michael j. morris

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A morning reflection.

Two shows down. One to go.

Every time we do this piece, it’s different. And maybe it’s partly because of the way that I am thinking about my own work right now, but it is so completely conflated with life and living and loving, in the dancing, in the movement/content, in the structures and organizations of the content, in the facebook status updates, in the bruises and bouncing curls and kisses and massages and body piles and pairs back stage . . . it is in no way something that we put on, and for me there are not characters: the way that we are (I am) in the dance, what we do on stage, is coming directly from and feeding back in to everything else. This is us, this is Michael and CoCo and Eric and Jeff. That’s part of why I still have not yet completely made my peace with bowing after “the piece,” because the bow feels like such a theatrical trope, and admission of something like spectacle, a confession that “what has transpired here has not be ‘real,’ it is simply something we do, not who we really are.” But a good friend of mine said that it doesn’t feel that way . . . the whole thing has been so intimate up until that point, the intimacy carries into the way we stand there, looking at the audience, fold at our hips, and strike our “set.”

After the first show, I commented on my facebook status that it felt like an ending, and that from now on the piece would have to be something else. I think part of last night’s permutation of the piece was partially in mourning for the what the dance had been (what we had been?). Today will be something else entirely. In response to the comment on the “ending” quality, this dialogue unfolded via facebook status/comments between CoCo and I:

“Did it feel like an ending? For me it felt like I never got going. Could be b/c the wifi was dead at first. Felt like playing catch up the rest of the time. I could feel you 3 pouring everything into the space however. Also feel a bit like a traitor b/c I’m not observing in the way that I want to. Total immersion in other words. It’s all very fragmented for me. Like I’m not respecting the experience. I’m certainly getting a new perspective on this whole digital interaction/connection thing. And am knowing now that i want the real version of humanity as a general rule w/out the computer screen in b/w.”

“So I think you have landed on another potential “theme” of this piece. The potential between the digital and the human connection. And you situating yourself at the edges of both. Maybe you are revealing something more than just your personal predilections. Maybe this is part of the “commentary” aspect of the work. And maybe the unfolding “human drama” on stage is something like a commentary from the other side? If every human interaction has indeed become a collision, maybe we create buffers like facebook and status updates and video cameras . . . these are my morning ramblings, but maybe there’s something there.
One more.”

Ambiguity with specificity. This was something that my brother said about the piece, the Friday night performance. And I think it has deep resonance for how I know the work, how it is unfolding for us (how I understand the universe right now?): each thing, each moment, each experience, each phenomenon is incredibly specific, completely and entirely itself and yet elusive, fleeting, gone into the next moment, another distinct intersection of complex contexts and perspectives and perceptions. Each moment is in itself constantly “yet to be revealed,” and yet is dissolves, evaporates, is lost into the next moment, full of its own ambiguity and specificity.

Then there is this quality in the gestalt of experience, the piece as a whole (life as a whole). We tend to be categorizing creatures, we tend to find names for things, labels, taxonomies for organization. I think we do this for ease . . . it’s easier to assume that identities are persistent, fixed, unchanging, recognizable, and not entirely unique. And yet maybe that is not the nature of things. As we look at a gestalt, this dance for instance, we tend to need to know “what it is.” We need to recognize it, to have a name for what it is, clear distinctions for what it means. And yet it may not be so pin-down-able. Besides the moment by moment shifting ambiguities, there is the ambiguity of what we read as the “whole.”

This relates to the perpetual idea of the “in-between,” an idea I return to again and again. We know a thing by what it is not. Knowledge is contextual, established by contrast (we are aware of light because there are shadows, we establish what we think of as male because we compare it to female, etc.). We do not simply know what a thing is, we know what it is in-between. We know that it is not this or that, but it has a kind of relationship to both. For many of these experiences, we either as individuals or as cultures have established names, labels, categories. I would question the fixity even of these experiences. But besides that, there is the question of all the experiences that lie in between our categories, our labels, our recognizable forms. We know them, we experience their specificity, their meaning (more on this later?), but it is completely embedded in its ambiguity, its in-between-ness.

Meaning. This is a question that has continued to come up in a course I am taking this quarter called “History, Theory, Literature of the Analysis of Movement.” Most analysis assumes a meaningfulness, attempts to identify and illuminate the meaningful. This has raised the question over and over again, “What is meaning?” or “What are we referring to when we refer to ‘meaning’?” I has established a working definition of meaning for myself. It is something like: “Meaning is the substance by which a thing is recognizable.” It is broad. I do not intend meaning to be a synonym for “interpretation.” It is before interpretation. It is similar to recognition, but recognition implies a cognitive process, and I think meaning is more sensation, situated in sensory perception, not the cognition of those perceptions. It is the substance of that by which a thing is recognized. It is the specificity in the ambiguity.

The meaning for “click here . . . ” changes every time we do it. There are elements that are persistent. The choreography is set, the sequence of the piece is set, the points of my body that hit the floor, the expanding bruises, they testify to the persistence of certain elements. And yet there is something about it that is continually unrecognizable. It’s meaning, the experience by which it might becomes recognized, is unfamiliar. It is not a situation or intersection I have experienced before. As we go out onto the stage with CoCo and take our poses upstage in the red light, it is something new and unfamiliar, even as we are enacting familiar actions. I don’t yet know what it is, and part of the dance is trying to come to more of a place of knowing, maybe even recognizing the gestalt.


All over the place . . . this post is all over the place. To cap it off, some images, taken by CoCo on stage as part of the piece/performance. Something of the dance is recognizable in these images, and yet I am acutely aware of the fact that they are not the dance nor are they what will transpire at 3pm today at Columbus Dance Theater. One more show. Another permutation/translation/expression/specificity.







1 February, 2009, 12:36 am
Filed under: creative process, inspiration | Tags: ,

In the post I posted moments ago, I revisited the idea of “between” and I had a list forming in my mind. So many charged spaces . . . charged with difference. Don’t know where it might all go, but I hope you add to it, either your own “between” spaces, or perhaps what exists in the spaces described here as “between”:

between me and you
between ‘I love you’ and ‘I love you, too’
between this year and last year
between work and home
between lonely and alone
between sleeping and waking
between the action and the object
between the gift and the product
between the giver and the receiver
between obligation and desire
between phenomena and noumenon
between the inside and the outside
between speaking and listening
between analysis and intuition
between male and female
between masculine and feminine
between expectation and disappointment
between who I am and who you want me to be
between who you are and who I am looking for
between blossoming and wilting
between birth and death
between one and one
between foot and sidewalk
between teacher and student


More “between” from Meredith Monk’s “Between Song” (you can listen to the track in full here):

“between the paint and the wood
between the pen and the writing hand
between the rug and the floor
between the hairs on your head . . .
between the clouds and the night
between the window and the street
between the air and the men walking, walking,
between the heels and the sound . . .
between the skull and the brain
between the lens and the eye
between the tear and the lens . . .
between your hand and my hand
between the seed and the dead . . .”


between . . .

A Ongoing love affair with subtlety
1 February, 2009, 12:17 am
Filed under: art, creative process, Dance | Tags: , , , , ,

As part of the audition for the graduate program in the Department of Dance here at OSU, I ran sound for all of the auditioning potential students’ solo presentations. It was such a vast, rich array of work, all within a form a limiting as a solo. I was acutely aware of the contextual nature of this presentation, that for me, seeing all of these solos (something like 30 dances?) twice in one day, each one was taking place in the context of all of these other works by all of these other artists, each with their own identities and backgrounds and personal politics and interests in the field of dance. In this dense field of material, contrast emerges, one piece setting the next in sharp relief. Without deviating into a discussion of specific works by specific artists, I am more interested in exploring a developing awareness of what I enjoyed seeing, and why (note: this is not likely to be an extremely academic or theoretical analysis of excellence in the composition and performance of dance; more likely is that it will be an extremely subjective exploration of my own tastes. you’ve been warned.)

I am in love with subtlety. Nuance. Specificity (I have reservations concerning the inclusion of this word; it requires further explanation; read on). The work I enjoyed the most was not composed of popular movement vocabulary, feats of strength, flexibility, or virtuosity. They were specific, by which I do not mean to say that they were overt or clear expressions of a communicable idea. By specific I mean that had a pronounced identity, even if that identity was not easily quantifiable, classifiable, or recognizable. These pieces were like the individuals that created them (perhaps, even most likely, reflected the individuals their creators), full of layers, few if any of which looked like popular movement vocabulary. To be honest, so much dance, and much of what I saw today, looks the same. There are the same movements, gestures, postures, positions, relationship to the music, relationship to the body and the audience, and gravity. The piece that I am considering “specific” were not those things. I also don’t mean to say that they were “novel,” something new that is interesting for the sake of its newness. I suppose what I am trying to say through my addled, clouded mind is that the postures, gestures, and movements were specific because of their nuance. Simple, subtle qualities that made this person, this dance, specifically this and less relatable to . . . that. And this specific, nuanced, subtle identity (captivating in itself), served as the departure point for specific, nuanced, and subtle transitions, deviations, and returns. It’s almost intoxicating.

And why is that? Why this love affair, this fascination with subtlety, specificity, nuance? I think it has to do with why I engage with art, and even more specifically, dance. It has to do with the depths of perception. My choreography, and what I look for in the dances of others, is something almost . . . erotic. There’s a charged word. By erotic, what I mean is longing, a desiring/reaching/wanting that contains lack. I engage in art for the sake of interpersonal human connection, in dance for those experiences and expressions that find articulation most readily in the body. This corporeal articulation of experience is for me primarily in the pursuit of understanding and a recognition of our common and uncommon human experiences. 
When I see a dance saturated with specificity and nuance and subtlety, I feel that I have so much more of a sense of those experiences. I may witness this dancer moving and be overwhelmed with a sense of shared experience, that whatever it is that they are expressing/embodying/experiencing, it connects to my own history/memory/sense of my humanity. Or perhaps I don’t have that sense of shared experience. Instead I may have an awareness of our Otherness, the uniqueness of our identities, our individual experiences of self, our individual realities, and our experiences of more communal realities. I feel that the more subtle, the more specific and nuanced the physical expression, the more access I am given into those insights, those connections, those things that are the objects of my desire (through dance).

I wonder if these qualities I appreciate in choreography/dance have direct connections to qualities of identity. I wonder if the choreographer who holds a more specific awareness of self creates choreography with more specificity (even with “self” is not the subject of the work; Meredith Monk once said something along the lines of her work not being autobiographical, but still being extremely personal. She entertained the possibility that the more personal we are/our work is, the more universal we/it becomes. And here we are again at this word universal. I believe here I mean it in the sense of readily relatable to a multiplicity of individual experiences). I wonder if this specificity has to do with memory, or age. What might be the relationships between the nature of personal cognition and the nature of the creative activity in which you engage?

I just looked over at my “tag cloud” and saw the word “between”: between is an ongoing thought process with me. It is something like the space of understanding, framed or hedged in by distinct or discrete objects/ideas/identities/etc. Perhaps the specificity of those things at the periphery of the “between” space contribute to the richness of the experience that takes place in that space. What I mean to say is that perhaps the space between the more specific sense of myself and a dance that is more specifically itself in more fertile with possibility for understanding/recognition. 

I feel as if this post is all over the place. If you’ve read this far, please forgive my fragmentation. It’s been a long week/day, but these were ideas that were rolling around in my consciousness. I felt that I needed to address them in some way.

nowhere near sleeping

It seems as if Barack Obama is the new president elect, and this is a victory to celebrate. It makes me think of a line from Queer as Folk years ago: “Mourn the losses for they are many; but celebrate the victories because they are few.” This is a victory I can celebrate.

At the same time, as of 12:09am ET, three more states are projected to ban same-sex marriage, and one state is projected to ban same-sex adoption.

I’m looking at my tag and category clouds. GRAD SCHOOL. DANCE. ELECTION. MEREDITH MONK. PAULINE OLIVEROS. RESEARCH. What is arising from all these seeming disparate thoughts bunched up together in this online creative space? What lies in between these ideas, these subjects, and what do they reveal about one another?

Today there is an election. The course of our nation is being decided, as it always is. As I look at it, I think about listening, and research, and emergent perspectives. As I write, how am I listening, what am I observing? As Karen Eliot said today, we have made such progress. There are still battles to be won, liberties and equalities that this nation seems unprepared to afford all of its citizens. And yet we have elected the first biracial president of the United States. The world and nation continue to change.

And the question arises, as it always does for those both inside and outside of this art form: why dance? Why dance now? Of what value are our dances, our practices, our study of this art form? Equally, why blog? What is the point of any of this? I am reminded again of a quote by Meredith Monk, who once said [regarding the autobiographical qualities of her work] that she is convinced that the more personal we are, the more universal we become. And as this nation, this world, continues to evolve, I believe it does so through human encounters, relationships, and new understandings of one another and who we are as a human race, and how we fit into the Whole of this universe. And dance is part of that. It can be part of how we connect with one another, artist to artist, artist to audience, audience as general public, in relationships through the work that re-contextualize one’s experience of the world in which we live. And it is my hope that as we experience more of those connections in more articulate fashions that we will come to a higher way of being, existing, governing.
That is surely not the only answer to the question “Why dance?”, but it is an important one on today of all days.


In honor of hope and love, I reference you to one of my links, the Love Art Lab:
Love Art Lab Green Wedding #4 

Drawing nearer to sleep.