Researcher, choreographer, and teacher, Claire Buisson is the Director of Artistic and Cultural Education at the National Center for Dance (CND) in Pantin, France. Since 2017, she has been coordinating IMAGINE, a program for women in Seine Saint-Denis which offers a panoply of choreographic, somatic, and cultural activities based on the idea that “taking care of yourself is a way of addressing the problems of the world.” Claire spoke to The Attentive Body about the possibility of observing movement all around us, the “breath of things,” the evolution of IMAGINE, and the space this project creates for women.
The Attentive Body: Your teaching is based on a “cross-disciplinary” approach – looking at reality in a choreographic way. How do you encourage people to develop a way of looking at their daily lives that includes the body and movement? Is it possible to apply this teaching to someone who doesn’t identify as a choreographer or artist?
Claire Buisson: Absolutely. Or at least that’s my approach. I’ve taught architecture and design students, for example. And even when I teach people from the dance world, what interests me is getting them out of dance. In other words, body and movement also exist outside of dance and its codes.
Once I worked with seven-year-olds and had them watch a scene from a film (Tarkowski’s Solaris), a long take of plants in water. We watched it several times, put words to the sensations and the movement they saw. And then they reproduced it in the space.
I also think it could be simply observing movement in our daily urban environment with choreographic awareness: the movement of the masses in the subway, bodies walking in the street, buildings and objects…. This creates “breath” in our everyday existence.
TAB: And the concrete? The buildings? It’s harder to see the movement there….
CB: For me a landscape can still be organic, even if there’s no one in it. First, there’s the quality of your way of looking at buildings and architecture. Your way of seeing can be tactile and kinesthetic, which modifies your perception of reality – even concrete reality. Second, there’s movement everywhere: the movement of light will change your perception of a building’s dimensions, for example; a bird flying across a building will change the landscape through its movement…. This summer I did an artist residency in Mexico. We made a video about the ruins of factories. We did static shots, like photos, and at some point a sensation of movement always showed up in the image: a tree branch moving, a butterfly passing through, or even just the movement of our perception.
TAB: That reminds me of the old Zen koan [riddle]: a group of monks are looking at a flag in the wind. They debate what’s moving – the wind? the flag? or the mind?
So this attention to “the breath of things” is important to you. What’s the connection with IMAGINE?
CB: “Breath” is a metaphor, but it’s also a real experience, and I try to bring it into my way of creating, designing, running, co-developing, and collaborating on a project like IMAGINE.
TAB: Did you participate in the creation of this project? How did it start?
CB: When I came to the CND in June 2017, the basic outline and financial considerations were already in place: a project for women from Seine Saint-Denis, to take place over the course of 16 days, from 9:30 to 3:30, with choreographic and somatic activities in the morning and other activities in the afternoon; four cities [Aubervilliers, Bondy, Pantin, Tremblay], four groups of women; and the issue of equality among the women during the process. The theme: woman’s body in society, how it’s portrayed, and the idea of self-care. I was entrusted with the coordination of the project: to set it in motion, give it a tone, or “inspiration,” since we were talking about breathing earlier. So I oversee the whole project as well as its specific branch in Pantin.
TAB: This will be IMAGINE’s third year. How has the project evolved over time?
CB: I want the project to thrive, not to just be “carried out.” We keep asking questions as we go along, leaving room, trying things, adjusting, letting go so that the project carries us along as well as the other way around. One thing that changes every year is the way the original theme is interpreted. The first year was very much focused on wellbeing. Last year concentrated more on the female sex organs, and also on being a woman in public…. This year we’ll discover as we go along, but in Pantin for example, we’re leaning toward a theme involving plants and gardens.
Another very important thing that has changed is that the first year, each group was confined to the studio, amongst themselves. It was necessary for the project that we take care of ourselves in this inner intimacy. As we go along, the project – and all of us – are looking toward the outside. Last year several workshops took place in the cities, for example, outside the studios. It’s an organic process.
TAB: What reaction have you received from the participants? What impact has it had on their lives?
CB: The participants were affected in many different ways – for example, the disappearance of physical pain, not needing medication or physical therapy anymore. They also developed a different relationship to their families: one woman said that for once she had something to tell her husband and kids at the dinner table. There’s also the connection between women who live in the same town and don’t know each other. And a new way of perceiving their bodies and their physical abilities (especially for older women). Also, the exposure to new activities. This year a participant from Pantin said it got her to take up journal writing again.
TAB: That’s wonderful feedback! I remember a woman who worked on conscious breathing with me [during the IMAGINE workshops in 2018-2019] who told us she did the breathing exercises with her children, all of them sitting on the couch, and that it brought them some much-appreciated calm.
CB: Yes, I heard about that. That’s great!
TAB: Any surprises in these two years of the program?
CB: Mobilizing so many different women over so many days was an official “goal” of the project, but it was still a kind of surprise when it actually happened. For me, one unexpected thing is the word-of-mouth – when I get calls from women who want to participate because someone’s told them about the project…. And also how good it feels to be among women, touching, rolling around, hugging, talking, laughing with each other. And the fact that we all agree that we’re missing this space for women to be amongst women.
TAB: The idea of self-care is central to these workshops. Does this correspond to a need you perceive among women?
CB: Yes. In fact I wouldn’t make a distinction between the participants and the “facilitators.” We all realized that we have to take care of self-care, each of us in her own way. And “care” can mean many different things. It can be physical, sensual, it can be words, actions (cooking, writing, etc.), taking your time, going to a museum….
TAB: And you? How do you take care of yourself?
CB: I do yoga and meditation early in the morning. I take time for silence, or to go for a walk: pauses in the daily routine. I cook. I spend time in nature. I listen to music that I love. I try to listen to my needs…. I try to not let myself get carried away by the urban and materialistic frenzy of daily life, to tat my lace and breathe…. It may be banal, but I find it fascinating and precious.
It also means: invent your own path.
If you’re a woman or have a friend, cousin, or sister who lives near Aubervilliers, Bondy, Pantin or Tremblay en France, there’s still time to sign up for IMAGINE 2019-2020. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo of Claire Buisson: Luna Antonia Arboleda
Elaine Konopka is the founder of The Attentive Body in Paris, offering private sessions in attention-based bodywork and pain management, and workshops on writing and conscious breathing. You can also find her on her YouTube channel dedicated to writing for wellbeing, The Write Thing to Do.
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