michael j. morris

body fluids, queer porn, dildos/cyborgs, shame, sustainability, ecosex

I feel the need to write, to get ideas down somewhere and begin to figure out directions for some of these ideas/projects.

I. Right now I’m thinking a lot about body fluids, the fluid productions of bodies (fluids produced by bodies as bodies, as indicative of our fluid condition). Body fluids are in direct relation to notions of permeability. Fluids are wet edges of ourselves that seep beyond where we think we end. They are volatile, they are unruly. They are the confession of passion and pleasure, labor, danger, injury, healing, life, birth, perhaps even death. To consider the self of fluids seems to disrupt the presumed stability (a stabilized sediment of repetition) of the body, the self. I’ve been reading a bit more of Irigaray recently, struggling with her tendency towards essentializing the binary of male and female; I’m interested in how the claims she makes towards a specifically female subjectivity might be made for all bodies, not in a move (once again) towards a monolithic “human,” but as a move towards fluidity, whereby the subject is never fully stable, always partial, always intersubjective and constituted through the ongoing/ceaseless reciprocity with other subjectivities. I’m thinking something about an intersubjective ontology, in which subjectivities are always already intersubjectivities, and the mobility in/between/through/as subjects is fluid, viscous . . . I’m thinking about a metaphor that Anne Carson cites in Eros: The Bittersweet (I think the metaphor belongs to Sartre) about the child dipping its hand in honey, and losing track of its edges in stickiness, the material that is neither solid nor liquid. I wonder about the transferability of this metaphor into a context of body fluids, sexual fluids, a stickiness/fluidity of the body, a permeability of the self, derived from sexual epistemologies (epistemologies that may be decidedly queer).
I feel like I want to spend more time pursuing the twincest project that was done by Jiz Lee and Syd Blakovich. They dealt a lot with body fluids from what I can tell from the documentation. I don’t yet know how to pursue that work (except perhaps by getting in contact with the artists).

II. I’ve been thinking a lot about queer pornography. This isn’t new; I’ve written scattered ideas about the importance of queer porn here on this blog. But I am finally writing something more formal on the topic. The premise (that needs much more development) is that bodies are produced in part through performances of pleasure, that these performances structure/form topographies of pleasure that we identify as bodies. My theory (that I think is supported by other theorists, although I’m still working on accruing those) is that bodies are gendered through such performances of pleasure, that pleasure is situated around reproductive genitalia as part of the regulation and production of gendered/sexed bodies. My theory is that performances in queer porn produce bodies that destabilize and disrupt these normative/performative iterations of bodies (performatives that are always approximations, thus always failed). By performing different topographies, different erogenous zones, different sex acts, different roles, etc., queer bodies are produced, perhaps not only for the performers themselves (phenomenologically) but also for the viewers (through scopophilic and narcissistic pleasure in the performances of queer bodies). These ideas are still in the works.

III. Alongside speculations of queer porn and fluid/intersubjective/partial bodies is a strong urge towards cyborg politics (Haraway) and considering the mutability of bodies through the incorporation of prosthetic elements. In sex this is suggested in elements such as the incorporation of dildos not just as a sex toy but as an addition to/mutation of bodies; also in the role of latex as essential to sexual bodies (condoms, gloves, etc. seem to be a mutation of permeable bodies; the management of fluids and permeability gives way not to anxiety that forecloses sexual possibilities, but transforms into adaptability, ethics, and responsibility to enables rather than disables sex, thus the bodies produced in the act of sex). I am interested in what I have been able to read of work by Beatriz Preciado and her discussion of dildonics, a displacement of the phallus by the adoption of a symbolic founded on an organ that is already artificial, already transferable, already detachable (as the phallus itself might already be considered to be). In this shift, the castration anxiety is displaced; the detachability of the dildo, its inherent transferability, becomes a source of possibility, potentiality, and power.

IV. I am putting the recent project of restaging and reconstructing “Sketches of Shame” to rest. For now. This brings me sadness, but for now it is for the best. The piece was creating intense emotional dis-ease for those involved, and for now it seems best to set it aside. Daniel and I are continuing to stay in dialogue, and I suppose it is possible that some other project will emerge from the work that we’ve done together. But for now, it’s on hold, and I am left again to consider the meager effect I have in this world. Making dances is part of how I participate in world-making . . . when I’m not choreographing, I question my role in contributing to the world in which I want to live, my role in contributing to the lives of others.

V. I am gradually preparing for a key note address/performance that it seems that I will be sharing with Catriona Sandilands in Toronto in April. Cate was asked to give this keynote address at a conference on sustainability, and she has asked me to share the opportunity. We will soon begin to develop a performative presentation addressing queer ecology, sustainability, something like ecosexuality, and incorporating Butoh. I’m excited to see how this project pans out.

VI. Today I decided that I am going to attempt to participate in Ecosex Symposium II in San Francisco in June. The first Ecosex Symposium was held last fall in LA after the Purple Wedding to the Moon. This event is being put on by the Love Art Lab at the Center for Sex and Culture, and will unite theorists, artists, and activists in the process of continuing to develop movement around this notion of ecosexuality. Pursuing this project will mean not pursuing others, but it feels very significant to my work and research, and my continuing development of these ideas.

Erotics (eco-logic)

This is not going to be my most eloquent post, but I’ve had ideas spinning around the notion of “eros” and “the erotic” for a while now (years?) and I think it might be developing into something a bit more effable, but I think I just need to get the ideas down.

I think my earliest encounter with the speculation on “eros” was with Anne Caron’s Eros: The Bittersweet, still one of my top recommended reads. Carson is a professor of classical literature, and Eros is her formulation of how eros functioned within Greek lyric poetry and thus how it might be considered to function within interpersonal relations. She explores the evolution of a literary culture’s impact on the senses of those engaged with that culture, a bounding, an edging and delimiting in the conception of the individual, concurrent with these lyric expressions of the sweetness and agony of eros. In her formulation, eros is desire that denotes lack: it is that which we do not have (or, she goes on to formulate with certain Freudian tones, that which we no longer have, that which we perceive to have lost), and the sweet-bitterness of eros comes in that agony of not having. We can no longer want that which we have, because wanting is itself predicated on lack.

I employed Carson’s text in a paper I wrote recently exploring theorizing “Sexecology” and “Ecosexuality” as it is performed in Love Art Laboratory’s Green Wedding Four (2008). In this paper, I began to explore the possibility that the erotic is a state of contingency. It is a state of empty spaces, spaces of lack, that seek to be filled. I correlated this with collaboration, that when we allow ourselves to collaborate, as artists, as researchers, as people (relationships themselves might be viewed as collaboration), we are actively engaging with those places of lack, perhaps even forming or formulating spaces of lack in order to find compliment from those with whom we are collaborating. It is an intimate exchange, it is a space of varying degrees of vulnerability, because in bearing our lack, we relinquish portions of our control. We ask to be filled by another, and coextensively, we do our part to fill in and meet and complement the places of lack presented by our collaborators. The product is necessarily unpredictable, indeterminate, and emergent. I don’t mean to imply that in all collaborative settings the distribution of power is equal and balanced; I think of settings in which I have functioned as a choreographer or director. There is a collaborative experience with the dancers in the work because the work would not be possible without their participation, and certainly the dancers bring their own personal and creative energies to the work. But the power is not balanced: I maintain a degree of control that extends beyond that of anyone else in the project. There are of course nuances throughout, but what I mean to address is that in this discussion of collaboration being predicated on a kind of erotic exchange between lack and complement, I am aware that power is imbalanced, potentially in flux, and rarely distributed equally.

This is where I begin to equate “collaboration” with “ecology”–it is not a perfect equation, but a functional one. Ecology (etymologically “the study of habitation/dwelling”) is predicated on “situation,” situation being necessarily complex, reciprocal, and potential systemic. For my purposes, I tend to shorthand “ecology” as the study of functional systems of interdependency. The jump to “collaboration” is not far. What I think I’m getting at is that the functionality of ecologies and eco-systems (systems of habitation, situation, which, again, are necessarily reciprocal; habitation is not passive) depends on complement, which depends on spaces of interdependency and lack. This in itself seems to evoke the erotic to me, but I think there may be yet another step. For there to be lack and complement, in itself, may not be erotic. Instead, it may be the sensation of that lack and complement. Is eros a sensation or a structural/systemic relationship/state, both or otherwise? Not sure.

I think our culture carries an anxiety surrounding “lack.” Perhaps it is simply the modern humanist individual, perhaps it is even reinforced by feminist projects that have deconstructed the conceptual/social/sexual dependence of women on men, but we shirk away from dependence (inter-dependence, co-dependence) towards notions of independence, that we are each our own, complete, lack-less, need-less, individual. I not only find this to be a tad bit inaccurate, but not helpful. I remember talking to Annie Sprinkle and Beth Stephens in December, and their discussion of their move away from the “modern genius” individual artist to collaborative work, because there’s more possible when you collaborate. I think I am theorizing this draw towards the “more that is possible” as the erotic. It softens at its edges, it expands and becomes fluid, willing to mingle and mix and exchange; it is porous and permeable, and accepts the risk of that permeability (the risk of “pollution,” perhaps). There is a danger to the erotic, to exchange, and collaboration; to no longer being in control. Catriona Mortimar-Sandilands, among others, has written exceptional writing addressing the correlation between environmental projects such as state parks and “nature reserves,” the project against pollution of the “natural environment” (need I remind myself that to inhabit is not passive, but is already an exchange?), and the medicalization and defense of bodies, the fear of the polluted body, the dangers of sex and exchange of fluids and the solidification of the edges. It is a complex question without (for me) a yet clear trajectory (I can see it pertaining to questions surrounding sex work, pornography, safer-sex practices, contact improvisation, localvore food cultures, etc.), but there is something about an acceptance of the permeability of edges, spaces of lack within our borders/boundaries, and the invitation for exchange across those edges in order to complement those spaces of lack. I call this ecology. Or eros. Or sexecology, or ecosexuality.

This relinquishing of (some) control/power connects to another conversation I recently had with Daniel Holt. In discussing his Guerilla Dance Project, I began to identify with a certain desire to not be completely in control. In other words, I noticed and identified with a need/desire (lack) to create work for which I (or one) is not solely responsible. I think this tendency fits into larger meta-narratives: for instance, the post-modern shift away from the single generative choreographer (prevalent in early modern dance) towards sourced-materials (dancers generating movement material to be shaped/crafter by choreographer) to collectives and improvisation (Grand Union, etc.), and even (what I have been referring to as) indirect methodologies for movement generation: methodologies that do not dictate movement from one body to another (direct), but put (indeterminate, or at least not fully determinate) systems or scores in place by which movement is then produced (image-based systems like Butoh and Gaga would fit into this category, but also the vast field of improvisational scoring that has evolved from the mid-20th century onward). It is a shift away from singular determinacy towards multiple indeterminacies, and it is fully engaged with this shift towards permeability, complementarity, and (erotic) lack. I think it fits into a context of yet larger meta-narratives, like the shift to Web 2.0, and maybe even models for emergent taxonomies in general. There is a move away from hierarchy and toward democratization of power, which necessitates interdependence and collaboration. I don’t know if I could pin-point a single or even list of reasons for this shift, except maybe what Annie and Beth said: there is the potential for something more. I might identify this, in a broad sense, as the erotic sensation.

Lastly, I’ve been thinking more about the notion of the sensation of the erotic, how this sensation comes to be (the genealogy of sensation?). I’ve been thinking about erogenous zones as spaces and surfaces with which we comes to associate “something more:” a site of further sensation/increased sensation, a site for potential pleasure, a site for potential participation, etc. These spaces and surfaces becomes charged through their histories (by histories, I mean the complex intersections of experiences that contribute to the construction of these spaces and surfaces as we experience them; I am assuming that biology is always infused with culture, and thus to say, “My body feels this way or that way,” is never unaffected by the (cultural/social/ecological) history of that body), through experiences that allow for the recognition of potential. This is where I begin to correlate “queer” and “erotic:” both are an insistence on possibility. There are differences perhaps . . . I take queer to connote a range of possibilities always in flux, always fluid and mutable and unfixed. The erotic, on the other hand, is possibly dependent on a degree of predictability. In order to experience the sensation of the erotic, we must have first identified or become aware of a potential that we then experience as lack (available to be filled/fulfilled).

Or maybe not.
I remember something I said to Bebe Miller last year about the erotic experience of discovery. There is something intensely titillating about not-knowing (the not-knowing being a place of lack) that seeks knowledge. It has not clearly identified the lack, nor that which might fulfill it, but it allows for the gap. I experience this with bodies, with trees and landscapes, with new research endeavors, with collaboration and experimentation: the erotic charge is in those spaces of not-knowing that then fuels the search, the seeking. I feel it in contact improvisation, I feel it in sex, I feel it in nature walks, etc. These experiences deaden when it feels completely “known.” In contact jams, it deadens when we fall into patterns, the same sequences of actions and supports, without any new discovery/ies. The same is true with sex: when it feels scripted, when sensations feel predicted or expected, when actions and positions begin to feel sequenced and even practiced, when bodies are no longer landscapes to be discovered, etc. And so much is lost of our experience of our environment when it becomes predictable or “known” (which is of course inaccurate; it, like us/with us, is always in flux). On my walk to and from school in the mornings, or across the Oval and back again when acquiring (yet more) books from Thompson library, or our delightful “Notice What You Notice” practice in Current Issues with Bebe Miller and Norah Zuniga Shaw this past spring, all of these become an ongoing space for (erotic) discovery. Acknowledging the unfamiliarity of the seemingly familiar, searching for the unexpected or unnoticed, seems to me an act of constructing spaces of lack, spaces of potential, in order to be filled. I am reminded significantly of David Abram’s work in The Spell of the Sensuous and Sara Ahmed’s queer formulations of phenomenology: we are always potentially in reciprocal exchange with our environments (be that landscapes, dance settings, other people, etc.) and when we tune into that exchange and recognize our participation in it, I think we/I begin to experience that erotic sensation.

As I’ve worked through so many of my ideas about Sexecology and Ecosexuality, a questions that comes up every now and again has been “why?” Why look for sexual experiences with the environment? Why try to understand habitation and systems of interdependency through a sexual lens or epistemology? One reason that I have come to before is that sexuality, among many other taxonomies of our selves and our experiences, has the potential to serve as a site for liberation, transformation, discovery/re-discovery, and political/personal activism. I still think this is true. But I also think that it has something to do with this logic of the erotic. We (can) experience eros acutely through our sexuality; sex and sexuality are constant discourses of lack and complement, subjects and objects, desire, etc. It’s not, as I think I’m beginning to formulate, that sex is the only situation for the erotic, but that it is a familiar space. Here is where I see the potential for the employment of a sexual epistemology as a means for accessing/understanding/recognizing the erotic, both within and beyond what we experience/identify/taxonomize as “sexual.” Annie and Beth talk about sex being something really big and broad, not narrowly defined. I think this expansive sexuality, that explodes sex beyond specific acts and experiences and begins to recognize the relationship between those normally(normatized) experiences identified as “sex”  with a larger landscape of experience(s). I think that the erotic might be a significant connective tissue within this expansion.

Those are some of my thoughts. Looking forward to seeing where these ideas go.

Shows I ache to see
9 October, 2009, 8:53 am
Filed under: art | Tags: , , , , ,

I just read a review of William Forsythe’s “Decreation,” a piece choreographed in 2003 with connections to Anne Caron’s book by the same name. Anne Carson is my favorite author, unquestionable. Autobiography of Red, Eros: The Bittersweet, Plainwater, Glass, Irony, and God, etc. I love these books. This is not the first time that I have discovered connections between Forsythe and Carson. But I ache to witness this connection:

“The Forsythe Company performs through Saturday at the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House, 30 Lafayette Avenue, at Ashland Place, Fort Greene, Brooklyn; (718) 636-4100, bam.org.”


I found a short video clip of the piece:

Later this month, Meredith Monk  will also be performing at BAM. October 21-25, she will be presenting Ascension Variations, another piece created in collaboration with Ann Hamilton. I don’t think there is any way that I will be able to see that show, but it feels destined that one day I will be able to see Monk’s work. She, along with Hamilton, is one of the most important artists to my work and I have yet to see her work live.

Again, I found a little video:

One day . . .

Reflecting on the Spring Quarter

The spring quarter is almost complete. Two informal showings today, and I will be off into my summer. For a day, at least. Wednesday I start a two-week intensive Labanotation Teacher Certification Course. Which then segues straight into the summer quarter. But the schedule will have  bit more breathing room.

Perhaps my largest project this quarter was in my History, Theory, Literature of Choreography course. I decided to do a queer analysis of choreography by Frederick Ashton. Originally it was my intention to analyze two ballets, The Dream and Sylvia, but after in-barking on the analysis of The Dream, I found it so rich in “queer potential” that the emphasis of the research became The Dream alone. 

My primary interest in this research was to consider the potential contribution of Frederick Ashton’s choreography to queer culture, or for his choreography’s queer contribution to dance culture. It also came primarily as a response to Jane Desmond’s assertion of the centrality of dance history and queer theory to one another in her book Dancing Desires: Choreographing Sexualities On & Off The Stage. She writes:

“. . . to understand dance history and dance practices, we must analyze them in relation to histories of sexualities. Conversely, it suggests that the analysis of dance, as a form of material symbolic bodily practice, should be of critical importance to gay and lesbian studies and the ‘queer theory.’ Until now neither analytical approach has received much attention from dance studies scholars or from those in gay/lesbian studies . . . What happens to the writing of dance history and criticism when issues of sexuality and sexual identity become central? And what happens to our considerations of queer theory and to gay and lesbian studies when a dancing body takes center stage? What do we see that we didn’t see before? What questions do we ask that were heretofore unspeakable, unnameable, or unthinkable? What analytical tools will we need to formulate these questions and to develop provisional answers? In what ways might these initiatives reshape our readings of past histories and give rise to new ones? . . . This claim for the necessary intersection of sexuality studies and dance studies is based on two assertions: first, that issues of sexuality, and especially of non-normative sexuality, are not merely relevant to but play a constitutive and under recognized role in dance history; and second, that dance provides a privileged arena for the bodily enactment of sexuality’s semiotics and should thus be positioned at the center, not the periphery, of sexuality studies.”

These ideas were a central point of departure for this research. When I first became aware of Ashton’s sexuality, I was struck by the fact that his work (like so many other choreographers) is not discussed in relationship to his queer identity. It is not that I was interested in establishing a causal relationship between his autobiography and the content of his choreography, nor even speculating about his intentions for his own work. Instead, having become aware of his queer identity, I was interested in how one might interpret his ballet through a queer lens, and how this interpretation might reveal a relationship to queer culture.

In the paper, I attempt to situate The Dream in relationship to the queer culture, such as the relationship of the term “fairy” in the late 19th century and early-to-mid (to present?) 20th century describing an overtly effeminate man who was assumed to solicit male sexual partners (as opposed to “normal men” who abide by the socially expected behavior of masculinity). I also situate the ballet in relationship to the Radical Fairy movement of the 1970s that evolved out of the social politics of gay activists such as Harry Hay. Besides this “cultural situation” of the subject matter of Ashton’s ballet, the paper is primarily a choreographic analysis, looking at the narrative, character development, relationship of characters to one another, individual movement vocabulary, and use of partnering as it relates to the notion of “queer,” or a subversion of the normative or heteronormative.

While I would love to post the whole paper here, as it represents a significant investment in my own research, I will resist the urge. If you are very interested in this analysis, just let me know and I’ll try to find a way for you to read it.

Another significant portion of research this quarter has been in the are of Labanotation. In addition to pursuing my Elementary Labanotation Certification (almost done), I did the work of reading/learning two pieces of choreography in my Intermediate Labanotation course. We learned from score: Yvonne Rainer’s  “Trio A” and three versions of the Sylph’s variation in act II of La Sylphide (the versions were from 1849, 1865, and a version considered current to today). These were in vastly different dancing styles which necessitated different methods for employing the notation system. But more importantly (to me) they addressed a certain kind of hunger in the study of dance history. Too often in studying dance history, our primary points of access are through watching (visual) and reading/lectures (linguistic). Rarely do we have the opportunity to embody seminal dance works from the past. Both of these pieces represent profound periods in the history of dance, La Sylphide representing the Bournonville ballet tradition and the Romantic ballet, “Trio A” representing the 1960’s Judson/post-modern shift in American dance. Not only did we have the opportunity to understand the meaning of these periods in our bodies, but they were made to co-exist within our bodies, disparate styles and periods collapsed into a singular corporeal experience.

I want to briefly describe my experiences of each of these pieces. “Trio A” was surprising in many ways. The first was the extreme complexity of the notation for this piece. “Trio A,” along with most of the work that came out of the Judson group, is considered pedestrian, anti-thetical to traditional theater and concert dance. For me, having read and written about this work, it has always seemed as if it would be simple. The notation revealed that it is not; it is incredibly specific. This quality revealed itself further as we interpreted the notation and learned/practiced the piece. It demanded so much concentration which gave it an almost intense, meditative quality. As it became familiar, it retained this quality of a moving meditation. Some of the directives in the score have to do with evenness of tempo, phrasing, and dynamics. Nothing is to be emphasized, nothing should be given more importance than anything else. And like Rainer’s “NO Manifesto” (below), it is a run-on sentence, nothing repeating, just streaming along in a similar fashion. I feel this quality, the meditativeness, the almost effortless physicality (paired with intense mental focus) infecting the way I approach other movement material as well.

“NO Manifesto:

“NO to spectacle no to virtuosity no to transformations and magic and make-believe no to the glamour and transcendence of the star image no to the heroic no to the anti-heroic no to trash imagery no to involvement of performer or spectator no to style no to camp no to seduction of spectator by the wiles of the performer no to eccentricity no to moving or being moved.”

“Trio A” was meant to embody these ideas. You can see how they translate in Rainer’s performance in the video below:

La Sylphide was more difficult for me. The notation was specific but not as specific as “Trio A.” It made assumptions of certain stylistic understanding. Because my ballet training is not in Bournonville, these assumptions were lost on me. The learning took far more time. The most interesting part of this process was recognizing the relationship of one historical interpretation of the choreography to others, how movements were rearranged, cut, reversed, sped up, or slowed down, etc. It raised questions (that have come up throughout this year) about the nature of choreographic information. If the steps change, what is it that makes each “version” the same ballet? What is the choreography beyond the steps? What is necessary to its integrity? Etc.

I tried to find a video of this variation, but I couldn’t find the exact section on youtube. 

One of my most interesting courses was a Somatics survey taught by Abby Yager. The goals for this course were for practicing a deep listening to the body, cultivating a appreciation and understanding of the Self through this awareness of the body, and the development of a personal somatic practice based on one’s sense of one’s own body. This sort of information feeds directly into a central research interest of mine, the relationship of the body to identity, the embodied nature of existence and experience, and the relationship of a dance practice to the development (or choreography) of identity. I am interested in how these investigations might synthesize in my creative practice and choreography, how choreography might come out of this kind of self awareness, or how I might consciously consider the practice of choreography as a shaping of individual identity through its engagement of the body. In a larger scope, I am interested how individual identity comes out of the way we “choreograph” ourselves, how our conscious and subconscious choices of the ways we handle ourselves physically come to define us for ourselves and others. I am interested in how a cultivated awareness or “deep listening” of the body might contribute to this choreography of identity. The modalities explored in this course (Qi’Gong, Alexander technique, Yoga, Trager, experiential anatomy, Klein technique, etc.) have offered me a wide range of approaches to this sort of research.

This quarter I also produced a solo-in-progress entitled “Red Monster.” It was partially inspired by Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red, and evolved (for me) as an investigation of the ways in which shame and desire transform us (me) into monsters. I just posted a video of this piece on youtube. I don’t think it is an ideal performance (15 May 2009, as part of SIP, the first year dance MFA’s informal showing), for many reasons, but it does offer a look at what I have been exploring choreographically. I may continue to work on this piece. I’ll keep you posted on its evolution.

Here at the end of the quarter I also made several trips to Cincinnati where my twin brother lives. These trips were mostly about seeing art, but this past weekend I attended an event called Dance_MF, which was essentially a huge late-night dance party at Northside Tavern. It is a monthly event, and this was my first time there. It brought several things to mind. The first was a fairly simple observation, something that I have observed before in “dance floor” situations: individuals are far more likely to dance around one another or even in reference to one another than they are to actually dance with another person, by which I mean share any sort of physical contact. It’s always struck me as a disparity, that a social situation primarily characterized by its intense physicality is more based on a visual engagement than one of connected physicality. This is indicative of a larger social disparity with which I’ve been discontented for some time: despite the fact that we are embodied, corporeal creatures, our engagement with one another or knowledge of one another as human beings is more based on our visual interpretations of one another than our actual physical engagement. This strikes me as odd, in culture at large, but especially on a dance floor. I wonder if this awareness has emerged from my dance/choreographic life. To consider a three-to-four hour dance “composition” or “improvisation” in which the participants rarely touch one another feels either boring, ill-crafted, or a very specific social statement. What happens when we engage with life as art, social behavior as composition? How might “society” become a comment on society within the confines of the dance floor?

It also made me think of Jonathan Bollen’s article “Queer Kinesthesia: Performativity on the Dance Floor” (a portion of which can be read here). I’ll try to summarize this article sometime soon.

Another curious effect of this event was an awareness of myself as a “transgender presence.” I decided to wear a dress to the dance (an evolution of wearing skirts and heels and other traditionally female articles of clothing and accessories), not in an attempt to be female, but as an interpretation/expression/expansion of masculinity/my own identity as not being relegated to the narrow expression of identity traditionally associated with masculinity and maleness. At some point during the evening, I became aware of how much the population on the dance floor respected the gender binary. I do not identify as transgender, but in my transgression of traditional male expression, I became a kind of symbol of transgender. Which was an interesting dynamic on a dance floor, not to mention an interesting evolution in my perception of self.

And that’s my reflection on the spring quarter.

Red Monster

I started work on a new solo today. I’m not sure what it is for as far as its final presentation, but it is loosely inspired by Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red: A Novel in Verse, which is an interpretation of a myth written by the poet Stesichoros about a little red monster named Geryon who was killed by Herakles. The piece (I think) is a further exploration of shame and desire, themes that seem to make their way in and out of my work. It is thus far very Butoh driven, and has already brought me to my own edge of “grotesque.” After only one studio session, I’m both exhilarated and a little terrified. I may be asking more of myself than I can give (as a performer), but I’m also not sure it is the kind of piece that I want to translate onto another body, into another person. Beyond its literary inspiration, it is also a very personal question of my own monstrosity (it is synchonicitous that I am working on the “Monster Partitur” piece in two weeks . . . I don’t think this piece is asking the same questions or moving about the same subject, but there are common themes: monstrosity, the grotesque, the misshapen, etc.). 

From Autobiography of Red:
Are there many little boys who think they are a
Monster? But in my case I am right said Geryon to the
Dog they were sitting on the bluffs The dog regarded him

I think I am questioning the grotesqueness of the body and of desire, the things that make me (us?) monster(s). Which is fitting into a larger question in my research concerning the recognition or construction of identity in/through movement, and how this process relates to dance as an art form.

I don’t think I have much more to say about this new piece yet, it’s still so new and raw and unexplained. But I just felt like I needed to write something about it, having just spent an hour in the studio working with it. 

I never know who’s reading, but if you are reading and feel like writing, I’m curious when you have felt like a monster, and what made you feel that way. If you care to share.

So many things; so little

Tonight I saw the show Japan Dance Now at the Wexner Center for the Arts, featuring three contemporary Japanese dance companies: BABY-Q, Nibroll, and Sennichimae Blue Sky Dance Club. I am enraptured. All three were amazing performances, and although they had moments of stylistic intersection, overall were three profoundly different voices. It was a well curated show, and excellently performed. Oh, and there’s the part when I was moved to tears.

You can see a video with clips of these companies below (they appear in this order: Sennichimae Blue Sky Dance Club, BABY-Q, Nibroll):

The piece by BABY-Q brought me very much into my head it was a solo by Yoko Higashino accompanied by multimedia elements entitled E/G-Ego Geometria. It was for me a successful integration of dance and video (not all dance accompanied by video succeeds in successfully integrating the two, in my opinion). The meaning I brought to it had to do with the erasure of individual identity, the seen and the unseen, the known and the unknown of the person, and all the factors that contribute to these dichotomies. Descriptions that come to mind are:
faceless legs in silver platform heels
the body lost in the barrage of visual media
small conversations between a person and a camera, projected on a twenty-foot tall wall
white. black. red.
In the incredible density of the video projected into the space, which also served as the primary lighting for the first half of the piece, the body of the soloist became transported into an almost virtual world. The media was so much and so encompassing that it almost served to remove the dancer’s presence. Gradually stage lighting was added, and in seeing the body lit from multiple angles, and the lighting of the videos faded by the additional light, the body became more present. And then was further uncovered. We were allowed to truly see the dancer, her face, “who” she was.

The second piece was entitled Coffee by Nibroll. It was even more of a battery of video images, loud music, fast movement, constantly shifting costumes and characters and interpersonal dynamics. The program notes described it as an exploration of the boundaries we cross in the course of our daily lives.

The true gem of the evening (for me) was The end of Water by Sennichimae Blue Sky Dance Club. It was full of subtlety, slow movement, articulate gestures, gradual lighting fades, stationary dances, and a gamut of humanity and emotion. They describe their company: “this butoh-based all female troupe seeks to uncover new, original physical expression with a pop sensibility. Their choreography is born out of carefully observing elements from the physical memory of modern life and bringing them into new light.”
From the first section as the lights came up to reveal four figures lying on the ground slowly and gently stirring, I started to cry. I can’t necessarily explain this emotional reaction, except to say that it had to do with recognition. This is a big word for me, and is central to the relevance I see in art as a whole. The most profound experiences I have had with art, be it music (such as Meredith Monk’s mercy or impermanence) or dance (such as Yoshito Ohno’s Emptiness (Kuu) or Moeno Wakamatsu’s Dryope from Project OVID or CoCo Loupe’s In the Clear), standing in front of a wall sized Lee Krasner painting or a piece by Ann Hamilton, or reading Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson or Journal of a Solitude by May Sarton, the common thread of these experiences is that I sensed or saw or felt something familiar, something being created by someone else that I recognized as connected to my own experience. This sort of interpersonal human connection is why I engage in art, in dance, reaching towards a sense of knowing and being known through the work.
I felt that tonight with Sennichimae Blue Sky Dance Club. I felt understood and represented and recognized. I felt their humanity, saturated with nuance and complexity, immediacy and history.

It was a truly rewarding show. It has two more nights here. For those of you in the area, I hope you have an opportunity to see it.

For those of you interested in a more in-depth review of the show itself, and not just my experience, I found this nice blog by a commentator who saw the show a couple of weeks ago. You should check it out.