forest,  Play

Choreography of branches and prison yards

Freedom is here not linked to human volition, nor is it allied to internationality or agency. Freedom is instead allied to the in-act, to the decisional force of movement-moving, to the agencement that opens the event to the fullness of its potential. Freedom is how the event expresses its complexity, in the event.

Manning, 2016, p.23

With a group of preschoolers, we talk to a nearby patch of leftover forest. The residents of this new subdivision on the edge (though probably not for long – urban sprawl, you know) call it that, “forest”, though it’s probably an overgrown hedgerow, themselves curious reminders of settler land management practices.

The children call this place Woodchip Forest. It’s winter now, so I cannot deduce the cause for the name. There is a little wetland here, and a new wooden dock. With a little ledge, it offers precisely the kind of vantage point that lends itself to beautiful nature photography. The view, the offering to be in proximity to nature is also… entirelyignored by children, who lay on their bellies at the edge of the dock to poke at the iced-over wooden planks. They don’t bother looking up.

After a few minutes, the children move from the dock to nearby small group of trees and shrubs, all bare limbs pocking out. The children begin to walk in circles around and through the trees. Once, twice, again, again. Heads duck, and bodies bend as pom-poms and hoods get stuck on branches. The line of children stretches, muddling the chronology of who first started this ritual. Speed slows, as children hesitate looking down in search of already-made footsteps in the snow to step into.

It’s an entirely somber experience that feels like a circular walk at a jail yard, bring to mind Van Gogh’s Prisoners Exercising (1890). There is improvisational choreography orchestrated by a moment of children seemingly needing to fall in-step, tree managing the trajectory, snow dictating the pattern, clinging branches setting the pace.

I am returning again and again to Erin Manning (The Minor Gesture, 2016) speaking of improvisational quality of responses, affective complexity of event: “the dynamic intensity of the event’s unfolding <…> affects us, moves us, directs us, but it does not belong to us. Freedom is transversal to the human: it cuts across human experience but is not defined by it” (p. 25).


Manning, E. (2016). The minor gesture. Duke University Press.