michael j. morris

Trio A, Labanotation, dance as text, and the validity of phenomenological hermeneutics

I’ve been spinning in a sea of sources . . . and I really need to be writing the paper/presentation itself. I even have some sense of what it is going to be, how it will all shape up, but I feel stuck in the “information gathering” phase.

I’m writing a paper, you see. Another paper. I feel a little exhausted of writing mediocre papers every ten weeks. I think I have written a large paper every quarter that I’ve been in grad school. They are never completely what I want them to be, they never have the time to develop into what I aspire towards as far as quality writing, and I have yet had time to return to any of them because there is always yet another paper to write. I keep telling myself that one day I will have time to revisit some of that work, revise what feels worth revising, seek publication for that which continues to feel relevant. But for now I am forging ahead on yet another relatively mediocre paper. This one is orbiting Trio A: I am looking to consider the dance as text, dancing as a site for knowledge, and the “embodied scholarship” that the program I am in so adamantly advocates but seems to so rarely achieve. I don’t know whether I will achieve anything of consequence in this endeavor, but I felt as if I needed to start trying to make those connections: how can the dancing body by the site of research, the formation of knowledge, the “doing” of history and theory. Trio A became a kind of “case study” for this hazy methodology. More specifically, my process has involved reading/dancing Trio A, choreographed by Yvonne Rainer in 1966, as notated by Melanie Clark and Joukje Kolff in 2003. To be clear, I have learned this dance from Labanotation score. The piece was notated as it was taught by Rainer at the London International Summer School. Already the process has become more complicated. Where/what is “the dance” (the text)? Is it Trio A as choreographed and performed by Rainer in 1966, or as it was taught and notated in 2003? Or is my Trio A, the dance that is formulated in/as my dancing body, as initiated by this score, the site of investigation? Certainly it seems that my terrain is the spaces in between these various related sites, yet my interest is not in a comparative analysis (although it may come to that). My interest in the dance as text becomes further complicated by post-structuralist perspectives that deconstruct the role of “author,” and situate the meaning of the work not in its writing but in its reading, in reading-as-writing, reception as authorship. The shift of these theories/philosophies into the dancing body, my dancing body, makes my research site even more elusive. My (literal) reading of the dance also becomes my demonstration of it, my formation (re-formation? the relationship is not entirely clear) of the dance as it is danced by/as me.

After reading (most of) the dance from score (I am still a few pages away from the ending . . . which I hate; I want to read/know the dance in its entirety, but because of the deadline of the presentation, I feel myself giving in to yet another aspect of mediocrity in this project. The reality, however, is that I don’t technically need to read the entire dance in order to formulate perspectives on the topics about which I’m writing, and the reading of other sources in which to situate my assertions became necessary in the process) I have begun to situate my understanding of this/my experience in additional literature, spanning phenomenology, phenomenological hermeneutics, issues surrounding notation, reconstruction, staging dance works from score, choreological studies, history as a creative/embodied practice (Susan Foster), intertextuality in dance interpretation, essays by Yvonne Rainer, Sally Banes, Pat Catterson, etc. Here is where I continue to find myself, gathering more and more resources in which to situate my own experience, composing a field of texts in which to allow an intertextual understanding to emerge. It may sound compulsive, but I can’t seem to stop myself. I keep making trips to the library, I keep finding new sources, I keep going down to the Dance Notation Bureau Extension Office to survey more theses on issues in notation. I am so keenly aware of borders of my knowledge, where my understanding of these issues stops. I feel a voracious appetite for needing to have more at my fingertips from which to craft this paper. And yet time is running out.

Things I feel like I know I can say:
I think that the reading of Trio A from score can potentially serve as a stylistic training for the dance itself, this particular dance. I am interested in asserting that the way that the movement comes off of the page for me, without bringing anything else to it in the performative/dancerly sense, one is operating in the “style” of Trio A. There is a doing-ness to the dance, the long sequence of actions as a series of tasks, without pause, one giving way to the next, without variation in dynamics or phrasing. It is my experience that in embodying the dance as precisely as possible from the way in which it is written, this in the way of moving that the writing produces. Unlike other dances in which the reader/performer is expected to add to what is offered on the page, flesh it out (what an appropriate idiom) with expression and style and energy. Trio A asks for none of this. The score serves as a sequence of instructions for tasks, and that is the expectation for the dance.

I feel as if there is an education as to the nature of being in its embodiment, something about a pervasive, connective quality that is suffuse throughout . . . in the dance it is the almost meditative quality of the movement, the dynamic without variation, and the manner in which that way quality permeates and relates the 31-page sequence of unrepeated actions. Each moment is distinct, discrete, markedly unrelated to every other action in the dance; that was part of Rainer’s intention. And yet this suffuse, pervasive quality makes connections, addresses an underlying consistency through the body, through time, and space. I also feel as if it offers an education in the egalitarian nature of the body, no part more important than the other, and a similar commentary/perspective of three-dimensional space, no part receiving more attention than another. There is an awareness of “front,” but no addressing of front (in fact, a specific avoidance of addressing “front,” democratizing the space from its previously established theatrical hierarchy).

And that’s what I have. I need to plough through a few more sources, then begin to hammer out this paper. I need to dance the piece again and again and give more attention to how I construct its meaning from the various texts between which I have now situated it. This will be my Sunday afternoon. And likely most of the week to come. I just needed to address this project in a different space.

This week is the last time we will do “Autumn  Quartet.” Very complicated feelings surrounding that. The most prominent are a deep sadness and a kind of relief. But I don’t really have time to unpack that right now. Back to work.


3 Comments so far
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i’ll be there on the 10th.

Comment by CoCo Loupe

I’m so glad!
Miss you. Can’t wait to see you.

Comment by morrismichaelj

Geez, though I know you wrote this 3 years ago I want to say thanks! I am a dance teacher and I have my students view Trio A and without a doubt a great majority of them “experience” anger that this is considered dance. Though we go over the intellectual process of Rainer’s ideas of space and time of which you so eloquently state here, most have trouble embodying the notion of the movement, reason, purpose of Rainer’s choreography. Then again most of my students experiences of dance come from studio/competition format and the revelation that dance can exist in another way shocks their senses. Is the phenomenon of this dance only experienced by dancers who understand and can ‘feel’ the reason of Rainer’s dance? I really enjoyed this, and I just want to say I am going to use your realization of Trio A and Rainer’s purpose for the choreography in my classes.

Comment by sarahvicki1962

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