michael j. morris

Too Many Ideas, Too Little Time

I realize that there is paradox in the very fact that I am taking time to blog about not having enough time to serve all of the ideas spinning around in my life. But I am hoping that by giving them each a little attention, enough attention to put them down in words here, I will be making some space in which to function.

Perhaps the most significant and looming is the paper I am trying to author concerning the Love Art Laboratory, Sexecology, and Ecosexuality. I have compiled a bibliography of potential resources for the paper emerging from fields such as Eco-Feminism and Eco-Feminist Philosophy, Queer Ecology, Embodied Cognition, philosophies of Continuum Consciousness, Tantric Philosophy, and Sex-Positivism. It is my growing project/interest to construct a theoretical foundation for considering the expansion of the boundaries of what we conceive of as the body. I am not attempting to erase or denigrate the body; instead, I am interested in constructing a notion of the implication of the body within the perceived universe/environment. I think this may be a potential implication in the notion of Sexecology/Ecosexuality. From this theoretical foundation, I am interested in exploring the sexualization or eroticism of environment, through the implication of the body in the perceived universe/environment, and the potentially positive effects of implicating sexuality in the environment. Big, nebulous ideas. Need refinement. Not sure when there will be time.

Along with these ideas of expanding the boundaries of the body, I have recently been conceiving of the unity of the body and space. The foundation is the same, that our experience of space is essentially perceptual, perception is an essentially corporeal activity, and while that which is perceived may in fact occur separate from perception, within our experience of it, what it is and how we perceive it are inseparable. Thus, the implication of the corporeality of space. The space that we perceive occurs primarily within the bodily experience of it. An adjacent consideration is the continuum of experience of body/space. We never experience our selves/bodies in a void, but always in space. Similarly, we never experience space removed from our bodily context. The two are never known separate from one another. I am interested in how we might conceive of the body and space as unified. What might it mean to consider a dancing body-space rather than a dancing body in space. Ironically, I think these concerns may be addressed in the work of Rudolf von Laban. Specifically in Labanotation, movement and position is analyzed and described as the continual relationship between body and space. Rarely do you read or write the body without reading or writing where it is spatially. I have always considered it as writing the relationship between body and space, but what if it were to be considered as writing the body-space? How might that change the way we consider movement, bodies, ourselves, our environment, our actions, etc.? I think there are connections here worth exploring.

In the vein of Labanotation and relating to the course I am taking in the History and Theory of Postmodern/Contemporary Dance, I have a renewed interest in reading Yvonne Rainer’s “Trio A” from Labanotation score. I read about half of it last spring in my Intermediate Labanotation Course, and I am really interested in reading/embodying the dance in its entirety. I’m not sure when I will have the time to do such a reading/practice, but I have the interest. It may also be a project that could provide a vehicle for exploring these other ideas, the expanding “centrality” of the body (is that appropriate or ambiguous language?), the unity of body and space, etc. It is a desire. I’m not sure if it is one that can be served right now. But I am passionate about dance history and theory integrating dancing as a methodology and even modality of learning. I think notation provides an ideal implement by which to facilitate that integration. To re-learn/learn “Trio A” while studying Judson and the era of Postmodern dance seems like a dream.

There is also the lingering desire to choreograph a solo based on the “Alignment Annotations” object from Synchronous Objects for One Flat Thing, reproduced. I am interested in writing a Motif Description score of the graphic “object” (which annotates choreographic structures of movement alignments across a seventeen person cast), and from that score, generate movement material for a solo performer. There are all kind of levels and implications to that project. I’m not sure when it will be served. Maybe next quarter in “Current Issues” (which is looking at rigorous emergent creative research).

I am also interested in this notion of “sexual epistemology,” or ways of knowing that emerge from sexuality. I have been interested in exploring the methodologies of the field of sexology and investigating the validity for applying those methodologies to dance practice, be that dance pedagogy, choreographic practice, or even the study of history and theory. This is coming out of a recognition within my own creative practice that sexuality is often omitted or ignored in both dance and academia (especially dance academia). While I can’t be sure, I feel as if this is an effect of an underlying sex-negative perspective, that sex and sexuality are somehow compromising or contaminating rather than constructive or enriching. I’m not sure if this will become a significant research interest, but it is definitely an area of personal and creative interest. I think I am most interested in how human sexual behavior is analyzed, categorized, and discussed in fields such as sexology, and how those lens may be applied to or integrated into dance practices. How might we consider dance, movement, and the body for its sexuality, or how might sexuality reveal aspects of dance/movement/the body that were previously unconsidered? I have absolutely no working knowledge of the ideas I am discussing here, but those are my interests on the subject.

And there are always more. More to read about, more to dance about, more to write and talk and dream about. For now, I am back to work on reading and writing. I have “Autumn Quartet” practice tonight . . . as of now, our plan is to only do this piece four more time, including tonight. That makes me sad. And at the same time, it presents a different energy or urgency to the work. We’ll see how that surfaces.

Cloud of Interests

This week I read an article by Alexandra Carter entitled  “Destabilizing the Discipline: Critical debates about History and their Impact on the Study of Dance.” In it she describes history not as neat boxes of knowledge but as clouds of “dispersing interplay” of discourses. My life, art, and interests feel a bit like that right now. I feel as if I have several large foci with small shifting bolts of connective tissue (big ‘ole mixed metaphor) linking them together. Some of these are illustrated in my tag cloud, others are not so concrete as to have a “tag” attached to them. I feel like I am trying to figure out how they all relate, how they inform or reinforce one another, and how the work I am doing might adequately address/serve/interrogate all of these interests.

At the heart of it all is the body. There is the subject of my arching research interests, that of situating the body as the site of the perception, negotiation, and demonstration of identity, and how this state is considered within the choreographic process. Specifically I am interested in considering movement material generated by the body as the extension of personal identity, and examining how the physical practice of movement material constitutes not only the construction of dance but also the construction of personal identity.

From here I am already aware of the paths that connect to other interests. One that seems to be of increasing centrality is the expansion of the notion of the body. This comes up in my yoga teaching, in the paper I wrote about Synchronous Objects, and in the ideas I have surrounding the work of Love Art Laboratory, Sexecology, and Ecosexuality. In yoga I privilege the body as the site of perception. The sage Abhinavagupta wrote: “Nothing perceived is independent of perception, and perception differs not from the perceiver; therefore the [perceived] universe is nothing but the perceiver.” If perception is a physical activity, as Mark Johnson, George Lakoff, and Alva Noë (among others, I am sure) have suggested, and if perception is the unity between the subject and the object (that which is “external” of self, the perceived universe), then the body take on far more importance as the site not only of the subject, but the subjective universe. This is perhaps not a profound recognition, but I think it may have profound implications. Our experience of the world can no longer be entirely considered as a subject moving through an external landscape; instead, the subject (and thus the body) becomes implicated in the “external” world. I think this may be the connection point to Sexecology/Ecosexulaity. The foundation of my understanding of these radical, fabulous, and beautiful notions as they have evolved out of the collaborative work of Annie Sprinkle and Elizabeth Stephens is that one looks to find sexual (thus bodily) content in the natural environment. I think this recognition of the body as already implicated in environmental situation by virtue of its role as the creative/perceptual site for the subjective universe offers a natural extension to the exploration of sexuality in that environment. For more about my ideas surrounding sexecology/ecosexuality, see my earlier post. Going back to my yoga practice/yoga teaching, part of the way in which I understand yoga is a kind of alchemy of self, the “splendor of recognition,” the recognition being that Self is not separate from the universe in which it occurs, consciousness is the substance by which we create our own universe, Self is not fixed, nor is the universe, nor is the body, and that by cultivating this awareness of the body/Self/universe in our yoga practice, we are substantially transforming not only ourselves, but our consciousness, and thus the universe in which we live.

Adjacent (but connected) to these interest is the piece that I am working on right now, Autumn Quartet, with Erik Abbott-Main, Eric Falck, and Amanda Platt. This piece has been in process since September, and I am still not quite sure I understand it yet. There are so many blog posts writing specifically about this piece, I don’t want to be redundant, but the major ideas that have emerged from this process are: the relationship between intimacy and violence, undressing/redressing the body, shifting power dynamics, indeterminacy/agency (as created by the structure for the piece being an algorithmic score), the integration of life and art . . . those are the main ideas. Recently I’ve become interested in how this piece relates to sex, the presence or implication of sex in the piece even in the absence of actual sexual action. As I listened to Jiz Lee and Tommy Midas discuss sex in a couple of docu-porns by Madison Young, I was reminded of this dance. I’m still not quite sure what the connections are, but I think they are there. Part of how I am interrogating those connections is by bringing that text, that language, into the process, into the studio. I am situating it into my commentary on the work here on my blog, and in the sound score for the piece. [On a side note, I follow both Jiz Lee and Madison Young on Twitter, and it was an exhilarating surprise to have both of them tweet about my using that text in this piece]. I think as I watched footage of a run-through of the piece, I also began to make aesthetic associations with several films, a few that I have been thinking about since the start of the piece, and one that I had not considered. The last couple of scenes in Perfume: The Story of a Murderer have always been iconic moments for me, and as I looked at this dance, I recognized images that directly relate to those scenes, namely the wild flurry of bodies in various states of undress, and the biting, consuming, eating of a person. In case you haven’t seen the film, I don’t want to go into too much detail, but it was a new connection for me.

Other points of interest branch out from this piece. I am in a course looking at the history and theory of post-modern and contemporary dance this quarter, and in considering what it is I would like to research for this class, this piece has suggested several points: the utilization of undressing as choreography, its reasoning, its perception, etc.; the explication of violence in choreography in post-modern dance: this has interested me for a while. Much of dance has an intrinsically masochistic quality to it. It is difficult, demanding, and often damaging to the body, in small, overlooked ways. I am interested in tracing the expansion of explicit physical violence in choreography, and considering how it might be indicative of an explication of the intrinsic violence, masochism, and even sadism  of dance practices. I am also considering writing my paper on Love Art Laboratory, Sexecology/Ecosexuality, as a component of this course, as the destabilization of fixed parameters of the body might be considered essentially post-structuralist, i.e., essentially post-modernist.

I have been feeling hungry for Butoh lately. Butoh has been the most transformative, fulfilling, actualizing physical practice of my life. Studying with Yoshito and Kazuo Ohno in Yokohama in 2006 was a formative experience for my dancing life. And yet ever since I came to grad school, the time and attention I have made available for a Butoh practice has been non-existant. I regret this, and at the same time I’m not sure of the solution. And yet all of these things, the body as the site of identity, the situation of the subjective universe, subliminal and explicit violence, these are all aspects that I find that Butoh can address.

I’m interested in applying notions of queer theory to choreographic practice, subverting the assumed normative roles of choreographer and dancer, without reverting to the post-modern model of dancers generating movement/choreographer structuring that movement. While that suggests the (perhaps illusion?) of a democratic process, I don’t know if it has substantially subverted those roles. Again, I think of statements made by Jiz Lee in “Thin Line Between Art and Sex” about being a “switch,” the fluidity of roles, leading and following, and how that sexual perspective might inform not only dance practices (as reflected in forms such as Contact Improvisation), but also choreographic methodologies. Truly, I am fascinated by Jiz’s ideas. They have addressed a whole spectrum of concepts that I have wanted to explore for a while and to which I have not yet given my attention. Jiz also wrote an article in a publication called ArtXX looking at the relationship between cognitive science and queer porn. I just ordered my issue; can’t wait to read it.

Which leads to the last interest that I might address here, and that has to do with a notion I’ve considered as “Sexual epistemology,” or ways of knowing that emerge from sexuality, sex, sexual identity, etc. This sense of considering choreographic process from the perspective of “switch” as suggested by a kind of sexual identity could be considered a kind of sexual epistemology. I am curious about what modalities or methodologies might be suggested by other sexual topics, like penetration/non-penetration, arousal, auto-erotic behavior, kink, etc. I have been interested in how the “sex-positive movement” might address or inform academia, or even more specifically, dance in academia. There has been some acknowledgement of sexual dynamics as playing a role in dance practices, but I question whether these have been acknowledged through as “sex-positive” lens. Carol Queen defines sex-positive as follows: “It’s the cultural philosophy that understands sexuality as a potentially positive force in one’s life, and it can, of course, be contrasted with sex-negativity, which sees sex as problematic, disruptive, dangerous. Sex-positivity allows for and in fact celebrates sexual diversity, differing desires and relationships structures, and individual choices based on consent” (quoted from her article “The Necessary Revolution: Sex-Positive Feminism in the Post-Barnard Era.”). How might our acknowledgement, treatment, and even utilization of sexual understanding affect dance practices in a positive way? I don’t know, but it is a budding interest of mine.

I’m not sure of all the ways in which these interests relate. Nor am I sure of how to give attention to all or any of these during the difficult and demanding period of grad school, but even just by articulating them and cataloguing them here on my blog I feel that I have served the process in some way.

On to other things.

Current Ideas

Because I have neglected my blog since this Autumn quarter started, I feel the need to offer a quick update on thoughts/ideas/creative activity/etc. It will hardly be comprehensive, but I need to take a break from reading; blogging will be my break.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to take a Butoh class with Marianne Kim. It was amazing. it was the most pleasure I have taken in movement in years. I’ll confess, directly after the class, I wanted to drop out of grad school and just go do Butoh somewhere. This is of course not what I’ll be doing, but it did reawaken a need for that way of moving in my life. I’m not sure how that will affect my physical practice, my choreography, or my research . . . but Butoh has been essential to my evolution as a dance artist, and it feels like it is time to return to that “movement home.” I’m not yet sure what that will be.

Last week I started working on a new trio (maybe a quartet if I dance in the piece; I haven’t yet decided). It is one of the most ambiguous works of choreography on which I have ever embarked. I don’t yet know what it is going to be or even what I want it to be; I simply have a field of disparate interests, and this piece is forming somewhere in between those interests (it’s always about the in-between). I feel now that Creative Processes with Bebe Miller in the spring affected me more profoundly than I could have been aware of at the time. I have never just gone into a studio with a cast to see what happens; I always have a plan, an idea of what the piece will be, and even if I deviate from that plan, I have the fundamental structure as my anchor; that is not how I am working with this piece. I began by casting the piece; the cast went through several evolutions. As of now it is comprised of: Erik Abbottmain, Eric Falck, and Amanda Platt (plus myself). I generated several movement phrases. I listed my interests and shared that list with the cast. it included:
-the cooch dancers in the HBO show Carnivale
-the cultural fascination with vampires, with biting, the sexiness of it, the tension between predator and willing prey, the possible relationship to rape fantasies
-Undressing/Redressing; the actual body v. the socially presentable body (many of these ideas I began to explore in the solo I performed in 60×60)
-How we know one another, how we “get inside” who one another are
-Getting inside one another’s clothes (a metaphorical action)
-My larger research interests concerning the constitution/negotiation of identity as the body, the extension of identity in the generation of movement material, the intimate act of choreography in which the movement material (extension of the choreographer’s identity) is transmitted to the body of the dancer and integrated into her own corporeal/kinesthetic identity

I don’t know where this piece is going yet. For this week, we will likely engage in KNOW(TOUCH)ME(YOU)(MY/YOUR BODY); we might try biting one another; I may teach more movement material, and we will review the material we learned last week. The existing movement material is dance-y and a little vulgar; there are choreographed facial expressions (this is likely influx from my History, Theory, Literature of the Analysis of Movement course; we’re looking at Delsatean systems of theory and training; more on this below).

This course (HTLAM: The History, Theory, and Literature of the Analysis of Movement) is a core Ph.D. course in the department. More than anything, the meta-inquiry of the course is, “How do we find movement meaningful, and what are we looking at in order to apprehend that meaning?” We began doing readings in phenomenology, then into analysis of movement for meaning (work by Paul Ekman, David Abram, Charles Darwin, John Martin, etc.) Now we are looking at Delsarte and his theories about the meaning of the body (this is what I am reading about tonight). I am already starting to consider my potential final paper topics. I am thinking about something like: the construction of female identity through Delsarte, compared/contrasted with female identity as constructed through contemporary lesbian dance club practices. Both evolved in primarily homo-social settings but exist(ed) in social structures driven mostly by male power/dominance. I’m not sure yet, but that’s the direction I’m considering.

I finally saw a video of the piece I co-choreographed last year (I supplied a libretto that was the interpreted into choreography) with Audrey Lowry called “Observing Solitude.” I am not yet prepared to write a description/analysis of the piece, or even describe my experience of it beyond simple, stunning beauty. I was very pleased.

I am still in rehearsals with CoCo Loupe, preparing for Anthro(pop)ology II, the piece now entitled “click here for slideshow or 6-12 character limit.” Here is CoCo’s blurb about the piece:

“cocoloupedance will be premiering click here for slideshow or 6-12 character limit. Choreographer CoCo Loupe has structurally designed this piece to metaphorically resemble an internet slideshow. Composed of interconnected (still-framed, slideshow-like) solos, duets and trios danced by Eric Falck, Jeff Fouch, and Michael J. Morris, this work examines the kind of dehumanizing social fragmentation that results from overwhelming over exposure to current trends in rapidly developing technology and mass mediation. CoCo Loupe will sit “in a cafe” on stage and engage in blogging, texting, emailing, and tweeting activities directly related to the performance. Her real-time computer interactions will be projected on a screen in such a way as to question what it means to interact socially in today’s touch screen (rather than touch each other) world.

For more information about cocoloupedance or CoCo Loupe, visit http://www.cocoloupedance.com/

I am writing a grant right now to hopefully travel to San Francisco in December to view/review a show or prints by Love Art Lab at Femina Potens Gallery, and to interview Annie and Beth about their work. Here is my working “project description”:

“I am requesting funding for travel and lodging in order to interview performance and mutli-media artists Annie M. Sprinkle and Elizabeth M. Stephens—who together make up the artist couple Love Art Laboratory—and have the opportunity to experience an exhibition of their work entitled “Sexecology Solo Exhibition” at Femina Potens Gallery in San Francisco. While Sprinkle and Stephens are not specifically identified as dance artists, I find the work of the Love Art Lab to have profound implications for politics surrounding the body, the emergence of progressive physical cultures, and the body as the site for sexual, ecological, and political activism, all of which are relevant conceptual situations for the evolving field of dance. These ideas are expressed and explored through their performance work, including their annual performance weddings, various gallery and alternative space performance installations, and theatrical stage productions, as well as their photography, paintings, and prints.

In addition to the relevance of their work to issues surrounding the body, I am also interested in interviewing Sprinkle and Stephens about their integrated art-and-life practices and the concept of sustainable practices in arts professions. In my analysis of their work, the Love Art Lab seems to produce work that functions not only as their profession, but also as an expression of their personal relationship, their sexuality and sexual identities, their creative interests, their politics and activism, and their ecological concerns. I am interested in hearing them speak on these subjects, and how integrated life/art practices contribute to personal sustainability. I feel that Sprinkle and Stephens may in fact be authorities on these subjects, and there exists very little critical writing about their work as Love Art Laboratory.

It is my intention to review the show of prints at Femina Potens, potentially for publication, and also generate critical writing surrounding their work and the issues discussed above, also potentially for publication or conference presentation. I feel that I have exhausted the limited literature that has been produced about the work of Love Art Laboratory, and I believe there to be value to expanding critical dialogue surrounding their work by contributing to the existing literature. I have yet to have a first-hand encounter with Love Art Laboratory’s work, basis my understanding and limited analysis on existing literature and web documentation of the work. Having the opportunity to experience Sprinkle, Stephens, and their work first-hand would profoundly enhance my ability to write critically about the work, and its relevance to issues that concern both the field of dance and art practices as a whole.”

It’s a draft. it will probably evolve. But it offers a sense of something I am working on/towards.

And that’s all I have time for. That’s my brief offering about my creative life.

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.

Sources of insight and inspiration

I feel as if a new post is dreadfully overdue, but I’ll be honest: I am absorbing a lot of information right now; it hasn’t really had time to synthesize into my own thoughts. So I thought I might just offer a list of what I am taking in right now as inspirations and source materials:

Ballet technique classes with Karen Eliot three days per week. It is amazing to have been practicing this technique for almost ten years now and still have moments of total tidal shifts in my understanding of what it is that I’m doing. Karen is an exceptional teacher.

Reading The Splendor of Recognition: And Exploration of the Pratyabhijna-hrdayam, a Text on the Ancient Science of the Soul by Swami Shantananda. I’m swimming in thoughts of Consciousness (citi) as the creator and substance of the entire universe, the creative pulsation (spanda) of creation, sustainment, and dissolution, the nature of subject and object, knowledge, and the mind. One quote for today (and understand that several terms in this quote are specialized; most importantly, identification of Siva as a specific deity is symbolic, and in fact refers to the Supreme Consciousness out of which all Reality emerges):

“Wherever the ind goes, whether toward the exterior or toward the interior, everywhere there is the state of Siva. Since Siva is omnipresent, where can the mind go to avoid him?”

Reading The Yoga Tradition: Its History, Literature, Philosophy, and Practice by Georg Feuerstein. I am only a chapter into this, but it is an exhaustively precise description of the historic evolution of this complex system of thought/practice.

Reading Normal: Transsexual CEOs, Crossdressing Cops, and Hermaphrodites with Attitude by Amy Bloom. This is Bloom’s only non-fiction, and it is lovely. It is truly queer in that it is completely undermining my concepts of normality, gender, sexuality, social roles, relationships, etc. It is written in an easy fashion on subjects that are less easy to contemplate. For all my support of transsexuals, it is not easy to read about phalloplasty and metoidioplasty female-to-male surgeries. These are complicated, invasive and painful surgeries that are offered as part of an FTM transition. It isn’t easy to read about the tension in relationships between heterosexual male crossdressers and their wives. Etc. And yet I think it is contributing positively to broaden my perspective of identity and society and self-perception/presentation/performance.

Reading Matt Morris’ genius writings on Aeqai: A Journal for Writing on the Visual Arts in the Greater Cincinnati Region. Matt (who is my twin brother) is writing an excellent series concerned with sculpture in public spaces. In them he has touched on concepts of the private/public dichotomy, the relationship between social, psychological, energetic, and geographic space, the relationship between art and identity, etc. They are truly brilliant and worth your time to read.
First installment.
Second installment.

Watching HBO’s In Treatment. This series is GENIUS. I am completely addicted. It follows a psychoanalyst and his progress through the cases of five patients and himself week by week. The episodes are short, generally limited to the content of his sessions. The acting is superb, the writing even better, the filming excellent, etc. Everything I want in a television show.

Listening to Jay Brannan‘s new cd In Living Cover. Jay Brannan is probably best known for his role in the John Cameron Mitchell film Shortbus, but makes beautiful music as well. I loved his first album, and this week he released an album of covers, including Joni Mitchell’s “All I Want” and the Cranberries “Zombies,” among others. Great listening for this week.

Dancing in a new project with CoCo Loupe, Eric Falck, and Jeff Fouch tentatively titled “3 Boys and an Old Prophetess.” No idea where this project is going, but you can read more about it on CoCo’s blog here.

finishing my Elementary Labanotation Certification exam

I have a lengthy to-do list for the summer and I am slowly making my way through it, absorbing and continuing to move and thrive and live. These are pieces of that process.

All come highly recommended.

Integrated Repertory, Composition, and Notation

As part of the Labanotation Teacher Certification Course (TCC) that I am taking right now, we have been asked to design and teach an “integrated” class, in which we find ways of introducing, exploring, or utilizing Labanotation in the context of another course. Examples we were given by our faculty included an integrated repertory experience in which we used notation floor plans as a learning tool for learning a section of Anna Sokolow’s Steps of Silence (taught by Valerie Williams), and modern technique class incorporating the introduction and exploration of the Labanotation movement concept “space holding” (taught by Julie Brodie), and an composition class utilizing Laban’s Motif description as a creative/generative opportunity (taught by John Giffin).

Already we have had excellent examples presented by my classmates, including integrating Labanotation into a Modern dance class for non-majors, a study of embodied dance history looking at Helen Tamiris, a musical theater (or dance for actors) class, and a elementary notation class looking at hula dance. All have been richly informative and inspirational.

I am teaching again tomorrow, and although I have my lesson plan, I am still fleshing out the underlying philosophy of what it is that I am doing. I am planning an integrated Repertory, Composition, and Notation class in which students learn historical choreography from a Labanotation score (for tomorrow’s class, they will be reading a piece of my own choreography from 2007 entitled “Endless Reach”), then create their own compositions from a Motif score of the same dance. I am interested in using this opportunity to question and investigate the nature of choreography and choreographic information. As I am writing this, I can’t stop thinking about the Synchronous Objects project and Bill Forsythe’s essay on “Choreographic Objects.” In his essay, Forsythe question the nature of choreography, its potential to exist in forms other than the dancing body (which he coins as “choreographic objects,” distinct primarily due to their persistence through time); “Synchronous Objects” was a lengthy exploration or demonstration of that contemplation. It examined one dance, one piece of choreography, in which the “essence” of the material was counterpoint, in movement material, alignments, and cueing. This was the “essence” of this particular exploration of this choreography. I remember during the Synchronous Objects Symposium, Bill was fairly explicit that this project was not for the purpose of preserving the dance for re-staging purposes, but for exploring its potential to generate new forms of expressing the choreographic information within the dance. While I am interested in this course providing an opportunity for embodied history, the preservation of dance works by their “re-staging” in contemporary bodies, I am also interested in investigating the nature of choreographic preservation and dissemination. I suppose this entire investigation stems from a question of what is the nature of choreography. More and more I am convinced that it is not “the steps” or specific movements/actions of the dance; historically, choreographers have changes the specific movements of their dances time and time again. In some cases, they have completely recreated entire sections of dances, added or taken away dancers, rearranged sections, edited the music, etc., and yet the piece of choreography itself has been retained. What then is essential to the choreography? And in that question there is another: what must be passed on in order for the choreography to “survive” or continue to live? 

For those reading who are unfamiliar with the difference between Labanotation and Laban’s Motif Description, the former is a more specific notation describing specific movements, positions, timing, etc. Motif, by contrast, is far more open to interpretation. It describes general actions such as “moving on a circular,” “turning,” “jumping,” “standing still,” “gesturing in an arching motion,” etc. capturing the important elements or motifs. The Dance Notation Bureau’s website has an excellent explanation of both Motif and Labanotation. Of Motif, they offer:

“Motif Description is a method of recording movement that is closely related to Labanotation. In fact, many notators consider them subgroups of the same system. They use most of the same symbols and terminology, have a similar format, and both record fundamental components, such as direction, action, dynamics, and timing, that are found in all styles and forms of movement.

The main difference between the two scripts is the type of information they communicate. Structured Labanotation gives a literal, all-inclusive, detailed description of movement, so it can be reproduced exactly as it was performed or conceived. In contrast, Motif Description depicts just core elements and leitmotifs; it highlights what stands out, is most important, or is most impressive. A motif score might convey the overall structure of a dance improvisation, what one should focus on when learning how to swing a golf club, the primary movement features of a character in a play, or the intent of a person’s movement in a therapy session.

An example of Motif Description is shown below (see the example by follow the link to the DNB above and clicking “Motif Description Basics”). The notation indicates the salient components of a dance sequence; other aspects of the movement are left to the discretion of the performer. For instance, the notation states that the first part of the sequence is about turning. The manner of turning is open to interpretation. It might be done on one foot or while sitting on the floor, using a free or controlled quality, finishing with the body facing the front or the back of the room, or with some other variable. All of these interpretations would be valid, as long as turning is the movement’s focus.

The notation is written going up the page, i.e., first there is turning, then flexing, then extending, and so forth. The length of the symbols indicates the timing of the movement; longer indications have a greater time value than shorter indications.”


By drawing from a Motif description of historical dance works, including my own choreography, the choreography itself provides information that shapes the generative process of new work. I suppose another lingering question of mine is “To what degree is this ‘new work’ a dissemination or continuation or preservation of the ‘original’ choreography? To what degree might it be the ‘original’ choreography? To what degree is it something altogether new?” In all restaging situations, there is interpretation, and interpretation is a creative act. There is a sense in which it is both a reproduction of the “original” but also something new “after the original.” The work created tomorrow by my students become “new choreographies after Endless Reach by Michael J. Morris.” And there is a sense in which the choreography’s life has been continued.

More questions than answers, but maybe that’s the way effective, subject-centered teaching happens best, especially when one is “teaching” something like composition or a creative process.

So that’s something that I’m thinking right now.

SIP: An Informal Showing
5 May, 2009, 10:33 am
Filed under: art, creative process, Dance, Grad School | Tags: ,

For those of you in the Columbus (or near Columbus) area:

The First Year MFA candidates in the Department of Dance will be presenting “SIP”, an informal showing of our current work, at 7:00pm on 15 May 2009 in Studio 1 in Sullivant Hall. This event is intended as an evening of sharing our work with one another, friends, faculty, colleagues, and community. The work being presented will be mostly in-progress, and as such, we hope that dialogue and feedback might be part of the sharing process.