michael j. morris


“About” in the round
5 April, 2009, 6:50 pm
Filed under: creative process, Dance | Tags: ,

Today I staged two informal showings of my choreography “About” that premiered in March in the OSU Department of Dance Winter Concert. The cast and I were both interested in experiencing the piece in a circular space and how that spatial reconfiguration might effect the perception of the work, both from the inside and the outside. I was also interested in staging it in a circular space in which the piece might be viewed from above (re: the Guggenheim). Sullivant Hall has two rotunda’s, one that is left over from when the building was a museum, with marble floors and columns, a domed ceiling, circular walls, and intimate lighting. The other is the front entrance for the building, a major thoroughfare, that has a mezzanine above that wraps around the space, closed in with glass, allowing you to view the first floor from above. These were our performance spaces.

I am full of thoughts after the fact. I feel a deepening postpartum emotion, realizing that this was the “final” performance for this life cycle of this work. While I’m sure that this is a piece I will revisit in the future, recontextualize, and restage, this is likely the final performance with this cast, with this specific version of the piece. And I feel something akin to grief with that realization.

The other major thought process is how these showings did so much more than I expected of them. Not only did they reveal to choreography in a new way (there were structures that I never even realized were in this piece), they explored the social context of dance performance. The first showing was incredibly intimate, with an audience of five seated no more than a few feet away from the dancers. The second was perhaps one of the most public performances I have ever staged, and both of these feel into sharp contrast to the traditional theater context of dance performance. In the traditional space, no matter the size of the audience, there is a basic common understanding of what is transpiring. Whether or not the audience fully engages with or “understands” the work, they understand that they have come to a dance concert and that what they are seeing is being presented as dance. This common understanding was heightened in the intimacy of today’s first showing, with only a few of us watching with an intimate knowledge of dance, this particular choreographic work, and the purpose for presenting it in the space in which is was being presented. In poignant contrast, the second showing had no common understanding. Spectators were puzzled as they came upon a group of seven people dressed in uniform attire, moving so slowly that motion was almost imperceptible. Many simply stopped and watched with no understanding of what it was they were seeing. Several people asked what was happening, asked questions about specific gestures, asked about choreographic structures and what sort of information the dancers had been given to do what it was that they were doing. This was the treasure of the second showing, offering points of access into dance to two or three viewers, points of access that can potentially inform their future understanding of dance. Maybe. It makes me think of “Synchronous Objects” offering insight into the nature of choreography through the exposition of choreographic structures in a single piece, “One Flat Thing, reproduced.” The scale and scope are clearly incomparable, but something about having this viewing space removed from the work itself offered a real-time liberty for viewers to raise questions about what it was that they were seeing down on the first floor beneath us. This was an exceptional opportunity for me in my work.

I was also shocked at how vulnerable this second showing felt. Whereas as the first had a sense of immense privacy, the second felt as if we were undressed in a public space. This was my sense as the choreographer, and this experience was only amplified for the dancers in the piece, literally bare (the costumes are more revealing than one might find in everyday “street wear”), clearly Other by the nature of what they were doing, almost a world apart, and yet so clearly present in the natural world. The sense of exposure and of being on display were so much more than we imagined; I am incredibly proud of them for taking this step in their artistic/performance journeys as dance artists. 

And those are the only thoughts I have time to share at present. There is other work that demands my attention.

Here are videos of the first showing today:



Constellations of Thought

I am so overwhelmed at the prospect of sitting down to write this post, and I can hardly even justify the time, knowing that it will be insufficient and incomplete (as are most things) for all that I am interested in exploring/expressing. And I have not even expanded on my “tag cloud reflection” in my last post. But I also feel that in three days of this new quarter, with new and important classes, as well as the density of inspiration coming from all of the Forsythe work in and around OSU/the Wexner, I am adrift amongst veritable constellations of thought. I am sure that I will only be able to address a few specific ideas, and even then, from light years away (as opposed to the microscopic examination I would prefer), but here we go. In no particular order.

Yesterday I attended a lecture by Alva Noë. His primary research concerns are philosophy and cognitive sciences, specifically exploring the nature of consciousness. He posits that consciousness in action, it is something we do, not some internal phenomenon that exists somewhere in our brains. He is questioning a somewhat established assumption that consciousness takes place specifically in the brain, and that thus on some level we are our brains. He asserts that the brain is only a part of the larger structure of consciousness.

And all of this is fascinating to me, especially in the context of dance.

But more of what I would like to address in these brief lines, in this brief time, is his comparison or art and philosophy. I commonly reference my choreography as being specifically concerned with the exploration of aspects of the human condition through the moving body. In a sense, it is an action of philosophy (and research). The piece I just premiered in March, “About,” was previously entitled, “Phenomena to Noumenon: This Simple Thing,” which is essentially a philosophical discourse concerning the nature of reality and perception, objectivity and subjectivity. Noë began by saying that art has been a problem for philosophy for a long time (in the same sense, philosophy is the central problem for my art), asking what is art, what is its value, can it produce knowledge, etc. He asserted three points:
1. Both philosophy and art either have neutral or no subject, or their subject is the whole or time and space, anything about which there can be thought, consciousness itself. Unlike other fields, they are not subject specific but more a way of approaching or addressing subject, which might be anything, and certainly arises out experience and thus consciousness.
2. Both philosophy and art find themselves problematic. Both raise the question for themselves, “How can a dialectic that does not need to produce results be a thing of value?” Both are in a constant state of reevaluating, recontextualizing, reenvisioning and questioning the nature of themselves, what they are and what they do. This relates to a subject Bill Forsythe has spoken on several times this week, that of doubt. We as artists/dancers/choreographers/philosophers are problems to ourselves because we have the ability to doubt or question what we know of ourselves, what has been previously established in our fields.
3. There is a blurring distinction between method and result, process and product. There is a sense in which the results of both philosophy and art only have value in the context of their methods/processes, and thus where on ends and the other begins because a difficult edge to find.

Noë also spoke about the nature of understanding, of understanding or recognition as the essential way in which the world reveals itself to us, and that this understanding is one of context. We recognize a thing in that way in which it fits within our frame of reference, our particular continuum of experience. A thing is unrecognizable, unseeable, when it completely unexpected, when you don’t even know what to look for. This is perhaps one of the values or interests of art, that it cultivates an ability to truly see, to recognize and understand, a microcosmic experience reflecting the macrocosm of all of life. All human experience is a process of bringing the world into focus through understanding and consciousness. Engaging with art gives us the opportunity to cultivate this process of understanding; it is the domain of investigating the process of perception and understanding.

And this is the work of “Synchronous Object for One Flat Thing, Reproduced” (NOW LIVE! CHECK IT OUT!). It is the process of cultivating the experience of understanding. If understanding is truly a phenomenon rooted in a context for perception, than understanding is the problem addressed by “Synchronous Objects.” It the exposition of choreographic work and information in the form of choreographic objects, or visual or pictorial expressions or representations. 

Today, in conjunction with the launch of “Synchronous Objects,” the Wexner Center for the Arts and the Department of Dance at OSU hosted the Choreographic Objects Symposium, bringing together a panel of collaborators and experts in the fields of dance, computer programming, animation, geography, architecture, philosophy and beyond to discuss the work of this project. I cannot possibly address all that was said by which I was inspired, but I will throw out a few key moments.

Maria Palazzi, the director for the Advanced Computing Center for the Arts and Design, commented of the process of understanding through the process of making, the creative process as an act of recognition or understanding. This ties directly into the lecture Noë, and adds another layer, taking consciousness as action into an area in which context for understanding is constructed through the process of making. This was a consensus across the panel, many of whom had very little experience with dance previous to this project, that is doing this work, in creating about this choreography, the choreography became legible for them. The hope is that these points of entry that emerged during their creative work are then transmitted into the objects offered on the new site. It raises new ideas (or new to me) concerning the development of audience literacy in our field. Beyond the incredible work that has been done on this project, what is the potential for making dance legible through creative activities? An obvious application is that once people take dance classes, they understand dance further, but what are other creative (by which I mean generative, making) activities in which might audiences in order to make this art form more accessible? In order to establish a context in which understanding might thrive?

This relates to ideas that are coming up in my graduate teaching seminar with Susan Hadley about the relationship between content, the organization of material, and methods of communicating. What are the ways in which we transmit information?

Which connects to ideas I have been pondering surrounding the application of Labanotation to adjacent dance studies. I am finding my research profile situating itself somewhere between choreography/composition and history/theory; notation serves as a ready link between the two. In Labanotation, choreography becomes a written history, and a written history becomes choreography. I am becoming more and more interested in how this system might lend itself to embodying what is essential an embodied history. Far too often I find that we read, write, view and listen to our dancing history. It is transmitted textually, orally, and visually, but rarely corporeally. I am curious about the potential for notation to lend itself to the study of history, giving students the opportunity to embody seminal dance works that have previously only ever existed for them in disembodied translations. I am considering taking a Labanotation Teacher Certification Course this summer to these ends, to fuel this inquiry. 

Amidst much of this other thought there is the constellation of Somatics. I am taking a course this quarter with Abby Yager that surveys various somatic forms and methods. It may reveal itself to be one of the most significant (to my own interests and research) courses that I have taken thus far at OSU (and I have taken some incredible courses). Among its goals are:
-to cultivate deep listening
-to awaken awareness and clarify a sense of Self 

These are essentially my primary research interests in dance. I am fascinated by how awareness comes from movement of the body and how awareness then affects the way in which the body moves. Ever since I experienced the work of Pauline Oliveros (who has developed a musical/meditation technique described as “Deep Listening”) I have been interested in what a “listening body” might be, and more specifically, how it might move, and how choreography might arise out of that movement. I have felt a resonance of this idea in the somatic fields, but having it so explicitly stated in the syllabus excites me to know end (I am also in a course with Bebe Miller entitled “Creative Processes” exploring the process by which we make dances; I am interested to see how this research interest might be addressed in this composition course, supported by the work I am doing in Somatics with Yager).

My larger research interest has been evolving into something like “the choreography of identity,” the ways in which we come to recognize ourselves and others through the ways in which we move, and how we participate in the formation of who we are through these same processes. Clearly this relates to awareness. It also relates to issues of gender representation, queer theory, gaze theory, relational politics, social conditioning, etc. And it addresses another larger issue, that of the individuals connection to their body. I am interested in resisting the dualistic Cartesian model in which the body is merely the vehicle for the mind, the mind being the essence of the individual. The individual is composed of a mind-body, a body-mind, a cohesive, holistic, inseparable unit. A person is as much their body as they are their mind, and in honoring this fact, we discover that part of knowing ourselves and knowing one another is through an awareness and investigation of the body. This was illustrated in a piece that I designed in my seminar with Ann Hamilton and Michael Mercil last quarter but have yet to enact entitled KNOW(TOUCH)ME(YOU)(MY/YOUR BODY) in which participants engage in a physical conversation with one another, directing one another in a dialogue of physically exploring one another’s bodies.

And perhaps here is where this post comes full orbit and finds its pause: beginning with cognition/consciousness as more than the brain and ending with the person as more than the mind. The essence is that it is through the body that we come to know. Through dancing, through making, through embodying history through a practice of Labanotation, through somatic study, etc. we come to know ourselves and the context that makes up that concept of Self.

Other subjects that deserve attention but must wait for some other time: seeing the performance of “Monster Partitur.” Twice. The process of continuing work of this new piece “Red Monster,” and how it relates to the subject of identity and a sense of Self. The potential for “Synchronous Objects” to inspire further investigations into the representation and exposition of dance and choreographic knowledge. Briefly, this relates to a conversation I had with a friend this evening after the symposium. He raised the question of how this work might be continued. Forsythe has expressed interest in developing a Motion Bank, a library of these sorts of investigations, and while he is currently pursuing funding for the next addition to this “library,” one wonders how else this continuum of information my evolve. Partly, I see it as present in endeavors such as this blog (in the most basic and fundamental of ways): by this blog serving as a public creative platform, I am contributing to the exposition of the internal information of my dancing/choreographing life. I think the more interesting potential evolution of this “library” is one that emerges from public culture, embedded in public culture, rather than continuing to develop out of the work of a single (admittedly remarkable) choreographer. That is yet one more potential development for “Synchronous Objects,” how it my inspire and provoke additional investigations of a similar nature . . . 

And finally an announcement for my readership:
For those of you at OSU or in Columbus:

This Sunday, 5 April, I am restaging “About.” The cast and I had a particular interest is re-contextualizing the work site-specifically. We were interested is how it might be experienced in a circular space, and also how its choreographic structures might be further revealed when seen from above. So this Sunday we are going to explore the piece in these contexts by performing it in both Sullivant Hall rotundas, first in the one next to Studio 6 (the entrance faces Mershon Auditorium) around 5pm, followed by the High Street rotunda (the entrance faces High Street, between Sullivant Library and the Music and Dance Library). The first rotunda offers a circular, domed space with seating in the round, the second has a full mezzanine, from which the piece can be viewed in the round and from above.

I am not particularly advertising this event; it is less about a public performance and more about exploring the nature of this choreography in a different space. It will be informal, and there is no pressure to be in attendance. I simply wanted you to know that this was happening in the event that you had an interest in experiencing the work in this context. 

 

 



Responses, and sights to see
23 March, 2009, 12:04 pm
Filed under: art, inspiration | Tags: , , , , ,

This weekend I made a twenty-four hours trip to Cincinnati. I saw wonderful art and was struck by new ideas. The foremost is something like emphasizing sensation (seeing, hearing, touching, etc.) as experience , before association, connotation or association (which I see also as valid stages of experience, but not the “new” idea). When I returned to Columbus, I took a walk to Goodale Park by the Short North and sat and watch and listened for over an hour. I didn’t try to construct narratives for what I saw, I attempted to associate it with previous experiences as little as possible. I just wanted to see and hear and feel. Here is what stayed with me:

-a wedding photo shoot. the bride is a creamy silk dress and flat shoes. the shimmering light reflecting from the surface of the little pond displayed on the folds and ripples of the silk dress in the gentle breeze.

-a group of college boys playing some sort of game where they threw balls. I couldn’t figure out the rules at all.

-a goose that sat on the rock in the middle of the pond the entire time I was there. never left the rock. sometimes it would stand on one leg.

-a woman who looked like my friend Nikki from Jackson with three small children. I slipped a little, made an association, and felt as if I was seeing a premonition of Nikki’s future family.

-an overweight couple walking around the park most of the time I was there. I couldn’t help but be pleased by people choosing to make positive choices for their health.

-the sounds of dogs and adults and children, cars, the wind in the branches, and a low drone that could have been distant traffic, but was more unrecognizable. A droning.

 

This weekend in Cincinnati I saw an exhibit by a friend Eric Ruschman entitled “My Tiger, My Heart: paintings and improvisations by Eric Ruschman” at Semantics Gallery. Eric’s paintings frequently deal with issues of childhood, innocence, and a more subtle darkness beneath the surface of these. In this work, one of his primary subjects is his feline roommate, St. Kitten. The titles for the paintings are sometimes witty (“St. St. Kitten,” in which she is depicted with a luminous, moonlight silver halo), almost always situational (“St. Kitten in the Forbidden Room,” “St. Kitten, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” etc.). The almost feel like serial children’s stories, in which a central character is traced through different places and spaces. You can read a more in-depth description of the work by Matt Morris (my twin brother) here.

st_kitten_as_salome_detail

"St. Kitten as Salome" by Eric Ruschman

 

I also had the privilege of being present for an “artist walkthrough” by my brother at his own installation at Mount Auburn Presbyterian Church entitled “A White Hunter, A White Hunter is Nearly Crazy.” During the walkthrough, one viewer referenced John Cage’s “Four Minutes Thirty-three seconds” in reference to the work, commenting how both demarcated a space in which to have an “art experience” as opposed producing a specific object/composition intended to exist as art. This was fairly central to the way in which I experienced the work. The presence of the installation elevated the details of the space that had not been installed. This elevation of the mundane is a powerful art experience, one which I applaud. You can read more about this installation on Matt’s blog here

mtauburn1

"A White Hunter, A White Hunter is Nearly Crazy" by Matt Morris

 

Both of these exhibits contributed to my desire to just see, just hear, just sense, with as little association or meaning-making as possible.

A dear friend and colleague CoCo Loupe posted a sensational response to my piece “About” that just premiered March 12-14. For those of you who saw the piece, I encourage you to read and share her experience. For those of you who did not see it, I hope it might offer you further insight into the work I produced and an experience of it.



Impermanence: “Monster Partitur,” Meredith Monk, “About” and “Passage”

I have been both thrilled and overwhelmed at the response to my last post. it amazes me how quickly anything on the web can go viral in so few hours. Thank you all for reading (if you are continuing to read); I hope my reflections offered you insight into this experience and provoked contemplations of your own.

I have further contemplations/connections to reflect upon emanating from this experience working on the constructions and tracings for “Monster Partitur.” For days now, despite the sound scape that has been present in our work space (that has ranged from Madonna, to BT, to Jay Brannan, to Cirque du Soleil, to the Cranberries, etc.), the sounds that are constantly occurring to me come from Meredith Monk’s album impermanence. Released last year, it was a composition triggered in response to the unexpected death of Monk’s partner, Mieke van Hoek, in 2002. It has been discussed as a meditation on death, loss, and the fragility of human life. You can read an article about the piece and Monk’s thoughts of music for posterity, and listen to a few of the tracks (I highly recommend “Last Song” as one of the most profound pieces of music I have ever experienced) from NPR here

I assume the connections between this work and the work with which I have been participating are fairly evident. Both are responses to or expressions of loss and grief, both contain a meditative quality on the transitory nature of life, of all things. Both raise issues concerning that which is left behind, the translation of an impermanent experience into a lasting trace, be that trace in musical composition, or graphite drawings on plywood panels. 

Monk offers these words in the liner notes of impermanence:

“How does one create a work about impermanence? One can only brush upon aspects of it; conjure up the sensation that everything is in flux, everything constantly changes, we can’t hold onto anything. What we have in common as human beings is that we will all die and we don’t know when or how. We will lose our loves ones, our own health and finally our bodies. Keeping this in mind leads to a deep appreciation of the moments we have, to not take anything for granted.

“In a way, making a piece ‘about’ impermanence is an impossible task. I could only imply it, offer glimpses, create music that would be evocative but would also leave space for each listener to have his or her responses. Generally, the music for impermanence is more chromatic and dissonant than what I usually write. My music tends to be modal while in this piece I explored other harmonic possibilities. The themes to the piece seemed to suggest the musical language that I found.

“In the past I composed primarily for the voice and deliberately kept my instrumental writing simple and transparent to leave space for the voice to fly. now after composing my first orchestral work and string quartet, I have begun to open up to the rich qualities of instruments. From the beginning, I wrote the voice as an instrument; now I am allowing myself to think of the instruments as voices . . . ” 
-Meredith Monk

Themes that this short passage bring to mind are the elusiveness of the impermanent, or perhaps even our condition at large; ending as more accurately changing, shifting, becoming; the inevitability of ‘endings;’ allowing space for the personal experience, the subjective, and the awareness that reality itself is objectively inaccessible, but perhaps apprehend-able as a conjunction of subjective experiences. 

How does one directly address that which is fleeting, constantly shifting, or gone? More elusively, how does one go beyond addressing a thing that is impermanent, and address the condition of impermanence? I’m not sure I would know how, and yet I find that both Monk and Forsythe have found solutions to this inquiry. As Monk states, she does so by implication, brushing the service of a thing, a state of being, that refuses to stay, to still. In my experience of this work with “Monster Partitur,” I find impermanence is addressed by facilitating an experience in which the relationship between that which is impermanent and the record of that thing is brought to the fore-front. I am not sure how that will translate into a solo performance, nor how it will reside in a gallery exhibition. Nor am I certain that a meditation on impermanence is the goal of “Monster Partitur;” yet that quality and subject have been essential to my experience of this project. I will be unable to view the “product” of this work without the connotation of loss, of creating and recording and destroying, of marking that which will shortly no longer remain, and how all of this pertains to the human condition.

Without a major segue into a discussion of my most recent work “About,” I did want to relate that piece to this discussion. First, there is the reality that it is “over,” that this process and performance with this cast, with this piece in this form, is now passed. I am experiencing the familiar “postpartum” grief of a lengthy process coming to a close. I am grieving that loss in a sense. Which certainly relates to the subject at hand. I am wondering the ways in which the piece now lasts, in body and cognitive memory, but also as concept or information, as a “choreographic object” (to allude further to Forsythe’s research), and how that choreographic information might find expression or realization in another form. A professor of mine speculated today whether this piece might become a sort of “life work,” continuing to be questioned, carrying its concerns throughout my life, with new dancers, new spatial situations, new configurations of the concept. What if the cast was larger? What if it evolved into an evening length work? What if it was seen from above, and the full complexity of the spatial patterns could be appreciated (perhaps is a space like the Guggenheim, where, remarkably, Monk just presented a performance of her “Ascension Variations” this month).

monk_ascension_guggenheim2

photo by Stephanie Berger for The New York Times

 

The question concerning “About” has become how might it live on in this field of constant flux and change? How might it’s “ending” contribute to a future “beginning”? 

This is another larger speculation that has recurred in my own work, but become more acute in this experience with “Monster Partitur,” the question of ending as something like an illusion. Perhaps nothing ends absolutely, but instead participates in a collective state of reorganization. This was the inspiration/subject of a piece I choreographed in 2007-2008 entitled “Passage.”

passage_reach

photo by Clara Underwood

It was a reflection of our human aversion to death and ending, the inevitability of loss, and an awareness that as any thing ends, it contributes to the formation of something new. I was thinking about decomposition as fertilization, or the conservation of matter/energy, how nothing truly ends absolutely, but instead in reconfigured, reorganized, to become something new. 
[You can see videos of “Passage” here or here.]

This speculation does shift me experience of the work on “Monster Partitur.” Yes, it is an exercise in perceiving impermanence, yes, there is a gravity in creating tracings of that which will cease to exist, and relating that experience to my personal experiences of loss and memory. But even in the loss, something new comes into being. It is not the thing itself, but it is the evolving expression of the thing. The trace, the translation, becomes the embodiment of that which no longer exists, and in that sense, it does continue to exist, reorganized into a new configuration, into new materials, new spatial and temporal situations, but born of the loss of what was.

This is perhaps all art. Nothing is truly created because all that exists always has and always will. The work that we do when we “create” is reconfiguration, reorganization, making and describing connections that perhaps had not been made before. The artistic/creative process is feeling like an eternal three-step-program, something like “the idea, the realization of the idea, the trace or record of the realization,” in which the tracings or that which remains from that which no longer exists becomes the basis of the next idea to be realized. In this sense, impermanence is a constant state of being more related to change than ending.



Monster Partitur and Memory

I have had an overwhelming day, following an already overwhelming week. Today we began work at the Wexner on the sculptures and drawings that will serve as the score for William Forsythe’s “Monster Partitur” that will be presented at the Wexner in April. I don’t know everyone else’s experience with this process, but it has brought me into a deeply contemplative, introspective, internal place. And yet I also feel like my thoughts are drowning in one another, in need of some sort of organization. That is what I will attempt to do here.

I think my foremost awareness after today is how much choice and arbitration is a part of art making, living, recording, memory, etc. This process of constructing sculptures from cardboard “human skeleton” kits was an elaborate exercise in choice making. These choices were a negotiation of personal aesthetics, group collaboration, restrictions that had been put on the choice making (such as each piece needs to become three-dimensional, but can only be folded along the originally implied ‘fold lines’), informed by gravity and the shadows cast by the sculptures, with the foreknowledge that the primary purpose of these constructions is to serve as shadow casters, shadows that will then be traced and serve as the “score” for the dance. In each moment we were asked to make a decision: how to fold the cardboard units, how to assemble them, how to suspend them in order to cast light through them, how to orient them in the light, which shadows to privilege in the drawing, etc. I became keenly aware of the infinite field of potentialities within every moment, and I felt a bit overwhelmed by that awareness, and by my mantra, that to do any thing is to do so to the exclusion of all else in that moment. That can be sometimes too heavy, and starts raising questions concerning the importance (or lack there of) of every moment. More on that later perhaps . . .

My second large existential issue in today’s experience concerns . . . what remains of something that is impermanent. What is left behind, and in what form. Such as these shadows that are in themselves impermanent traces of these sculptural forms, traces that vanish as soon as the light changes. I began to think of what remains of the impermanent, primarily in the form of memory or representation. I am very aware that the medium in which I operate (dance) is extremely transitory in both time and space. It exists only briefly and then is gone. Part of the research that Forsythe is doing with OSU on the “Synchronous Objects” project is how those impermanent experiences leave traces that are then translated into other remaining forms. I’ve done some work cataloguing images of “movement traces” of my own work, in an attempt to see what occurs over time, what is energetically ‘left behind.’ There is a sense in which I have made my peace with this transitory nature of dance, with the consolation that it continues in a new form, the form of memory, within the bodies of the dancers, and within the cognitive memory of both the dancers and the viewers. Today this came into question . . . as I drew the shadows of these sculptures, the question of accuracy came to mind. I was companioned by the awareness that the marks I was making were the only record of that moment, that shadow, that impermanent situation and its orientation, and with that awareness came an incredible concern that what I leave behind was as accurate as possible. I recognize that the subject of accuracy itself is complex. What is the most accurate, the most correct? All knowledge of a thing is filtered through subjective experience, and so my drawings, reacting to these shadows, are obviously “accurate” to my experience within each moment. But what of the thing itself, the inaccessible objective sculpture, the shadow it casts? It seems a bit insignificant, the accuracy of a shadow, but the pressure is a familiar one. It occurs in the performance of choreography, attempting to honor the original intentions of the choreographer as accurately as possible. It occurs in the record of history, attempting to leave behind precisely that which occurred, as objectively as possible. It occurred today with the memory of the dead.

Here is where today’s experience became incredibly personal and emotional. I was very aware of the fact that this piece, “Monster Partitur,” exists in response to the death of Forsythe’s wife to cancer, and his grief surrounding the experience of losing her. I made a choice to hold that awareness in mind as I made these sculptures and tracings, recognizing and referencing the origin of what it was I was doing, and allowing it to become personal. I began to think of my grandmother, Marion Dorice Rogers. She died of cancer in January 2006. My brother and I spoke just yesterday about the length of time in which we grieve/mourn. It is long, and various in its approaches and expressions. Today became a part of my grieving, allowing these drawings to not only be tracing shadows, but an act of grief, allowing that grief to inform the way in which I was drawing, and offering that experience to this larger work. I began to think further about memory and accuracy and that which is left behind, that which we record. And I began to become anxious, that my memory is too imperfect, that already, only three years later, things are missing. The lines are less clear than they were in life. The traces of the impermanent are so much less accurate than the life that was lived.
There are other traces, the unconscious traces that live on in me, the way I do things or think of things that are a direct result of the life of my grandmother. But it is the conscious trace that troubles me, the one for which I feel responsibility and inadequacy and loss.  

This sense of responsibility segued into a speculation concerning the way in which we know a person or a thing. I watched as we cast light on the sculpture from one direction and traced its shadow, made a record of it, then cast a different light from a different direction, leaving behind an entirely different shadow. The traces we left are a negotiation of these two shadows, and neither are the thing itself. This makes me think of the removal of experience, the relationship of the subjective to the objective (hint: this is the subject of my piece “About” which some of you may have seen this week). It also made me aware of the arbitrary nature of memory and record, how in remembering, we are selecting what to remember (consciously or unconsciously), and there is the inevitable omission. Just as in knowing a person, we only ever know them in parts, in certain ways, in specific situations; who we think of when we think of that person is a construction/negotiation of these (sometimes conflicting, sometimes intersecting) perspectives. For a little more existential anxiety, this is not only the way in which we know, but it is also the way in which we are known.

Finally (and this hardly concludes all that I have dwelt upon today, just the major themes), I began to question the density of experience. It should come as no shock to those who know me or my work that I appreciate, almost more than anything, taking time with a thing. Thus slow movement. Thus long rehearsal processes and conversations. It is an effort to fully understand (which is an impossible ideal that I find to be worth reaching towards) or fully appreciate (which we so rarely do). I spend time with a thing, with a dance, with a person, with myself, in order to recognize and appreciate the nuance, the complexity, the uniqueness, and here discover true beauty. This was extremely important at the beginning of the day today. But I confess, as the day wore on, the uniqueness of each line, of each shadow, of each moment, became less important, less rare in a field of the similar. And yet it was still full of its own uniqueness and nuance . . . but in the dense experience of these moments, these lines, these shadows, the distinction became less clear, lost in the speed at which we were moving and the amount of experiences. I have to say I regret that. I regret even more that life can become that way as well.

 

That’s all the decompression for which I have time. Last performance of “This Season” tonight at Sullivant Hall Theatre at 8pm. I hope you can make it.

[EDIT]

I just wanted to offer a few images from our process to hopefully illuminate what I am sure seems a little esoteric. These photos are courtesy of Lindsay:

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inspiration today

I feel the urge to write a “real” post, especially in the wake of “This Season,” the OSU Dance Winter Concert, my piece “About,” and the other work I’ve experienced (last show TONIGHT. If you have an opportunity, I highly recommend it). But it will have to wait. I am off to the Wexner for seven hours to begin work on “Monster Partitur,” about which I am very excited.

Until I write a “real post”, I offer you inspiration for today. These I love:

Alexander McQueen’s ready-to-wear 2009 line:

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Images by Anthony Gayton, sent to me by my friend Maungsai. They made him think of my new piece “About”:

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And finally, also from Maungsai, a tremendous joy in my week:

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Hope you have a truly inspired day!



Upcoming events

Just a reminder for my (local) readership:

 

 I am premiering a new piece this week entitled “About.” It is being included the the OSU Dance Winter Concert. Here are the details:

Thursday, 12 March-Saturday, 14 March
8pm
Sullivant Theater
Tickets are $10 general admission, $5 for senior citizens, students, and anyone with a Buck ID

This concert is a presentation of student work, ranging from undergrad to grad, coming out of the OSU Department of Dance.

This new piece of mine is for seven dancers and includes sounds by Pauline Oliveros and Steven Halpern.

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Also coming up this week is an LGBT film festival at the Wexner. It is the same nights of the Winter Concert, so I will not be able to attend, but if you come to the concert one night and have one or two more evenings free next weekend, I highly recommend this event. I see this sort of programming as an important step in developing a broader awareness of and respect for the LGBT community. By supporting these events, we communicate that sense of value to the Wexner. During a time in our country in which equality is still a question waiting to be answered, it seems increasingly relevant when highly respected, public institutions such as the Wexner issue statements regarding LGBT individuals, couples, artists, and rights in this country.

You can find out the details here.

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from Love Songs being shown Friday, 13 February

 

Other events in which I will be involved a bit farther off are also at the Wexner and revolve around the work of William Forsythe. I have not discussed very much here, but this quarter I am participating in a workshop exploring the studio techniques, ideas, and technologies of William Forsythe, partially through the instruction of Nik Haffner, a former dancer with Forsythe’s company, and an important collaborator on Forsythe’s “Improvisational Technologies.” (“Improvisational Technologies” is a CD-ROM that was developed to illustrate Forsythes methods for improvisation, movement generation, and choreographic devices being employed in his company. Originally for use within the company as a way of educating new company members, the CD-ROM was published in the 1990s and now has become a public resource for informing improvisational and choreographic processes) This workshop, offered through the OSU Department of Dance, is culminating with these Wexner events.

The first is the performance of Monster Partitur delivered by dancer Alessio Silverstrin. Our role in this piece is the construction of sculptural objects and drawings that then serve as the “score” for the piece. You can read more about the piece and details for the performances here. This piece originated from Forsythe’s experience of the illness and death of his wife. In a meeting yesterday, even just hearing the story of how the piece came about became an overwhelming emotional experience. The piece is accompanied by an installation which includes a text written by Forsythe himself describing his wife’s illness. He spoke of her bleeding and of her becoming more and more bent, to the point at which she could no longer dance, set in painful contrast to her remarkable abilities before her illness. This loss of ability,loss of who she once was, and eventually the loss of her entirely, became the source of this piece. After her death, he unwrapped a Christmas present that had been given to her. It was a life-size cardboard skeleton kit. It is from kits such as those that we will create bent, irregular sculptures. It is the shadows of these sculptures that we will trace onto panels. And it will be these traces that will become the “score” for the piece.

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from Monster Partitur. In the image you can see a version of the sort of sculptural objects we will be creating.

This performance is part of a larger exhibition entitled “William Forsythe: Transfigurations” that will be on display at the Wexner. Without writing a paper on Forsythian methodologies, I will offer that much of Forsythe’s research has been in the area of the “choreographic object,” (this article is written by Forsythe and offers a brief explanation of how he thinks of “choreographic objects”) and how the intrinsic information/knowledge in choreography might be explored or translated into other forms (apart from but not excluding the dancing body). This exhibition brings a collection of these “objects” into the gallery spaces of the Wexner. It is the first presentation of this significant body of work in the United States. You can read more about the exhibition here.

Finally, on April 1, in conjunction with both of these components relating to Forsythe’s work, the Wexner is holding a symposium entitled, “William Forsythe Symposium: Choreographic Objects.” This symposium is also coordinated with the launch of a long-term collaborative research project between Forsythe, the OSU Department of Dance, and ACCAD at OSU entitled “Synchronous Objects for One Flat Thing, reproduced.” This research is going live online on April 1, and is the demonstration and explication work exploring this concept of “choreographic objects” and how they open new access points into the knowledge/information of choreography. More about the Wexner Symposium can be found here

 

Many things coming up. I wish I could offer more critical or analytical analyses of each of these events, but for the moment, simply offering the information is all that time allows. Mark your calendars, and I hope to see you there.