Beliz Demircioglu answers questions around her book, “Improvisation in the Expressive and Performing Arts”.
What inspired you to write this book?
I have always been moved with the possibilities that arise in improvisation. As a dancer, teacher, choreographer and expressive arts practitioner I had witnessed an extensive variety of experiences. The uniqueness of each individual’s journey in an improvisational process, their visualizations, the way they describe their experience in words when improvisation becomes a case of extending their playground made me feel very curious about researching the intersections between people’s processes. And I wasn’t just wondering about different people’s processes but was also curios about the common grounds that enable an individual’s each improvisational process to become a more freeing and constructive act. I wanted to explore this topic with an arts-based phenomenological research. When I came to a phase in which I could share my findings, I wanted this research to turn into a book so that others could let in, shape, personalize and carry it further.
How did you find the process of shifting between a change agent, a witness and an active participant during the research process?
This aspect of my research was very interesting and inspiring for me. During the course of realizing the research for this book, my role shifted — sometimes even in the course of one session. I have been a change agent, a witness and an active participant. These roles do not have completely separate tasks from each other. They frequently overlap. For example, a change agent in EXA terminology describes the person who holds the space by enabling the imagination and enlarging the play range for art to come forward. A change agent is fully involved in every part of the session, in order to see the direction that creation wants to go and lead it towards that direction with minimal but effective interventions. A witness is a person who stays in the space where the art is being created with a complete openness to sense the emergence of the art, its effects on the creator and on herself. A witness does not intervene like a change agent. So a change agent is always a witness but a witness is not always a change agent. An active participant takes part in the artistic search. When I joined the Divers in their improvisations, I had entered their lifeworld as they had mine. I left my position as a change agent and became a Diver myself. One might say that a change agent also furnishes aesthetic responses, and during the process of creating those responses she is an active participant. I believe this to be true but when I talk about being an active participant, it is about a larger amount of time and rather than creating art as a response, it is a kind of art making that places me in the same position as the Divers. Sometimes this involved improvising with them, and sometimes I was alone in this task.
Was there a particular response from a graduate/undergraduate that surprised you?
I don’t know if I would describe this as being surprised but there was a response that really touched me. In one of our sessions, Hasan Canberk Karacay, at the time a junior at the performing arts department, expressed that he came to the realization of the belief that he had to make his work ‘mysterious,’ even at the moment of improvisation and that this understanding was leading him to constantly filter ideas just to serve this belief. It was very powerful to watch someone walk through the path to this realization and transform.
Do you think “not being defined by what people see in you, or by what you see in yourself” (Cools 2012) could be applied to other aspects of life?
Completely, I believe that it is applied to every aspect of life. Even though this book concentrates on improvisation in performing and expressive arts, I think the concept of the interplay between shaping and letting-go is at the core of life itself. So one’s explorations and realizations in this area spreads itself onto the life of the individual. I believe that if one doesn’t integrate improvisation into their life on some level and explore it playfully, then it’s not very realistic for them to expect a liberating experience from themselves in an improvisation session at the studio. The same is true for the quote from Guy Cools. I believe that most of the time in life, we find comfort in establishing definitions and sometimes we don’t even realize that these definitions can be immature and/or constraining us from exploring our potential. We are so focused on the misleading comfort of just ‘having a definition’ that we don’t realize what it entails. I find that allowing others and ourselves to be in the in-between, believing in great potentials that can arise anytime, anywhere in anyone and keeping a sense of playfulness on the journey are some of the keys of an improviser, a life explorer.
Is there a particular message from ‘The Passage’ that stands out to you?
The preparation, which I call ‘The Passage,’ before an improvisation or other creative process, is meant to take one into a highly sensitized state for approaching everything around one. It is a process that can be designed in many different ways and needs special attention. The Passage’s goal is to lead the person to a state in which they don’t see or create art as a reflection of their mind but let the form be molded into a work through them. A well crafted Passage, no matter how short or long, is the door that leads the improviser into a freer, broader and deeper improvisational space and unfortunately it is bypassed by many people. We expect so much of ourselves, and then get discouraged when we can’t meet these demands. The point that we miss here is that we benefit greatly from well designed, unique and need based preparations/transitions in our processes.
What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
I’m sincerely interested in improvisation and the interplay between shaping and letting-go not just in the context of performing and expressive arts but in life in general. The important point for me here is the entirety. I think most of the time we divide and sectionalize our processes in life. We are the dancer, the therapist, the mother, the teacher…, etc. And each situation has different dynamics and requires us to hold the space in particular ways. It is also crucial how we create the connections and the pathways between these roles. The process of this book keeps showing me that improvisation or our studio life and our daily life are nurtured greatly from a perspective of entirety.
If you would like to learn more, you can order your copy of the book, here.