Too often, poly-movement and poly-centricity are confused with each other. The definition I will be giving poly-movement is sometimes used as a definition for poly-centric movement. However, due to African and Caribbean dances engagement of multiple centres in the body and articulated use of the spine, it is necessary to separate poly-movement from poly-centric movement. This will isolate poly-centric movement to accurately communicate a particular engagement of spine, isolations and weight.
Poly-movement is the idea that movement can spring out from any body part, often within the same moment in time. Poly-movement can accommodate both poly-rhythm and poly-meter. Various body parts could be moving to separate rhythms or relate to separate meters. This is what often creates the democratic approach to the body Africana dance is known for.
Poly-quality is when multiple movement qualities are held on the body, or even the same body part at the same time. The shoulders, for example, may accommodate fast ticks while rolling slowly. Layered under this could be a vibration or a shake or both. All these movement qualities may be engaged on the shoulders simultaneously. This accumulation of movements qualities is what is referred to as poly-quality.
Poly-quality can be combined with poly-movements, and poly-centric movements to embody and layer the various poly-rhythms or poly-meters on the body.
Poly-centricity is the ability to layer multiple movements, movement qualities, instigated by the various centres of the body, at the same time. Poly-centred movement is movement that both originates and activates more than one centre of movement in the body, usually in the same time/space. The centres will more often than not move in contrast to each other. The movement or force- centres of the body are ankles, hips, chest/shoulder blades, wrists and head. Using a poly-cantered approach often results in “off-axis” movement, meaning the spine is positioned in curved movement on multiple sides of the central body axis. Examples of this are wining, circling, undulating etc. The approach to balance then becomes one of the equilibria within the constant movement, rather than placing the weight over one central axis. Another result is also the Africana democratic approach to the body, where moving the hip, head, arms or 7legs is approached with a similar attitude and weight.
In the Talawa Technique™, we use two terms to describe centre work. The Centre and the Centre of movement. The Centre is where the energy is held or compensated (what is held still or pushed away from), and the Centre of Movement is where the movement is cantered (active body part). So, when the chest is the Centre of Movement, we are using a LaCenter to compensate, and when the hips are the Centre of Movement, we are using a High Centre to compensate. This approach describes both which body part is moving and where the centre of gravity and compensation is being held: Force and counterforce. Where there are two centres of movement, they will move in counter relation to each other.
A poly-centric approach to the body defies the separation of mind and body. It instead adapts an Octopus’s approach sensing and thinking with the entire body, not just the brain and responding to one’s surroundings with the body, more than just the mind. A more instant camouflage or reflection of one’s impressions. Ability to both blend and stands out, and even more than this, adapt.
Poly- Spirit is a body ensouled with more than one spirit. As in when a dancer is being ridden by an Orisha or Loa, or when we channel our ancestors or even each other. The highly spirited body, that moves powerfully in praise, in dance, in contemplation, in service to the community. A body that becomes more than itself. This is central in both secular and sacred Africana and Caribbean form. A technique needs to be able to facilitate this state, as well as be able to simulate this state and move with the same power, although not emspirited.
In many Africana cosmologies, the past, the present, and the future are co-habitational. Our ancestors and our future descendants are present in our daily lives and are considered genuine members of the community. Our storytelling modes are often non-chronological and may draw lines between significant events with a fluid approach to the chronological relationship between these events. Africana communication often paints the surrounding of these events by placing other smaller events with it.
An example could be to explain our reaction to a foolish comment at work. We would first outline the alarm-clock, the foolish teenagers on the subway, the bus-driver having a bad day, the lack of hot water in the shower, plus your mothers’ opinion of your boss. The intersecting roads are as crucial in relating the story as the event itself. We can use Orisha practice as another example. In the Orisha lore, some deities are married. Some do not remain married. Their marriage and their divorce have already happened, yet in a ritual, they might be referred to as married or not. Both temporalities exist simultaneously.
Poly-temporality is a tool passed down through our oral traditions, is central to our storytelling, is present in much of our sacred plays (related to indigenous spiritual systems and mythologies) and ancestorism. Poly-temporality allows us to tell complex stories and build relations to characters, layering the information in new ways, often drawing a circle rather than lines. The future can affect the past. It also makes it possible to layer and juxtapose the impossibilities of Black life, like the joy within a reality of inhuman oppression.
Poly-temporality also makes itself known through poly-rhythmic and poly-metric rhythm constructions. Here multiple speeds, and “experiences” of time layer on top of each other, occupying the same time, but not the same relation to it. The drum makes time and sound play together. Often deeper tones give us the feeling of slowing down or groove, while higher pitches give a sense of speed or urgency. This is not a totality, but the relationship between pitch and the experience of time/speed/stress/prompting is, to some degree, codified rhythmic communication.
In much of the West, there is often a focus on structuring, measuring and controlling time. I am not claiming this is unique to the West; to me, this seems linked to industry and with production. Measuring time becomes particularly interesting when you are paid by the hour. However, in some Indigenous Knowledge Systems as well as in much art, the focus is on how time is experienced. One hour can feel like a minute, or it can feel like a day. Time, as it is experienced, is fluid, and poly-temporal. This layering of time is represented in our poly-rhythms and practices of poly-centric population or organisation of space and or the stage.
POLY-CENTRIC ORGANISATION OF SPACE/STAGE
Poly-centric organisation of stage/space is a practice which entails having multiple centres of activity/attention on the stage or in the space at the same time. This points back to our philosophies of a democratic approach to identity and community. Having multiple simultaneous centres of activity may force the spectator to choose a focal point. Having a poly-centric organisation of the stage allows the spectator multiple choices as they weave a story by shifting their gaze between attention centres. If one does not choose between the various centres of activity, but rather tries to step back and view them all this methodology offers a panoramic vision of difference within simultaneous composition.
Poly-centric activation of the stage has much to offer spectators also as it usually does not favour only a few sightlines. Spectators will get a slightly different experience based on their angle of vision in relation to what is unfolding in the performance space.
I do not want to give the impression that poly-centric organisation of the space/stage is a messy affair where everything is just happening at the same time. It is not. Poly-rhythms demands that the rhythms work together and coordinate silences that both make it possible to discern the different layers of sound and provides potential for more activity by populating the silence. Similarly, poly-centric organisation of the stage/space demands that we are able to layer the various activities and create visual silences which give us a similar sense of potential. We can create an experience of likeness or difference between the various centres and as such assign value and texture to the relationship between them.
When building poly-rhythms, some of the rhythms provide a common ground. Other rhythms provide dynamic “push” and creative “calls” which might challenge or energise the composition. Other rhythms like the ones held by the “shekere” (African bead shaker) often provide additional support to the composition. Poly-centric organisation or activation of the space/stage should be structured similarly. Poly-rhythm should not read as layered noise, but as rhythm. Poly-centric organisation of the stage, should not read as visual noise, multiple. It is a generosity of offered experience. It provides much added potential for storytelling and like poly-rhythm is a tool for communicating relation.
In Africana aesthetic relations and interconnectedness seems to be a core principle/value. Simultaneously valuing multiple relations is one product of this world view. Poly-temporality, Poly-centricity, Poly-rhythms, these are modes which are able to communicate relation as a value, and is capable of weaving a web of relations which allow us a deeper dimensional reading of how relations are interconnected, dynamic and contextual. One relation makes another possible, by adding an extra layer two relations seemingly in conflict can suddenly reveal their balance and interdependence. Such is the potential of “poly” in relation to communication through art.
The circle is another way of poly-centric organisation of space. Who is to say which part of the circle carries the most value? It allows us to privilege more sides, to assign value through activity rather than material orientation. Some practices centre the drummers and moves around them. Kumina on Jamaica has been known to populate the space in such a manner. This also makes the sound equal around the circle of spectators and creates a radial space circling out from the sound. Each centre does tend to have a radial force. These would intersect and push against diagonal, straight and flat orientations. I also believe that the Circle as a preferred Africana space organisation, comes from this multi-radial “bi-product”. Often the organisation of the circle is such as to balance the multiple radial forces emanating from each centre. Like how we often would organise to face the music, or the dance. Poly-centric organisation of the space then lends itself to showing virtuosity through ones understanding of the various elements and ones ability to create balance between them, similar to how poly-rhythms creates balance within difference.
Poly-centric use of the space also speaks to our traditions of multi-temporal narration. Each centre could be assigned a different temporality. You could say that poly-centric organisation of the space accommodates poly-temporal representation as well as a way to communicate multiple dimensions.
In much Africana and Caribbean cosmology, we relate to the seen and unseen world as equally important and real. The ancestral realm, physical realm, spiritual realm, ‘white space’, ‘Black space’, ‘third space’. This in part also relates to being poly-focal, but more than that demands of us multiple presences at the same time. This ability to overreach the physical and to connect to numerous realms and dialogue with them through movement. This is referred to as being poly-realm in orientation.
For This reason, the technique has elements of both sacred and secular movement philosophies, approaches and embodiment. I choose to call this a Mytho-technicalapproach. Drawing from both secular and sacred sources in so much of our movement practices demands us to engage both through an embodiment of mythological and technical aspects of our dance practices.
A Mytho-technical approach is an approach that acknowledges movement practices as both manifested in the seen and unseen world. It draws from both science and mythology/cosmology. Most Indigenous movement systems I have encountered are Mytho-technical. A modern example would be the modern Cuban technique. The movement of the Orisha deities are the sources of the technical information both de-and-re-constructed in the movement practice and performance modes.
A mytho-technical approach allows us to use a technique to have the body move as if it’s poly-souled even without reaching that state. We can, therefore, restructure and reshape our movements for secular stages. This affords us the ability to keep the type of presence demanded by contemporary staged performance while retaining the movement qualities, power and vitality of ritualised Africana dance. There are ways to engage with this as the lines between secular and sacred within Africana forms are not strictly drawn. Accountability, research and respect I still find to be central to how we should engage with this.