The expansion of joy

Interview with Anna Nowicka – 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.



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