Here you will find a couple of texts I wrote or spoke about the practice. More to come!

by Annette van Zwoll 


‘Dear Anna, I hope you are well! […] Due to this second lockdown, we cannot review any performances in the theatres anymore. As an alternative, I would like to interview you on the topic of ‘bodily joy’.  It comes from my realisation that, due to the distance, the lack of spontaneity, and the absence of live get-togethers, I find it hard to experience joy in my body myself. And it’s a loss. Therefore it would be great to talk to you about how to keep finding joy in the body in these awkward times. […]. Best, Annette’

A jump of the heart when you run into someone, arms outspread in anticipation of a hug, intestines tickling as the face bursts open to let a laugh out. To have a sensation starting, somewhere in your upper belly and heart area, and have it extend to every extremity of your body. Joy. On some days it was sparked so easily, and, in hindsight, taken for granted. Because, although I don’t necessarily live joylessly at the moment, this second lock-down has made my life feel rather pale in comparison to before. And I miss the physical experience of joy. What strategies are there to access joy in the body? I speak about it with choreographer,  performer, and dreamer Anna Nowicka, responded. 

On the 12 November you were supposed to premiere your research work “7” in Dock 11, but you had to cancel it due to the lock-down. Can you tell me a bit about “7”? 

I called the process “7” because of the pause; six days of work and the seventh is a pause. A pause to listen, to understand, to reflect. An in-between space where there is a certain stop and a break in the rhythm. In this moment of pausing, usually many ideas or movements come up in the body, and I recognise them with curiosity, pay attention to them, and try to shape them. For “7” I created a structure, and within that structure there is space for activity to emerge. In form, the movement arose from me feeling a bit fragmented, a bit dead, and so I used the project to really connect to parts of myself again. Almost like a hero that has to die to emerge again. The time that we are in is also a certain stop, an in-between time, a moment of transition. 

My proposition of rewriting, as I didn’t feel dead at that time, I wonder how I said it that you understood it this way:)

“7” unfolded by simply being present to what, and forming it into dance. It unraveled by going to Eden (studio) and closely observing what arises in the body: what desires, questions, sensations, images pop up. In the pause, a flow becomes sense-felt, visible.  I would treat what is presencing itself as a dream, and respond to it thorough movement. “7” fits perfectly for the global time of stop we are living. In this in-between time, we are offered a moment to look back at all what has been created, and choose the pathway onwards.  

Do you experience these moments of transition as joyful? 

Do you know why I responded to your email? I was super busy and my days were full with adjusting to the new corona measurements again. But you focused on “joy”. All that you focus on, amplifies. For the last three days of working on “7”, I was so happy. I included a song in my work, which I almost never do, I was dancing, and I felt so alive. So when you wrote to me, I felt it was serendipity, a sort of confirmation. In this time when we’re facing so many challenges and everything around us is falling to pieces, it’s not easy to keep our heads high. To protect ourselves, it’s quite common that we either flight out of the body or shut down. And yet, it’s important to come back to the body, to feel it and nourish it. It requires work, as finding joy does.

What is your practice of finding joy? What are strategies to get access to that?
I think there are many things you can do, but an important strategy is returning to your sensations. Taking time to sense, to smell fragrances, to feel the warmth of the cup of tea in your hands, to see the sun beams falling through the window. For me, taking time to really sense what is around me brings me back to the rhythm of my body, and enables me to feel.

Do you do that very consciously? 

Yes, it’s a practice. It is a practice of shifting the eyes. One of the main tools to work with it is the breathing. When I notice my breathing changing, e.g. speeding up when anxiety creeps in, I create space for it to return to its natural rhythm. From this natural rhythm I can respond to the situation, rather than react to it. I return to the expanded place of joy also through working with imagination. (this part to cross out: For example, when I feel anxious and almost like I’m choking, my breathing speeds up. When I notice that, I don’t try to change or control my breathing anymore, but I acknowledge it, and create a space so that my breathing can return to its usual rhythm. This strategy has made a big change for me. ) Another practice is to notice the small things. What you described in your email as joy is very simple; the joy of running into someone or of an unexpected meeting. We’re told that joy is found in novelty, in excitement, or quick gratification, but it actually lies in the details. It’s not something outside of us that someone else can bring us. The joy is here, within us, but it is sometimes hard to recognise, because it’s cluttered up with other emotions, and those emotions have a tendency to be louder.

That’s a beautiful idea. That joy is there, modestly waiting to be heard again through all the other emotions.
It’s always here. It must be here. We’re alive, and joy is this life-force that wants to come out, like a planted seed that fights its way to the sun. It’s the same in the body. We have a lot of emotions that darken the space around us, and there can be so much traffic and uprising in the body that we ignore our joy. The voice of joy is soft and tender,( this I would take out: and can be easily overpowered). 

Where is joy felt? How do you recognise it?
Let me ask you. Where do you feel it? 

I experience it in my whole body, but some parts of my body are more filled with it. It usually starts in my heart and belly,  goes up to my face, and then spreads its tentacles through my whole body. 

Yes! Joy has an expansive quality that can take over your whole body, like love, gratitude, or mercy. These are feelings that can fill the whole of you. For me, I feel it as a certain sense of relaxation, as well as spaciousness, vibrant and alive. It’s like a lantern that lights up inside me. Usually, these feelings do not come from a place of expectation. Expectation often brings sadness or disappointment, because it is a fixed idea, a plan, which often remains unfulfilled. It we hold space for the unexpected, that’s where the potential of joy is most alive. It is strengthened by recognizing that we have a choice, and that through our actions we dream the world into being.

More about Anna Nowicka can be found here: http://annanowicka.com

What do you see?


As I’m writing, my body lights up, and I see it being woven of million tiny golden threads, pulsating with life. I see a close-up of my left eyelid, round and luminous, slowly putting a veil over the outer world. I sense the richness of the eyelashes, distinct and aligned, contrasting with the unified sunlit background.

I’m still sitting here with the hot computer on my lap, and yet I see myself in the lush forest. The canopies of the trees are moving rhythmically, each leaf engaged in a synchronous dance between light and darkness. The cunning song of the birds embraces me, wind caresses my hair, and I can safely lean back into the support of the blue light.

As I open my eyes, the white page is populated with letters, cueing to talk to you about the practice of seeing within. p rests her heavy belly on the ground, r reaches gently to a graceful a, while c is playfully holding space for what is yet to come. t is also looking ahead. i is definitely yellow and jumping with joy, while c feels green, soft and moist. e would rather leap ahead of them all, yet it’s still connected to “practice,” so it stays here.

And how do you sense these letters’ unique qualities?
What do you see when you read “practice”?

Maybe your mind is grudgingly mumbling something about it being impossible. “When I close my eyes, I see nothing.” If this is the case, then ask a ten-year-old what the sound of yellow is, and I bet they’ll shoot back a reply in a blink of an eye. For them, it must be the most obvious thing in the world!

Before we slip into the discerning realm of language, we live fully immersed in the world of imagination. Until we learn to speak, we experience no difference between waking reality and the realm of images. A penguin that likes bananas, residing in the corner of the sleeping room, is as real as the night lamp on the table. The relationship between the two is fluid, tangible and clear. A child will feed the imaginary penguin in the same way they would feed a hamster. And if the penguin is hungry, it will signal it the same way the hungry hamster would.   

In such a reality, emotions arise rapidly and depart in an instant; attention switches easily from joy at finding a shell to crying about the missing crab. Life resembles a dream, where spaces and times follow the heart’s eye: growing, shrinking, unfolding in the most surprising way! All is a revelation! A child is fully present to what is, only later to learn to distinguish a from b with a thick veil of words.

Imagination is the language of the body, and we all speak it continuously. Images are rooted in our senses, and they emerge as instantaneous responses to the experiences we make. They consist of perceptions, insights, memories and dreams. They weave an immersive, sensational, technicolor reality. Images inevitably point to a sense of sight, and yet in the world of our imagination we hear, taste, smell, touch and see. The same way we inhabit waking reality, we live in the reality of our imagination. What we experience there in-forms our choices, and the choices we take shift the inner landscape.

And yet there comes a time when many of us lose the sense of inner seeing. We block the in-sight with outer expectations, clog its flow with tailored frames and pre-described formulas, mute it with galloping thoughts and fantasies about the future. Our society lays the concrete of goals, tasks and achievements over the live tissue of our embodied imaginary. Concepts dry out life, cut us away from nature, narrow the vision and inscribe humans into profit-oriented, senseless, static structures. Body becomes a slave exploited to fulfill a plan. Reality flattens, senses blunt, perspectives get fixed.

Fortunately, the flow continues beyond the known.

Choreography that I practice flows. Body shifts rhythms and spaces, plunges into textures, explores vibrant imagery-atmospheres, emerges in diverse skins, with ease and curiosity shifts perspectives. While remaining quiet and observant, it unravels what currently is. Both waking and dreaming realities interweave, connecting the tangible physical space with the vastness of an inner landscape. The actual room gets charged with what is lived, unraveling other dimensions to its materiality. It becomes a portal for the audience to see. The space turns dense, the walls crack transparent, and we all immerse in a living dream field that we both receive and co-create. What is experienced is communal and unique, carnal and elusive, shaped and eluding formation.

One of the vital aspects of this practice lies in creating space. Movements are simply orientations on the vast map of a lived choreography. Inscribed in the spatiotemporal matrix, they are signposts which help me to choose my way throughout. And yet how I attend to them, how I live them, what I see and feel while journeying emerges boldly in the foreground. The key is not the movements themselves, but the space I manage to hold for the creation to unfold.

Space expands, time stops, vision alters, and through every instant eternity speaks. If I am quiet enough and listening deeply, my body becomes home to the flow. And then the casual dance sparkles with magic, simplicity reveals a starlit sky, and I rejoice. Every performance is lived anew, praising creation and vastness of life. Every dance becomes a tool to becoming more receptive, more attentive and fully present.

Infinity is rooted in the uttermost precision. The more exact I get with recognizing where an individual experience resides, the more clearly I can live it in front of the audience’s eyes. Therefore the rehearsal process is rigorous, and the choreography exact, seen from within and observed from outside.

I usually work with a camera. I give priority to the inner flow of experience, and yet I note how it manifests through the body. I trace subtle attention shifts, marking where I am in each particular instant. I notice if I expand through the fibers of the muscles, give structure through the bones, accelerate in the kidneys, or pulsate in the flow of fascia. Whatever tissue, organ or system comes to the foreground, it supports me in distinguishing a particular movement from the whole, naming its unique quality. I see which images arise from it, feel and know how they transform the whole body. I discern changes in physicality, emotionality and textures. Soon enough my actions assemble into patterns, beating rhythms, carving spaces and opening directions. They lead me deeper into an embodied understanding of each particular dance, and into living it fully.

A dance for me is a dream, reminding me softly of where I currently am and inevitably nourishing life. It is a call for a response, a sweet tease to engage in creation. It is a reminder that with my choices I do create reality. When a dance is lived in front of an audience, spectators co-create this reality with me. Their inner shifts translate into the shifts of the whole space. Their emotions tickle the air we breathe, their attention touches my skin, their thoughts shimmer above the seats. We are embedded in this together. A choreography channels a communal experience. Even if fear or anger arise, I can choose to catch their tail and ride them boldly, redirecting the energy into an expanded place of being present.  

With the help of attention, the body rises up to its well-deserved central place. It is reaffirmed as a vehicle for transformation: observant, listening and ready to respond. It often stands on stage alone, presencing all of its potential. I often choose minimal settings, focusing on the shaping of space and time through my dancing. 

Most of the recent works are a collaboration with painter and light designer Aleksandr Prowaliński. He instantaneously conceives a poetic landscape: ambiguous, open-ended, jolting multiple in-sights in the eyes of the beholder. Aleksandr sees my dancing and sees what shimmers in between the moves. He is able to portray the visible and to point beyond the apparent. His eyes are enhancing the shifts of perspectives so present in my work: from detail to a whole, from foreground to far back, from a recognizable image to a flowing experience, connecting the within with the without into one organic entity. His work incubates my dance and invites the audience to step into the unknown. 

In the most recent, Rainbow (2021), we’re exploring the healing properties of light and colors. The research is inspired by the work of Darius Dinshah—a dubious healer living and working in New York City in the beginning of the twentieth century. He was the inventor of chromotherapy, a complex method of using different light frequencies to cure people. Aleksandr, with an analog DIA projector in hand and a number of big and small light filters, creates transitional zones where colors flow into each other, hues blend, edges blur and spaces lighten up. Each of the shades proposes a direction, kindles associations and shifts my presence. In response to each tone, distinct “bodies” emerge and tell a story of an everlasting striving for light. Rainbow unfolds a multifaceted healing choreography, journeying with spectators from darkness and despair into light. 

Every shift in my attention resounds, every transformation of an image results in a change of rhythm and a change of tone. These shifts vibrate in the space around, and can be perceived by the audience. Music is embodied in every composition I make, as I listen rather than look at dance.

Silence is a tool with which to grow awareness, to create imaginary spaces and to move spectators into diverse experiential landscapes. I live it deeply through the work with Adam Świtała, the composer, improviser and pedagogue with whom I worked on This Is The Real Thing (Nowy Teatr, Warsaw, 2018) and Eye Sea (Hebbel-am-Ufer HAU3, Berlin, 2019). Adam helps me to touch the silence and to see its profound effects on the presence of the body. What I chose to listen to and speak to through my dancing is perceived by the spectator. Possibly still unnamed, these subtle changes in the performer’s body are noticed and lived by the audience.

I deepen the listening route through a collaboration with Jasmine Guffond, composer, musician and researcher, investigating the nature of contemporary online surveillance from theoretical, listening and sounding perspectives. Jasmine makes audible what cannot be grasped by sight. She stepped into my 2020 research, for Wanderings and 7, and continues to compose and play live in Flicker. With her, I skate on the subliminal realms of the almost audible, I brush the yet-not-heard, I smooth the unhearable frequencies and allow for the song to emerge. 

Flicker premiered in June 2021. It is raw and precisely carved in time. It is one and transforms into many. It weaves scattered pieces of dreams, hopes and desires into an immersive, flowing, sensational journey. Flicker twirls and re-turns, stamps and sniffs its footsteps, inviting images to arrive, move the body and dissolve. In a vibrant light, it reverses what needs to be shed. It is a murmuring dance, pronouncing the words of change.

My body of work is in-formed by over ten years of practicing dreaming and imagery, techniques that facilitate a powerful inner transformation. With their help I can see again. I am given tools to shift what I live and to create what I envision. I apply the dream-opening practice to all my choreographic and pedagogical processes. This distinct way of seeing allows me to follow the inner flow of imagery and to unravel their deeper meaning. I move from individual images and stories they weave into noticing patterns and asking what the “real” question is. With the right question at hand, a revelatory, inner logic unfolds, and a deeper order of things is revealed. Choreography presents itself, and dance manifests through me.  

It is a process of both receiving and engaging with creation, of holding space and stepping into it with an open heart. I close my eyes and I see, and what I have seen, I make happen.