Filed under: Uncategorized
This blog has been getting a lot more traffic than usual lately, which is thrilling. It is a space in which I share writing about dance/performance that I see and in which I draft out less formal writing about ideas that I’m considering within or alongside my primary scholarly/choreographic research. I also recently built an interactive CV website where you can find out more about my work: http://michaeljmorris.weebly.com
Sometimes just describing my walk home in the evening is already potential butoh-fu.
This might become a score for a dance someday soon:
a frail, toothless woman on a stoop tells you, “you’re looking sexy tonight: go get ‘em!”
the afternoon rain pushing back up off the pavement in the August evening heat.
a transgender witch crooning in your ears about hooking on Polk Street in San Francisco.
dark, damp soil smelling sharp and fermented.
the soft, round weight of pearls resting around your neck.
tiny, golden leaves littered on buckling gray sidewalk make-believing it’s already autumn.
Venus squares Mars overhead, far beyond the sky.
Filed under: culture | Tags: antony hegarty, appearance, carmen carrera, drew deveaux, eileen galvin, eva hayward, fashion, gender, gratitude, jack halberstam, james darling, jiz lee, justin vivian bond, kate bornstein, laverne cox, recognition, sex, susan stryker
I sat down this afternoon at the local cafe and started to write about gratitude, specifically gratitude for the array of public figures that bring diversity to the public sphere, specifically folks who identify their genders in ways that do not conform neatly—or at all—to clear, discrete binaries of masculine/feminine or male/female. I am grateful for so many folks: musical performers like Justin Vivian Bond and Antony Hegarty, porn performers like Jiz Lee, Drew Deveaux, James Darling and a whole community of queer/trans/genderqueer porn performers who I admire, burlesque performers like Eileen Galvin, scholars like Eva Hayward and Susan Stryker and the whole trans studies initiative at Arizona State, people like Jack Halberstam, public figures like Kate Bornstein, Carmen Carerra, and Laverne Cox. People in academia and different modes of public performance who are actively reshaping how we see and think about gender and sex.
And then my thoughts on gratitude drifted, and I found myself scribbling out thoughts on appearance, recognition, vulnerability, and courage. It is not a formal essay, but the start of some thoughts. Not the start, actually, because this thinking follows closely so much that I’ve learned from Judith Butler, Hannah Arendt, Bobby Noble, Shine Louise Houston, and Brené Brown, among others. I won’t be offering formal citations in these scribbled thought, but they are certainly indebted, built with and from the work that each of these people have done:
The space of appearance is fundamentally a social space: to appear is to appear for someone or someones, to be made available for others, with others, and to be apprehended within that availability. Society and social norms then come to condition that space of appearance, structuring how it is that bodies and people can appear, can be made to appear, can be made not to appear, can be made to disappear. To appear in ways that do not conform to such such—or refuse to conform to such norms—is to insist on a different social space, a different society that depends/relies upon different structures of visibility and recognition. Dissident appearances or appearances that dissent from the dominant norms exert force on such norms to adjust, adapt, and make space for appearing otherwise; for such norms to make space, the society that enacts—or is enacted by—such norms must become otherwise as well.
Of course, it is possible that such insistence will be intolerable, will not be tolerated, and will be punished or eliminated in order to maintain the existing norms that regulate who can be visible, who can appear, who can be recognized, and how. This maintenance can take any number of forms: subtle social pressures and insidious coercions, self-policing that takes the place of the policing of behavior that we have experienced or that we have witnessed, a look or posture from an other that registers one’s unintelligibility—a stare that communicates that you are seen and apprehended as incoherent, or even unapprehendable because of one’s incoherence; it can take the form of harassment or threats of violence; it is possible that one’s appearance will render one invisible, a kind of invisibility that accumulates in a space from which people avert their eyes, away from which people turn.
To not appear in ways that align with the norms that condition and regulate the social space of appearance—norms organized according to sex, gender, race, ability, and any number of other dimensions, indeed, norms of appearance that in part shape what is understood as sex, as gender, as race, as an able or disabled body—is always a risk. It is to risk invisibility, incoherence, discrimination, harassment, and violence; it is to risk the compromised sense of self that can result from any encounter with another in which the self that one appears to be is reflected back to that self as invisible, incoherent, or the cause for discrimination, harassment, and violence. And to not appear in ways that align with such conditioning norms must not be figured as always a choice, as if those who do not appear or appear incoherently, or whose appearance results in harassment or violence, could be said to have chosen such an existence, or to have chosen otherwise, as if such person could have chosen to conform to the social expectations for appearance. This is not, or even often, the case.
And yet, whether dissident appearance is or is not chosen, it is courageous. It is courageous because it is a risk, and the stakes of the risk are certain unavoidable vulnerability that make up what it is to be embodied with-and-in a world of others. To be is to be among others, and to be among others it to be physically exposed to them, to their words, to their gaze, to their touch, whether their words or looks or touches are caring or abusive. We are all [and here "we" and "all" are not only human] exposed to one another in any number of ways, and that exposure constitutes both the risk and the requirement of social existence. It is because of our shared vulnerabilities that we are already given over to one another; we require one another’s care, one another’s protection, one another’s assistance, one another’s nonviolence. Butler writes that we are already obligated to nonviolent coexistence because of this pervasive exposure and shared vulnerability. And all that we require from one another depends first on our having been recognized by an other.
When recognition requires appearance, and when appearance is regulated by exclusionary norms such that it becomes possible to not appear or to appear in such a way that renders one unrecognizable, or to appear as such an aberration of the norms of appearance that one is made into a target of violence, appearance then carries the risk of misrecognition or not being recognized or recognizable, making appearance a question of survival and livability.
These are common vulnerabilities, the risks that accompany appearance and recognition for everyone. But these vulnerabilities are taken for granted, overlooked, or even repressed when appearance closely approximates the normative expectations that enable and constrain recognizability. When society appears in ways that are homogenous and consistent, when those who appear maintain the effect of norms as natural, the stakes or cost of appearance are less apparent. When how one appears is how one must appear in order to be recognizable, the risk/cost of appearing otherwise cannot be obvious.
Thus, to appear in ways that resist or do not align with such norms is not courageous only because to do so exposes one to vulnerabilities; rather it is courageous because it exposes those vulnerabilities that might otherwise remain unappreciable, precisely when doing so also risks some degree of duress or suffering.
And: such appearances are also courageous because in the face of this all, they insist on the possibility—and livability—of such appearances. They insist on a society or social existence in which it is possible to appear and to be recognized in ways that exceed the available norms—of sex, gender, race, or ability. If such appearances or recognitions are to become possible, intelligible, even in their incoherence, it will be only because of the pressures exerted on the norms of appearance by those who appear otherwise, who courageously insist on public visibility.
Today I am grateful for the world that is given to me by those who insist on appearing otherwise.
Afterthought: Although dissident appearance is not always a choice, it can be a choice, a courageous choice, to appear otherwise. To produce more incoherence within available norms. To dress or present oneself in ways that do not confirm the expectations of one’s given sex or gender, to explore more diverse performances of self, more unexpected styles of movement and behaviors, to try out fashions or looks that introduce more diversity into the social space of appearance. To wear things that other than how they were intended to be worn. To wear clothes made by designers who are pursuing design into unexpected places, designs that reshape how we look at bodies, that reveal bodies differently. To make choices about one’s appearance—hair, make-up, no make-up, shaving, not shaving, tattoos, piercings, other surgical interventions, how you carry yourself, how you take up space—in ways that are intentional, thoughtful, and resistant to what you feel like you should do. I am not saying that these strategies alone are what makes or unmakes bodies, sexes, genders, races, etc., but I am suggesting that the more difference that we introduce to the social space of appearance, the more difference that social space will be expected to absorb and make space for. These are small activisms that are available to all of us, in our presentation of self, our production of self, and our production of the shared spaces in which we live.
Filed under: Dance | Tags: bebe miller, bodies in alliance and the politics of the streets, claire porter, coco loupe, columbus ohio, Dance, garden theater, judith butler, k.j. holmes, kent de spain, nicole garlando, noah demland, peter kyle, rashana smith, shannon drake, taking place
Tonight I had the opportunity to see the opening night performance of Taking PLace at the Garden Theater in Columbus, Ohio. Taking PLace is “a choreographic residency and experiment in creative process that brings inter/national choreographers to Columbus for the creation of new work with local dancers and a world-premiere concert event at the Garden Theatre.” Tonight’s concert marks the culmination of this residency and festival, conceived and directed by Nicole Garlando. Featuring the work of choreographers K.J. Holmes (NYC), Peter Kyle (NYC), CoCo Loupe (Baton Rouge), Bebe Miller (Columbus), and Claire Porter (NYC), and local choreographers Shannon Drake, Nicole Garlando, and Kent de Spain, the almost two-hour concert offered and invited any number of views on dance and dance making.
Before the show, I was contemplating what it means to “take place,” both in the sense of “to occur,” but also in the sense of occupying a space, taking a place. I was thinking about Judith Butler’s essay “Bodies in Alliance and the Politics of the Street” (http://www.eipcp.net/transversal/1011/butler/en), where she thinks along with the writing of Hannah Arendt about what it means for bodies to gather together, about the efficacy of politics in public spaces. She writes: “For politics to take place, the body must appear. I appear to others, and they appear to me, which means that some space between us allows each to appear. We are not simply visual phenomena for each other – our voices must be registered, and so we must be heard; rather, who we are, bodily, is already a way of being ‘for’ the other, appearing in ways that we cannot see, being a body for another in a way that I cannot be for myself, and so dispossessed, perspectivally, by our very sociality. I must appear to others in ways for which I cannot give an account, and in this way my body establishes a perspective that I cannot inhabit … No one body establishes the space of appearance, but this action, this performative exercise happens only ‘between’ bodies, in a space that constitutes the gap between my own body and another’s. In this way, my body does not act alone, when it acts politically. Indeed, the action emerged from the ‘between'” (italics added). The situation of the concert dance stage is one space in which we practice and exercise appearance, showing up for one another, seeing and hearing one another, providing a view of one another that no one can provide themselves. When bodies appear for others in public spaces, they establish perspectives from elsewhere that they cannot inhabit, for which they cannot give an account. As I write about this performance, I do so with the awareness of giving such an account of bodies that they could not give themselves—in the same way that as I sat watching, I was seen and apprehended and recognized is ways that I do not know, that I cannot control, for which I cannot give an account. Certainly, as Butler notes, there is a politics to all of this, but that is not the focus of what I write here; I write here to take part in what it means to take place, to offer one, partial account of what has taken place in Taking PLace.
1. :r//end/l//ent/e/r/ing//less by K.J. Holmes in collaboration with the dancers
As the piece begins, I see two grids: the prominent white backdrop superimposed with heavy black lines, and a grid extruding into space from the facings of the six dancers. Facing stage left and stage right, up stage and downstage, each one seems positioned along longitudes and latitudes running across the surface of the stage. The lines come into and out of their bodies: reaching and stepping and leaning and rolling along this spatial grid, conforming in any number of ways to these invisible but nonetheless forceful lines—a conforming that is also an enacting, a producing. The grid that I perceive between these bodies does not precede their actions; I see it because of what they do. And yet it does seem to organize their movements from the start, from before they begin, both coming into being and already having been there. Then the grid begins to unravel: in small ways, dancers start to align with one another, matching the lines of arms and legs and spines and gestures, walking and running alongside one another along parallel pathways; even when there is distance between their bodies, they establish connections with one another through shared lines, facings, directions, and momentum, swinging their arms together, reaching along the same trajectories, and eventually spiraling into a larger, running circle. If what held them together at the beginning was the suggestion of a shared grid, what holds them together at the end is the ongoing question of how they might find, follow, and feel each other, through touch and alignments, through what they share.
2. when we are not sinking or swimming by CoCo Loupe in collaboration with the performers
This is a duet, with Eric Falck and Scott Aaron Kaltenbaugh. They face each other, then relocate, then face each other again. Falck dances, all swoopy and sequential gestures, arms and legs like sinewy tassels sweeping around torso and hips; Kaltenbaugh watches, then Kaltenbaugh dances—moving through bits and pieces and textures that resemble Falck’s dancing—while Falck watches. This establishes the overall structure of this piece: one dances while the other watches, then they trade roles; the second one mimics the first, but only ever partially, then the exchange starts over, taking turns. Dance, watch, stop, see one another, dance, watch, see. I wonder to myself: what does it mean to see, to be seen, to show that you have seen, to see that you’ve been seen. Later they lean into one another, off balance, both supporting and being supported as they move through space; it reminds me of Trisha Brown’s Leaning Duets, but leaning towards rather than away. Music begins, and they groove together, away from each other, back towards the other, then suddenly cling to one another. I think Loupe’s piece is a hypothesis about how we move with one another, for one another, near or towards one another, and how we show that other that we have seen them and what we have seen.
3. Yet even in that silence by Peter Kyle in collaboration with the dancers
Six dancers, some who begin on stage, others who enter from the back of the audience. In the center of the stage, Nicole Garlando carries two towering shoots of what looks like bamboo. The stage is basically still except for the fragile motion of the trembling bamboo leaves, so small and so constant that it shifts the scale of both activity and time throughout the piece. There is a lot of standing, slow walking, pausing, reclining, leaning: waiting. The pacing of the piece, accompanied by a minimal percussion score composed and performed live by Noah Demland, has an intermittency: activity, pause, waiting, another activity, another pause, more waiting, and throughout it all, the trembling of the bamboo leaves, the delicate reverberations of Demland’s terra cotta pots and chimes. Across and throughout the almost-stillness and almost-silence, there are these tiny motions and tiny sounds—which, of course, are also motions—and alongside these delicate reverberations, human activities take on considerable proportions. There is no possibility of stillness here, no possibility of silence, and the incorporation of such minute motion makes even a step seem momentous.
4. to never establish heavy-balance by/performed by Shannon Drake
This is a solo. The lights come up, and I think: glamour. Her face is made up, and she is wearing a sparkly black-gold mini-dress. Accompanied by music by The Knife, she reaches and pulls and flings and steps, constantly off balance or sequencing away from her own center, until she is suddenly on her balance, weight firmly planted on both feet. When she stands steadily or walks along diagonals towards the audience—walking like a model, but more hyperbolic—she is impossibly, uncannily strong. Rolling across the floor, rolling through her hips and shoulders and ribs, her elbows and knees, she is grinding through her own insides. And even when her fingers beckon, as if to say, “Come here,” it is strikingly evident that she is more than capable of getting the job done all on her own.
5. Beside Myself Deciding by Claire Porter in collaboration with the dancers
The piece begins with five dancers seated at the front edge of the stage, all wearing black and white dresses. They start talking, to the audience, to each other, to themselves.
“So what do you want? What do you want?”
“I want to drive somewhere…”
“…should we stop for coffee?”
“…the MFA or the PhD?”
This is what Susan Foster calls a talking dance: talking while dancing, dancing while talking, a dance with a lot of talking. The talking and the dancing occur alongside one another, intersect, sometimes seeming to inform or illustrate one another, sometimes merely simultaneous. They talk and move through things as if they are figuring them out: each gesture has an indirect, not-quite-hesitant-but-not-quite-certain quality to it, an undecidability, we might call it. They come together in gossipy little clumps, they touch one another—everyone touching someone, no one touching everyone—they lead one another, maneuver each other’s faces and bodies like puppets.
“Who will decide where to go?” is a question that stalls, confounding them, again undecidable.
The text turns towards engagement parties, dinners for two, breakups, marriages, divorces, arguments. Unions and separations and conflict are on the table here. Often the dancers are pointing, often in the same direction, and often they then move in a different direction. Pushing, pulling, directing, and redirecting themselves and each other, the piece ends with them moving downstage as a group, each one manipulating the face and focus of another; if they’ve decided where to go, it’s only between the incessant push and pull.
6. ()()()()()()()()() by Nicole Garlando in collaboration with the dancers (multiple casts)
The dancers are dispersed, all wearing white or beige or gray, moving through small gestures, sometimes quick and sometimes gradual. They form impermanent duets, small alignments with one another, mimicking each other, them moving on. The soundscore is a collage of people talking, but it isn’t until later in the piece that I begin to make sense of what they are saying. It offers a kind of explanation: it isn’t about coming together as a unified group; it’s more about their differences and making connections. In ways, this piece echoes the first by K.J. Holmes (although I believe it was choreographed before the other), with dancers along different facings and trajectories finding connections and relationships—spatial, temporal, touching, etc. But the connections here feel fleeting, a matter of moments. One moment something becomes shared between one or more dancers, and the next it’s gone. They are on to something else.
7. Intervention for Two by Kent De Spain, with Leslie Dworkin
Two people seated in chairs facing in opposite directions on opposite sides of the stage. He wears a suit, and she wears a sexy red dress. They are accompanied by scattered sound bytes—music and dialogue—from “classic Hollywood films.” Gestures and interactions are timed—with the slightest sense of delay—with the text as if they are together both the jokes and the punchlines.
8. Watching the Watching by Bebe Miller assisted by Rashana Smith
A single dancer is on stage facing a laptop computer on a stool. She makes faces and small head/body movements while watching the screen. She gets close to the screen, and a larger group of dancers enter. They are accompanied by recorded text by Ain Gordon. He speaks about six people gathered together; something happens, and they each tell their own story of what happened. There is no one story; the stories proliferate, and with each telling, there are more and more versions of what happened that circulate.
“It happened, it was thought about, it was told and retold, until it gets lost.”
All of the dancers are watching the screen, moving along together: circling shoulders, small head movements, circling through the torso, their foci anchoring them in the direction of the screen. Suddenly, most of the dancers exit, and six remain. They are dancing together, all watching the computer that one dancer is carrying, and when she turns, I see that they are following a video on the computer screen. They are watching the screen and following along; I am watching them dancing, and their dancing is their following, the telling of their own watching. The other dancers re-enter with a second computer, and they are all dancing while watching the screens, following along with what I cannot see. As the piece progresses, the dancers divide up: there are those watching the screen and moving along with what they see, then there are other who are only watching them, following those dancers who are watching the screen, then others following the dancers following the dancers following the video on the screen. The stage is full of stages of translation of the same movement as it migrates across bodies, across intervals of time and space. They are all doing some version of the same movement, but as the stages of translation increase, so also do their differences. There are slight delays, subtle canons now, and more variations on how the movement lives out differently in and across different bodies. There is not just one version; there are many. I am watching them watching them watching what I cannot see…
And now here I am, at my own screen, watching myself writing what I saw, what they could not see.
And here is how something takes place, how it can be said to have taken place: the stories that we tell, the accounts that we give, and how they do and do not add up to a total view of what it was that took place. Like Loupe’s when we are not sinking or swimming, Miller’s piece stages the experience of watching, seeing, being seen, and showing what was seen. Not everything carries over; there is no single, total, authoritative view. Every event, every occurrence, every performance, every dance—every person even—always occurs between any number of partial positions, any number of limited views. No one of us can give the full account of a dance, of another, of ourselves, of what has taken place.
These brief recollections of these eight dances are a view from somewhere, from only one position/place. There are more recollections, views, somewheres, positions, and places; there must be. And such multiple views together—what we see together, alongside one another, what we can see of one another that no one of us can see for ourselves—is how we go about taking place.
You have two more opportunities to see this show: Saturday, July 12th at 2pm and 8pm. Tickets are $15 at the door. For more information, visit:
Filed under: Dance | Tags: Adil Mansoor, Anna Thompson, Blaine Siegel, Dance, David Bernabo, Jil Stifel, Joseph Hall, maree remalia, merrygogo, Moriah Ella Mason, new hazlett theater, Paul Kruse, pittsburgh, Rachel Vallozzi, Taylor Knight, the ubiquitous mass of us
On June 14, 2014, the New Hazlett Theater in Pittsburgh, PA, presented The Ubiquitous Mass of Us as part of their Community Supported Art (CSA) performance series. This piece is a new work created by Maree ReMalia | merrygogo in collaboration with a team of other artists.
From the very beginning, ReMalia et al forcefully and playfully bring attention to the physical space of the theater itself, banging and stomping and calling and responding throughout the scaffolding and catwalks that lined the upper walls surrounding the stage and audience. Large piles/assemblages of seemingly carefully constructed and altered cardboard boxes—set pieces by Blaine Siegel—are positioned around the stage. Through the acoustics, through the distribution of their bodies, their activities, and the set, and through the constantly changing direction of their own foci—where they are looking, what they are seeing—the cast brings my attention again and again to the space we all inhabit, often with amendments: each moment it does not necessarily feel like the same space from earlier. Space is part of the stated theme of the work, both in the program notes and in a monologue delivered in pieces near both the beginning and ending of the dance. If this dance is about space, it is about how space changes, how it is produced between us, an effect of our actions and reactions. To pay attention to space is to pay attention to the relationships between bodies, to how we are relating; to pay attention to our interactions, then, is also to pay attention to how we are together creating space. Space is where action potentially takes place, where something might occur; the space that we create affects what we might then do, what could then become possible. In this sense, space is an effect of what we have done together and a condition of what we might then do. To the degree that what we do—what we are capable of doing—both indicates and produces who we are, we might then say that who we are is in part an effect of the spaces between us, how we have managed or entered or shaped those spaces, and also that who we might become is in part a potentiality of what we might do with and in such spaces.
The Ubiquitous Mass of Us is an evening-length work with nine performers, a mix of people both with and without formal dance training. Over the course of an hour, the performers move individually, in pairs, in small groups, and sometimes—but rarely—as an entire ensemble. The action of the dance feels like a series of games, in which most people are playing along, but for which the rules are only partially ever decided or understood, by which I mean: the dance progresses through a series of structures that are gradually established/revealed through the accumulating participation of more and more of the performers, only to then be interrupted by someone doing something unexpected, an action that exceeds the parameters I had come to understand for the given group activity. These interruptions are not combative; they do not feel revolutionary. If anything, they feel revelatory; they feel like discoveries, as if the dancer has stumbled across some unexpected gesture, activity, or possibility. I think this has mostly to do with the unfaltering commitment of the cast: they behave in each moment as if what is happening requires all of their attention, their utmost conviction, even when it is silly, even when they’re laughing. There’s a kind of “serious play” to this dance, like playtime for adults, or adult lives lived back through the playfulness of childhood games, brief passages of whimsical regression. What is happening is never entirely clear from the outside: something that seems very much like a playground game suddenly feels like a sacred ritual; something that feels sacred swerves and might seem just a little bit raunchy, if I allow my mind to wander slightly. As a result, there are moments that come off as juvenile, even infantile in their delight with a new movement, sensation, or sound; yet other moments come off as distinctly sexual, erotic, or at provocative. One moment they seem to touch themselves as if feeling what touch feels like for the first time; the next moment, “touch” has become “stroke” or “rub” or kneed,” as if an innocent kind of carnality was potentially within anything one might do. This swirl of potential associations, ranging from childlike to salacious, keeps the dance from ever settling into fully familiar or recognizable territories.
The movement vocabulary of the dance—what they do—runs a full gamut: often bodies or limbs seem to spasm or fling, as if out of control, and the movement unfolds as a struggle between decorum and disorganization. Guttural noises escape their bodies, and their reactions seem between uncertainty and delight. At other points, their activities seem functional or quotidian: pick up this object and carry it over there. More than once, they tip-toe or scurry around the stage, as if sneaking in plain sight, almost like cartoon characters. Other movements seem driven by their attention to their own sensations, more about moving and feeling the movement than demonstrating any clear or recognizable forms. Almost all of the movements share this same quality: utterly unfamiliar, yet highly specific. Whether it is the jut of a hip, the fling of a foot, the thrust of a rib cage, the precise or imprecise measurements of steps, or small articulations of fingers, most of the movement in this dance could not be said to belong to any particular codified technique. Rather, these movements are almost always unexpected moment by moment and seem to emerge in all their specificity from this particular group of nine performers, both as individuals and with each other. At times, the cast dances in unison, either in small or large groups, indicating clearly structured and rehearsed movement, but it is in these passages of unison in which the casts’ differences surface most clearly: little shows how different bodies are more than showing how differently they execute the same movements. Related to unison is the prevalence of mimicry: the migration of gestures is a motif throughout this dance. Often an action or gesture or guttural noise begins with a single performer, and, as if compelled by curiosity or perhaps competitiveness, other performers begin to imitate and replicate what has been done. They seem to learn one another in an ongoing round of watching, showing, and mimicking. As the activities spread throughout the cast, they seem to established affinities, shared actions that unite them into something that looks like a community. Affinities and differences: it is precisely when they are the most alike that I can see just how different each of them are.
This heightened sense of difference and individual distinctiveness within a group is visually reinforced by the costumes, styled by Rachel Vallozzi; bold cuts, bright colors, and flashy patterns accomplish what might seem like a misnomer: a group of nine people in which each and every one stands out. What they are wearing—in addition to what they are doing and how they are doing it—makes each one recognizable. However ubiquitous this “mass of us” might be, it is a ubiquity that resists homogeneity (even within unison), exceeds familiarity, and achieves a careful balance of specificity and diversity. If there is something ubiquitous throughout this group of performers, it is their rarity, their heterogeneity. What if that which we have most in common is that we are invariably different [from one another]?
Throughout the dance, I am aware of the dynamic frequency of the performance, an oscillation—sometimes gradual, but more often sudden—between, at one extreme, placid periods of mostly small, subtle actions saturated with heightened attention and carefulness, and, at the other extreme, forceful, frenzied, nearing explosive movements or sounds or activities, often repeated incessantly, riding waves of urgency and pushing towards exhaustion. I feel this again and again: the dancers find themselves doing something that seems at first unfamiliar, perhaps surprising, sometimes perhaps even illicit, and then indulge in the escalation of that activity—a repeated gesture, a repeated noise, an ongoing interaction with another performer—with fervent tenacity until approaching exhaustion. Again and again, the performers come to a state in which their struggle is evident: not only struggling, but showing struggling seems to be part of what this dance is about. Then, often when exhaustion seems imminent, the energy subsides, the scene becomes more serene again, before that serenity is one more punctuated with something unexpected—a new discovery, a swerve away from anything that might be construed as narrative, a spontaneously erupting game—and the energy builds once again. This frequency, this fluctuation between relaxed placidity and almost frenetic activity, cycles and builds as we approach the end of the performance. The action on stage is perhaps the most reserved in what I will call the “faux ending,” in which the performers enter and process downstage two by two, often holding hands, as if returning to the stage for a curtain call. However, it is not the end, and while many people in the audience laugh, very few clap: although it looks very much like the end, the audience somehow knows—or at least reacts as if—it is not. I think it has something to do with pacing, the delay of each subsequent entry, the duration for which each of the pairs remains center stage. It feels like a curtain call, but not quite like a real curtain call. Following this relative calm, the stage erupts into pandemonium, an explosion of movement and noise and cardboard boxes and giant marshmallows being thrown around the stage, styrofoam packing peanuts pouring onto the stage and the audience from above. It feels to me joyful, a relentless celebration, a surprise party for…whom?
Early in the piece, one of the performers, Adil Mansoor, struggles through a monologue, his spoken delivery interrupted again and again by sudden, almost violent, gestures. I cannot recall all that he says, but I remember that in a complex explication of the concept of “space,” he somehow comes to the statement of “I love you,” which then turns into the request: “Love me.” By the end of Ubiquitous Mass of Us, I am left wondering: to the degree that each action one executes is entirely indicative of who one is—even while no single action could possibly indicate the entirety of oneself—and to the degree that every action is in a sense a re-action, both responding to the actions of others, but also re-enacting that which one has done before and that which one will likely do again—that which one perhaps cannot help but do again; to the degree that every action of oneself anticipates any number of possible reactions, but might prefer reactions that suggest sympathy and recognition; to the degree that our actions and reactions together create both space and a future—a future which is certainly unforeseeable, but nonetheless conditioned inexplicably by hope—I am left wondering: how might actions be loving? How might each act be, in part, in some sense, a request, or perhaps an even more emphatic plea, to “love me”? We each take action, and each action anticipates response, reactions. In The Ubiquitous Mass of Us, as I have come to appreciate in so many of ReMalia’s dances, I can see how the uniqueness of each individual is not only demonstrated but produced in and through their actions: their gestures, their facial expressions, the dynamic range of their movements, their preferences and proclivities in regards to their use of their own weight/force, the directness or indirectness of their movements, their approaches to time and space. If, as ReMalia and her collaborators have so expertly rendered, we are each the sum of our own actions, our capacities and preferences and idiosyncrasies—even if we are each also more than such a sum—then to watch as distinctiveness reveals itself over time, to give one’s attention to the activities of another, to go so far as to mimic another and, in a sense, attempt something that originated with someone other than oneself, to go so far as to come close, to breathe together, to hold hands, to touch one another’s bodies—understanding that bodies, in all their distinctiveness, are who we are—seems to me to figure in movement, in choreography, in dance, this fundamental double declaration: I love you/Love me. Or: This is me, for you. Can you, will you, try to see me, try to be with me, try to love me?
For more about this piece, Maree ReMalia | merrygogo, and the other artists/collaborators, visit: http://mareeremalia-merrygogo.tumblr.com
Performers: David Bernabo, Joseph Hall, Taylor Knight, Paul Kruse, Adil Mansoor, Moriah Ella Mason, Maree ReMalia, Jil Stifel, Anna Thompson
Set: Blaine Siegel
Sound: David Bernabo
Costumes: Rachel Vallozzi
Lighting: Katie Jordan
This piece of writing began as journaling, partially in response to having read and re-read Judith Butler’s article “Responses: Performative Reflections on Love and Commitment” (Women’s Studies Quarterly 39, No. 1/2 (Spring/Summer 2011), 236-239) this week, partially as a part of my ongoing pursuit of the question, “what is love?” which continues to be situated within the context of my living experiences of loving and being loved. These are rambling thoughts and questions, but they are the start of something that feels worth sharing.
To say “I love you” is to position myself within a particular speech act, a performative with a history of enunciation—a history both personal and in excess of my person—and to bring that history of enunciation to bear on and with/in the present situation in which that declaration is made. It positions the present in relation to that history of enunciation, bringing something of that history into the present, and directing the force of that performative history—the history of “I love you” having been said—into a present constitution of myself, to the degree that something of myself is within what I say.
But to offer this phrase, to say “I love you,” is also to add to this history of enunciation. The occasion on which I am moved to say “I love you” is also it seems to pose a question to this speech act: what of this present situation moves me to say “I love you,” and, having been moved to do so, what of this situation and movement illuminates something of what it is that I mean when I say these words? Indeed, since to say “I love you” positions myself and another as “I” and “you” in a manner of direct address, positions that might be assumed by any number of subjects, the present situation of enunciation might also be an occasion on which to ask why one—not only myself—might be moved to say these words.
To say “I love you,” to identify something that I recognize between you and I as “love,” raises more questions, questions that may not be answerable in the end:
What of this is “love”?
How might my recognition of this as love say something of what I believe or understand love to be?
In that this moment and the perspective it provides can be called new—a new that belongs to now and never before—and in that sense cannot be fully identical to any other occasion on which I have said “I love you”—or on which “I love you” has been said—or on which I have recognized something as love, how might this present present an amendment or modification of what I understand love to be?
More broadly, to the degree that all recognition is only partial recognition, because it relies upon a structure of time in which the present cannot be identical to the memories on which recognition is founded, recognition requires a partial revision of the memory of what came before. For instance, if I have come to recognize same-sex marriage as marriage, I have necessarily revised a certain previous [normative] understanding of what it meant to marry. Even in interpersonal situations, if I recognize you as my parent or sibling, I must in a partial sense overwrite or add to my existing memory of who you have been with who I now see you to be.
Questions about love have led the to questions about time and recognition, memory and language, the ways in which they structure and produce meaning…
Is there a way of thinking the meaning of love outside of these terms? I don’t think so.
So then, to love, or to recognize and identify an experience as love, involves a partial recognition that requires a revision of the terms through which that recognition was extended. To love—in the present and ongoingly—is to add to and in that sense revise some part of what love has meant and what makes love recognizable. Love then must remain open, at least in part, to such revision.
Does speaking in terms of recognition imply the possibility of mis-recognition? And if so, if to love or to call something love—as in the act of saying “I love you”—depends upon a process of recognition, then does it—must it—become necessary to inquire after the possibility of mis-recognizing or mis-identifying love? It seems that it is possible, looking back, to say, “I thought that was love, but I was wrong.”
To mis-recognize love would be to first recognize or believe oneself to recognize love, and then, afterwards, to realize that recognition to be somehow mistaken. But if recognition of love always involves some revision of the terms by which life is recognizable, then even in the case of what might become known as mis-recognition, such a revision of terms must have already taken place. What one might eventually come to no longer recognize as love will have already been added to what one has recognized as love; by what process would one undo such a revision of the terms by which love might be recognized after realizing one’s own mis-recognition?
Or: is it possible that love itself consists of this recognition, such that even when one might say, “I thought that was love, but I was wrong,” this does not negate, erase, or undo that initial recognition, which could then be said to have-been-love while no longer being recognized as love? Is it possible that what one might come to recognize as “not love” might continue to “have been love” if love is in part the experience of recognizing it as such?
Within these questions is also the question or concern regarding the reliability of the memories by which love comes to be recognized: when and how has one known or recognized love? What is the composition or consistency of how one has known love or what has been recognized as love? What were the conditions under which love was first or previously known, and how do those conditions structure what might or must then be recognized as love?
If to love in the present requires that love remain partially open to revision, its correspondence to some previous experience requires that some parts of love remain consistent and made to persist. These stable or consistent parts of what has been known as love, that must persist in order for one to love, to go on loving and recognizing love, are likely highly individual—an individuality that gets obscured as soon as we call it “love,” a term which one neither invents nor to which one has exclusive access or use—and these individual, personal associations with what has been known as love constrain what love can then be.
The previous scenes, situations, and conditions in and through which one has known love must persist in order both for one to recognize love, and for one to retain a sense of having loved and been loved. They must persist in order to enable a possible future for love as well as a retention of a certain version of oneself, a self who has known love. These previous scenes and situations, the characteristics and experiences which one has previously known as love, must be reinscribed, recreated, and reconstituted in the present, in order to recognize this as love, and in order to recognize oneself as loving and being loved, and having loved and having been loved. This means that love requires the individual to reconstitute the past in the present, at least in part, enough so that the present might be called “love.” Where love has previously meant care and affection and support, for instance, this means that care and affection and support must be recreated and made to persist in the present. This also means that where love has meant injury or abuse, where injury or abuse have been previous recognized and identified as love, these conditions must also be recreated and made to persist. For the one who has experienced injury or abuse, and had these experiences called “love,” this one must insist—consciously or unconsciously—on recreating these scenes and conditions in order to go on experiencing what can be called love and in order to maintain a memory of having been loved and the possibility of being loved again. To do otherwise would risk revising one’s own history, one’s own constitution: it would allow for the possibility that one has not known love, that one has been unloved. To do so would mean that one does not know if one can be loved, or how one might recognize love otherwise.
But, again, if love must always remain partially open to revision, then love also becomes a situation in which histories of injury and abuse can be revised: not an erasure of having been, but an amendment of that having been love. This is some of the potential of love perhaps: its necessary partial openness allows that loving in the present might be how we rediscover what love can be, recognize when and how we have not loved or have not been loved, and intervene in patterns of behavior through which we insist on the persistence of injury and abuse in order to secure love. And possibly to heal.
This potential is not the entirety of love, as if one could speak of love’s entirety. While love might be an opportunity to address or revise one’s relation to one’s own past, it is of course also an opportunity to create what might become in one’s future. What we recognize as love in the present conditions what we might then recognize as love in the future. There are any number of ways through which love might be recognized, many of which do not require declaration. But to return to where I began, saying “I love you,” whatever else it might do, could provide an opportunity for intervening in what is recognized as love, what has been recognized as love, and what might then become recognizable as love.
Filed under: Dance | Tags: abby zbikowski, ani javian, Après moi le déluge (After me the flood), clara martinez, fiona lundie, gabby stefura, jen meckley, jill guyton-nee, owen david, paige phillips, preston witt, skylab, taking back the short end, tyisha nedd, unstable stable
Last night I had the opportunity to see two new dance works by Abby Zbikowski and Paige Phillips in their shared production Taking Back the Short End at Skylab. It was an intimate showing, the audience sometimes only inches away from the performers, giving both works a heightened immediacy that amplified their distinct intensities.
Zbikowski’s work Unstable Stable, with performers Fiona Lundie, Jen Meckley, Clara Martinez, and herself, is exemplary of characteristics that I have come to treasure in her choreography: rigorous athleticism and minimalism, utilitarian functionality in the movement, rhythmic patterns that emerge in silence entirely from the coordination of bodies and their parts, and an exhaustion of possibilities for what a body—these bodies—can do. There’s a “no bullshit” punk-rock quality to Zbikowski’s choreography and the performances of the dancers with whom she works: the movements are stripped down to their necessary parts, even when there’s a lot of movement vocabulary. As I watch her work, I see her in the lineage from early postmodern choreographer Yvonne Rainer—if Rainer choreographed a parkour workout. The movement is usually difficult and always seems to have a function, whether it is to complete a rhythmic structure, recover from a fall, test the limits of an action, or a more abstract utility: doing this so that it is done. Specifically in Unstable Stable, I see experimentation, repetition, and careful measured attention to the space. Whether it is Lundie and Meckley falling forward and running/stumbling to stop their momentum at the other end of the room, or Martinez and Zbikowski struggling with accomplishing a series of tasks with the soles of their boots duck-taped together, or spinning in circles with head and torso arching through space before quick drops to the floor, the movement feels like an experiment—a repeated experiment—testing the limits of specific actions and bodies. Like experiments, these actions must be repeated, in order to verify the findings, or perhaps in an ongoing investigation, still trying to figure out what this movement or this body is. Some of these actions are small and rhythmic, quick steps and shifts of weight or arms flinging wide; others are more brutal, shoving whole bodies full-force through space or into the floor. But even when the dance edges towards violence, even interpersonal violence, it does so in ways that seem quite practical. Again, this is a credit to the performers as well as the choreographer: they approach the movement with absolute commitment and conviction, and even when they dance together and I could imagine so many layers of psychological metaphor—these two people duck-taped together, dragging and carrying one another, supporting each other, pushing apart, pulling back together—I can never quite escape the practical, mechanical reality of these bodies, their interpersonal tumult an expression of bones and joints and muscle as much as any narrative I might construct for myself. Essential to this piece is also its very precise attention to the space, which gives an almost installation site-specificity to the dance. For Zbikowski’s piece, the audience is asked to stand at the edges of the room behind lines of blue tape on the floor. Throughout the piece, I watch as bodies moving with often extreme force come just up to the edges of the performance space, their momentum perfectly calibrated to the size of the room. Or a dancer moves to a seemingly arbitrary position, then swings a foot or a leg, just brushing the surface of the wall. The dimensions of the space are incorporated into the choreography; perhaps this dance could take place anywhere, but it would no longer be the same dance. It would be reshaped, re-calibrated, a forceful yet fine-tuned measurement of space in movement.
Phillips’ work, Après moi, le déluge (After me, the flood), is more theatrical; after the show, I told one of the performers that it felt like some of Meredith Monk’s work, some of Pina Bausch, with pages out of Grimm’s fairytales, like Where The Wild Things Are, but more gruesome. The dancers in this piece have distinct characterizations, even if they never fully disclose themselves as characters: two giggly tarts making eyes at the audience and winnying like horses (Jill Guyton-Nee and Gabby Stefura); a small community of three people who seem both childlike and savage, somehow both prior to and after the fact of some civilization (Owen David, Ani Javian, and Tyisha Nedd); a grizzly man who lurks blindfolded in the corner, then chases the child-savages, pins one of them to the ground in what feels like a simulated rape, and eventually becomes a figure who is devoured at the conclusion of some myth (Preston Witt). There is a narrative quality to the dance without its story ever becoming entirely clear; it doesn’t feel linear although it is unfolding in time. It feels like a mythology or a morality tale abstracted into grunts and shouts and gasps and gestures. At times it feels playful or innocent: children playing a game of tag or hide and seek; but then it takes a sinister turn as the movements become more abrupt, more startled; the unintelligible sounds the dancers make sound more terrified, and it is no longer clear if any of us are safe. In another scene, a dancer simulates death, perhaps by drowning, gasping for air and collapsing to the floor. In several moments, the figures interact as if discovering or inventing their own sexualities, suckling at one another’s bodies, shouting with one’s mouth pressed to the belly of another, undressing and redressing, rolling over and around one another, dragging each other across the floor. The dance is esoteric, mysterious, like only part of a story—the most intense parts, the parts most epic. The dancers feel a bit like archetypes, the kind that populate antiquated tarot cards: the Hanged Man, the III of Cups, the Chariot. Like Monk’s work, it feels very period and of a specific culture, but from a time I cannot quite recall and a culture that has either been lost or yet to be discovered. In that sense, it evokes a very specific timelessness, somehow both vaguely familiar and almost otherworldly, evocative of something I am trying to remember but cannot. It has a dreamlike quality, where figures and situations seem like people and places that I know while also seeming to not be what they seem. The dance is episodic, moving back and forth through the rooms of Skylab with the audience moving along with it, the performers alternating through different scenes. It gives the dance a tidal sense of a journey, literally moving back and forth through the space, requiring the audience to follow along as this cast of characters drift and transform from one vignette to the next. By the end of the piece, I feel somewhat displaced, as if I have been partially initiated into some kind of tribe through a rite-of-passage ritual, while still feeling on the outside of the performers’ gestures and relationships, executed with a fervency that feels almost religious, a lengthy pagan mass, traces of a secret society that will not make itself fully known.