michael j. morris

Continued thoughts on Autumn Quartet
10 November, 2009, 12:39 pm
Filed under: art, Dance | Tags: ,

This is more of my pure brainstorming. It may not make any sense to anyone except the dancers with whom I’m working (maybe not even to them), but it is part of the process, and that’s part of what I try to do here: unveil the process.

Raw. Unedited.

“I am at odds with the piece I am making right now . . .

Or perhaps I am not at odds. I feel completely lost inside of it.

Not completely lost . . . as if there is something I know fairly certainly about it, and that thing is elusive behind all these other ideas. I know that there is this thing I know about it, but as soon as I try to look at it directly, define or describe it, it evaporates.

I know what the piece is not . . . when I see it.

There is movement material. Set material, material that I generated and have transmitted to the other dancers, that we will continue to refine. (By refine, do I mean make it look more like the way that I do it, or want to do it? What does that say about power dynamics?)

There are actions in which I am interested:



-touching/feeling/exploring bodies

If choreography is something like:

-the movement material/content of the piece, and

-the structure or organization of that movement

Then I have movement/content with no apparent structure.

Except this crazy notion of “relationships/interpersonal intimacy” as choreographic structure . . .

But this is so elusive.

How do the relationships literally effect the performance/sequence/spatial/temporal organization of the material? How do the relationships decide/dictate who does what/when/with whom/where?

As soon as I begin to contemplate what structures emerge from the relationships, it feels more like structures that the relationships influence rather than the relationships being the structure . . .

How am I thinking of structures?

Maybe an improvised structure involving these elements:

-“new phrase+long phrase” (ends with angry gestures)

-“face phrase+” (ends with flop on side, stay there until someone bites)

-biting (as of now this is only at the end of the “face phrase”)

-undressing (this could happen at any point? Undressing self or someone else, completely or in part)
-when can someone undress themselves:
-in response to “angry gestures,” marching in a circle
-after/during a “biting scene” (at the end of the “face phrase” side flop)
-walking forward from the starting position

-when can someone undress someone else:
-after/during a “biting scene” (at the end of the “face phrase”)
-how much agency remains with the person being undressed? Can they discont

-redressing (this can only take place after everyone is in their “final state” of undress, whatever we decide that is, and can only be putting on articles of clothing that are not the ones with which you began)

-touching (?)(I am thinking about any two people being able to engage in KNOW(TOUCH)ME(YOU)(MY/YOUR BODY) at any point during the piece . . . but this may have to have more stipulations . . . like, only once both people are in a “final state of undress”)

-starting positions/walking forward (this can be returned to at any point)

-To what degree can the movement phrases be done in part?
-Movement material phrases can be done in their entirety from beginning to end
-Can someone join someone else who is already doing a movement phrase? Or do they have to begin that phrase at the beginning in order to create canon/differentiation of roles (if two or more people get to a “terminal point” at the same time, the piece stagnates)
-Movement phrases can begin somewhat simultaneously, and timing inside of the phrase can fluctuate (negotiated by those inside of it)
-Movement phrases can be abandoned in response to “angry gestures” or to enact a “biting scene” at the end of a face phrase

-I think I feel that the “hand sliding game+side flop” is interchangeable with “angry gestures;” both are fairly terminal . . . although I think angry gestures can be abandoned . . . maybe . . . unless angry gestures is a demand for someone to undress . . .

Is that a viable structure? When someone does angry gestures, someone has to respond by undressing . . . and the person doing angry gestures has to keep doing angry gestures until someone responds by undressing . . . after someone begins to undress, the person doing angry gestures can continue to demand the undressing or discontinue at any point . . .

This creates a shifting power dynamic . . . the person doing angry gestures is “stuck” there, under the decisive power of the group . . . the group negotiates who will undress . . . then the person undressing is under the power of the person doing angry gestures

This makes me think (in a much more reserved fashion) of the way we negotiate the reading exercises . . . a polite waiting on one another, waiting for someone to decide to read, and once you begin reading, you read to the end . . . also, the exchange of agency in

I feel that undressing in response to angry gestures might have to always involve marching in a circle around the angry gestures person . . . that circling as another enactment of a power dynamic . . .

When did power dynamics become so ingratiated in this idea of relationships/intimacy?

Maybe the power is paired with trust? Is that what I’m working towards?


2 Comments so far
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“I feel that undressing in response to angry gestures might have to always involve marching in a circle around the angry gestures person . . . that circling as another enactment of a power dynamic . . .”

I feel it is interesting that the angry gestures we do are while we are sitting down. While comparing it to the L Word the men are all standing. However, the circling around a sitting person is almost a contradiction of what the angry gestures are trying to do. Making someone undress would be a controlling action however who would be overpowering whom? if the controller is in a lower position. But looking at Jenny and other performers who are on a platform I’m beginning to wonder what the interplay is between positioning of the audience being below and the performer above but still being subordinate to the audience. It is reversed from say seating in a theatre.

-I desire you, show me. (Jenny- above)
-You are my entertainment. (Ballerina- below)

“When did power dynamics become so ingratiated in this idea of relationships/intimacy?”

I would say they always have been since the invention of gender binary and ideas about the worth of an action/deed.

“Made the power is paired with trust? Is that what I’m working towards?”

I think that you would feel safer with that. That we trust you to make decisions, because I believe power without trust produces fear but that probably goes along with the loss of agency.

-All my stripper friends

Comment by epfalck

Yeah, I think its becoming more abstract from the Jenny/stripping situation. What I find striking about that scene is the anger/ferocity of the men . . . and the interplay of power and control involved. Yes, Jenny (or the stripper, if we want to open this idea up a bit) is the one becoming undressed, and that carries with it this connotation of subservience/subordinance, but she is the one undressing herself. If that situation is an economy of sex, the stripper is the one controlling that economy.

But you’re on to something with this comparison to the ballet/theatrical dance. It’s examining the implication of power in spatial level . . . which I think is inconsistent for the most part. I can think of situations in which the “person of superior position or power” is higher and lower spatially, sitting and standing, etc. I think there is something in the looking . . . that more than spatial level, the one who is looking v. the one who is being looked at might reveal the power structure . . .

But that comes back to the question of who then is really controlling the looking.

The reality of this piece, I think, comes back to this power/trust dynamic, not only between me and you all as choreographer and dancers, but each of us with one another . . . if this kind of improvisational structure using the discrete “chunks” of movement material (each carrying its own “rules” for its execution), then we more or less from the beginning make a contract with one another that these are the rules we’ll play by (because there seems to then be this “gaming” quality to it . . . and maybe there’s something there too), and by playing by those rules, we are actively submitting to being both in power (taking action that necessitates action by someone else) and under someone else’s power (responding, according to the rules, to the action someone else has taken). And the power lines may never even be clear.

For example, if I do the “face phrase+,” I am choosing to end in the “side flop” position, knowing that I will be “stuck” there until someone else responds by engaging in a “biting scene” with me. It puts me a bit under their power. However, once that person responds with the “biting scene,” there action is occurring motivated by the action that I originally took. Who then “initiated” the biting? Whose power is the biting illustrating? And what does it mean that above all of this, it is really something of a game that we have all agreed to play? We take these little actions, surrendering partial agency in response to the actions of others or the overall actions of the group, but only because we have agreed that this is a structure in which we will operate. That is the thread of trust in the power plays . . .

I agree, I think power dynamics have a long history. So maybe it isn’t possible for me to think about this piece emerging from relationships/intimacy without considering the power dynamics of it all. The constant negotiation of agency/intimacy.

Anyway, those are my thoughts today. Back to work for a bit, then maybe a nap.

Thanks for dialoguing. That’s really what I wish happened more on this blog.
See you,

Comment by morrismichaelj

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