to be flexed in all directions if you wish to be a truly responsive, embodied and rarely-typecast performer.
A Note on Perceiving and Interpreting Effort:
The examples I give above of particular Effort combinations are my own response to my physical embodiment of the Effort factors. Each individual has their own Effort preferences that in turn colour their experience and perception of Effort in others: you may not quite agree that Strong+Free = unwieldy power. What is important is to investigate how many different examples and experiences you can discover, to move beyond your own knowledge, prejudice and assumptions into creative freedom.
We are excited to have Lucy Angell from moremovement.com.au as our guest writer for today!