17. Unfamiliar movement

In Beethoven’s opera ‘Fidelio’, Leonore, in order to gain access to the gaol where she suspects her husband is imprisoned, disguises herself as a man.  I remember a performance in which the singer playing Leonore was so determined to act out her efforts, in the part, to sustain her male disguise, that her singing became restricted and forced, only being set free when her consciously uncomfortable persona was able to be abandoned when she was reunited with her husband.  This is a rather complicated example pointing to the way the Alexander Technique might help in coping with a dramatic role which involved some painful, disabling or exaggerated physical or emotional trait.  An actor can establish a level of open, integrated presence out of which the peculiarities of the part can be shaped without deforming the whole person of the actor or constricting the singing.  In my experience this allows free commitment and power of expression.  Leonore needs to keep her singing voice uncontaminated by the restrictions the role asks of her.  In our lives in the real world then I think we can imagine this flow between levels of the self working in a complementary way.  We all have exaggerations and distortions in the way we use ourselves; they are the evidence of the lives we have led, the wonderful imperfections of the living.  The practice of the Alexander Technique does not aim to directly do away with those twists and turn us into smoothly humming machines.  It offers us the possibility of rising above, detaching ourselves from our manner of being so as to create a space for change.  Detaching ourselves from our habits has the potential to arouse a lot of uncomfortable self-consciousness and/or loss of spontaneous interaction with what is going on around us.  A way to keep this kind of activity healthy is practising at performing some simple act, like tying your shoelaces, in a changed way.  Another valuable way to rise above the familiar is to use movements which are not normally part of our everyday activities – walking backwards, walking sideways, using the non-dominant hand to perform an action, resting the hand in an unfamiliar way on a table or a cushion.  We gain a clearer fuller connection between the different levels of our being, finding our way right into our physical being, through non-habitual movement and contact.  This awakens in us a much clearer picture, and more than a picture, of ourselves.  As we explore the unfamiliar we gain a certain detachment but, I hope, without a sense of becoming foreign to ourselves.  The ability to act differently, to begin to transform something in ourselves, keep the whole business personal.  In fact, I find it intensifies the sense of the personal, of being in touch with what I want to be and do.  The unfamiliar movements are often ones that aren’t about reaching a goal as quickly as possible.  Such movements, to do with getting things done, are not amenable to our wish for transformation.  They compress the levels of our being so detachment is impossible.  Becoming fixed on getting to our goal will tend to impoverish our connection to what we do.

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