This is my first ever attempt to write up one of my favourite a Contact Improvisation exercise, this one is one of my favourites. It’s an introductory exercise which can be followed by dancers of all ability and experience levels and yet produces sensitive engaged and collaborative movement. I don’t know it’s origin. The write up is my take on it and how it works best. All constructive feedback, on any level, is most appreciated. I’ve deliberately gone into why I think particular elements are there, in order to court that feedback, so dig in.
The Tree and The Wind
Usual caveats around safety and self care, particularly for newer dancers, apply here. If you don’t know what those are, make sure you’ve found out before running a session.
The purpose of this exercise is to provide a simple way into a state of interacting in borderland between active and passive. It involves various somatic components which add skills which are isolated to enhance focus upon them. It can optionally end up in a open ended jam. Participants invest themselves the imagery of a tree and wind to evoking a range of movements and interactions.
I’d recommend doing an activity before this that increase internal physical awareness. It’ll work fine after a warm up, but better if people are primed.
When talking about the trees and winds of the real world which are our inspiration here, I use lower case letters. When talking about the participants taking on the roles of the TREE and of the WIND I use capitals.
The form of this exercise is:
- Participants form pairs
- One person acts as ‘the wind’, the other as ‘the tree’
- The participant reverse roles
- The participants do both roles at the same time
- Optional move into a jam
1. Forming pairs
There’s no particular need to pair any particular participant with any other, completely at random is fine. It’s pretty essential to do this in pairs though, trios don’t work because of the change over.
2. Tree and Wind
The session leader should find a person to demonstrate with, the demonstration can happen as the exercise progresses.
Each person allocates amongst themselves who will be ‘tree’ and who will be the ‘wind’. They have the following characteristics:
Tree – A tree is routed to the grounded, it must yield to the wind, but returns fluidly to it’s position of rest.
TREES should be encouraged to feel the earth through their feet (roots). They maintain their feet positions. They should have soft knees and limbs. Tone should be low. They should offer minimal resistance to being moved by the wind. Trees in nature that are too rigid will fall in the wind, they fail to yield. TREE movements should flow and come softly back to a comfortable standing position after being perturbed by the WIND. TREE should allow some resonance or swaying before returning to rest. TREEs should shut theirs eye, but might also try open focus.
Wind – The wind blows the trees branches in breezes gusts and bellows. It can wind in and out of the branches, lifting and touching.
WIND is encouraged to diversity of movement in their interactions with the tree, they might gently touch a leg or knee, lift or hold aloft an arm or hand, push against the torso or hips. Even the head might get a gently touch no and again.
The wind should begins gently at first, a soft summer breeze coming in from the see which lift the branches, little gusts in a leafy autumn meadow. The WIND should gently pushes or reserved lifting of the arms are a good start. Over the next 10 minutes, the wind can increase its force, it’s unpredictability. The participants should be instructed as to the level the wind has reached. The session leader might like to suggest some changes in weather, and possibly illuminate how those might be reflected in a specific physical movement – though TREEs and WINDs should very start to find their own movements and interactions inform by the metaphors the session leader provides and its probably best to keep this to minimum. Examples of how the WIND might physically interact with the TREEs are:
- little gusts – a TREE’s limbs might knocked or pushed by the hand of the WIND.
- breezes – a TREE will have its branch gently lifted for a short time by the WINDs hand.
- strong winds – applying some force to the torso or one side of the hips or a shoulder.
- spirals and twists – gusty wind doesn’t flow straight. It arcs and turns as it flows. WIND might gently twist or turn the torso via the chest or hips, maybe pull on a limb to create a torsional movement.
Participant can play with this and expand the metaphor is as many ways as they can think of. They probably will do this naturally, but encourage if you feel it necessary.
The WIND should never go to the point of being a storm, it’s not necessary in meeting the classes objectives (of course, if you wish to find time to experiment with wind forces up to hurricane outside of the session then do). The TREE should never receive enough force to actual become root loose, that is the feet should be allowed to maintain their position.
The WEATHER narrative the session leader encourages through the exercise is like this:
- breezy and gusty
- strongish winds
- back to breezy
- calm again
This can happen of any length of time, but take at least 15 minutes for this. Give participants lots of time and space without any talking.
3. Switch of roles
It’s time to swap. The TREE is now the WIND and WIND now the TREE. Saying something like this should just about do it.
“Take a minute now to find a comfortable way to change roles, the person who was the tree is now the wind, the person who was the wind is now the tree.”
Participants might need some extra instruction if they’ve forgotten the other role, but usually they can get right into it. They might forget to close eyes as TREEs or to stay rooted. Gently encourage the intended aspects.
Simply run the exercise again, the session leader being the WEATHER moving in the same pattern as in (2).
4, Both roles at the same time
Instructions to the participants something this should cover it:
“Now the final part of the exercise. At this point you become both the tree and wind. Take a minute to move into that both states. Remember the ways you interacted and tree and wind, and now do both at the same time. You are rootless and can move around, you both yield and act. Remain in pairs.”
There might be the odd confused look or question, but then people will get to it. Help out quietly anyone who is having trouble and can’t get there. People should essentially move into a state of listening to movement of others whilst being active within the dance, the simultaneous sending and receiving. Contact between participants will be limited in terms of the body parts interacted with due to the exercise, there may be no core to core interaction at first, but the internal process should be pretty solidly where we want it. Yay!
5. Moving into an open jam
There are a variety of ways this could move into an open jam and it might happen anyway. The session leader might try verbal instructions to remove some of the constraints present as they were presented during previous exercise, for example:
- You now no longer need to work in pairs, interact with any other tree/winds in the room
- You aren’t limited to hands and feet for your interaction, try hips, head and other bits for interacting
- You aren’t limited to being on your feet
It’s worth thinking about a deep harvest at the end of this exercise. There will have been a lot of new feelings and internal machinations, some of which will be shared experience and other bits unique. It’s useful for dancers to find out how other people experienced the session.