michael j. morris


Conversation with CoCo

So I tried to blog about seeing my friend/colleague/teacher CoCo Loupe perform Deborah Hay‘s “The Runner” yesterday at the Agora festival at Junctionview Studios here in Columbus, and it just didn’t happen. The experience just did not lend itself to the third person. So I have instead decided to invite you, gentle reader, into my “personal” creative conversation with CoCo. I offer excerpts of our email correspondence as another way of looking into this dancing life, another way of contributing to the “cultural library” of dance literature. Here we go:

Michael wrote to CoCo 9:11am, 17 May 2009:
“I loved watching you dance. I will never tire of your movement quality. And maybe it’s just because we’ve been working on this in class (or maybe it’s part of why we’ve been working on this in class?), but I was transfixed by your ability to move from focus to focus, from extremely inner concentration, to smiling and making eyes and playing with a puppy, etc. I was fascinated how this affected your entire body attitude, or way of carrying yourself, your way of moving through the space, through your joints, in and out of the floor, etc. This plays a huge role in the “big thought” I left with.

I left thinking a lot about context and perception and framing and how dance is a truly physically transgressive medium. It rejects so much of how we’re “supposed to be” in our bodies. And as long as it is removed from us, sanitized by the proscenium or the performance space or even just a demarcated time and space in which it has been stated “this is a dance,” society/the culture of society can palate it. They can recognize their way of looking, their role of coexisting with this moving body. In the opposite “extreme,” when a space has been designated or described for “social dance,” in a club or bar or whatever, there is a kind of clarity in the expected role or way of looking/coexisting with the moving body. In the performance yesterday, all of this become blurred, and it was all related to the shifting of your “body attitude.”

I watched the dance, watched you dancing. But maybe it was the choreographer in me . . . I couldn’t not watch how it existed/negotiated itself in the space, with those others present in the space. And this is where I hit my “descriptive wall” in my blog, so bear with my meager language. There was a process of watching the audience not recognize, then recognize that they had not recognized, but rarely did they ever quite grasp what it is that they had not recognized. This was most palpable when your physical countenance was the most “normal” (fit neatly within the definition of the socially acceptable body), moments of just standing and looking, or meandering. They were brief, and those co-habitants (I’m not sure I can call them “audience members” in this speculation) who came upon you in those moments did not distinguish you/your body as atypical or anomalous in the space. But then your countenance would shift. Sometimes it was as subtle as the pacing of your steps, a shift in focus, or a sudden stop. Sometimes it was more overt, like a sudden battement or rond de jambe en lair. But whatever it was, in that moment, they would realize that there was something present that they had not previously recognized. That body (your body) was not “playing by the rules” and they did not know why. They were in this strange in between space of almost panic? When they had this moment of recognition, still had not oriented themselves in it, recognized that they had very likely walked right “into the middle of something,” and knew that they had been seen doing so. Maybe too much of my creative ideas right now have to do with shame, but I saw these flickering, vibrant moments of shame, when they recognized not only that this body (your body) was not playing by the rule, but by implication, neither was theirs. They suddenly weren’t quite sure of the rules, and they were aware of how public their “misstep” had been. Different individuals handled themselves differently in this suspended space, but it was that moment that I found fascinating.

And what it says about our perceptions of the body, our expectations and rules for it. And how quickly we take cues and prescriptions for ourselves from the other bodies we encounter. I felt like it revealed something so fragile: maybe the choreography of identity? Maybe when you develop a research interest you begin to see it everywhere, but it was something like that. Up until their encounter with you, the others in the space knew the “rules” and they were playing by them! That’s maybe the crux of this connection is that it revealed some layer of awareness or intentionality of the ways in which these other individuals were handling themselves in their bodies, the way they were choreographing their actions to fit within their understanding of the “rules,” and by encountering you/your dancing body, their understanding of the rule, and thus their “choreography,” was called into question. So fragile.

Moving past that moment/observation, I was interested in the moments in which your actions were recognized as a dance. And it seemed really clear. When there were spectacular actions (again, battements, rond de jambes en lair, roles to the floor, jumps, etc.), it was seen as a dance, you as a dancer, and thus both as entertainment. The viewer would stop and offer their attention. And when the “moments of spectacle” (for lack of a better term) had passed, so did the attention of many. I thought to myself, “These people are not ‘people-watchers’. They are not the kinds of people who are drawn into subtlety, who sit on the Oval and simply observe how people are their bodies, and how that works itself out. They don’t find themselves captivated by the gate of a person, or the architecture of the body.” I don’t know if it had to do with the amount of STUFF going on visual/aurally/energetically/etc. but so many people walking around seemed to be doing so like . . . something dense and blank, and gave pause to whatever made a large mark/impact of their perceptual fields. Because of this, it was interesting to watch people come in and out of an encounter with your dancing body as a dance.

It made me think of something Bill Forsythe said about the thought behind “Monster Partitur” and the whole exhibition at the Wex. He talked about how in the art gallery culture, their is a certain “viewer agency” to meander, to wander, to direct attention for whatever duration, to come in, to leave, etc. And in the dance world, we tend to hold our viewers captive. They come in, they sit down, we turn out the lights, and for the most part, they are expected to STAY. He was interested in moving dance into the gallery space to potentially explore this viewer relationship. it raises questions like, “Dance, unlike a static object, literally changes and unfolds over time. How does its meaning or relevance shift if the viewer can come in or exit an encounter with it at any point? How is its value effected if they don’t see the ‘beginning’ or the ‘end’, only some piece in the ‘middle’?” I felt that “The Runner” leant itself to this way of viewing remarkably well. There is something about the piece, how it moves from one thing to the next with very little through-line, how each moment it partially characterized by the total abandonment of the previous moment, that gives immense permission to see/encounter only a part of it. I felt like I was fully engaged with the piece for its duration, but by the end I could not begin to describe the sequence of events, or even recount all of the events that had transpired. Just as it seemed as if you moved from moment to moment, event to event, with a total abandonment of what came before, I felt that I was invited to do the same. Which seems to relate much more to that “gallery, come and go as you please” mentality than to the proscenium “come in, watch from beginning to end, then leave” way of engagement. In that sense, I commend you hugely. I think Agora was a perfect match for the piece. I think I would also love to see it in the Wex, either in a gallery or outside on that quad . . . something about framing it in the manner of engagement associated with gallery/museum spaces that I described above. I think that is a fascinating connection between the context and content of the piece.

And I think that’s all I have right now. I have this other thought, something about interpersonal engagement, the way the socially devious body, or the dancing body, becomes less “personal” or “human” in the way that people relate to it . . . but I haven’t found the words for that yet.

Thank you for an amazing performance, for creating such a thought-provoking experience, for being “benignly socially devious” in your body/environment, and the commentary that offers. Thanks for introducing me to Agora. I would love to experience it again in years to come, maybe even share work there.

-M”

 

CoCo wrote to Michael 9:54am 17 May 2009
“[from reading what you wrote], I immediately heard Deborah saying something to the effect of YOU MUST BE IN LOVE WITH IMPERMANENCE. i will get the exact wording from my notes later and send them to you. but that is one of the foundations of this work. her point being….you can’t take this moment too seriously..it’s gone. the next is here and you’re it and your cells are it and it’s gone. don’t die when that moment dies and goes….just let it go and enjoy the next. this is one of the big things i’ve been trying to share with our class at OSU……maybe i need to dig up Deborah’s exact words and share them with the class…..that’s what i’ll do.”

and at 10:30am 17 May 2009:
“there is great vacillation b/w interacting with people/objects/energy in the space and the same entities that are built into the structure of the work. the inner logic of the practice is constantly melding/threading/weaving with the natural flow and construction of the logic that comes with the environment in which the practice is being …..practiced…..(word weirdness)

anyway….it’s a very strange and lovely state that i’m in when doing The Runner…..i never feel like i’m “being” a particular way towards the environment….like extremely inner concentration, to smiling and making eyes and playing with a puppy….although i am doing those things…..while i’m doing them, i really don’t have an attachment to the connotations of those gestures and actions…..like “oh i’m doing this and it means this or can be read as that so therefore i’m building/having/presenting an experience that must hinge on this/that meaning”……it’s more like, “oh….i’m attending to this right now because it’s in the lab….and i need the lab….but i’m inviting being seen and surrendering the pattern of facing a single direction, while every cell in my body is getting what it needs….and it’s no big deal”…….so while the action seems very specific and makes it appear that i’m “meaning to make a statement by doing something like snarking a dog’s nose”, it is actually very omni-dimensional …..from the sheer physiological/anatomical physicality of the experience to the linguistic/textual interpretive potential of the experience……………….

does this make sense? in a way it means having to let go of accepted notions of dancemaking…..dancedoing…..dance-ness. there is no structural heirarchy….the rules are laid bare in the moment and constantly shift so that no goal or meaning can root itself other than the perpetual attention to the directive.”

 

I hope that offers you some insight into the performance, my perspectives, some of CoCo’s perspectives, and maybe in the larger sense the way we dancing artists think of/talk about what it is we do. Welcome.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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here are some snippets from the notes i took during the SPCP 2007 process for The Runner.

DH = Deborah Hay’s words, sayings, thoughts…I was pretty good about writing down her exact words but I think it’s good to remember that this stuff is from 2.5 years ago…..I want to give credit where it’s due but in no way present this information as OFFICIAL Deborah Hay philosophy. If you want to know what she thinks/says RIGHT NOW, ask her. http://www.deborahhay.com

Now on to the thoughts I wanted to share as a continuation of this conversation:

DH: watch out for pattern of the listening face. infiltrate that musculature. attention doesn’t look like anything.

CoCo: this is probably one of the most powerful teachings that i took with me from this experience. i still have to practice it on a daily basis and in a performance of the practice, it remains one of the most intriguing challenges for me…..i love it. i seek it. i’m always delighted when i catch this pattern in play so i can question it.

DH: the learning curve is not directional. not that you do or don’t get better. it’s that you’re learning.

DH: my body’s the teacher, notice the feedback, let it go.

DH: get what you need. nothing less.

DH: wherever i am in my movement is my music

DH: i am in relationship to the audience. don’t have to create the relationship. don’t have to check in with audience with focus. don’t have to make sure that you’re in a relationship by putting eye focus on particular places/people. you are in a relationship. you can just invite being seen in the relationship. by acknowledging space and time. by digesting what you are seeing.

an overall idea: digesting space with ease and attention

another idea: i am inviting being seen, not demanding that you look at me.

k….out of time. just wanted to share these thoughts and ideas.

Comment by CoCo Loupe

These are great. Thank you for sharing them.

“Attention doesn’t look like anything.” I’ve heard you say this before, and I’ve even referenced it in my own rehearsals. There’s a part of me that thinks of it almost in a metaphorical sense, an indirect means to an end, which may not be the way in which it is intended, but it’s how I make sense of it in my dancing experience. I take it to “mean” this:

By approaching attention with this understanding, that it “doesn’t look like anything,” we effectively weed out our tendencies to demonstrate our attention, our tendency to offer additional commentary to our attention, commentary that draws focus to our attention (this can be so many things . . . facial expressions, flourish, exaggeration, etc.). In actuality, I do in fact think attention has a “look,” but it is elusive, difficult to describe, and impossible to manufacture. It’s something like “presence” (by which I do not mean “performative presence”, but simply an attendance to the present moment). When we are fully present in the present moment, when we give it our attention, it’s quality does shift. It’s “look” is altered. But by insisting that “attention doesn’t look like anything,” we suppress our inclination to manufacture that “look.’ What do you think, am I missing the point?

This relates to the fabulous comments of being in a relationship to the audience. Simply by the situation, you are in a relationship. There is a sense in which you are not responsible for the relationship; you are responsible for your Being, for your Presence and Attention, the You part of the relationship. By being more fully in and of yourself, you are more fully in and of the relationship to the audience. And that presence is perhaps part of the invitation to be seen/experienced?

I love how you worked “digesting space” into our class today. When I came to these notes, I had already engaged with the ideas experientially. Thank you for giving me these multiple points of access.

And I think that last idea, “inviting being seen, not demanding that you look” completely reflects the theater/art gallery notion I mentioned. Rarely does the art object demand your attention. It exists and in doing so invites being seen/experienced. There is something about the darkened theater and captive-audience-seating that feels much more like demanding to be looked at. I wonder if there is a way to adopt that “invitation to be seen” understanding in the theater setting . . .

Thanks for continue to contribute to the dialogue, for keeping my mind going on these ideas.

-M

Comment by morrismichaelj




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