The Vertical and The Horizontal, or ‘Expand and Advance’

Since starting the Confluence and Rebellion series with Beth Graczyk I have dwelled on occasion on the concept of the vertical versus the horizontal. Reading over text passages Beth gave me on 10/11 it started to make sense to me over the last few days not just how the vertical and horizontal concept worked but how it can apply to my work.

In improv some instructors play a development game called ‘Expand and Advance’. In duos, one player tells the other a story. Whenever the listener says ‘expand’ the speaker discusses the details of whatever topic of idea he/she has most recently brought up and keeps expanding on that point until the listener says ‘advance’, at which point the speaker can continue the narrative… until the listener says ‘expand’ again, and so on.

This is a game designed to show two sides of an improv narrative, of the present moment juxtaposed with reflection on the past to help illuminate details within the present.

Likewise, Beth brought forth the concept of pieces working within vertical and horizontal axes. The horizontal axis is the active motion in space, movement and life within a moment or narrative. The vertical axis concerns the sensual experience of the character or performer, what they think, what they feel, what they remember. The vertical axis concerns itself with reflection, while the horizontal axis concerns itself with action and direction. It is very similar to the ‘expand and advance’ improv game.

In the workshop we’ve gone on about poetry not just in text but in movement, in performance, in speaking not just from text but in how voices interact and weave together, then in how bodies and movement weave together in space. Within this poetry bodies always utilize a combination of active horizontal movement and reflective vertical movement within and without the self.

Discussing my cocaine dance piece with others, the topic came up of narrative and aesthetic clarity, of how discrepancies within the presentation of myself and my piece could contribute to discrepancies in how the piece is received. I have thought to some length about how those discrepancies could be reconciled, not necessarily cleared up but utilized, organized and perhaps woven into the context of the piece.

It is a piece that furiously moves horizontally, but is inspired in large part by vertical senses: Memories, impressions, connotations, sensations and emotions, a sort of social commentary. The piece’s horizontal movement incidentally takes places within a vertical context… like many dance pieces. You’re not literally watching a blow-by-blow breakdown… you’re watching a physically poetic narrative about what I feel the given scenario would lead one to.

My struggles to clarify the piece’s narrative may have found their answer in the horizontal and vertical axes Beth Graczyk made clear to me these last couple weeks.

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