Layers of Intimacy is a practical and artistic research into the worlds of composition and sensuality. How do we make decisions when being intimate and/or composing sex with each other? What are the skills, nuanced sensibilities and compositional intelligences at work, and how do we train them? We are building upon an existing improvisation method, Present Time Composition (PTC) by Dr. Alan Bern, and using other forms and platforms of embodied practice, research and explorations; interviews, questions of reverse engineering, literature and film research, participatory observation at play parties, etc. This is week #4 of our time together at the Sensemble Theater in Augsburg, within our flausen+ residency – the final week, but only within this phase of the research. More to come, so much more to explore and understand!
PTC is an improvisation method and learning framework for collectively improvised, highly differentiated performance works, drawing upon and honing our ability to quickly make coordinated, nuanced decisions. Our ensemble trainings of PTC in the context of (kin-)aesthetic choices during sex have been an embodied practice beginning with identification of ‘impulses’. ‘Impulse’ is defined as any information-stimulus urging a cognitive system to make a decision and/or change the current state. Impulses are understood as any kind of shift, ‘anything that happens’, in the perception of the improviser. Building on this sensitisation, the method entails various sections and types of exercises that help isolating on or focus on specific compositional parameters – with the aim to boil down intelligent, complex, nuanced information to the speed of an impulse.
The final research week concludes, as foreseen by the flausen+scholarship, with a public event sharing our insights and working process – the “makingOff” on Oct 2nd 2023. In preparation for welcoming witnesses (‘Teilhabende’, instead of inviting people as “audience” in the conventional sense, see Logbook #3) to our lab/stage/workspace, we began our fourth week with discussions about not only our scores and content to show witnesses, but also the importance of trauma-informed embodiment practices, including future projects and collaborative possibilities. We touched base with exercises 1ABC, dove deeper into calibration mirroring practices, focused on the compositional elements of ‘active/passive’ and ‘motivic development’ for a series of 6-minute scores, and began to incorporate varying constellations during free-form work, namely trios alongside the occasional solo. Although our small group size did not lend itself to always labbing with an ‘outside eye’, we took turns stepping outside the role of performer-composer to hold space for identifying larger compositional threads. Two of our four gave an interview to a local reporter who published a supporting article (see Augsburger Zeitung 01.10. “Ein intimes Projekt”), and we began planning how best to create a container that was supportive not only to ourselves and our research, but also to those who would join as witnesses.
When witnesses arrived, we found ourselves activated by their numerous attentions and gazes, with the scores stretching and feeling much ‘longer’ than their measured six minutes. In rounds of questioning and feedback, we engaged with anticipated curiosities about the differences between PTC_sex and (sensual) dance, addressed seemingly inherent qualities of ‘power’ present when we look deeper into sex, and touched upon why we feel that sex is unique in being a realm of experience where experimentation outside our easily-accessed comfort zones or patterns is not easily engaged in. After our ‘show-off’, we heard additional testimonies about how this research had moved individuals on a deeply emotional level, touching upon their understandings of not only their own sexual proclivities and histories, but the ways in which they can discuss or even behold intimacy in a more social and discursive level, and how these experiences resonate in their own bodies.
In terms of future project possibilities, we are drawn to a number of ways to re-imagine sexual sharings and learnings. We discussed location-specific happenings, more theatrical productions retelling myths and legends utilizing PTC_sex as production method, giving intensive workshops, and working in pedagogically sensitive and modified settings with populations from young adults to incarcerated people. The sentiment we all hold in unison is that for this work to grow – and to not would be a great disservice to both the energy invested so far and the energy that can still be accessed – we must uphold our impulse training regimens, our practices in attuning to ourselves and one another, and continue to honor all the intelligences present within our personal composer and performer selves alike.
This research is basic research endeavoring into the vast and unconscious territories of the compositional nuances, skills and learning potentials in our making of intimacy and sexual interactions. After four weeks of intense full-time work, following two other, shorter research moments in the project “Layers of Intimacy” (2021, 2022) we have encountered findings – and a lot of new questions and trails of where to dig deeper. Thoroughly and practically researching sex and intimacy as a space of intelligence, negotiation and learning, in its social, aesthetic and analytic dimensions, calls for artistic “sex academies” – spaces and funding for these kinds of interests, questions and practices. We will continue – if you have a hint where, please let us know!
“You can only take risks in a safe space”
“Labbing is how we can increase practices of complexity in improvisation”
“Put attention to what you notice in your own body – this is the material for a meaningful reaction”
We felt that with the depth we reached in the work with each other, educating ourselves about Trauma – and how traumatic experiences and nervous system responses influence our impulses and inform our patterns and behavior – was an enriching step. For this purpose we asked a professional therapist and bodyworker, Axel Nielsen, to help us understand how trauma influences our research work. Sharing traumatic experiences affirmed the embodied understanding that had already grown between us and revealed a certain inherent logic in regards to how we make our choices in interacting with each other. Bringing awareness to this layer of our patterns (and its genesis) offers a more intentional and wholesome perspective to what it means to challenge ourselves and explore outside of our comfort zones. Moments of discomfort might not only offer learning, but also purposeful healing.
In the research of Layers of Intimacy we ask: What intelligences and skills are important in the process of intimacy, and how do we train them?
In light of the #MeToo movement1, the last 7 years has generated a heightened focus and awareness on sexual boundaries and the practice to communicate clear Yes’s and No’s before, during and after sexual encounters.
A question from a witness shed light on a central point on the relation between PTC and the big field of consent and communication of desires and boundaries.
The witness pointed towards online dating, where chatting about common interests and personal boundaries is becoming easier to communicate about. The witness said that it then gets difficult if the desires change when a physical meeting is happening and desires and boundaries then change. It seems that our thoughts about what we find hot and intimate are not always aligned with what our bodies need for feeling safe and connected to experience pleasure.
The question circulates around how to negotiate consent, when we are “inside the play”, where there is no meta language like, “do you like this?”, “May I take off your pants?”, “I would like you to spank me” etc.
Reflecting on the 4 weeks of research, we found it relevant to point out that we didn’t experience that something went over someone’s boundaries. There were situations where someone felt challenged by not being sure if something they did or wanted was okay. These moments were great learnings about what happens to our confidence and sense of impulses and choices, when we start to doubt the connection and the consent with the other person.
This points to the great impact of impulse practice in the PTC method, as well as the connection-related exercises of “constellation work” (see Logbook #2). When we learn to lower the threshold of information within our bodies, we are entering a deep relational awareness with ourselves and the people we play with. When something comes up that feels awkward or unsettling, we learn to react and negotiate it, instead of ignoring it. This negotiation takes place in the doing itself (the material of the improvisation), as well as in the conversations and reflections around it. There is always the possibility to interrupt play, and it is most often meaningful moments of learning, zooming into a specific moment that just occurred. This kind of learning was also used for self reflection and personal growth.
PTC is a great method to understand and learn about embodied consent and boundaries. It turned out to be a good way to create a learning space where experiences can be made in a safer, connected and attuned environment and then talked about straight after. This is a very different way of approaching consent practice, which is highly needed in professional, educational and private spheres.
makingOff – Our Public Sharing with the Augsburg audience on Oct 2nd @ Sensemble Theater
During the week leading up to our Public Sharing event, the “flausen+ makingOff”, our preparations demanded the majority of our research working hours. We dedicated our time to experimentation, planning, and the creation of a meaningful evening flow. Simultaneously, we continued our daily training, focusing on various compositional dimensions and elements. The objectives we set for our presentation included:
The structure of the evening unfolded as follows:
1. Arrival Atmosphere and Welcoming: We curated the initial ambiance to set the stage for what was to come – a cozy, warm, engaging space.
2. Witness Comments: Throughout the evening, we encouraged our audience to share their thoughts, creating a dialogic space.
3. Theory and Introduction: We provided a theoretical foundation and an introduction to the concepts we would be exploring, including basics in compositional theory, cognitive studies and sensuality within the arts.
4. 1 ABC Impulse Work: Participants engaged in a series of shared and participatory exercises (impulse work) that functioned phenomenologically to lower our threshold towards impulses as “what we improvise with”, sharpening our awareness and ability to respond fast
5. Constellation & Calibration: Explanation of the next steps within the progression of the method PTC_sex with a small hands-on experience for witnesses in calibration.
6. Composition: We presented two scores, focusing on the active/passive dynamics and motivic development, followed by an active involvement of the audience in the compositional reflections and “learnings / next steps” evaluation
7. Q&A Session: A session for questions and reflections, bringing up interesting reflections and experiences
8. Check Out/Final Ritual: Participants offer one word and a final question, followed by a symbolic gesture.
In preparation for the event, we consulted with our mentor, Dr. Alan Bern, to fine-tune and double check the evening’s flow. We also conducted rehearsals and shared our work with Anne, Sebastian, and Helga from the Sensemble team, who would also be co-hosting the event.
The evening of the makingOff unfolded successfully, with our audience embodying the role of witnesses as we had hoped, stimulated by the framing and exercises. People commented on this immersive experience during the Q&A session, and we overall felt the specific quality of attention and sharing in the space during the evening.
Our 1 ABC Impulse work exercises, though conducted at a brisk pace, effectively conveyed the depth of this chunk of work, focussing on our human ability to finely tune our awareness and sensitize bodily and social decision-making in our improvised compositions.
During our continuous duos (the scores) and their subsequent discussions, we not only clarified the two compositional elements we had chosen (active/passive and motivic development) but also showcased our approach to analyzing and deducing the next research steps. Immediate reflection after improvisations, together with the witnesses, allowed us to pinpoint specific moments for evaluation, fine-tuning, and heightened awareness in terms of the specific compositional aspect under scrutiny. The observations, reactions, and questions of the witnesses (our audience) made visible how transparent and accessible, yet demanding our research focus was.
The Q&A session yielded meaningful insights. Key points of discussion with the audience included:
> Many attendees were deeply moved and drew parallels to their own experiences, relating them to power dynamics, moments of learning in sex, and the vulnerability inherent in both witnessing and creating intimacy. This created a sense of meaningful community-building and sharing on the spot.
> Despite the novelty of the experience for many, they expressed feeling safe in their position and within the space, even though it exposed them to matters of shame and inhibition.
> An intriguing point of discussion revolved around the level of “sexuality” in our performance, comparing it to other forms of performing arts improvisation, such as contemporary dance or tango. We came to understand explicitly that in other art forms, genuine sexual intimacy is always veiled by layers and filters of meaning, serving a narrative or artistic purpose. In contrast, our work aims to create a compositional art form where the pleasure and relation-building of the performers (and, through their internal participation, the audience’s pleasure and empathy) is the central focus. There are no excuses, filters, or ulterior motives; this compositional work, complex and aesthetically nuanced, is about creating and deepening genuine intimate connections. This might distinguish it from other dance-improvisations.e.g.
Overall, the Evening of the makingOff was a rich sharing of compositional elements, our research and an overall successful endeavor into this intimate audience engagement, fostering a meaningful exchange between performers and witnesses.
In the last week we focused on practicing specific compositional scores to share with witnesses, in order to give access and showcase the type of things we worked on during the past four weeks. We decided to work with the parameters “active/ passive” and “motivic development”. We set a certain time frame (5 – 7 min) and used “force out”, a rule in which the performer on the outside of the active continuous duo makes the decision to step in and therefore “forces” one of the performers on the inside to go out. These frameworks invited, like an “attractor state” specific qualities, and made others more rare in our improvisations: where ideally we would be able to also invite those missing qualities into our improvisation, at any time they’d feel meaning. Our improvisations at the “makingOff” showing tended to be rather short in each duo (meaning: we’d “force eachother out” in rather short intervals) and they tended to be intense, fast and rather highly energetic interactions. The performer-mode of being observed by strangers for sure fueled that “attractor state” default mode. During the Q&A, witnesses pointed out that they were missing the quality of tenderness and others were curious about the usual time frames and spans we worked with. We want to make more time to take more time – now that we grasped and shaped the foundations of the method, we are ready to jam more and create more complex compositional forms and arches!
If we would have another month at Sensemble – how would we proceed?
Regarding set time frames in the scores, it would be interesting to go for longer jam-like situations of 20 minutes up to 1 hour of continuous play, being aware of the fact that the time-horizon to which we set ourselves will influences the types of compositions we’ll create (as tried out with the impulse work). As most likely “slowness and tenderness” and “a feeling of spaciousness in time” come bound together as an “attractor state” (two compositional qualities often appearing together, but actually being two separate things), such frame to practice and distinguish both would be helpful to make them more easily accessible to us in all types of time settings. This work would also call for more in-depth-work on the many qualities of touch as compositional parameter.
We initially planned to engage in a play party or visit a swinger club in Munich during our research – on the one side as a tool for “reverse engineering” in the mode of a “participatory observation”, identifying meaningful compositional moments and reflecting on what we need to learn in order to being able to improvise them. And on the other side to experience how what we have been practicing informs our interactions with others in a free flow night-long situation. In an analogous manner to participants studyind PTC_music in a workshop and apply their learning in an evening jam session.
Our research priorities did not allow us to do it this time – but we want to engage in it very soon!
To discover further formats for play settings we want to practice Ritual Play – which is a specific framework to play freely and connect developed by Marina Kronkvist. How do both practices communicate and what can be learned from it?
(More info on Ritual Play by Marina Kronkvist www.ritual-play.com/ )
Compositional aspects and parameters we already touched on and that demand further investigation and practice are:
> solos, quartets (and other compositional constellations in play) > pauses and Lacuna (see log book #3)
> exploring phrasing as a compositional element
> anticipation play
> space (deepening our practical understanding of space as compositional element, working with distance, trying out scores with no touch)
> the dimension of public/private (hiding, whispering – sensually playing with the fact of being observed and creating refuges away from spectatorship within the play)
> and working on gaining more awareness about the differences in qualitative shift between force-out and drop-outwithin continuous duos
Another nearly endless field is the topic of object play – we just started to dive into it and it was so much fun and very rich! As each object has its own world of usage, philosophically speaking its “affordance”, its associations and fantasies, social connotation and symbolism it thereby brings a manifold inspiration to connect and communicate with each other through it. Which methodological key points can we extract when it comes to object play?
One core question is how to continue the basic research and elaborate the methodological development of PTC_sex and the broader research questions of Layers of Intimacy.
That means first of all searching and applying for grants and residencies, thinking of funding concepts (which is specifically challenging with our sex positive work) and connecting with people who are interested in the work.
We are curious to do research with larger groups as a team of six to four people brings its limitations.
As research group, our group life in a new city was a continuation of our work on building familiarity, managing our dynamics and being aware of the by times very intense and challenging effects of a self-referential social bubble. For future research, the integration of guests at various moments would be an interesting contribution.
After training and researching relevant embodies skills for a month, and building platforms of trust and knowledge, we wonder about how to stay in the practice. We have the wish to find some kind of continuity for ourselves to keep the spark alive and be nerdy about it. How do we individually with our different knowledge intertwine and combine it differently with our work and bring it forward?
Another question is how to share PTC_sex/ Layers of Intimacy?
Exercises have already been brought in and tried in various workshop formats, mainly at bodywork and movement festivals. We are reflecting on developing longer workshop formats, perhaps starting with the form of a weekend retreat. How deep can we share the method in something like two days? How to simplify the basics, but still embody the precision of perception and interaction? What is relevant and crucial in a workshop context to learn for people who are curious to explore their sexuality and how they intimately relate and connect?
Building a container with witnesses at the makingOff event worked out so well and created a sensible and open-hearted atmosphere – a valuable experience to develop the concept of “pleasure performances” further and try it out in different contexts.