michael j. morris

The other half of a dissertation

For months I’ve been thinking about the direction of my research, the areas that I am interest exploring relating to the body and dance and movement. For the most part, what fascinates me is corporeal/kinesthetic identity, which for me refers to the way in which we both perceive and present who we are as individuals through the (moving) body. We come to know who we are through our corporeal/kinesthetic experience, and we present or perform who we are through our physical actions and interactions in the world around us. The body is the site of negotiation between our inner perceptions and the outer perspectives of who we are. Identity then is a kind of choreography, in which the body is organized in time and space as an extension of who we are. I am interested in exploring cognitive sciences, philosophy, research about embodied consciousness (from authors like Mark Johnson and Alva Noe), identity politics (it’s about time I read Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble), and how these forces intersect in the choreography of the body/identity.

The sub-theme or assumption of this research is a privileging of the body as essential to personhood, to identity. The  body is not the vehicle for consciousness, it is not the shell or container for personhood or essence, but it is intrinsic to all of these aspects of existence and experience. I am interested in expanding this understanding as well.

As of yesterday, I have come to another understanding of where I would like my research to go. For me it is something like the “other half” of the above described research interest. As fascinating as embodied consciousness and corporeal/kinesthetic identity might be, and as interesting as it might be to consider these aspects of humanity to be a kind of choreography, there was really nothing that grounded this research in the field of dance (as opposed to psychology, philosophy, other sciences, etc.). Until now.

Yesterday I was thinking about the intimacy of the act of choreography. If the body and the way in which it moves is essential to identity, then the act of generating movement for choreography is (to varying degrees, I’m sure) an extension of identity. The act of making dances takes on a quality of intimate exchange, the choreographer extending and offering his or her identity into movement material that is then absorbed into the body of the dancer who invites the movement (which I am thinking of as an extension of the identity of the choreographer) into his or her body and cultivates it as part of himself/herself. Just as the body in general is a site for the perception, negotiation, and performance of identity, this process becomes intensified in the dancer’s body. The dancer’s body becomes the site for not only negotiating his or her own identity, but negotiating the integration of aspects of the choreographer’s identity with his or her own. Out of this negotiation comes the dance. I’m thinking about dance making not only as a creative act but a procreative act. The dance is the product of the negotiation between choreographer and dancer, their actions extensions of identity, the dance being produced out of the integration of discrete movement identities or identifying movement. I discussed this dynamic a bit in a post from May, describing the unique experience of creative collaboration, specifically in working on the piece “Observing Solitude”: https://morrismichaelj.wordpress.com/2009/05/09/queer-presence-in-creative-process-and-spirituality/. I think that I have felt this way about the choreographic process for quite some time and only now am I finding language for it, and its relationship to these other research interests. The arching subjects of this research seem to be in two parts: the relationship of the body to identity, and the relationship of identity to the act of choreography. There are other implications: I’m thinking about how dance notation (Labanotation, for instance) takes on a quality of biography, not only the writing of movement, but the movement of a specific choreographer. If in fact that movement contains an essential connection to the identity of that choreographer, then the writing of that movement is literally a kind of biography. I’m thinking about the reconstruction of dances from score not only as a study of the dances themselves, but as a study of biography, literally embodying a kind of kinesthetic biography of historical choreographers. Ann Cooper Albright spoke at OSU last fall and discussed her research on Loïe Fuller and how part of what revealed this woman to her was the actual kinesthetic experience of hold the long rods draped in fabric, the length of time it took to perform a piece, the ache of the back and the arms, the stability of the core, etc. By moving as Loïe Fuller, Albright came to know her in a different way. I think there are also implication for the more “collaborative” way that many choreographers now work. I think this research will be interested specifically in the practice of the individual choreographer generating movement material within his or her own body that is then transmitted to the dancer; but so much choreography is not made this way. It is becoming increasingly common for the choreographer to shape the dance out of improvisations and brief compositions generated by the dancers. This has never been my preferred way to work, either as a dancer or a choreographer, and I think these research interests might offer an explanation as to why that is. The material that is generated in this way has less affiliation with individual identities; it becomes a kind of raw fodder to the tweaked and wrecked and deconstructed and reorganized and adjusted. If not done carefully, this has felt almost abusive in different projects of which I’ve been a part. If the way we move is essentially related to who we are, and the movement material we generate is thus an extension of who we are, then working in this way risks feeling like the tweaking and wrecking and deconstructing and reorganization and adjusting (etc.) of who people are . . . This is not necessarily a negative thing (it certainly seems to suggest therapeutic potential, deconstructing the individual through the deconstruction of movement), but similar to the care and concern that goes into something like psychoanalysis, I feel a need to imbue those sorts of processes with a similar care. The movement an individual generates can be seen as separate from them, from who they are, but it’s origin cannot. It came to be in/through/and out of them, of who they are . . .

I was in a composition studies class this past spring. During one particular class we did an exercise in which we “danced” one another. It was like mimicry, trying to take on the movement qualities, physical idiosyncrasies, mannerisms, gate, etc. of our classmates. I found myself incredibly disturbed by this exercise. I felt intrusive and invasive when I took on the movement of another . . . and I felt violated and misunderstood as I looked around a room of my peers taking on my physicality and movement. Eventually I dropped out of the exercise. I think something was beginning to reveal itself in that exercise, the relationship I perceive between the way a person moves and who that person is. The casualness with which we were treating one another’s ways of moving and being felt at odds with the intimate nature of what we were doing. We were exploring not only how one another moved but by extension what it meant to be them. Which seems like an action of great beauty, profound intimacy, and something almost like love . . . I wanted there to be more sacredness to it, more gravity, more care and consideration and even consent. I wanted to have the opportunity to offer my ways of moving, to have them accepted and treasured. I wanted the opportunity to treasure the ways of moving/being of my friends and peers.

And that’s where I am right now. I am dreaming up a new piece to begin work in the fall. I have asked to work with three dancers who I admire greatly. I am interested in infusing that process with these concerns, cultivating an appreciation of the body as the source of (choreographed) identity, an appreciation of the intimate exchange between choreographer and dancer. We’ll see how that works itself out.

2 Comments so far
Leave a comment

I’ll have to think about all of what you just wrote for a week before I can really start to understand it. But I’m reminded of how in creative writing classes sooner or later writers are asked to imitate another’s style of writing; parody it, kind of. And while not quite as upsetting to think about imitating another’s writing style as it is to think about imitating another’s movement signature it, too, seems frustration-inducing. Anyhoo. Love you/miss you.

Comment by Clara

Love and miss you too.
I would love to hear more of your thoughts on this, if and when you feel able. This is a big new idea for me, and I the more dancer/choreographers/artists/people who might offer their input (especially those as intelligent, sensitive and talents as you), the better I think the ideas will become themselves. If that makes sense.

thanks for dropping by!

Comment by morrismichaelj

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: