Judith Adams

Margie Gillis / UBC Workshop (Vancouver)

March 2008

A workshop funded by the University of British Columbia, Canada with solo dancer and choreographer Margie Gills and Professor Michelle LeBaron to explore, through dance and language, the negative and positive character of conflict – its nature and its possible uses.

“First heal the healers” Gillis

Impossible to imagine how a more pertinent experiment could have been created for my ongoing studies and current projects, combining as it did strenuous and challenging physical exploration with swift, focused discussion around the role of facilitator and subject (at its most dangerous extreme, the puppet master and puppeteer model?) in situations of conflict and conflict management.

Among Margie’s many and glorious talents is a complete rejection of the puppet/puppet master model of evoking learning or articulation. Instead, she has that alchemical, body-listening instinct for process which changes direction according to circumstance, and addresses messages from within. She then has the courage to respond to these messages by switching direction in an instant.

She also has an instinctive mind-body use of speech throughout. This language articulates her thoughts and references them to her favoured “larger grid” while her movement demonstrates possibilities (and impossibilities) and experiments with the particular.

The result of these skills, was a decision after day one to steer the focus of the workshop away from long and static discussion of situations outside the room, (which quickly caused cold, stiff bodies and use of heads only) to concentrate on managing conflict within the individual bodies in that room; or, as Margie termed it; “first healing the healers”.

Most of us were not dancers, most (apart from myself) were involved in the direct professional application of conflict-management techniques. The challenge of movement was great, therefore, fascinating and, by day three transformative. So accustomed is our culture to the compulsion to use systems and beliefs to overlay problem-solving solutions on dangerous or uncomfortable states of conflict and paradox which later fail catastrophically, it had already struck me on day one that there was a danger of such a process beginning to sound like the often well-meaning ‘intervention’ of the colonial system.

Or even to sound like the assumptions of one conflicting partner that the other can be fixed/ persuaded.

I began to wonder to what extend our quest for A Peaceful World is one where capitalism (“safety of free trade”?) is most likely to flourish. To what extent are we trading our deepest desires for justice and health for a feeling of insidious comfort instilled in those of us raised in the cultures and mores of western (patriarchal) societies? Can conflict resolution, in fact, like colonialism, be a ticking time bomb? As capitalism also and absolutely requires social inequality and arms sales to flourish and re-flourish after use – I pondered this possible paradox.

To my increasing delight, therefore, Margie’s strenuous work on evoking dance and thought from within the body began to dislocate assumptions, disturb the status quo, and shake loose some of our reticence to go into unknown territories. As women ( and this was, to my delight and fascination, a chosen group excluding men ) we became more aware of our own discomforts within a world system which we have had so little influence in, but which we, often unconsciously, revert to representing in our desire for a more caring existence.

What seemed to me to be created to an extraordinary degree out of this physical provocation in body-listening and other-body awareness was easily the most caring yet robust group dynamic I have ever been part of.

First heal the healers.

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