michael j. morris

A Ongoing love affair with subtlety
1 February, 2009, 12:17 am
Filed under: art, creative process, Dance | Tags: , , , , ,

As part of the audition for the graduate program in the Department of Dance here at OSU, I ran sound for all of the auditioning potential students’ solo presentations. It was such a vast, rich array of work, all within a form a limiting as a solo. I was acutely aware of the contextual nature of this presentation, that for me, seeing all of these solos (something like 30 dances?) twice in one day, each one was taking place in the context of all of these other works by all of these other artists, each with their own identities and backgrounds and personal politics and interests in the field of dance. In this dense field of material, contrast emerges, one piece setting the next in sharp relief. Without deviating into a discussion of specific works by specific artists, I am more interested in exploring a developing awareness of what I enjoyed seeing, and why (note: this is not likely to be an extremely academic or theoretical analysis of excellence in the composition and performance of dance; more likely is that it will be an extremely subjective exploration of my own tastes. you’ve been warned.)

I am in love with subtlety. Nuance. Specificity (I have reservations concerning the inclusion of this word; it requires further explanation; read on). The work I enjoyed the most was not composed of popular movement vocabulary, feats of strength, flexibility, or virtuosity. They were specific, by which I do not mean to say that they were overt or clear expressions of a communicable idea. By specific I mean that had a pronounced identity, even if that identity was not easily quantifiable, classifiable, or recognizable. These pieces were like the individuals that created them (perhaps, even most likely, reflected the individuals their creators), full of layers, few if any of which looked like popular movement vocabulary. To be honest, so much dance, and much of what I saw today, looks the same. There are the same movements, gestures, postures, positions, relationship to the music, relationship to the body and the audience, and gravity. The piece that I am considering “specific” were not those things. I also don’t mean to say that they were “novel,” something new that is interesting for the sake of its newness. I suppose what I am trying to say through my addled, clouded mind is that the postures, gestures, and movements were specific because of their nuance. Simple, subtle qualities that made this person, this dance, specifically this and less relatable to . . . that. And this specific, nuanced, subtle identity (captivating in itself), served as the departure point for specific, nuanced, and subtle transitions, deviations, and returns. It’s almost intoxicating.

And why is that? Why this love affair, this fascination with subtlety, specificity, nuance? I think it has to do with why I engage with art, and even more specifically, dance. It has to do with the depths of perception. My choreography, and what I look for in the dances of others, is something almost . . . erotic. There’s a charged word. By erotic, what I mean is longing, a desiring/reaching/wanting that contains lack. I engage in art for the sake of interpersonal human connection, in dance for those experiences and expressions that find articulation most readily in the body. This corporeal articulation of experience is for me primarily in the pursuit of understanding and a recognition of our common and uncommon human experiences. 
When I see a dance saturated with specificity and nuance and subtlety, I feel that I have so much more of a sense of those experiences. I may witness this dancer moving and be overwhelmed with a sense of shared experience, that whatever it is that they are expressing/embodying/experiencing, it connects to my own history/memory/sense of my humanity. Or perhaps I don’t have that sense of shared experience. Instead I may have an awareness of our Otherness, the uniqueness of our identities, our individual experiences of self, our individual realities, and our experiences of more communal realities. I feel that the more subtle, the more specific and nuanced the physical expression, the more access I am given into those insights, those connections, those things that are the objects of my desire (through dance).

I wonder if these qualities I appreciate in choreography/dance have direct connections to qualities of identity. I wonder if the choreographer who holds a more specific awareness of self creates choreography with more specificity (even with “self” is not the subject of the work; Meredith Monk once said something along the lines of her work not being autobiographical, but still being extremely personal. She entertained the possibility that the more personal we are/our work is, the more universal we/it becomes. And here we are again at this word universal. I believe here I mean it in the sense of readily relatable to a multiplicity of individual experiences). I wonder if this specificity has to do with memory, or age. What might be the relationships between the nature of personal cognition and the nature of the creative activity in which you engage?

I just looked over at my “tag cloud” and saw the word “between”: between is an ongoing thought process with me. It is something like the space of understanding, framed or hedged in by distinct or discrete objects/ideas/identities/etc. Perhaps the specificity of those things at the periphery of the “between” space contribute to the richness of the experience that takes place in that space. What I mean to say is that perhaps the space between the more specific sense of myself and a dance that is more specifically itself in more fertile with possibility for understanding/recognition. 

I feel as if this post is all over the place. If you’ve read this far, please forgive my fragmentation. It’s been a long week/day, but these were ideas that were rolling around in my consciousness. I felt that I needed to address them in some way.


2 Comments so far
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subtlety, for me, seems to leave more room for the existence of the unknown. fertile is a good word. there is no pretension which tries to give the impression of a full understanding or a true grasp of something. it merely conveys a hint of truth as if to sa “here is a hint, a whisper of something that i have found. let me share it with you.” there’s more humility here, more reverence, a simple acceptance of the role of partaking as well as creating. it invites one to engage rather than simply stating something.

we have the same love, i think. i miss you.

Comment by marygrace

I agree. Subtlety has something to do with “withholding”. Not telling all. I wonder if “subtle” and “overt” are antonyms . . . or “subtle” and “obvious” . . . either way, in the withholding, there is indeed this fertile space, for mystery, for imagination, for solution, for assumption. It really opens a work up to be a co-creative process with the viewer, the artist providing only a piece of something, the viewer supplying the rest.
And there is so much more humility in the unknown, the unknowing. And perhaps the potential for power as well? Some place between “I cannot tell you all because I do not know all” and “I will not tell you all that I may know”. I’ve been thinking a great deal about power structures as of late, and they are almost always complex, from the relatively commonplace (socio-political structures, familial structures, academic structures, etc.) to the more extreme, such as in slavery. It almost always imbalanced, the power, and yet rarely completely imbalanced in a single direction. Without turning this into a whole additional post, I am thinking about how just as something demonstrates humility, it also demonstrates a different kind of power. In the subtle act, there seems to be both.
This comment feels almost as cloudy as the post itself, but I hope you can decipher some of it; I hope it stirs new thoughts for you too.

And I do think we have the same love. I have long thought so.
Miss you too.
Thanks for reading.

Comment by morrismichaelj

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