Submitted by Richard Haisma - October 17, 2005
Note: All LMA vocabulary used in an LMA context is capitalized, except in the quotations, if the person being quoted has not so done themselves.
IB = Irmgard Bartenieff; JP = Janis Pforsich; ST = Spatial Tension; CTP = Central, Transverse and Peripheral Spatial Tension.
The archetype of Spatial Tension seems to have entered a period of dusting herself off and re-emerging from the shadows. A graph of the historical growth of this category of movement appreciation might be full of thick theoretical spikes in the late 70s but by the 90s have trailed off into some valleys of thinly meandering practices. By June of 2002 at NYU with the [Laban/Bartenieff Institute of Movement Studies] “Faculty Meeting on CTP” the non-concordance of several LIMS’ faculties was on full display. An agreement to disagree was made only slightly less unpalatable by the expressed hope of some future conclave. In 2003 the Final Exam Sub-Committee’s Spatial Tension “Shoot-out at the E-mail Corral” ended in a similarly unsatisfying draw. Each faculty essentially went its own way as to whether the prickly Question 7 [concerning Spatial Tension] would appear on the Exam and with how many prickly points attached to it. Throughout all this one had the feeling that various isolated CMAs, whether on the LIMS’ faculties or in universities around the country or the world, were probably enjoying the subtle and quiet benefits of CTP in action. The frustrations arose only as LIMS, quite responsibly and professionally, sought to control and regularize its pedagogy among its various Certification Programs.
Finally the times and tone seemed to shift with the March 13, 2004 conclave on the subject, again in New York City with the usual suspects but this time also with a perceived recognition palpably in the air of the need for consensus, or should one say, an end to non-consensus. The good news was that Janis Pforsich was present this time. The bad news was the simultaneous presence of that old devil Time. Two or three hours for one afternoon were not, and never will be, sufficient to re-invigorate the Believers, assuage the Doubters and comfort the Don’t Know What They Seers. Nevertheless, the short historical and theoretical talk by Janis Pforsich, the chattering and too brief group-grope around the TV monitor, and the general atmosphere of desire for deeper understanding all seemed to allow Dame Spatial Tension to exit the building at least with her dignity intact and her hat on straight. The future of she and her subjects seemed brighter.
Enter: digital video. For Eurolab’s 2005 annual conference I was invited to lead a day-long workshop and chose Spatial Tension as the subject. My intention was to synthesize our present understanding of Spatial Tension as an LMA category. I concocted an amateur DVD for the simultaneous purpose of an “LMA Community Research Project” and the means for sharing with the up-coming students in Hamburg, Germany examples of Spatial Tension in action. I assembled 34 examples of possible Spatial Tensions to be demarcated individually and privately by the members of the Curriculum Committee and some other selected members of the LMA community. This survey served to prod me on to accumulate in essay form the thoughts, feelings, and ingredients in the current state of being of Spatial Tension. The following is the result and is offered to the LMA community as another stepping stone towards theoretical clarity.
PART ONE: CONTEXT
The short historical and theoretical talk by JP on March 13, 2004 at the [Laban/Bartenieff Institute of Movement Studies] All-Certification Faculty meeting gave us clear landmarks in our communal pilgrimage towards the land of Space Harmony. Referring always back to IB she suggested that we shall never find even the shores of that promised land unless we raise our sails into the winds of Spatial Tension. She suggested that we cannot be tacking leeward and windward within the Kinesphere and expect to get anywhere without creating that quality in the air of the Kinesphere called Spatial Tension. She told us it is not true that on board the Ship of Certification we will have had only a couple of meals in which the main course was Spatial Tension, when in fact every time we were swabbing the decks of our Dimensional Cross of Axes and Diagonal, Peripheral or Transverse Scales we should have been feeling the kinetic winds of Spatial Tension against our bodies. For this writer and mover Spatial Tension is like the soul of Space. JP suggested that without Spatial Tension you can’t get there from here.
She further clarified that historically it had been necessary to tease out the differences among the concepts of Spatial Pull and Spatial Intent, neither of which were to be identified as exactly the same as Spatial Tension. Then, pressing on to the heart of the matter for her, JP said that because differences had been observed with how people had performed a certain Pathway, it had been necessary to distinguish Central, Transverse and Peripheral qualities within the Kinesphere. A Pathway, for instance, might be clearly appearing in the cycle of a Plane as Peripheral, but the attitude (quality) towards it might be just as clearly Transverse. The performance of a Diagonal Scale as a Central Pathway might be inadvertently interpreted with a Peripheral quality. These differences were noted not to be trivial. The concept of Spatial Tension arose to distinguish subtleties within the personal approach to the Kinesphere.
These subtleties were not to be identified simply as attributes of other LMA categories. What was being observed was not Effort or Shape or Body in some kind of componential mixture. With IB always as her reference JP sought to persuade us that CTP is a thing in and of itself. For the majority of the fifteen people present at this conclave the persuasion was unnecessary, but the historical and theoretical clarifications were crucial.
Yet what remained was whether the “Doubters About the Existence of Spatial Tension” (the DAESTs) had been satisfied and whether all theoretical questions for the “Believers In the Existence of Spatial Tension” (the BIESTs) had been answered. It rather seems that no was the answer to both of those questions.
PART TWO: THE QUESTIONS of the BIESTs and the DAESTs
For unknown and probably multiple reasons, the etiology of which might provoke too much inappropriate armchair psychology for this essay, Spatial Tension itself has never received a definition. This LMA category strangely has never been referred to as Spatial Tension but instead always discussed and observed in the particularity of its Central, Transverse or Peripheral (CTP or CPT) manifestations. The nested hierarchy here is, after all, the large category of Space followed by the Sub-category of “Approach to the Kinesphere” within which are its two sub-categories of Spatial Pathways and Spatial Tension. The specific Central, Transverse or Peripheral Spatial Tensions lie at the innermost reaches of the hierarchy. Everyone seems to have assumed the self-evidence of larger category and thus to have felt free to plunge only into the specificity of the particular Tension. Yet, the very need for conclaves to clarify the subject, the existence of the DAESTs, however few in number they might be, and the professed desire of some faculty members to reduce the subject’s presence on the Final Exam, should be evidence that this might have represented a methodological or theoretical incompleteness.
For some of us who consider ourselves among the BIESTs, the lack of a definition of Spatial Tension itself has been a frustration that registers in such exclamations as “…what, please, is the substance of the subject we are looking for…?” and/or, “…please do not talk to me about Central, Transverse, or Peripheral until you tell me what constitutes the quality itself…” and/or “…if it’s not a composite of Body, Effort and Shape, what is it…?”. One might also be led to ask about the psychological or philosophical components that might be inherent in NOT FUNDAMENTALLY DEFINING a subject of inquiry or observation, but, again, we are not here interested in psychoanalysis. We are interested in being practically and theoretically thorough. What other comparable discipline, academic or professional, has proceeded in a similar manner? What other discipline focuses only on the trees and never on the forest?
Not only has there been no ready definition of Spatial Tension itself, but also neither has there been such for “Spatial Pull” or “Spatial Intent”. Being that the latter in particular is one of nine Principles integral to Bartenieff Fundamentals, the lack from the get-go of a specific definition seems a significant oversight. If it’s a Principle its definition ought to be handed to the students immediately so that results could spill forth from it. (Do physics professors have their students flop about all year long doing various experiments in order to arrive independently at E = mc2? Are the students not rather first given the Principle and then the explanations or demonstrations of what follows from it? Or, having the definition in hand, might they not then be asked to experiment themselves with what follows from it?) The virtues of definitions are to focus attention, promote efficiency and stimulate new discoveries. A case might be made that one or two movement classes in which the student is asked to experiment with various facets of the subject before finally being given the indissoluble essence of the subject in the form of a definition could be a good way to promote self-learning and self-confidence, but the virtue of remaining indefinitely in a cloud about the fundamental content of one’s subject would seem obscure.
That the LMA community through the years has had no fundamental definition of Spatial Tension may account for why the DAESTs are now asking the questions that they are. Not knowing in essence what Spatial Tension is would seem likely to provoke questions such as, for example, “…why isn’t that movement you are calling Transverse Spatial Tension not just Bound Flow Effort, Indirect Space Effort and Shaping…?”. Not being able to speak fundamentally about what Spatial Tension itself is or does, even before it becomes Central or Transverse or Peripheral, would seem humanly and naturally to provoke disbelief in the existence of the subject.
PART THREE: CHARACTERISTICS OF A DEFINITION
The LMA community owes itself a definition of Spatial Tension. We will not get through the current impasse without one. Perhaps one of the main reasons we have not had a definition is that no one dared presume to be able to define it, on the assumption that any definition would have to reflect an eternal truth. If we assume rather that a definition need only be an explanation of reality as far as we currently understand it our task becomes less onerous or intimidating. The following are some imagined characteristics of any good definition.
1] Any definition ought to be concise. A single sentence would be good. The single sentence could have a clause or two inside of it, but brief is best.
2] It ought to capture the essence. It ought to contain just what is necessary to convey the unique nature of the experience. It ought not try to include every possible aspect or virtue of the category. It ought to function like a pithy aphorism.
3] It ought to work. It ought to actually explain and allow for phenomena as we experience them. It ought not to contradict or interfere with any other known definitions. It ought to predict the existence of future phenomena of the same nature. We ought to be able to explain how it works alongside other LMA categories and definitions.
4] The definition should not be anecdotal or based on personal imagery. It should arise as a necessity out of the nature of the subject rather than be composed of personal metaphors in and around the subject. (Poor example of definitional form: “Spatial Tension is like when you….”)
5] It ought not to contain the same word or words in the subject as in the predicate, nor be tautological. Thus, for example, “Spatial Tension is a kind of tension that…”, cannot be the kind of language we will want to use. Any dictionary would be the model here in that the same word is not used to define that which is being looked up. We also do not want to provoke the comical as Lily Tomlin did with her character, Ernestine, the telephone operator, who always answered with “hello, is this the party to whom I am speaking?”.
6] It ought to leave room for the imagination and for further exploration. In his book Science, Order and Creativity the physicist and philosopher David Bohm writes that all definitions will by the nature of language be provisional, and no definition will ever encompass the subject completely. He says that creativity lies at the heart of nature, and any definition or system which pretends to capture the subject once and for all will sooner or later be proved wrong for not being able to account for experience. (1)
7] It ought subsequently to spin off ancillary axioms and to clarify any terms or phrases within it that are ambiguous or in a similarly heretofore undefined status. We will see this happen.
PART FOUR: A REVIEW of SOME of the LITERATURE and SOURCES for a THEORY of SPATIAL TENSION
We presently have at our disposal only four separate Hand-outs, two Books, one Primer, and one Report of accumulated Notes from a faculty meeting on CTP as literature to help us in deepening our study of Spatial Tension. We also have the brief Video Segment from the 2004 Faculty Meeting on CTP, as well as Anecdotal Reports or Experiences, which constitute our Living History.
As to one of our Book sources, in The Language of Movement Laban perhaps set us up for decades of tolerance for living without a definition by giving us only suggestions for how to regard Central, Transverse and Peripheral Pathways. The anonymous person who apparently scoured the book for helps on the subject to produce a definitional-resource Hand-out was even forced to reveal, by way of example in a parenthesis, “The term central was not included in the index of the book, and no concrete sentence which one could choose as a ‘definition’ of the term was located.”(2) One must assume, however, beyond any execution of mere Pathways, that any practice of Space with the presence of Laban himself must have contained some kind of exciting, intriguing or inspiring Approach to the Kinesphere. He was after all Rudolf Laban, and he did after all, literally and figuratively, draw from the charismatic Mary Wigman improvising at Ascona to construct his Space Harmony theories and practices. The question then becomes whether this excitement was due to Effort in the Dynamosphere which Laban, of course, does discuss in Choreutics, or whether there was already some other extra quality that gave Space its life. And this issue will surface again from our Living History and those who have studied directly with IB.
Now, from the 1986 hand-out we learn:
“There is no clear definition of spatial tension. Early Laban spoke of it as sensing counter-tension (Vera Maletic)." (3)This does not yet serve by itself as a definition since to say that “Spatial Tension is a sensing of counter-tension” would disappoint according to Characteristic #5 in Part 3 above for definitions in general, in that the same word should not be used in both subject and predicate. (The idea inherent inside of counter-tension, however, will persist through to the end of this exploration.)
From the Hand-out of 1981 one might be able to get the impression that various previously interwoven or hidden qualities were then in the process of being differentiated, in particular Initiations from Pathways and body-part commitment or involvement. In fact, after delineating the three types of Pathways, JP brings up the subject of gestures, yet in a context that suggests only Pathway and not Spatial Tension:
“While we tend to explore and emphasize the full-body experience of these three types of ‘trace-forms’, the terms are applied to the analysis of gesture as well. This is particularly true in Labanotation. A shift from the Major Cross of Axes in the body to ‘Local’ crosses of axes in the various joints (particularly the limbs) can more or less easily provide us with a base for exploring and analyzing the spatial configuration of gestures.” (4)We can readily understand “…the spatial configurations of gestures…”, in that one can certainly make, off to the side of the body, an upward, sideward or downward hand gesture and, displacing the Cross of Axes to that local place, have a Labanotation symbol accurately express that Spatial Pathway (or configuration). But the question of whether Spatial Tension can exist in a gesture alone would seem, like the question of whether Spatial Tension even exists at all, to be of great significance. By the later 80s emphasis seems to have shifted away from mentioning gestures. In the 1986 Hand-out we have:
“Janis Pforsich is suggesting… (Spatial Tension)… is based on a feeling and description of the body/limb relationship.” (5)And in Ed Groff’s 1987 Hand-out we have:
“It (Spatial Tension) seems to have a component that is recognizable in regard to the use of the body: the relationship of the body and limbs such that there is an active relationship between the part or parts moving and the center of the body.” (6)Both of these citations would seem to make gestures difficult to be included in the possible experience of Spatial Tension, in so far as “gesture” implies neither “Posture” or “Gesture-Posture Merger”. If we are looking for an active relationship between the part and the center of the body, and if ST is to be about one’s attitude toward the Kinesphere, as virtually all the literature agrees, how or with what energy an isolated gesture could create an attitude becomes a question.
However, the idea of “body/limb relationship” does have an appealing aspect as a potential ingredient in any definition for ST that we may want to synthesize, since it might provide a locus for any of that (previously mentioned) counter-tension, particularly if the latter idea can persist throughout our discussion and reappear later in a transformed state.
Yet, one other issue arises from both the literature and the Living History of Anecdote in regard to the idea of “body/limb relationship” as any kind of determining ingredient in a definition of Spatial Tension. In the 1987 Hand-out Ed Groff very interestingly writes:
“The qualities of spatial tension can be projected into the general space. For example: a stage performer can project the movement experience of near reach peripheral spatial tension to an audience member in the balcony. Central spatial tension can have a projection beyond the boundaries of far reach. It is useful for me to identify this possibility of projection beyond personal space into general space as the range of our psychological kinesphere. This gets at the heart of the fact that the communicative value of movement within the kinesphere extends in to general space.” (7)Along similar lines, as an Anecdotal source for our study at hand, in a personal phone conversation with me, JP gave us all an example of Spatial Tension in the form of Italian Renaissance dance. In that form with the concept of “misura”, which in Italian means ‘measure’, the individual dancer gauged and elastically modified in the course of any particular dance the size of his/her steps according to the space in which they were being performed. So, as with Ed Groff’s projection of a Near-reach gesture out into the General Space, this example too implies some kind of psychic elasticity in regard to tensions not only between body and limb but also between the limb and the environment.
Let’s review the questions that have surfaced thus far:
1] Does Spatial Tension refer to something other than what Laban was calling the Dynamosphere?
2] If “counter-tension” is not a good word to use in a definition, due to its redundancy, yet, as mentioned, the idea inside of it is going to persist, what would that idea be?
3] Can gestures express Spatial Tension or, conversely, does Spatial Tension always imply a “body/limb” postural commitment?
4] Does Spatial Tension extend beyond the Kinesphere?
PART FIVE: MORE SOURCES FOR ST
At this point it will be useful to jump into the other more recent Source that we have now available to us as written Literature, which is the “Report from June 2002 Faculty Meeting on CPT”, compiled by Tara Stepenberg. Several ideas surfaced in that meeting which also make appearances in other Hand-outs. Most of what was said was not identified in the Report by the individuals who had said it, and it will not be necessary to address each of the many interesting ideas. Certain “motifs”, however, do pop out. Someone said:
“LMA theory is not clear about the components of Spatial Tension. Theorists have not broken the Spatial Tensions down into component parts.” (8)
This is the motivation behind the present essay. Another faculty member said:
“Some faculty wonder if there are irreducible components of Spatial Tensions. Are CPT Spatial Tensions an irreducible concept -- and if not, does it matter or reduce the validity of the concept?” (9)
This is a interesting question in that it seems to be coming from the assumption that since other categories within LMA, such as Effort or Shape or Developmental Patterns, have an irreducible essence to them, should not Spatial Tension also have such? Could this question be framed in another way and amplified? I would ask:
“If every category within LMA does not have an irreducible concept corresponding to the fundamental nature of movement itself then how could anyone give LMA any credence as a comprehensive system?”
This amplification for me forces the question of whether we as a community, due to lack of theoretical clarity, and therefore with professional and ethical integrity, ought simply to drop the subject of ST altogether or, treasuring a uniquely potent movement analysis tool that is simply yet in its growing and pre-Classic archeological stages, come up with its essence pronto. I opt for the latter, noticing nothing that is unbelievable in the general sweep of the category, but noticing also that the most obvious and essential in regard to its nature has simply yet to be uttered.
Several others at the 2002 Faculty Meeting reiterated the “Composite” idea about the nature of Spatial Tension, an idea also found in Ed Groff’s 1987 Hand-out. This is that Effort, Shape and Body are its constituent elements mixed together to give us a gestalt greater than the sum of its parts in the form of a new quality called Spatial Tension. This certainly seems plausible, and I, too, have felt this way on and off for certain periods of time. It was refreshing then when JP, in the subsequent March 2004 Faculty Meeting, through her clear historical analysis finally and effectively killed this idea. She spoke of and showed us how Spatial Tension was particular to the Kinesphere alone, that it differentiated subtleties in the approach to the Kinesphere and that it was not necessary to call upon Effort and Shape to see and experience the category. Through her talk it was clear that Space was the large umbrella category, that “Approach to the Kinesphere” was its first sub-category, and that Spatial Pathways and Tensions were fundamental differentiations in our general usage of Space. She did not however give us a definition of ST itself, and when I asked her if there had ever been one, as with her statement in the 1986 Hand-out, she said no.
Even more important, however, than the freeing of all of us from the torture of wondering if Spatial Tension is a composite or meta-level concept, JP insisted that it simply was not true that we would all have had only one or two classes in ST in the course of any given Certification Program, when, in fact, if we had been truly performing the Dimensional Cross of Axes, the Diagonal, Peripheral and Transverse Scales the way they were intended to be performed, and the way they need to be performed in order to fully and properly understand them, then we would naturally have been experiencing ST. This was a eureka moment for me personally, as the whole virtue of Space Harmony came into focus. Space Harmony has all to do with how you do it. For IB Spatial Tension had always been an assumed and lively ingredient in any exploration of Space. JP said at this meeting that the ST question had been on the Final Exam right from the beginning. The troubles we have been having with the Question in recent years would have mystified IB. Explanations for why we are now having these troubles may lie in the circumstance that those qualities and full-bodied employments that both Laban and IB assumed in the teaching of Space Harmony and ST are still in the process of being made explicit. On the other hand, in having made them at all explicit, we may have lost touch with what, for Laban and IB, were the truly impressive hallmarks of expression in Space to begin with. As part of the LMA curriculum we have tended to think of ST (or CTP) as a more rarefied, complicated or difficult quality to teach and to experience, subsequently not introducing it simultaneous to the whole category of Space. Perhaps we should revise this thinking along with where we place ST in the progression of the material. IB would probably say to teach it from day one, since she was apparently demonstrating it from day one.
This idea was recently confirmed in conversation with one of our Living History sources for ST. Suzanne White-Manning is a CMA who studied with IB. Suzanne is also a 65-year-old currently studying ballet with Finis Jhung, who, Suzanne’s husband confided to me, of late has been using Suzanne in his classes as the one mover to best demonstrate the qualities which he is seeking to impart to the whole class. When I asked Suzanne what she thought Finis Jhung was picking up from her performance of the ballet canon she unhesitatingly replied, “Oh, Richard, I’m sure it must have something to do with Spatial Tension.” I said, “You don’t think it has to do with Effort or Shape?”, and she said, “No, it’s about how I learned to move through Space with Irmgard.” This conversation, which transpired oblivious to the midnight hour in the middle of the street in Riverdale in the Bronx, became more and more exciting to me, since the jist of it was that Irmgard had remained in touch with some magical flavor of spatial expression that subsequent generations may be in the process of losing. We might want to ask, after all, how it is that we are currently even having these troubles with the Spatial Tension category of movement analysis.
PART SIX: WHAT DOES IB HAVE TO SAY?
It is surprising that in these recent years of ST controversy or confusion no one has gone back to a source that might easily guide us in the right direction, that is, IB’s Body Movement: Coping with the Environment. Though she too does not make it so easy as to simply hand us a specific definition of Spatial Tension, she is frequently found to be speaking all around the subject with substantial pointers as to its characteristics and giving us clues to essential ingredients in any potential definition.
“Every move of limb-trunk or limbs-trunk or several limbs in space does not just reach an end position or create a static configuration. The moves are processes of radiation into space creating the kinesthetic experience of spatial tensions. They are not mere lines of different design written into space; they reflect the condensations and expansions of body-muscle-spatial patterns. The shapes sculpted in the space are dependent on the physical structure of the body, especially the global joints connecting the limbs to the trunk, and the spinal mobility peculiar to each of the three dimensions.“ (10)
A key phrase here is “… condensations and expansions of body-muscle-spatial patterns…” in that we are pointed in the direction of a “quality”. Also, with her mention of “spinal mobility” in the last sentence we might be persuaded to think of ST as a postural rather than gestural experience. Elsewhere she gives us a clue to another essential ingredient.
“Spatial intent is the key to the difference between body shaping and spatial shaping. It is, therefore, important to be clear about the spatial intent and to be able to identify the spatial tensions that will fulfill it in the total context. For example, one’s body creates shapes in the process of breathing: growing and shrinking shapes. As soon as any part of the body relates to a spatial intent, the beginnings of spatial tension occur. General going-toward-or-away-from-the-body movements, for example, simply condense space or disperse it. The degree of spatial tension and shaping in such general movements is minimal. When, however, a specific spatial intent is added, such as a gathering movement of embracing or a scattering movement of repelling particular objects, a new tension is created between the object and the initiation of the movement in the body, and a particular, rather than a general, spatial shape is produced as the movement proceeds.” (11)
Perhaps the first sentence here might help us distinguish Shaping from Transverse Spatial Tension, in that the former refers to “body shaping” and the latter to “spatial shaping”. The key sentence here is the fourth, which tells us that Spatial Tension begins only when Spatial Intent qualifies our shaping of Space. The whole paragraph gives us not a definition but a clear statement that Spatial Tension represents a particular quality that may or may not be present. Both of these citations will be crucial as we proceed.
PART SEVEN: WHAT CAN WE TRY AS DEFINITION?
If one is speaking of “tension” one must be speaking of tension between something, of a phenomenon between at least two different points of reference. Tension cannot occur just by itself. We are not interested in Zen koans such as “What is the sound of one hand clapping?”. Tension implies, as Buckminster Fuller said of the Universe as a whole, a phenomenon always plural and at minimum two. It is here that the idea hidden inside the phrase “counter-tension” can, or even must, become part of our equation. What is counter-tension?
Counter-tension is a muscular pull in at least two opposite directions that promotes stability and mobility.
The minimal two points must be alive and doing something to one another. They must exert a pull on one another. If both of the points are equally stable or equally mobile, or if both points are simply dead, they will act like one point and no inner or outer tension can occur. (Perhaps some hyperkinetic children have only mobile points and no stable points with which to create counter-tension. One also recalls that rather moving example from IB’s clinical practice in which she was attempting to awaken a patient’s Weight Effort by trying to get him to push against her with his arms and whole body. She said all he could do was just passively fall against her. He had no capacity for stabilizing himself in the opposite direction through his feet and legs to create counter-tension to any potential and outward pushing, try as he might.)
So, if Spatial Tension is to exist and to receive a definition, simply by the nature of the word “tension” it is going to have to speak about at least two different points, and probably those points are not going to be of equal valence, and probably there is going to be a Stability-Mobility equation intimately blended into the phenomenon. Then, from Part Six above we learn from IB that we are also going to have to include the concept of Spatial Intent. What is Spatial Intent?
Spatial Intent is a clarity and specificity of outer destination in movement that has the effect of promoting and organizing inner connectivity.
One might wish to tinker here with the exact wording, but the idea in this definition should be fairly non-controversial, in that it’s not only about knowing where you’re going but that the exact knowing of where you’re going pulls you together from the inside to the out. (If this is not Spatial Intent then I personally must turn in my Laban license.) So with Spatial Tension we now know that we must have a minimum of two points, that we will have a Stability-Mobility equation, and that we will also have an Inner-Outer equation. Yet, since we all agree that Spatial Tension must be an attitude about or a quality of the Kinesphere, just what is that attitude or quality? At this point we must not revert to the descriptions of Central, Transverse or Peripheral as we have done for 25 years, but face head-on the generic nature of the quality itself.
Ellen Goldman has related to me that Judith Kestenberg felt that Spatial Tension was “…tension-flow projected outward…”. (This idea also appeared in Ed Groff’s 1987 Hand-out.) There is something intriguing in this idea. Although we again cannot use the word “tension” in our definition because of its redundancy, one senses in the intention of this idea the suggestion of a kind of plasma-like experience, which to this mover starts to feel as I do when I think I’m expressing Spatial Tension. Then, however, the theorist in me objects: “tension-flow” is the ground of being for Effort Flow, comes burdened with the word “flow” which would be confusing, and, even if we were to define “tension-flow” as “fluctuations of agonistic and antagonistic muscles”, or some such, we will only confound ourselves and the students with such close proximity to the Effort category of LMA. No, we must find an attitude or quality that can stand cleanly alone in the Space category.
We need a descriptor that reflects the experience: something about liveliness, something about connectivity, something about allowing or promoting exploration. I offer this: “dynamic elasticity”. It does not confuse itself with Effort or Shape; it suggests movement; and it is generic enough to include that which needs to be included. It may not be the label for all eternity, yet it helps to focus the mind on what kind of experience we are seeking or observing. Therefore, putting this phrase together with our previously determined necessary ingredients, we have:
Spatial Tension is a dynamic elasticity that arises between at least two points when one is relatively stable and the other, while relatively mobile, also has a Spatial Intent.
This too may not be the definition for all eternity, but it focuses our attention on the essentials of the experience. This would seem to be a logical definition in so far as it captures that without which the subject cannot exist. It would seem to slide nicely into IB’s conceptual framework: for “dynamic elasticity” one can read her previously cited “condensations and expansions of body-muscle-spatial patterns” while her need for Spatial Intent is included as the locus of the equally essential Mobility. It also satisfies the seven different characteristics of a good definition discussed above in Part Three. It would be helpful if we now addressed the third of those seven characteristics, in particular how this definition is going to work itself out, that is, how does it predict the existence of Central, Transverse or Peripheral manifestations.
PART EIGHT: THE DEFINITION APPLIED
Probably the definition will be initially easiest to see at work in Peripheral Spatial Tension (PST). We are accustomed with this category to the idea that its presence will be made manifest to us in part by the outer edge pulling away from, or in tension with, the inner core or center. In tandem with this new definition then, the inner center expresses the relatively Stable point and the outer edge is accomplished by the relatively Mobile point which contains a Spatial Intent. The dynamic elasticity resides in the life we perceive or sense between the center and the edge, but also it will be as if the inner connectivity implicit in the Spatial Intent has lit up a light bulb on our finger tips. The distal point that happens to be expressing PST is not casually traveling through our Kinesphere but enhancing Dynamic Allignment/Connectivity. (Perhaps for “dynamic elasticity” in the definition we could substitute “dynamic alignment/connectivity”.)
Now, even already here we should take time to respond to questions or difficulties that may arise. One of the Eurolab participants has already asked: “Why do you attach the Spatial Intent only to the Mobile point? Could there not also be a Spatial Intent happening simultaneously with the Stable point? And the answer is that, yes, theoretically, we might be able to attach the Spatial Intent to the Stable center, as if it were holding its own by pulling in another direction. However, we then would lose any meaningful definition of Spatial Intent as expressing a clear destination out in the Kinesphere or as conjoining inner and outer aspects of a trajectory. Would we not rather have that Stable point characterized by “Grounding” or “Connectivity” within the rest of the body?
Back at the end of Part Four we summarized some questions which had surfaced, one of which was “Can gestures express Spatial Tension or, conversely, does Spatial Tension always imply a “body/limb” postural commitment?” With or without the definition that is being offered here, these are difficult questions. The critique of less than satisfactory performances of Space Harmony Scales can frequently enough reside in the observation of a merely gestural rather than full-bodied experience. Nevertheless, we probably do not want to theoretically deny the expression of ST to gestures. The weight of this essay has been in the direction of postural commitment as the prototypical or obvious means for ST to become palpable in the world. The proffered definition does not theoretically exclude gestures, but I confess to a great deal of difficulty with finding ST in the isolated gesture. I shall leave it to my LMA colleagues to help me dissolve that particular ambivalence.
Another of the questions that surfaced back in Part Four was “Does Spatial Tension extend beyond the Kinesphere?” The experience of projection as Ed Groff was speaking of it can happen with any of the three kinds of ST. We know also that our Kinespheres can grow and shrink, as in the crowded elevator or in mystical communion with the plains of Nebraska. Nothing in the proffered definition contradicts the expression of projection into the distant General Space, and, quite the contrary, probably promotes it. The two points will still be in the body, but because we live in a space-time continuum our speed will be qualified in order for the distance desired to register as space. Probably Spatial Tension, Time Effort and Space Effort combine to accomplish what we refer to as “projection”.
Shifting now to how the proffered definition predicts the experience of Central Spatial Tension (CST) we do not encounter difficulties but only the need for renewed awareness of the micro-level actuality of Sequencing. The Stable point in the equation is obvious enough, that is, the center of the body. The Mobile point containing the Spatial Intent is not going to be as visually constant as perhaps it was with PST, because, remembering that “radiation” and/or “penetration” of the Kinesphere are the qualifying words for CST, that point of Spatial Intent is going to be either rolling outward from the center in a split- second by split-second sequence or vectoring back toward the center with the same appearing-then-vanishing focal points. For example, during a simple Navel Radiation of an arm out to Left-Forward-High, the Stable point in the center can anchor the succession of Mobile points with Spatial Intent through the torso, upper arm, lower arm and hand. The Mobility of a centrally organized radiation does not obviate the possibility of a Spatial Intent that is rolling progressively out of the body from point to point split-second by split-second. In fact, the awareness of that moment by moment progression outward or inward of points of Spatial Intent might serve to enhance, on the Body level, the sheer coordination aspect of a Navel Radiation pattern, for example, and/or, on the Space level, the clarity of the Spatial Tension itself. This is not to say, moreover, that CST will only be in evidence with Successional Sequencing.
With Transverse Spatial Tension (TST) the question immediately arises: where are the minimum two points? We know that with TST the physical center of the body is not explicitly invoked, so where will our point of relative Stability be? The key word there is relative, and the excitement of TST lies precisely in the split-second awareness of at least two points elastically playing off one another. Shifting constantly outside of any verbal capacity to tell anyone in words where they are presently located, like evanescent sub-atomic particles, these points are moment by moment kinetically sensing a relative Stability and relative Mobility with Spatial Intent. This definition of ST, in fact, can attend to a boost in the depth of kinetic concentration as well as the complexity of involvement with movement in general and TST in particular. The mover, knowing this definition, is compelled to sense, re-sense and sense again exactly where the “counter-tension” is happening between at least two points on a more micro-durational level than usual. Texture and complexity increase with this definition due to forced attention to a Mobility-Stability and Spatial Intent equation.
PART NINE: WHY DOES IT MATTER?
Poor Rene Descartes. He is certainly getting stomped on in these days of still incipient healing of the mind-body split invented by the Greeks (the atomism of Democritus and Leucippus) and only given its ultimate toxic touch by him. He was just trying to be honest, admitting into consciousness only that which he could be sure of. The trouble was that by 1637 what one could be sure of had come to be so diminished in scope that it apparently only needed one man’s little book of philosophy, The Discourse on Method, to completely finish off the life of the world. Plato had spoken of the “anima mundi”, the world-soul, existing not inside the individual but alive and everywhere. For Descartes the soul was only the intellect, the res cogitans, and it resided only in the pineal gland inside the brain of humans. Only it was alive. The rest of the world, the cosmos as a whole, the res extensa, was without soul and composed only of mechanistically motivated matter. For 300 years space was now dead. Descartes’ legacy was transmitted intact through Newton, from whom we inherited the sharpened concepts of an absolute and empty space inside of which isolated atoms were mechanistically bouncing off one another and into the various combinations of the soulless objects, including the animals, that we see around us. (At the beginning of the 19th century some French physicians could without compunction undertake surgical experiments on live unanesthetized animals, so accepted had Descartes’ philosophy become of the essentially materialistic and soulless nature of anything but the human mind.) Glimmers of deliverance from this grim vision appeared throughout the 19th century (the Romantics, the Impressionists, the physician Claude Bernard with his “milieu interior” which became the “homeostasis” of Walter Cannon, who was born the year before Laban), but it took until 1905 with Einstein’s “Special Theory of Relativity” to begin to bring some life back into public space.
In the course of the 20th century our conception of space metamorphosed and effloresced. We now know that we live in a space-time continuum of four dimensions. We know this continuum is curved by the gravitational attraction that all objects in the cosmos have for one another. We know that the cosmos began with a Big Bang some 15 billion years ago in a process called vacuum genesis out of the zero-point field, that is, from nothing. We know that empty space containing no matter nevertheless pulses with energy in a process called the quantum fluctuations of the void, into and out of which subatomic particles appear and disappear, lending the label “creative” to the very nature of space itself. We now know that the space around us contains radio, microwave, infrared, ultraviolet, x-ray and gamma ray energies in addition to the visible light. The physicists and cosmologists are now speaking of a possible and additional seven dimensions existing right next to where we are standing amidst our normal four. They speak of black holes leading to wormholes through which time travel into those other dimensions is at least theoretically possible. Finally, once again, space is alive.
To this new life of space Laban’s work was simultaneously a physical, theoretical and soulful contribution. As with any body of work of this magnitude it would be likely to contain seeds that would sprout in the future, beyond their generator’s consciousness and lifetime. The concept of Spatial Tension is a logical and beautiful outgrowth of all of Laban’s work with Space. And it probably contains even more than we who are working with it presently know. Bringing life to space is the role of a painter, sculptor, musician or dancer. Yet in the healing arts the concepts of Spatial Intent and Spatial Tension might also lead to new, or ancient, spiritually revivifying practices. IB’s work with polio patients was certainly testimony to that, yet how is it possible to still hear from a licensed Dance-Movement-Therapist, as I recently did, that only Effort and Shape are important to her work while Space is not. (12)
The word ‘elasticity’ has been popping up in the texts of both the sub-atomic physicists and the astrophysicists as characterizing the quantum world. Moreover, as some cosmologists are coming to understand that reductionistic science has reached the end of its tether and that therefore the human mind and consciousness must now be included in all ultimate equations purporting to describe the cosmos as a whole, the word ‘elastic’ is again popping up to appreciate the quality of the mind in its relationship to matter. What are the poetics of space? Does architecture have no effect upon our health? Does the soul reside only inside the body, or does it extend into our very buildings? Do I as a whole person have no relation to the man who passes me on the street? Does my body as a whole have no relationship to walls of my house? Does my arm through the air have no relationship to my leg? Does the mind stop at the skin? What is the feeling of a good jazz ensemble, that is, what do we mean when we say the musicians are really cooking? All of these kinds of questions imply relationships through space, that space is alive, and that it is we who bring it alive. Spatial Tension is the soul of Space.
Part Seven was titled: what can we try as a definition? In fact, I am only proposing that we try it as a hypothesis and see if we get results. It does seem to tell us things that none of the other LMA categories do. Looking at the DVD to Example #13, where the figure is moving the left arm to Left-Forward-High, we can see an attitude toward the Kinesphere that is something other than just Effort or Shape. In fact, the figure was instructed to go to that place in the Kinesphere only with Bound Flow and Direct Space, but ends up expressing also a Central Pathway with Peripheral Spatial Tension. The latter is a layer of meaning that would not come through to us with mention only of Effort and Shape. The Spatial Tension, in fact, ends up telling us where and how that Bound Flow is being distributed, that is, out onto the finger tips.
We owe it to ourselves and our students to cease not having a definition. We owe it to LMA to perform further research so that not only will the subject not die, but that it will go out into the world as a potent and authoritative tool of movement analysis. I always sit in restaurants with Peripheral Spatial Tension. African-American men seem to greet each other with Central-Transverse ST Phrasings. The Queen of England shakes your hand with a Central Pathway and Peripheral Spatial Tension. Pilates overdoes Central Spatial Tension and Gyrotonic now corrects that using Transverse. It’s all out there happening all the time, and if “dynamic elasticity” doesn’t fit the bill, well at least it’s a temporary handle to give us a grip and get us going on to mo’betta theory and practice. We ought to encourage Dame Spatial Tension to talk profusely and eloquently to us, her obedient subjects.
NOTES 1] Bohm, David and Peat, F. David; Science, Order and Creativity; Routledge, New York, 2000. Bohm briefly discusses Alfred Korzybski, the American philosopher (1879-1950) whose famous line was, “The map is not the territory.” Bohm writes: “Korzbyski said… that whatever we say a thing is, it isn’t. First of all, whatever we say is words, and what we want to talk about is generally not words. Second, whatever we mean by what we say is not what the thing actually is, though it may be similar. For the thing is always more than what we mean and is never exhausted by our concepts. And the thing is also different from what we mean, if only because no thought can be absolutely correct when it is extended indefinitely.” (p.8)
2] The provenance of this anonymous Hand-out is unknown to me. It is titled “Definitions of Central, Peripheral and Transverse” It contains three pages of quotes from “Choreutics”, the “Space Harmony: Glossary of Terms” by Dell and Crow, and the “Primer” by Dell.
3] This is the three page Hand-out titled “Approach to the Kinesphere” by Janis Pforsich, 1986.
4] Janis Pforsich, “Central, Peripheral, Transverse…Body Part Relationship, Space Structures, Movement Qualities, or All of the Above?”; June, 1981.
5] Janis Pforsich, “Approach to the Kinesphere”, 1986.
6] Ed Groff, “Approach to the Kinesphere”, 1/22/87.
8] Tara Stepenberg, “Report from June 2002 Faculty Meeting on CPT”, dated February 18, 2003
10] Irmgard Bartenieff, with Dori Lewis, Body Movement: Coping with the Environment (New York: Gordon and Breach, 1990), p. 29.
11] ibid., p. 108.
12] It is unimportant exactly who said this. It is only interesting that it still could be an existing prejudice. Ellen Goldman related to me that when she was brought in to Hunter College in the 80s to teach in the Dance Therapy Department they had a similar opinion about Space.