facilitating & hosting

Crystal Pite: Creating with Conflict

At the last CreativeMornings/Vancouver the talented dancer and choreographer Crystal Pite took the stage. She focused her talk on conflict, and how conflict in her work has been vital. Not conflict in the studio, but contrasting ideas set against each other inside the subject of a work. Like certainty and doubt, or conflicting physical tasks in the body that create a state of torque or exertion. And how there is also conflict in the effort of trying to achieve something.

She went on to clarify that what she isn’t after is balance:

Balance feels still and peaceful. I’m looking for the energy that is created by tension. Tension between rigor and recklessness, between intellect and insight, between the need to respect traditional ways and the need to subvert them.

In my work, I think that when we are inviting the system into the room together to discover what matters for them, we are working with this kind of energy and tension. As conversation processes designers, hosts and calling teams we are dancing that line – the ‘and’ of intellect and insight. This is also why I shy away from our traditional idea of ‘facilitating’, to make easy. Working with the challenges and opportunities in the complex domain isn’t about making it easy. It’s about using good group processes to work with the tensions and conflict, and holding space to sit in the ambiguity long enough for wise action to emerge. And this is often not an easy or comfortable journey.

Crystal also talked about spirit of experimenting, and failing safely (my words, not hers). She described how in one dance piece she brought in a wig and beard master. All the dancers, male and female, had them. She kept them right up until the dress rehearsal and the scrapped them right before the show. The piece had taken a different direction and she wanted the audience to watch the humans dancing, not wigs and beards.

This is inspiration and a reminder to be courageous, sensing the shifts and abandoning something (It took time! Money! My precious creative concept!) right at a key moment. In the video you can see that Crystal didn’t deem this a failure. She was delighted by what she learned:

I’m going to keep that stuff for the next show… It’s very exciting I don’t know what I’m going to do with it but now I know how it’s going to look.

We were fortunate to see video excerpts of different pieces she has choreographed and for me one of them was an incredible visual example of holons and of Paul Tillich’s definitions of power and love. Crystal describes:

…working on the idea of creating a single entity made out of the seven dancers.. a collective body. Its components parts are individuals but as a whole it is its own expansive and complex being. Thinking that the same yearning that is present in the single character could be manifested exponentially.

Remembering my notes on holons, power and love:

  • Power: The drive of everything living to realize itself, with increasing intensity and extensity. So power in this sense is the drive to achieve one’s purpose, to get one’s job done, to grow.
  • Love: The drive towards the unity of the separated. So love in this sense is the drive to reconnect and make whole that which has become or appears fragmented.
  • Then layer in the concept of holons, where all entities are wholes and parts.

Watch the video and around the 13 minute mark you can see this power and love dynamic, and what Adam Kahane describes as a permanent tension between the two, not being able to chose, but resolving it by cycling between the two. As the dancers drop to the floor one by one, they are individuals driving to realize themselves – a power move. This is followed by the love move, uniting the separated by the fellow dancer reaching out and connecting. It was delightful and moving to see this danced on the stage. Of course this is all just my own meaning-making and perspective on the dance piece.

Crystal ended with an excerpt of something she wrote to celebrate International Dance Day:

You are dancers, all of you. Life moves you; life dances you. To dance is to investigate and celebrate the experience of being alive. Like life, a dance creates and destroys itself in every moment. Like love, it is beyond reason. Ephemeral as breath, concrete as bone, dance is made of you. You sculpt space. You write with your body in a wordless language that is deeply understood. You grace the space within and around you when you dance. Force, trajectory, inertia, and recovery: dancing is a ride, a duet between your instinct and imagination. To dance is to heighten your experience of the present moment. Your body is your location – when you dance, you are profoundly engaged in being there.

I wonder: Who might we be if we danced more?

Thank you Crystal for sharing your passion, your gift, and your creative process with us. See Kidd Pivot’s website for upcoming tour dates. 

Power in the skies.Creative Commons License kelsey_lovefusionphoto via Compfight

One reply on “Crystal Pite: Creating with Conflict”

Thank you for sharing. In my (Enterprise) Architecture work I also quite often use the concept to “play with extremes” and really let them literally run against each other. Quite often it is more than one extreme and it usually helps a lot to find what is really needed. So I can only fully second that: making it tension wise to easy does not lead anywhere, except more or less a slightly different variant of what is already existing. To change towards something new the tension is needed (preferable in a friendly and collaborative way).

I do not know if I find the right words to formulate a blog post about this concept, but your blogpost is clearly an inspiration to at least give it a try.