michael j. morris


“Out of Context-For Pina” by les ballets C de la B
9 October, 2010, 1:21 pm
Filed under: Dance, dance review | Tags: , ,

Because I have something like 150 pages to read, a full length dance video to watch, two grants to finish, and costume shopping to do, I’m sitting down to write out some of my thoughts on last night’s performance of Out of Context-for Pina by les ballets C de la B at the Thurber in Columbus, OH (a U.S. premiere).

You can take a quick look at the trailer here:

Also, a conversation is unfolding surrounding the work both on facebook and on the Dance in Columbus ning network. Join in the conversation here.

I’ve already shared some of my experience(s) in the above mentioned conversation(s), but I wanted to jot down a bit more of what I’ve been left pondering today:

For me, it was a piece full of citation, approximation, and recontextualization. I found myself swung between laughter, tears, tenderness, and perplexity. It was a work of radical juxtaposition between the sexual, the child-like, pleasure/pain, isolation/community, covering/uncovering, etc. etc. etc., and most importantly, the places in-between these seemingly familiar and stable binarisms. It was full of suggestion and allusion, not in the sense of symbolic or metaphor, but in the sense of starts without always finishing. I was sent down paths of consideration that were not necessarily where the dance itself went; my experience became a (fairly intense) network of the actual and many adjacent imaginary trajectories. The piece was more rich for me because of how much was in the air/in the bodies. There was so much invocation (again, corporeally and aurally, not metaphorically) of popular cultures and their configurations of the body, dance cultures (ballet, jazz, butoh, music video choreography, etc.) and their accompanying expectations for the body, childhood, “disability,”  autobiography and cultural ethnography of bodies . . . I felt as if all of these were tossed into the air, into the space, into/as bodies and then I was left to examine the spaces in-between, the meaningfulness of the juxtapositions/recontextualizations.
For instance, if a body appeared to move as if in pain or “disabled,” what was my reaction? Why was that my reaction? How did that reaction change when set against a thumpa-thumpa beat and one-liners extracted from pop music sang into microphones (another function of the body in space/time)? How did it shift farther in the evolving contexts of dress and undress, covering and uncovering, and the relationality between bodies?

The piece functioned for me as a provocateur, inciting reaction for my examination. When I laughed I was allowed (asked?) to consider why I was laughing. When I was uncomfortable, I had a similar opportunity. When I felt aroused by the near-naked bodies on stage, I was invited to examine/question/consider the situation of being moved towards (or away from) arousal by the bodies being shown to me, the context (a sold out theater, colleagues on either side of me, the implications of deriving pleasure when gazing on bodily spectacle, etc.).
Perhaps this is simply how I’ve come to view dance, or perhaps this work was particularly suited to this kind of viewing, but I felt more drawn towards self-examination in my viewing than I felt moved to consider the “intrinsic” strengths or weaknesses of this piece. I am increasingly convinced of this being a valuable function for the arts (not new, but sometimes overlooked): rather than considering the “quality” of the “dance as product,” I am offered to opportunity to come to this experience as a method for self-and-cultural examination/reflection. When I stand before a painting or film or dance or any work of art, I am being given the opportunity to observe my process of observation and reaction. The art work offers me the concerns and work of the artist, someone other than myself, as a context/site for examining myself.
Because: the dance (or any art work that we encounter) is not simply/only the dance itself, but more specifically our own experience of the dance, an experience constructed and made meaningful from the “materials” offered us by the dance/art work. Just as the world in which we live is the world as constructed and made meaningful in/as/from our own experience, the art work provides the opportunity for examining this condition. Of course we can still consider the formal elements of the work, it’s categorical qualities, etc., but in the end, we are left (perhaps inescapably so) with how those formal elements matter or take on meaning for each of us. Therein lies the opportunity for self-examination/self-awareness.

Other lingering thoughts from the piece

I am continually seduced by the revelation of the discrepancy between the clothed and unclothed body, how we shape and perceive imaginary/ideal (even homogenous) morphologies with our clothing. Bodies uncovered reveal the true range of bodily difference (even when that range is in a sense limited by the fabulous sculpting of the bodies on display last night).

I’m still considering the implications of the dancers starting (clothed) in the audience, undressing for the piece, re-dressing at the end, and returning to the audience (with the transgression of the one undressed dancers moving through the audience during the piece). I’m left considering things like the separation between who/how we think of ourselves and how that takes on definition through the distance of an “other,” and how that who/how is shifted when that distance is collapsed.

I wish I could have spent more time with the final moment of the stage, before the standing ovation when the dancers returned to that space (stack of folded blankets upstage-center, two mic stands left in disarray downstage-center). It was like an installation, a trace of event/action. Even though I had witnessed what had led to that moment, I was still struck by the subtle reference/implication that “something had happened here.” I wish it could have stayed up for a day or two as an installation piece.

I really enjoyed the rampant citation/approximation of popular/dance culture(s). It reminded me of the kind of critical approximations that I experience in Jérôme Bel’s work. It is (for me) not about fully mimicking or embodying that which is cited/referenced; the real liveliness of the piece is in the distance of the approximation. It demonstrates itself as not quite that thing in such a way that feels familiar (perhaps) to anyone who has learned choreography, or imitated dancers in a music video, or tried to look a certain way on a dance floor at a club, or sang along to the radio in their car, or even experience a kinesthetic response to watching any of these things . . . it was in the “not quite” of the approximations, even in the final moment of the piece as the dancers stared sadly into the audience as a sappy song played in the background before they redressed and made their way back into the audience: I didn’t feel as if they were fully employing these familiar “popular” and “dramatic” devices. I felt as if they were showing me something about range of effectiveness and ineffectiveness in these tropes, the kind of cultural hard wiring that informs me “I know what they’re doing; I’ve seen this before and I know its intended effect” alongside the realization that it doesn’t quite work. I was invited to examine my own suspension between knowing the intended effect of the tropes being suggested, the fact that maybe “they don’t work like they used to,” and the flow of my own human condition/self-awareness beneath that all.

I’m sure there’s more rattling around in my messy contemplations, but that’s all I have time for. Back to work.

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