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The Collective Unconsciousness of Creating

In her March Sixth Position column, Danielle Georgiou ponders what it means to communicate non-verbally through her art.



published Friday, March 17, 2017

 

Dallas — One of the most powerful elements of dance is its ability to present stories in a universal manner. It can take a polarizing issue and break down the barriers surrounding it with grace, passion, resolution, and boldness. It is also successful in this regard due to the collaborative nature of dance—both in how multiple parties come together to create works of dance, and the various elements that are utilized in producing dance: research on social issues, examinations of personal dilemmas, and the use of multi-media resources.  

It is this collaborative effect that somehow manages to create a subconscious connection between dance-makers no matter where they are located. In dance, as in life, we share experiences, but perceive them individually; nevertheless, we desire a way to express our opinions and feelings through a method by which we can understand them better. As a choreographer, my way of dealing with and confronting challenging situations is through physical movement and—at most times—non-verbal communication. Because, often, I don’t have the appropriate words or I don’t know how exactly I feel. Yet, through moving, either alone or in a group, I can discover some clarity. Not answers, but possibilities.

I am not alone in this regard. Nor am I alone in the questions that I am exploring solutions for. Somehow, it always seems as if the fates align and artists across the world are examining similar topics—our brainwaves are trending. Though, what are the odds that a group of individuals would be explore the same ideas? Is it just a coincidence or are we sharing an unspoken, unacknowledged connection? Where does this feeling come from? How are the threads of our lives connection?

Mathematicians Persi Diaconis and Frederick Mosteller defined coincidence in their 1989 paper, “Methods for Studying Coincidences,” as a “surprising concurrence of events, perceived as meaningfully related, with no apparent causal connection.” Statistician David Hand noted in his book The Improbability Principle that coincidental events are quite commonplace. If you consider the Law of Truly Large Numbers, if you have a large enough sample, then anything can happen. And with over seven billion people in the world, it’s mathematically not a surprise that similar ideas are shared across the globe.

But what explains the shared feelings? We could look to Carl Jung and his theory of collective unconscious for an answer. According to Jung, the human collective unconscious is populated by instincts and by archetypes or universal symbols—e.g. the Great Mother, the Wise Old Man, the Shadow, the Tower, the Tree of Life. He argued that the collective unconscious had profound influence on the lives of individuals, who explored these symbols by placing them in them into the context of their own personal experiences. But those personal experiences could be similar from one individual to another. Not identical, but similar; and when those elements begin to manifest among groups of people, like say, a group of young choreographers who are coming-of-age in a tumultuous world, it’s not surprising that we see dance concerts or productions that are addressing analogous topics.

We are all tuned into the same thing. We are living in the same world. Confronting the same issues. We share a connection and are receptive to specific symbols that characterize the historical situation we are finding ourselves in. This connection becomes visible throughout culture in the form of superstitions, everyday practices, and unquestioned traditions. I explored these concepts, specifically the rituals of safety and protection, in my most recent work, War Flower, and they have appeared in some form or another in my past works. And I have been seeing other artists, both dance and theatre, creating or producing work that are also referencing ritualistic ideas and habits.

There is something going on here. We are finding our way back to simple patterns of movement and pedestrian gestures. The repetitive act of clapping, stomping, cheering, yelling, walking, running, spinning, and breathing together is powerful, no matter what language you speak. You know what it means when someone covers their eyes with their hands and bows their head. You know what it means when someone reaches their arms away their bodies, shakes them vigorously, while lifting their heads and torsos to the sky. You know what it means when someone grabs their head in their hands, squeezing tightly. And while that shared pool of instincts and images manifests differently due to the culture in which we were raised, there is no denying that our primordial selves somehow take over during the creative process creating the stage for a shared subconscious mindset.

As artists, we search for ways to make our work universal and accessible. So, it makes sense that we would unconsciously turn to simple patterns, learned behaviors, and common gestures. We often see circular patterns on stage and large groups of people walking together, moving as one solid unit, working toward a common goal. There is something comforting and human in those images. Yet, there could also be something terrifying in that same act. The interpretation is up to us. That’s the beauty of dance, the story it tells never fully resolves. You, the audience member, are the only one with the answer, and maybe, one day, when our minds are all attuned, you will share that information with us.

 

» Danielle Georgiou is a dance educator, critic and writer. She is the Founder and Artistic Director of DGDG (Danielle Georgiou Dance Group) and is a working dancer and performance artist. Her column Sixth Position appears on the third Friday of the month on TheaterJones.com.

 

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The Collective Unconsciousness of Creating
In her March Sixth Position column, Danielle Georgiou ponders what it means to communicate non-verbally through her art.
by Danielle Georgiou

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