michael j. morris

from William Forsythe, etc.

Today was the first day of classes in our spring quarter at OSU. Besides starting work in a smattering a new and exciting courses, today we were graced with a special visit from Bill Forsythe. It was a pleasure to see him again and hear him talk a bit about his work and the work we’ve been doing. He sparked lots of idea, many of which will not get decent attention in this post, but which I at least wanted to jot down, for myself and for you. In no particular order:

-He spoke briefly about making dance legible, and how difficult it is to put dance into words, to articulate verbally what is essentially non-verbal. I tend to think of it as articulating the ineffable. Dance is something that is so rooted in immediate corporeal experience, so many sensations and feelings that do not have names, that do not lend themselves to verbal description. I find that sometimes when I try to discuss dance and what it is I do as a dance artist, I am tempted to wax into poetry and metaphor, hedging in this ineffable practice in descriptions that cannot possible translate the actual experience, but hopefully create some sort of defined space in which exists the indescribable thing itself: dance. I am actually interested in hearing Marcia Siegel speak on this subject on Thursday. She is giving a guest lecture on the subject of Forsythe’s work in relation to criticism. I am interested in how that might address this concern, for putting dance and choreographic knowledge into words.

-He spoke about how early on he began to question if a thing had to be the way that it was. This is such an important question. It emphasizes the arbitrary nature of practically everything we do, especially choreography. When faced with the infinite field of potentialities for human movement, each time we make a dance we make a series of choices of what we will do, the sequence in which it will occur, and this becomes choreography. Throughout the creative process, I am constantly coming to find myself asking this same question: “Is this how it has to be? How else might it be?” I think it has to do with clarifying WHAT it is you are doing. What are your intentions? How malleable are those intentions? Might I abandon them if I see something new emerging in the work? Whatever it is I am attempting to serve and embody in the work, how else might it be? What other movements, what other organizations, does it even need to be a dance? What other form might these concerns take?

-This segued into another idea, that of DOUBT. Bill encouraged us that the ability to constantly doubt what it is we know is a greatest gift in dancing and making dances. I dare say, it is a/the great gift of living, of being human, the ability to constantly recognize the limited base of perception and experience on which we “know” anything. This is so important in the creative process, the ability to look into the face of the things you “know,” your pre-existing assumptions for your work, your field, and ask yourself how you know this thing that you think you know. I think doubt is a space of amazing creative potential. I have long thought that doubt and faith share a common source, and that is uncertainty. Faith is that in which you can believe despite uncertainty; doubt is that which you may not be able to believe due to uncertainty. When we allow ourselves to live in that uncertain place (because whether we admit it to ourselves or not, uncertainty is always where we live), we open ourselves to potential motion. Uncertain is like unstable, able to shift, able to fall, able to tumble and roll, and in that motion, make new discoveries. I have a reverence for doubt, and doubting what we “know” as dance artists is a perfect way to keep things moving. By questioning what it is we know, we risk finding new answers, new solutions, making new choices based on these new discoveries, and new work comes out of these place.

-On the subject of “knowing,” Bill touched on a the idea of “feeling as knowing” and “knowing as feeling.” Because dancing is an active experience (like consciousness itself?), it is a way of knowing that has roots in the feeling of that experience. This sort of concept seems to re-prioritize the hierarchies of knowledge, giving validity to a way of knowing that comes purely out of personal, subjective, physical sensation.

-Victor Hugo’s “This Will Kill That” was recommended to us. It is the second chapter of his larger work Notre-Dame de Paris and illuminates how the printing press was potentially responsible for the recession of cathedral architecture, shifting from a visual to verbal culture. This seems relevant in the discussion of translation and literacy shifts, how the evolution of technology is involved in both of these.

-The misunderstanding or challenges of making dance legible perhaps lie in a larger cultural issue of text and literacy being privileged. So how then do we explicate what it is that we do/know without depending on something as privileged as text? The “Synchronous Objects for One Flat Thing, Reproduced” project has depended on a visual literacy, translating choreographic data into visual representations of that data. Remember, that web project goes live THIS WEDNESDAY!

-We have the unique ability to discuss art as a state of BEING because we are our art, it exists as us; dance is an embodied art form.

-In the larger version of this “Monster Partitur” (“You Make Me a Monster”), the audience participates in the construction of the cardboard “monsters” that serve and choreographic information for the piece, before being told the story of the piece’s origin’s: Bill’s wife’s illness, her bleeding, her bending, and her death. Bill described the experience he has witnessed in the audience once they have been told the story, once they realize that the folding of the cardboard skeletons is in some way referential to this personal narrative. He spoke of them being implicated in the story, and how their work then felt somehow dirty or contaminated by the revelation of what it represented or referenced. It raise for me the question of how this described experience translated into my experience of the “monster making,” having the fore-knowledge of what it was I was doing and its origins? It certainly contained none of the surprise. I hardly even feel that it felt contaminated . . . it felt beautiful, reverent, but in the way that Butoh feels beautiful and reverent to me, honoring the fullness of experience, including the grotesque, the unpleasant. I have long felt (and still do, to some degree) that the nature of beauty or aesthetic experience is one of contrast. We appreciate a thing as “beautiful” by its relation to something else. Some of the most moving and dismantling art for me has been integration of this contrast within the single composition, in which the lovely is mashed up with the grotesque; both become richer due to their companion. I think this sort of experience, one of “beauty,” was a big part of negotiating the foreknowledge of the origins of the cardboard monsters in the process of making them. The work was crafting, making elegant forms and compositions (the lovely), while being framed by, or even saturated with, the knowledge that this work came out of grief, out of suffering and death. As tempted as I am to spin off into a discussion of the synthetic process of beauty, suffering as a source of transcendence, I think I have to stop now.


Maybe I’ll have time to flesh these out a bit more later in the week? We’ll see.
Hope you are able to make it to some or all of the events going on this week (see earlier post).

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