Integrative Performing Practices

Integrative performing, though the term only appeared recently in discussions about artistic practice and creation, has always existed.  Whether the central aesthetic of a specific genre or the underlying goal of one’s technical training, integrative performing is all around us all of the time.

Experience Bryon’s Integrative Performance (2014) was the first book to look explicitly at the subject’s theory and practice.  Integrative performance is a broad term that can be used to describe many genres, but particularly those that develop from multi-, inter-, or transdisciplinary work in the performing arts.  Integrative performers include all those artists working to transgress the confines of traditional performing disciplines (singing, dancing, acting, etc.) in their technical training and/or artistic endeavours.  To further define performance and performer involves extensive consideration of various philosophical concepts (for example ‘self’ and ‘knowing’ in phenomenology and cognitive studies, and ‘work’ and ‘text’ in aesthetics and performance studies).  However, we can sidestep this if we focus our interest on the actual performing of integrative performing.

The central thesis of Bryon’s book can be captured in the following schema and explanation:

  PERFORMER                    PERFORMING                   PERFORMANCE

   Who is doing.                    Way of doing.                      What is done.

Bryon argues convincingly that ‘performer’ and ‘performance’ emerge from the central act of ‘performing’.  Moreover, in an integrative performing context, this ‘way of doing’ is characterized by an ‘active aesthetic’:

The active aesthetic shifts the ways that we consider the interaction with the text(s) toward a discussion allowing and requiring choices in full consideration of how one does, rather than how one represents, shows, or depicts … it is through the active aesthetic that the entire voicing, moving, and emoting self can meet its full potential.  This works partly because we are not doing the doings of singing, acting, and dancing but rather a practice that allows the emergence of singing, acting, and dancing, there will be no competition or negotiation, but rather an integrative instrument working towards an integrative outcome.

For Bryon developing an integrative performing practice is essential if one wants to be open to the full creative and expressive potential of the active aesthetic.  I would like to extend her theoretical framework by approaching integrative performing in relation to everyday living and the physiology of breath, body, and voice.

With this goal in mind I have chosen to begin from a somatic perspective.  Although universal truths regarding breath, body, and voice function may be elusive, there are overarching principles that can be agreed upon if one looks closely where somatic practices and performing techniques clearly intersect: engagement with the body in a manner that is natural, healthy, and efficient.  While such terms may be problematic in an intellectual discourse, they are indisputably credible through the cogency of embodied experience.

The core of my enquiry stems from the lifelong work of Ilse Middendorf who developed Breathwork, a unique form of breath education that promotes a conscious experience of breath movement free from control of the human will.  Middendorf introduces this possibility with the following directives:

We let our breath come, we let it go and wait, until it comes back by itself.

For many this is a new ‘way’ of breathing that resides somewhere between unconscious breathing (how we breathe most of the time) and voluntary breathing (when we consciously direct or manipulate our breath cycle).  Middendorf called this ‘perceptible breathing’, and she claimed it is the key to accessing one’s ‘somatic intelligence’ – the wisdom of the body encompassing the physical realm of posture, movement, and overall health and fitness, as well as the spiritual and mental spheres of thought, feeling, sensing, and intuition.  

As with most somatic practices Breathwork aims for an integration of body and spirit, but the strength of Middendorf’s work is the incredible detail and precision with which she also considers the breath and voice.  Although breathing is understandably central to Breathwork, it does not suggest that breathing should dominate or direct the use of our bodies and voices.  Rather, we should aim to uncover – through perceiving – how breath, body, and voice coexist interdependently and  want to do so naturally in a healthy and efficient way.

If one is aiming to integrate various performing disciplines effectively, it is logical that we cultivate an integrative way of doing: ‘. . . body, breath, and mind all working from an integrated instrument toward an integrated outcome’.  If the goal of somatic practices is to live with greater awareness of the intelligence and interdependence of breath, body, voice, and spirit, and integrative performing necessitates the integration of the same, then it is only logical that integrative performing must derive from integrative living.

Although much of Breathwork’s prominence is due to its therapeutic value, it also has many possible applications in the performing arts.  Middendorf regularly makes reference to the perceptible breath being a gateway to discovering one’s creative power.  This chiefly refers to creativity in the general sense of how we exist and interact with others and our environment in everyday life, but it extends to the infinite artistic expression possible through the voice and body.  Although a means to actual artistic creation via Breathwork is not immediately evident I believe searching for this means is an auspicious inquiry.

The ultimate purpose of my research is to present the many varied relationships between breathing, moving, and sounding and how these could inform not only the way we live but also the way we engage with artistic expression and creation.  Every individual artist carries a wealth of talents, techniques, and experiences, and this personal body of knowledge must itself be integrated into any useful practice that aims to transgress the boundaries of well-established performing disciplines.  Everyone must develop his or her own integrative performing practice that finds a useful and productive balance between pre-existing, newly adapted, and new techniques in service of the active aesthetic.  Thus, my goal is not to present one method, but rather a system of core principles and possibilities for employing these in the development of a personal integrative performing practice.