Embodied Emotions

Clare Whistler Performance Notes



Notes on

The Seal Dance

‘Schooling the emotions: SEAL in Historical Context'. QMUL. 3 February 2010.

First flash when confronted by title of seminar just do it about seals
They are wild, and they are made to perform.  ( something like children?)
First inspirations:
Thomas found a quote from Darwin about seals.  They could be related to the subject!
I asked my music consultant Mark to come up with all sorts of music about seals.
He found masses then directed me to Sir Granville Bantock's  Song to the Seals.  I knew immediately it was the music I wanted to use.  Which of the sopranos that I know to ask, decided Suzi would be ideal.  We found the music so she could begin to learn it.  I did think of changing the lyrics, using  Noel Coward's:
'When love congeals it soon reveals
the faint aroma of performing seals'
But found the lyrics of the original song worked particularly well.

I then found a sound track of seals underwater that sounds remarkably like an eccentric piece of electronic music.  This was to be played all the way through the piece under the text and singing.

I gathered the 4 books that would be the main departures for the 3 speakers
David Spendlove   Emotional Literacy
Kathryn  Ecclestone   The Dangerous Rise of Therapeutic Education
Thomas Dixon   The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals  Charles Darwin, Hard Times, Charles Dickens

I gathered a few phrases, chapter headings, to convey something of what their books said to me.

As movement material I took the 7 gestures that Ali had made as his 'takeaway' .  My ? gesture was arms stretched down sides hands sticking out sideways palms down ( the most seal like gesture I could come up with )

I used it  6 times in the piece:

1.  As I was saying the text, using the books, adding in only the move of the refrain
...the drawing back and pressure of the ears against the head...
2. 1st chorus, standing on books, ie like a performing seal on a stand
3. 2nd verse, the story of the young man halting( hand over mouth), young girl stopping (
hand on head ), sheep on hills, palms in stop gesture takeaway, birds as hands to open mouth takeaway, etc.  Telling a story with the takeaway.
4. 2nd chorus, physically moving, turning and concentrating on the physicality of the takeaway.
5. Last verse just before the seal 'dived' into the sea repeated the 7 gestures in a few seconds, how a seal might dive in!
6. Last chorus  takeaway with emotions ranging from sorrow to joy and deliberately
engaging with the audience.

I kept the takeaway in the same order , so limiting my choices as much as possible.

I had decided to use no tech.  Only the sound score of the seals  underneath.  I wanted no lighting and no projections.  All the other presentations used the screen, I  wished to completely take away that element, and make it live voice, live performance. ( tech problems with sound and projections prevented that, something I will really look into for next seminar )

The wonderful seal hat is an antique owned by my friend Victoria Rance, who I had asked for some sort of helmet or mask to remind one of a seal.  She suddenly remembered the hat, the best possible solution. The long grey dress is a garment I have had for ages but have been unable to wear as the hem and sleeves have stretched so much, perfect for a seal!

I often like to give a 'gift' of some sort  in a performance.  The fun Victorian picture of the seal seemed a lovely way to commemorate the evening, the piece, and give something for people to take away that was useful as a postcard - left space on the back!

The marshmallows - again another 'gift' and edible.  They also completed the set.  I was going to arrange them around the performing space at the start of the piece, as tiny bits of ice or icebergs to set the scene for the seal.  Ali's idea was to set them on the postcards as if on the seal's nose, just like performing seals.
The idea for marshmallows came  from David Spendlove's book,  where he has a 'Marshmallow Test'.


Notes on
Pointing Is An Extraordinary Gesture

For Seminar on 1 March 2010. ‘Once More With Feeling: Performing the Passions'

How to connect three such diverse subjects chosen by speakers Richard Schoch, Martin Welton, Ali Campbell.  All from the Drama department so interested in performance.

I knew Ali would be talking about Augusto Boal, forum theatre and the interactive, as well as talking about the work in Osmani School about takeaways.

Richard sent me material and pictures about 'The Actor's Art'  advice to actors in the 18th and 19th Century, as well as  a paragraph saying - key words are point, start and tableau vivant.  I caught onto 'point' as pointing is one of the  7th gesture in the takeaway, and quite often a gesture that I use when making my own takeaways.

So the two of them had brought up pointing.  Martin was less obvious but it did seem to be about ' point of view' between emotion and space in performance.

So I felt I had found my common thread.  From the drawings sent by Richard I chose all the four that contained pointing to make a phrase.

Decided to find out about pointing music.  Mark Pappenheim came up with many classical pieces but I went for his first choice Weber's Der Freischutz  Act 1  The pointing and Jeering song.  I asked Bhavesh to make a film of all the out-takes of pointing' from the film he had of the students.  He then set it marvellously to the music.  I had decided to ask 2 singers to find pointing songs and Olivia Bishop found The Veteran, an English folk song, which she sang unaccompanied. I tried to restrict myself to making a movement piece that had walking, directions and  pointing as gestural material only .  It was a poignant tale of a soldier returning to his home ,which has gone and all the people he knew dead.  It also had Olivia walking from the audience around the side of the space behind curtains, across the performance space up the other side and out.  like a ghost in white but also using the idea of space and emotion from Martin.  I also liked the contrast between the ages of the performers and the black and white clothes. 

Pointing seems a very clear gesture to me so that's why the black and white.  The section was hoping to bring an emotional mood to the piece, which unaccompanied human voice usually does.

Pointing also made me think of directions, and therefore to a compass - taking some lines from a U. A. Fanthorpe poem I used a beautiful 18th Century compass which involved pointing out  north, south, east and west and also alludes to emotional journeys and how 'you' pointing to everyone , finds their way home.

I did start the piece by pointing at Jo, the technical helper, to turn on the pointing
film.  I added in all the gestures that I did in the film live  that went straight into the Osmani takeaway as set including 4 statements about pointing.

Pointing is an extraordinary gesture.
No point in pointing unless you have empathy.
Pointing is an essential part of being human.
Pointing reaffirms human difference.

These statements came from a talk Raymond Tallis gave on Start The Week in February, from his book Michelangelo's Finger.

Then I took Richard's 4 pointing gestures and gradually allowed them to become melodramatic (not very well, needed much more rehearsal as he alluded to) and getting to a pitch of pointing did  one more quote from the book.

Plato argued that if we communicated solely by pointing, misunderstandings would be avoided.

I picked up my 'pointe' shoes and 'conducted' the audience into harmony and bowing put them down.  Of course the pointe shoes were a pun but also the allusion to my particular discipline , ballet, again a coded body movement based technique, again in juxtaposition to the 18th Century Dramatic Actions and the South Indian form kalarippayattu.

Then a point to Olivia and started the Veteran song, into the compass, directions etc. Then the placing of the objects on an old white scrapped ladder.  The pointe shoes, the compass, never still, open to so many metaphors, ideas, emotions.  Then the interactive improvised section ( Boal) handing 3 torches to Martin, Ali and Thomas I gave instructions so all could hear to wait for the lights to go out then to point the rays of their torches on the objects till they felt it was time to stop.  This was in reference to Stifters Dinge  by Heiner Goebells, a performance without people, Martin's interest.

The postcard  a black hand pointing on a white background gives the impression of being old, as if it were on marble,but it is in fact a contemporary picture .  I had also collected famous paintings that feature pointing.

Eduard Manet   Dejeuner Sur L'herbe
Michelangelo's God Creates Man Sistine Chapel
William Blake's The Conversion of Saul
Matthias Grunewald's Ishenheim Altarpiece The Crucifixion
Domenico Becca  Tanaquil
Annibate Carraci Christ Appearing on the Appian Way
two greetings card sold at Paperchase
One a signpost with Happy as name of place on it, pointing straight ahead
The other 2 signposts one pointing ahead saying Outer Hope, the other pointing Left saying Inner Hope.



Notes on:

The Fleeting Expression or Please Explain Tears


For Embodied Emotions seminar on 23 March 2010:

THE SCIENCE OF EXPRESSION: Physiognomy, evolution, and artificial companions




The direction of the gaze

The shape of the eyes

Anatomy of expression

Connoisseurship of eye


The direction of the gaze

The shape of the eyes

Affect sensitivity

To divine design


The direction of the gaze

The shape of the eyes

Is the soul found

Between your eyes


Is weeping only in man?

Passions accidents of the soul?

The fleeting expression

The only one your own?


The direction of the gaze

The shape of the eyes

Affect sensitivity

To the divine




This poem was made up from phrases from the three speakers, either written or said to me.

I was immediately influenced by Thomas sending me a paper of his called The Philosophy of Weeping, I think I decided then to make piece focus on weeping and tears, just try one emotion.  I liked the Darwinian explanation of the squeezing out of tears, and the unemotional tears from cutting an onion - at first I thought I would slice up the onion and 'cry' in the piece but that idea soon transferred into the knowledge that everyone would understand the image without doing it.  It was much more the use of the knife into the onion for the 'passions' being accidents' of the soul.  Colin gave me most of the phrases of the poem, and a moment when he said about expressions that it's all about trust - which gave me the title of the 'poem' I read. In fact he gave me most of the phrases though I am not sure he meant me to take them the way I did.  Is the 'soul' leading us to express ourselves - and is all emotional expression part of a longing for the divine world - which really questions robots and the fact they cannot have a 'soul'.  It made me feel that as an evolving world the introduction of robots is a confusing choice -  The divine design came from the lecture notes of Thomas and  Affect Sensitivity came from Ginevra.


How I used my eyes in the piece

'Trust' the title was said to Nick (the singer) but then transferred to the audience, where I implied and felt trust. Then into the poem, no eye contact till ' is your soul found between the eyes', and  then the questions to the audience, thought the 'fleeting expression' was to Nick first and then out with as much 'carelessness as possible.  Colin having re-iterated that the fleeting glance or look is the most individually revealing.

Then for the song I was internal or interacting with Nick, I am not sure I saw anyone else. ( except the stupid flickering of the film.  I have tried so hard not to have technology in my pieces and it has upset and been in the way of all three.  Next time it is off! So many people asked me about what was on the screen and what it had to do with my piece etc.)


I used the takeaway gestures in a different order for the piece,  the finger to the eye was my personal one for this piece, I also added a few other gestures - the moving down the tears of the weeping sculpture and my face, and the closing' of the eyes of the last head -poetic license .


John Dowland ( composer 400 years ago ) is a known representative of music about weeping and tears, the one for this piece is called Flow My Tears.


Weeping has so many nuances, moments of joy, clarity, sharing, despair, intense aliveness as well as the crying somehow I hope they were in there along with some beauty.  it all seems to reveal complexity.

I also worked with a poem called Tears: An Assay by Jane Hirshfield


The postcard - I saw the box of eyes at the Wellcome Foundation Exhibition on Identity 2 weeks ago, and happily they let me borrow the image from UCL.  It seemed right as it was about eyes, the window of the soul, but also vVctorian to go with the historians and false to go with the man-made robots.  I looked at hundreds of images of false eyes but these were the only ones in a special case that provided the lids'-so much more human looking and appealing.

The postcards of the eyes on the wall were all from paintings 1500-1800.


The Installation

My first thought was 'Mantilla' the sculpture by Victoria Rance made out of gold ,in the shape of eyes ,and the idea of a veil and of a robot.  Kismet is the robot used for education training in England, so that brings up veils too.  Having told Victoria I was doing a piece about weeping and using Mantilla she then made the weeping tears wearable sculpture.  I hung this on one of the heads.  3 'heads' in a row, the third was unadorned but beside it was an onion and a knife.

I had thought to 'cry' with the onions, then to cry from a narrative or personal grief and then to cry from other stimulus- for me I chose music again, unaccompanied voice.  I have used 2 female singers and had decided to work with a man- Nicholas Sharratt he has worked with me at Opera North and is a fantastic tenor, he said yes because he likes my oddness. I liked the idea of the installation and inanimate objects to relate to the talk about robots.  The statues of the heads related to Charles Lebrun and Lavater as well.



EMBODIED EMOTIONS seminar programme

For full details of all five seminars, from 3 February to 19 May 2010, and an accompanying poster/leaflet, please visit the events page for the Queen Mary Centre for the History of the Emotions.

Arts & Humanities Research Council: Each year the AHRC provides approximately £100 million from the Government to support research and postgraduate study in the arts and humanities, from archaeology and English literature to design and dance. In any one year, the AHRC makes approximately 700 research awards and around 1,000 postgraduate awards. Awards are made after a rigorous peer review process, to ensure that only applications of the highest quality are funded. Arts and humanities researchers constitute nearly a quarter of all research-active staff in the higher education sector. The quality and range of research supported by this investment of public funds not only provides social and cultural benefits but also contributes to the economic success of the UK. See Arts & Humanities Research Council website.