michael j. morris


Shows I ache to see
9 October, 2009, 8:53 am
Filed under: art | Tags: , , , , ,

I just read a review of William Forsythe’s “Decreation,” a piece choreographed in 2003 with connections to Anne Caron’s book by the same name. Anne Carson is my favorite author, unquestionable. Autobiography of Red, Eros: The Bittersweet, Plainwater, Glass, Irony, and God, etc. I love these books. This is not the first time that I have discovered connections between Forsythe and Carson. But I ache to witness this connection:

“The Forsythe Company performs through Saturday at the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House, 30 Lafayette Avenue, at Ashland Place, Fort Greene, Brooklyn; (718) 636-4100, bam.org.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/09/arts/dance/09forsythe.html?_r=1&ref=dance

I found a short video clip of the piece:

Later this month, Meredith Monk  will also be performing at BAM. October 21-25, she will be presenting Ascension Variations, another piece created in collaboration with Ann Hamilton. I don’t think there is any way that I will be able to see that show, but it feels destined that one day I will be able to see Monk’s work. She, along with Hamilton, is one of the most important artists to my work and I have yet to see her work live.

Again, I found a little video:

One day . . .



Prop. 8 Upheld

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/27/us/27marriage.html?_r=1&hp

Today the California Supreme Court ruled to uphold Proposition 8 in the state of California. From the New York Times (link above):

“Chief Justice Ronald M. George for a 6-to-1 majority, said that same-sex couples still have the right to civil unions, which gives them the ability to “choose one’s life partner and enter with that person into a committed, officially recognized, and protected family relationship that enjoys all of the constitutionally based incidents of marriage.” But the justices said that the voters had clearly expressed their will to limit the formality of marriage to opposite-sex couples.

“Justice George wrote that Proposition 8 did not “entirely repeal or abrogate” the right to such a protected relationship, but argued that it “carves out a narrow and limited exception to these state constitutional rights, reserving the official designation of the term ‘marriage’ for the union of opposite-sex couples as a matter of state constitutional law.””

This makes me crazy. It offends me that this is the perspective of the law being upheld in the country in which I live. While it is true that the state of California does allow same-sex civil unions that offer equal legal protection under the law (along with four other states and the District of Columbia; see HRC’s website for the full info on same-sex marriage rights in the United States), civil unions are issued by and recognized BY THE STATE, whereas the legal status of “marriage”, while issued by the state, is recognized by the Federal Government, a recognition that is accompanied by more than 1,100 federal rights, benefits, and privileges. What I cannot wrap my head around is how a state supreme court can offer “equal state rights by another name” as the illusion of true equality. Nor can I understand to any degree how a federal government that currently supports this inequality is doing nothing in this or similar situations.

Then I recall that there are powerful voices in our nation advocating against equality. I hate that I came across this commentary on Anderson Cooper 360 today. I hate that things like this are being said.

Tony Perkins is the President of the Family Research Council. Here is the Family Research Council’s official press release on today supreme court ruling in California:

 “FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 26, 2009

CONTACT: J.P. Duffy or Maria Donovan, (866) FRC-NEWS

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Family Research Council President Tony Perkins today praised the California Supreme Court’s decision to uphold democracy and reject efforts to strip the right of the people to amend the state’s Constitution to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman. 

“Over one million Californians signed petitions to place Proposition 8 on the ballot and over seven million voters approved the measure on Election Day. California’s Constitution gives its citizens the right of self-governance and we are pleased that the court resisted demands to strip the right of the people to amend the state constitution. Even this widely-recognized liberal court understands that overturning Proposition 8 would represent a repudiation of the state Constitution it is sworn to uphold. 

“Unfortunately, the Court chose to ignore the plain meaning of Proposition 8 and will force state recognition of same-sex ‘marriage’ licenses issued last year. The Court’s recognition of these ‘marriages’ clearly seeds the ground for a possible legal battle before the U.S. Supreme Court. 

“At every opportunity, the people of California have voted to protect marriage because they recognize the far reaching consequences that redefining marriage will have for children, the family, religious liberties, businesses and every facet of American society. Today’s decision should encourage pro-family activists not only in California but across the country. Marriage redefinition is not inevitable unless advocates of the family stand aside and allow it to happen.”

- 30 -

 

I am offended to read praise for empowering a population to impose inequality in a nation that was supposedly founded on equal rights for all citizens. I am offended that this issue is touted as an issue of faith, family values, or semantics rather than one of civil rights. I am offended that heterosexual marriage is elevated as somehow sacred simply on the basis of it being between a man and a woman, no matter its content, no matter its foundation or integrity. I am offended that the re-definition of the legal status of marriage to recognize same-sex marriages is discussed as anti-family and the end of civilization as we know it, as if marriage has not been understood and re-defined culturally throughout history. The Family Research Council made similar statements in April after Iowa moved to recognize same-sex marriage under the law. 

 

 

The court decision is discussed with language such as “forcing same-sex marriage on an unwilling populous,” as if the decision to recognize equal rights for same-sex couples means that the population of Iowa at large will be subjected to non-consensual homosexual unions. It offends me that same-sex marriage is discussed as the gateway to polygamy and marriages between adults and minors, as if the one logically leads to the next. It offends me that the contemporary American definition of marriage is touted as the icon of “5000 years of human behavior,” as if past centuries in cultures around the globe have not recognized all sorts of variations not only on the formal composition of a marriage, but also the meaning which the culture gave to it. 

Earlier this year, I wrote a letter to the FRC responding line by line to their official statement on homosexuality. At the time I did not feel it necessary to make my statement/response public, but today as events such as the California Supreme Court decision continue to unfold, and as organizations such as FRC continue to proliferate statements of their views into arenas of public discourse, I felt the need to make my statements more public as well. It can be viewed here.

At the same time, I am encouraged that their are public advocates for equality to continue to be just as vocal as the FRC. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) released the following statement today:

5/26/2009

WASHINGTON – The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization, responded to the California Supreme Court’s split 6-1 decision today ruling that Proposition 8, the narrowly approved measure which eliminated the right of same-sex couples to marry, is valid.  As a result of the court’s decision in Strauss v. Horton, California becomes the first state in the nation to strip away marriage rights for same-sex couples.  As same-sex couples and allies from across the country react to the news, HRC is releasing an online, YouTube video set to the song “I Won’t Back Down”: www.HRC.org/California
 
“Today’s ruling is a huge blow to Americans everywhere who care about equality.  The court has allowed a bare majority of voters to write same-sex couples out of basic constitutional protections,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese.  “This ruling is painful, but it represents a temporary setback.  There will be a groundswell to restore marriage equality in our nation’s largest state, and HRC will not give up until marriage equality is restored in California.” 

One significant effort already underway is a strategic partnership between HRC and California Faith for Equality (CFE), a statewide group established to educate, support and mobilize faith communities on LGBT equality.  The partnership joins CFE and its 6,000 supporting faith leaders with both HRC’s Religion and Faith Program expertise as well as HRC’s National Field Department to broaden, diversify and deepen religious support for marriage equality in California.

“This ruling couldn’t be more out of step with what’s happening across the country,” said Solmonese, pointing to recent marriage victories in Iowa, Vermont and Maine. “We have no choice but to return this basic question of fairness for the estimated 1 million LGBT Californians back to the voters.”
  
“While we are relieved that the 18,000 couples who married before the Prop 8 vote will still have valid marriages, it does not in any way remove the sting of this ruling,” added Solmonese.
 
Over the past decade, public acceptance of marriage equality for same-sex couples has changed dramatically.  For the first time, more Americans say they support marriage for same-sex couples (49%) than oppose it (46%), according to the latest Washington Post/ABC poll released in late April.”

 

Below is the video referenced in the body of HRC’s statement. If nothing else, it inspires me to hope.

 

I am sure there are some who might read this and wonder what relevance it has to me creative activity or work as a dance artist/scholar. The shortest answer is that it is all connected. As I make work, as I consider the body and its social relevance, I am brought face to face with the society in which I am creating, in which I am living. As I consider the subjects of my research, I consider the research and analysis and writing that has not been done, that has not been explored by dance scholars. This was the fuel for my recent presentation on the negotiation of gender in the work of Bronislava Nijinska. I am currently exploring the potential for analyzing the work of Frederick Ashton through a queer lens. Ashton was a homosexual choreographer, and yet his work has rarely been considered for its potential as a contributor to queer culture or a queer contribution to dance culture. It all relates, it all synthesizes, and part of the purpose of this blog is for these ideas and interests from seemingly disparate parts of living and making to co-exist in this space, to find relationships and offer new points of interest in the process. If this particular post seems too political or too removed from art/dance/creative activity, I encourage you to reconsider it as a component of the making, of the thinking that leads to the making, of the living which fuels and influences and shapes the making. I encourage you to follow a trail of “tags” and see how ideas start to relate, maybe in ways that they didn’t before.



Forsythe in the New York Times
29 March, 2009, 12:14 am
Filed under: Dance | Tags: , , ,

This is thrilling to me, to read about work being done at OSU with the Department of Dance in the New York Times. Work in which I have a small part (see earlier posts). You can read about it here:

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/29/arts/dance/29sulc.html?ref=dance

synchronous_object

image from "Synchronous Objects"



A Global Declaration Towards Equality
19 March, 2009, 7:13 am
Filed under: culture | Tags: , , , , ,

“The Obama administration announced Wednesday that it would support a United Nations declaration to decriminalize homosexuality, just months after the Bush administration refused to back the measure.”

While this declaration is in no way binding and has no legislative effect within the United States, I view this to be a positive step. While we have yet to see the kind of legislative support promised to the LGBT community by President Obama during his campaign (promises such as repealing DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act) and DADT (“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”), both of which were signed into law by President Bill Clinton), this is the first administration to support a global declaration affirming the equality of all people, including the LGBT community. If nothing else, it is my hope that this signals a shift in public consciousness, and a prelude to the legislative action that might soon be taken within this country.

I suppose only time will tell.



Impermanence: “Monster Partitur,” Meredith Monk, “About” and “Passage”

I have been both thrilled and overwhelmed at the response to my last post. it amazes me how quickly anything on the web can go viral in so few hours. Thank you all for reading (if you are continuing to read); I hope my reflections offered you insight into this experience and provoked contemplations of your own.

I have further contemplations/connections to reflect upon emanating from this experience working on the constructions and tracings for “Monster Partitur.” For days now, despite the sound scape that has been present in our work space (that has ranged from Madonna, to BT, to Jay Brannan, to Cirque du Soleil, to the Cranberries, etc.), the sounds that are constantly occurring to me come from Meredith Monk’s album impermanence. Released last year, it was a composition triggered in response to the unexpected death of Monk’s partner, Mieke van Hoek, in 2002. It has been discussed as a meditation on death, loss, and the fragility of human life. You can read an article about the piece and Monk’s thoughts of music for posterity, and listen to a few of the tracks (I highly recommend “Last Song” as one of the most profound pieces of music I have ever experienced) from NPR here

I assume the connections between this work and the work with which I have been participating are fairly evident. Both are responses to or expressions of loss and grief, both contain a meditative quality on the transitory nature of life, of all things. Both raise issues concerning that which is left behind, the translation of an impermanent experience into a lasting trace, be that trace in musical composition, or graphite drawings on plywood panels. 

Monk offers these words in the liner notes of impermanence:

“How does one create a work about impermanence? One can only brush upon aspects of it; conjure up the sensation that everything is in flux, everything constantly changes, we can’t hold onto anything. What we have in common as human beings is that we will all die and we don’t know when or how. We will lose our loves ones, our own health and finally our bodies. Keeping this in mind leads to a deep appreciation of the moments we have, to not take anything for granted.

“In a way, making a piece ‘about’ impermanence is an impossible task. I could only imply it, offer glimpses, create music that would be evocative but would also leave space for each listener to have his or her responses. Generally, the music for impermanence is more chromatic and dissonant than what I usually write. My music tends to be modal while in this piece I explored other harmonic possibilities. The themes to the piece seemed to suggest the musical language that I found.

“In the past I composed primarily for the voice and deliberately kept my instrumental writing simple and transparent to leave space for the voice to fly. now after composing my first orchestral work and string quartet, I have begun to open up to the rich qualities of instruments. From the beginning, I wrote the voice as an instrument; now I am allowing myself to think of the instruments as voices . . . ” 
-Meredith Monk

Themes that this short passage bring to mind are the elusiveness of the impermanent, or perhaps even our condition at large; ending as more accurately changing, shifting, becoming; the inevitability of ‘endings;’ allowing space for the personal experience, the subjective, and the awareness that reality itself is objectively inaccessible, but perhaps apprehend-able as a conjunction of subjective experiences. 

How does one directly address that which is fleeting, constantly shifting, or gone? More elusively, how does one go beyond addressing a thing that is impermanent, and address the condition of impermanence? I’m not sure I would know how, and yet I find that both Monk and Forsythe have found solutions to this inquiry. As Monk states, she does so by implication, brushing the service of a thing, a state of being, that refuses to stay, to still. In my experience of this work with “Monster Partitur,” I find impermanence is addressed by facilitating an experience in which the relationship between that which is impermanent and the record of that thing is brought to the fore-front. I am not sure how that will translate into a solo performance, nor how it will reside in a gallery exhibition. Nor am I certain that a meditation on impermanence is the goal of “Monster Partitur;” yet that quality and subject have been essential to my experience of this project. I will be unable to view the “product” of this work without the connotation of loss, of creating and recording and destroying, of marking that which will shortly no longer remain, and how all of this pertains to the human condition.

Without a major segue into a discussion of my most recent work “About,” I did want to relate that piece to this discussion. First, there is the reality that it is “over,” that this process and performance with this cast, with this piece in this form, is now passed. I am experiencing the familiar “postpartum” grief of a lengthy process coming to a close. I am grieving that loss in a sense. Which certainly relates to the subject at hand. I am wondering the ways in which the piece now lasts, in body and cognitive memory, but also as concept or information, as a “choreographic object” (to allude further to Forsythe’s research), and how that choreographic information might find expression or realization in another form. A professor of mine speculated today whether this piece might become a sort of “life work,” continuing to be questioned, carrying its concerns throughout my life, with new dancers, new spatial situations, new configurations of the concept. What if the cast was larger? What if it evolved into an evening length work? What if it was seen from above, and the full complexity of the spatial patterns could be appreciated (perhaps is a space like the Guggenheim, where, remarkably, Monk just presented a performance of her “Ascension Variations” this month).

monk_ascension_guggenheim2

photo by Stephanie Berger for The New York Times

 

The question concerning “About” has become how might it live on in this field of constant flux and change? How might it’s “ending” contribute to a future “beginning”? 

This is another larger speculation that has recurred in my own work, but become more acute in this experience with “Monster Partitur,” the question of ending as something like an illusion. Perhaps nothing ends absolutely, but instead participates in a collective state of reorganization. This was the inspiration/subject of a piece I choreographed in 2007-2008 entitled “Passage.”

passage_reach

photo by Clara Underwood

It was a reflection of our human aversion to death and ending, the inevitability of loss, and an awareness that as any thing ends, it contributes to the formation of something new. I was thinking about decomposition as fertilization, or the conservation of matter/energy, how nothing truly ends absolutely, but instead in reconfigured, reorganized, to become something new. 
[You can see videos of “Passage” here or here.]

This speculation does shift me experience of the work on “Monster Partitur.” Yes, it is an exercise in perceiving impermanence, yes, there is a gravity in creating tracings of that which will cease to exist, and relating that experience to my personal experiences of loss and memory. But even in the loss, something new comes into being. It is not the thing itself, but it is the evolving expression of the thing. The trace, the translation, becomes the embodiment of that which no longer exists, and in that sense, it does continue to exist, reorganized into a new configuration, into new materials, new spatial and temporal situations, but born of the loss of what was.

This is perhaps all art. Nothing is truly created because all that exists always has and always will. The work that we do when we “create” is reconfiguration, reorganization, making and describing connections that perhaps had not been made before. The artistic/creative process is feeling like an eternal three-step-program, something like “the idea, the realization of the idea, the trace or record of the realization,” in which the tracings or that which remains from that which no longer exists becomes the basis of the next idea to be realized. In this sense, impermanence is a constant state of being more related to change than ending.



How a Man Dresses . . .
13 February, 2009, 11:54 pm
Filed under: culture | Tags: , ,

A friend and colleague sent this to me this evening (Thanks, Karena!) and it has totally rocked my evening. I have been walking these lines for some years now, between what it means to “dress like a man”, “dress like a woman”, “dress like a man dressing like a woman”, or dress like a man with accents/items/accessories that are sold or marketed in the women’s departments. I think it started in thrift stores, seeing things I liked, the intended gender of which was open to interpretation. My first major transgression was likely my blue (faux) fur coat. And jewelry. Ever since I started making jewelry (which I haven’t done for quite some time), I don’t think I respected any longer the arbitrary assignments of gender to clothing and accessories. I wear “women’s jeans” exclusively, because they fit me better. I wear pearls because I love them, and because I grew up surrounded by people [women] I admire who wear pearls (mother, grandmothers, aunts, great aunts, etc.). I have historically found so much of men’s fashion to be boring frankly, and now that designers are finally doing things I find interesting, it is all beyond my financial means. So I make do, and making do has to redefining the assigned gender expectation of certain articles of clothing. Tonight I wore sensational black trouser pants from GAP with black 3-inch heel square-toed boots, a vintage pleated blouse with french cuffs, a black jacket by Isaac Mizrahi, a vintage white gold brooch, and a matching vintage white gold collar-necklace. I wore all of these things as a man, not as a man dressing as a woman. I’m not sure how successfully that expression is received by society, but maybe that isn’t the point. Maybe the point is something like the uncensored (that’s idealistic; perhaps what I mean is the less censored) individual, existing and expressing on his own terms, rather than the prescriptions of society.

Here is the article from the New York Times. I hope you give it a read.

And here are a couple of images from the article, and an image of something I wore to a public reading about a month ago. I offer it not so much as a picture of me, but as an illustration of the topic:

0202jeanpaul2

0202menwomenbryan

read_aloud_outfit



Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes

This article was published this week in the New York Times, taking a brief (if not strongly opinioned) look at the centennial of the Ballets Russes:
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/08/arts/dance/08maca.html?_r=1&ref=dance

Macaulay mentions tributes to the Ballets Russes being presented worldwide. I was interested in what these might be and have done some browsing. Here is what I have found:

On May 16th through May 23rd 2009, Boston will host a festival marking one hundred years since Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes premiered in Paris in May 1909. You can find more info here.

As part of this festival, the Boston Ballet will be presenting four Ballets Russes ballets, including Le Spectre de la Rose (Fokine), L’apresmidi d’un Faune (Nijinsky), The Prodigal Son (Balanchine), and a new interpretation of Le Sacre du Printemps by Jorma Elo. Info on those performances can be found here

Ballet West is presenting a concert entitled “Treasures of the Ballets Russes,” featuring The Polovetsian Dances (Fokine), Les Biches (Nijinska), and The Prodigal Son (Balanchine). More information can be found here. I am rather curious about this performance, because to my knowledge there is no surviving film, video, or notation of Les Biches. This performance does credit the original choreography by Nijinska; I am most curious about the source of this choreography. Nijinska is something of a passion of mine, and while I would be more than thrilled to see her work, I am wary of its misrepresentation.

The Australian Ballet is staging work in celebration of Ballets Russes, including a new interpretation of Firebird by Graeme Murphy, Petrouchka and Les Sylphides (Fokine). More info here.

Not necessarily related to the centennial of the premiere of the Ballets Russes, I am potentially presenting a paper and participating in a panel discussion at the 2009 Midwest Slavic Conference here at OSU. The paper is originally “The Negotiation of Gender in the Work of Nijinsky and Nijinska,” looking at their treatment of gender in their performing and choreographic careers. The paper I present will have to be truncated out of necessity, and may focus on the choreographic work of either Nijinsky or Nijinska (I haven’t yet decided). More details about this will follow pending the approval of my abstract and panel.

All in all, an exciting year for the Ballets Russes. I’m sure there are more events out there. If you hear of any, feel free to comment and mention them here. I have no idea how my schedule will look, but I am seriously considering finding a way to attend this festival/performances/symposium in Boston in May. We’ll see how that works out.

 

Best.




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