michael j. morris


CKA: enough (2) text

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I wrote and performed this text for CKA: Enough (2), a dance performance event produced by CKA (Currently Known As) at the Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge in Baton Rouge, Louisiana on July 15, 2016. An audio recording of the text can be found below.

Enough.
Enough.
Enough is enough.
I’ve had enough.
Am I enough. Am I doing enough.
When is “doing” itself already enough?
At what point have I done enough to be enough?
Which might also be asked another way: how much must I do in order to become myself? If we might understand the self as not necessarily a persistent being unto itself, but rather the accumulation of a set of activities, an ongoing repetition of stylized acts—a bit like a dance actually—a process of doing doing doing doing doing until finally—or perhaps never actually finally, but always tenuously, always conditionally, always precariously—I become legible to others and myself as I am, as a person, as a human being, specifically under the conditions that to be human, to be a person, means that I am worthy of recognition, worthy of basic care and respect.
How much doing is enough to become recognizable as a person, as human, as worthy of recognition, care, and respect?
And how much is not enough?
Alton Sterling.
And Philando Castile.
And Sandra Bland.
And Freddie Gray.
And Tamir Rice.
And Eric Garner.
And Trayvon Martin.
And “Goddess” Diamond.
And “Reecey” Walker.
And Keyonna Blakeney.
And Shante Isaac.
And Maya Young.
And and and and and and and you know some of those names and the ones you might not know are the names of transgender women of color who have been murdered already this year, this year that follows last year—the deadliest year on record for transgender people in the United States, more than 22 reported murders of transgender people, and when no matter how much you do to live your life, you might still die, how much doing is enough to stay alive?
What will it take—what would be enough—to prevent state and social violence?
Enough is enough.

And what the fuck about Orlando? 49 people were killed and they were lesbian and gay and bisexual and queer and transgender, and on that night, in that space, dancing was enough to bring people together, but for many of them, it was not enough to keep them alive.
And the following week, members of Congress staged a sit-in in order to demand a vote to change gun laws in our country, and the sit-in was not enough, and the laws did not change.

Enough.
From the Old English genog meaning “sufficient in quantity or number.” The first part ge- meaning “with, together.” The second part nog from the root nek meaning “to reach, to attain.”
With, together, reach, attain: what can we attain, what can we reach, together?

I just spent a week in Melbourne, Australia at a conference on performance and climate, and we spent a lot of time talking about artists making work that deals with the global climate crisis, and on the 15-hour flight back to the U.S., I kept wondering: is any of it enough?
Is any of this art enough to affect how we think or live our lives, specifically in relation to the planet, to climate change, to this vast world of nonhuman others to which we belong—when world leaders can’t find a way to stop the global average temperature from rising 2 degrees, when all the promises about policy changes might not be enough to mitigate global warming and major extinction events?
Enough. With, together, reach, attain.
What can we do together to reach a future earth, and who gets to come with us?
And what if we can’t do enough to be part of the “us” that reaches that future earth?
What if we cannot or will not do enough to mitigate our own extinction. When time is running out, when time might already be up, “enough” means something different.

So when is dance and dancing enough?
This dance was enough to bring us all here, to share our time and space and bodies with one another.
Dancing was enough to mobilize bodies, to put our bodies into motion, not only here and now tonight, but also for weeks and months preparing for this performance—and also for years and years, as we’ve developed ourselves as dancers.
And watching dancing can be enough too. It asks us to stay attentive to bodies not our own, staying open to witnessing whatever comes next, the unpredictability of bodies, the moment by moment emergence of moving bodies not our own, and in watching them, allowing ourselves to be acted on by them, perhaps even to accept them, come what may, and in this way, dance—the event of both dancing and watching dancing—might be enough—or might begin to be enough—to foster a kind of ethics, an orientation of patient, receptive attention towards others…

This is not a protest dance, but it is a dance that’s taking place in a world of protest, protesting bodies, bodies gathering in rallies and vigils, bodies gathering in the streets, as our bodies gather here, and any dancing that we do or view is not separate from this world of other bodies that gather.

Whatever else it might do, dance gives us an opportunity to move and be moved.
As we watch, “enough” remains a question: for what is dancing enough? For what is moving and allowing ourselves to be moved enough? If we are moved here and now by the bodies that we see, will that be enough for us to be moved by other bodies in other times and places?
We keep asking: is this enough? And when we ask, “Is this enough?” we also continue to ask: enough for what?

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TAKING PLACE

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photo by Emma Frankart, from Peter Kyle's Yet even in that silence

photo by Emma Frankart, from Peter Kyle’s Yet even in that silence

Tonight I had the opportunity to see the opening night performance of Taking PLace at the Garden Theater in Columbus, Ohio. Taking PLace is “a choreographic residency and experiment in creative process that brings inter/national choreographers to Columbus for the creation of new work with local dancers and a world-premiere concert event at the Garden Theatre.” Tonight’s concert marks the culmination of this residency and festival, conceived and directed by Nicole Garlando. Featuring the work of choreographers K.J. Holmes (NYC), Peter Kyle (NYC), CoCo Loupe (Baton Rouge), Bebe Miller (Columbus), and Claire Porter (NYC), and local choreographers Shannon Drake, Nicole Garlando, and Kent de Spain, the almost two-hour concert offered and invited any number of views on dance and dance making.

Before the show, I was contemplating what it means to “take place,” both in the sense of “to occur,” but also in the sense of occupying a space, taking a place. I was thinking about Judith Butler’s essay “Bodies in Alliance and the Politics of the Street” (http://www.eipcp.net/transversal/1011/butler/en), where she thinks along with the writing of Hannah Arendt about what it means for bodies to gather together, about the efficacy of politics in public spaces. She writes: “For politics to take place, the body must appear. I appear to others, and they appear to me, which means that some space between us allows each to appear. We are not simply visual phenomena for each other – our voices must be registered, and so we must be heard; rather, who we are, bodily, is already a way of being ‘for’ the other, appearing in ways that we cannot see, being a body for another in a way that I cannot be for myself, and so dispossessed, perspectivally, by our very sociality. I must appear to others in ways for which I cannot give an account, and in this way my body establishes a perspective that I cannot inhabit … No one body establishes the space of appearance, but this action, this performative exercise happens only ‘between’ bodies, in a space that constitutes the gap between my own body and another’s. In this way, my body does not act alone, when it acts politically. Indeed, the action emerged from the ‘between'” (italics added). The situation of the concert dance stage is one space in which we practice and exercise appearance, showing up for one another, seeing and hearing one another, providing a view of one another that no one can provide themselves. When bodies appear for others in public spaces, they establish perspectives from elsewhere that they cannot inhabit, for which they cannot give an account. As I write about this performance, I do so with the awareness of giving such an account of bodies that they could not give themselves—in the same way that as I sat watching, I was seen and apprehended and recognized is ways that I do not know, that I cannot control, for which I cannot give an account. Certainly, as Butler notes, there is a politics to all of this, but that is not the focus of what I write here; I write here to take part in what it means to take place, to offer one, partial account of what has taken place in Taking PLace.

Brief recollections:

1. :r//end/l//ent/e/r/ing//less by K.J. Holmes in collaboration with the dancers
As the piece begins, I see two grids: the prominent white backdrop superimposed with heavy black lines, and a grid extruding into space from the facings of the six dancers. Facing stage left and stage right, up stage and downstage, each one seems positioned along longitudes and latitudes running across the surface of the stage. The lines come into and out of their bodies: reaching and stepping and leaning and rolling along this spatial grid, conforming in any number of ways to these invisible but nonetheless forceful lines—a conforming that is also an enacting, a producing. The grid that I perceive between these bodies does not precede their actions; I see it because of what they do. And yet it does seem to organize their movements from the start, from before they begin, both coming into being and already having been there. Then the grid begins to unravel: in small ways, dancers start to align with one another, matching the lines of arms and legs and spines and gestures, walking and running alongside one another along parallel pathways; even when there is distance between their bodies, they establish connections with one another through shared lines, facings, directions, and momentum, swinging their arms together, reaching along the same trajectories, and eventually spiraling into a larger, running circle. If what held them together at the beginning was the suggestion of a shared grid, what holds them together at the end is the ongoing question of how they might find, follow, and feel each other, through touch and alignments, through what they share.

2. when we are not sinking or swimming by CoCo Loupe in collaboration with the performers
This is a duet, with Eric Falck and Scott Aaron Kaltenbaugh. They face each other, then relocate, then face each other again. Falck dances, all swoopy and sequential gestures, arms and legs like sinewy tassels sweeping around torso and hips; Kaltenbaugh watches, then Kaltenbaugh dances—moving through bits and pieces and textures that resemble Falck’s dancing—while Falck watches. This establishes the overall structure of this piece: one dances while the other watches, then they trade roles; the second one mimics the first, but only ever partially, then the exchange starts over, taking turns. Dance, watch, stop, see one another, dance, watch, see. I wonder to myself: what does it mean to see, to be seen, to show that you have seen, to see that you’ve been seen. Later they lean into one another, off balance, both supporting and being supported as they move through space; it reminds me of Trisha Brown’s Leaning Duetsbut leaning towards rather than away. Music begins, and they groove together, away from each other, back towards the other, then suddenly cling to one another. I think Loupe’s piece is a hypothesis about how we move with one another, for one another, near or towards one another, and how we show that other that we have seen them and what we have seen.

3. Yet even in that silence by Peter Kyle in collaboration with the dancers
Six dancers, some who begin on stage, others who enter from the back of the audience. In the center of the stage, Nicole Garlando carries two towering shoots of what looks like bamboo. The stage is basically still except for the fragile motion of the trembling bamboo leaves, so small and so constant that it shifts the scale of both activity and time throughout the piece. There is a lot of standing, slow walking, pausing, reclining, leaning: waiting. The pacing of the piece, accompanied by a minimal percussion score composed and performed live by Noah Demland, has an intermittency: activity, pause, waiting, another activity, another pause, more waiting, and throughout it all, the trembling of the bamboo leaves, the delicate reverberations of Demland’s terra cotta pots and chimes. Across and throughout the almost-stillness and almost-silence, there are these tiny motions and tiny sounds—which, of course, are also motions—and alongside these delicate reverberations, human activities take on considerable proportions. There is no possibility of stillness here, no possibility of silence, and the incorporation of such minute motion makes even a step seem momentous.

4. to never establish heavy-balance by/performed by Shannon Drake
This is a solo. The lights come up, and I think: glamour. Her face is made up, and she is wearing a sparkly black-gold mini-dress. Accompanied by music by The Knife, she reaches and pulls and flings and steps, constantly off balance or sequencing away from her own center, until she is suddenly on her balance, weight firmly planted on both feet. When she stands steadily or walks along diagonals towards the audience—walking like a model, but more hyperbolic—she is impossibly, uncannily strong. Rolling across the floor, rolling through her hips and shoulders and ribs, her elbows and knees, she is grinding through her own insides. And even when her fingers beckon, as if to say, “Come here,” it is strikingly evident that she is more than capable of getting the job done all on her own.

5. Beside Myself Deciding by Claire Porter in collaboration with the dancers
The piece begins with five dancers seated at the front edge of the stage, all wearing black and white dresses. They start talking, to the audience, to each other, to themselves.
“So what do you want? What do you want?”
“Me?”
“I want to drive somewhere…”
“…should we stop for coffee?”
“…the MFA or the PhD?”
This is what Susan Foster calls a talking dance: talking while dancing, dancing while talking, a dance with a lot of talking. The talking and the dancing occur alongside one another, intersect, sometimes seeming to inform or illustrate one another, sometimes merely simultaneous. They talk and move through things as if they are figuring them out: each gesture has an indirect, not-quite-hesitant-but-not-quite-certain quality to it, an undecidability, we might call it. They come together in gossipy little clumps, they touch one another—everyone touching someone, no one touching everyone—they lead one another, maneuver each other’s faces and bodies like puppets.
“Who will decide where to go?” is a question that stalls, confounding them, again undecidable.
The text turns towards engagement parties, dinners for two, breakups, marriages, divorces, arguments. Unions and separations and conflict are on the table here. Often the dancers are pointing, often in the same direction, and often they then move in a different direction. Pushing, pulling, directing, and redirecting themselves and each other, the piece ends with them moving downstage as a group, each one manipulating the face and focus of another; if they’ve decided where to go, it’s only between the incessant push and pull.

6. ()()()()()()()()() by Nicole Garlando in collaboration with the dancers (multiple casts)
The dancers are dispersed, all wearing white or beige or gray, moving through small gestures, sometimes quick and sometimes gradual. They form impermanent duets, small alignments with one another, mimicking each other, them moving on. The soundscore is a collage of people talking, but it isn’t until later in the piece that I begin to make sense of what they are saying. It offers a kind of explanation: it isn’t about coming together as a unified group; it’s more about their differences and making connections. In ways, this piece echoes the first by K.J. Holmes (although I believe it was choreographed before the other), with dancers along different facings and trajectories finding connections and relationships—spatial, temporal, touching, etc. But the connections here feel fleeting, a matter of moments. One moment something becomes shared between one or more dancers, and the next it’s gone. They are on to something else.

7. Intervention for Two by Kent De Spain, with Leslie Dworkin
Two people seated in chairs facing in opposite directions on opposite sides of the stage. He wears a suit, and she wears a sexy red dress. They are accompanied by scattered sound bytes—music and dialogue—from “classic Hollywood films.” Gestures and interactions are timed—with the slightest sense of delay—with the text as if they are together both the jokes and the punchlines.

8. Watching the Watching by Bebe Miller assisted by Rashana Smith
A single dancer is on stage facing a laptop computer on a stool. She makes faces and small head/body movements while watching the screen. She gets close to the screen, and a larger group of dancers enter. They are accompanied by recorded text by Ain Gordon. He speaks about six people gathered together; something happens, and they each tell their own story of what happened. There is no one story; the stories proliferate, and with each telling, there are more and more versions of what happened that circulate.
“It happened, it was thought about, it was told and retold, until it gets lost.”
All of the dancers are watching the screen, moving along together: circling shoulders, small head movements, circling through the torso, their foci anchoring them in the direction of the screen. Suddenly, most of the dancers exit, and six remain. They are dancing together, all watching the computer that one dancer is carrying, and when she turns, I see that they are following a video on the computer screen. They are watching the screen and following along; I am watching them dancing, and their dancing is their following, the telling of their own watching. The other dancers re-enter with a second computer, and they are all dancing while watching the screens, following along with what I cannot see. As the piece progresses, the dancers divide up: there are those watching the screen and moving along with what they see, then there are other who are only watching them, following those dancers who are watching the screen, then others following the dancers following the dancers following the video on the screen. The stage is full of stages of translation of the same movement as it migrates across bodies, across intervals of time and space. They are all doing some version of the same movement, but as the stages of translation increase, so also do their differences. There are slight delays, subtle canons now, and more variations on how the movement lives out differently in and across different bodies. There is not just one version; there are many. I am watching them watching them watching what I cannot see…

And now here I am, at my own screen, watching myself writing what I saw, what they could not see.
And here is how something takes place, how it can be said to have taken place: the stories that we tell, the accounts that we give, and how they do and do not add up to a total view of what it was that took place. Like Loupe’s when we are not sinking or swimming, Miller’s piece stages the experience of watching, seeing, being seen, and showing what was seen. Not everything carries over; there is no single, total, authoritative view. Every event, every occurrence, every performance, every dance—every person even—always occurs between any number of partial positions, any number of limited views. No one of us can give the full account of a dance, of another, of ourselves, of what has taken place.
These brief recollections of these eight dances are a view from somewhere, from only one position/place. There are more recollections, views, somewheres, positions, and places; there must be. And such multiple views together—what we see together, alongside one another, what we can see of one another that no one of us can see for ourselves—is how we go about taking place.

You have two more opportunities to see this show: Saturday, July 12th at 2pm and 8pm. Tickets are $15 at the door. For more information, visit:
https://www.facebook.com/events/870036403013345/
http://takingplacecolumbus.com



an impossible trace: coco loupe in columbus

I want to write about CoCo Loupe in Columbus, Ohio. Or maybe it’s more like: I want to write about CoCo Loupe and me in Columbus, Ohio.
I recognize the impossibility of this endeavor before I even begin, but the impossibility of an endeavor must not diminish the possibility of attempting it, because the attempt will surely produce something other and more than that which is impossible.
Impossible because it will never be a complete account; any trace that I can write will only thread together fragments and gaps to offer an incomplete view, a partial perspective, woven from memory and forgetting.
My life with CoCo begins long before Columbus.
CoCo’s life with Columbus begins before I arrived here.
My life with Columbus will continue once CoCo moves back to Baton Rouge—where we first met—although her having been here will always continue to be how I know this place.
This trace will not offer an account of everything. I doubt it will be entirely linear. But here it is:

I first met CoCo when I was in high school. She was my first modern dance teacher, at The Dancer’s Workshop in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where we are both from. My memories of CoCo from that period: her shaved head, the intensity of her classes, the Run Lola Run soundtrack, something called “acid jazz,” learning to do “illusions” and something she called “shnorkles,” and lots of pushups and crunches—a series she called G. I. Jane.
She was teaching at LSU at the time, and sometimes her students from the university would come and take class with us.
I would often see her getting coffee at the CC’s around the corner before class. I knew of her before I took her class at Dancer’s Workshop; she had done a show called Loupe’d with the modern dance company with whom I would eventually dance, Of Moving Colors Productions (OMC), and I remember seeing the posters for the show at my high school. Later when I worked for OMC, I filed lots of flyers with her bio on them, and saw this photo all the time:

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Amiti Perry and CoCo Loupe on a rooftop in New York

This was how I saw CoCo for many, many years.
When working for OMC, I saw a video of Loupe’d, and I watched it obsessively for years; she did not know this at the time. What I saw in CoCo’s choreography, and her collaborative work with Amiti Perry, was unlike any dancing I had seen in Baton Rouge. It was so strong and connected; I could hardly keep up with how one action became another and led into something else. I knew I wanted to dance like that someday.
Years later, I would create a solo based on a solo that CoCo presented in Loupe’d; I didn’t know this at the time.
Then she moved to Columbus, Ohio, for grad school, and I went to college in Jackson, Mississippi. We saw each other several times at American College Dance Festivals during those years, and I felt like our lives were being braided together somehow, from this starting point in Baton Rouge to somewhere I did not yet know. I took her technique classes a these festivals, and I remember being disoriented by how familiar it was, and also how much her dancing had evolved, the mix of the unfamiliar within what was already intimately incorporated into my body from years earlier. When I graduated from college, I chose to apply to the Ohio State University for my MFA in Dance because this was where CoCo went and because the work that I had seen her present at ACDF year after year was the kind of work I aspired to make. I was accepted to the program.

During those years, I devoured CoCo’s blog, From One Foot To The Other. The things that she wrote and thought about were the things I wanted to write and think about, and we left long traces of comments back and forth discussing things I can no longer recall but which gave me the first taste of what it would be like to think about and write about dance. I felt like my world was expanding line by line, post by post, thread by thread, comment by comment. Her blog gave me a connection to somewhere else, both literally her life and practice in Columbus (and then Oregon), and also a dancing life where dance and choreography functioned as research, where bodies were sites for critical inquiry, and dancing could ask questions about time and space and memory and cognition.
Year later, her blog would disappear—deceased—and it would be transformed into a zine and live on as a dance. We didn’t know this yet.
Years later, I would be teaching a course called Writing About Dance at the Ohio State University, and CoCo would come perform for my students so that they would have live dance to write about. We didn’t know this yet either.

When I first came for a visit to Columbus to find a place to live, CoCo met me for lunch at a place called Bodega. We ate salad and drank coffee, and she showed me a video of her dancing a solo called The Runner choreographed by Deborah Hay. Years later, words from Deborah Hay would become part of the structure and score for a dance CoCo would make called from one foot to the other, and I would see some of the words from Hay scribbled on the walls of a place called Feverhead, but we didn’t know this at the time.
In the years since then, I’ve seen CoCo perform The Runner several times. I saw it at least once at AGORA when Junctionview Studios was still in operation. And this is the dance that she would eventually perform live for my students, an updated version of the solo, formerly The Runner, now entitled 1976: a bicentennial death at the disco. we ran for our livesI saw this dance for the first time on CoCo’s laptop on a hot June afternoon sitting in the front of Bodega in 2008.

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CoCo practicing The Runner in what was formerly Studio 2 in Sullivant Hall at OSU

At the end of my first year of grad school, CoCo asked me to dance in a new piece, originally to be titled 3 boys and an old prophetess, with Eric Falck, Jeff Fouch, CoCo, and myself, to be performed in a concert called Anthro(pop)ology II at the Columbus Dance Theater. I didn’t know Eric before this project, and I hardly knew Jeff. During the process of creating that piece, the four of us rehearsed in CoCo’s attic and a dance studio called Floorspace that no longer exists. During the process, it became unclear who were the three boys and who was the old prophetess; we all had prophetess solos, we all made solos to pop songs, we all danced together and with one another. And then CoCo got injured. Her role changed, and she became a figure who watched us, witnessed us, recorded us, and shared us. In the final version of the piece, she sat at a desk on the front edge of the stage with her computer and camera, watching us dance; on the opposite side of the stage was a large screen onto which was projected her computer’s desktop, and the audience watched as she watched us and uploaded comments and photos live to her Facebook. In the final version of the piece, we took turns dancing with one another and dancing for one another, watching each other and being watched by each other. The succession of solos was suffused with anticipation, I remember, charged with aggression and eroticism and tenderness, and each time we danced it, I think I fell in love with everyone involved again and again. The piece was entitled click here for slideshow or 6-8 character limit, and we danced it all summer and throughout the autumn until it premiered in the fall of 2009.

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click here for slideshow or 6-8 character limit, photo by Dr. G

That same fall, I began choreographing a new dance temporarily then permanently entitled Autumn Quartet, with Erik Abbott-Main, Eric Falck, Amanda Platt, and myself. It was an experiment with explicit violence and sexuality, with more pop music, with conventional vocabularies of erotic performance—pre-figuring my work in burlesque, but I didn’t know this at the time—and systems of determinate and indeterminate algorithmic choreography. More aggression, more eroticism, more pop music, more tenderness, more falling in love. We danced set phrase material, made choices within an algorithmic score, stripped for one another, rolled around on the floor biting each other, leaving our marks on each other, being naked with each other, getting dressed in each other’s clothes. I asked CoCo to come see the piece and give me feedback. This is not the only dance of mine to which I would ask her to watch and respond; it was not the first nor was it the last. She was my guide, my other eyes; I could trust her to see what I could not see and to show my own dance(s) to me. I was so lost in that lovely, unpredictable, structured mess of a dance, and the dance CoCo described back to me was perhaps the first time I realized that we are always doing so much more than what it is that we think we are doing, in our choreography and in our lives. It’s an intimate act, to ask someone to give you their view of your own work, to invite that view into the creative process, to let their words affect the choices that you make in the dance that you are creating. In life—by which I mean something like life beyond the dance studio, although admittedly the boundaries get blurry—I think we call this something like love. CoCo is one of the few people who I have welcomed again and again into that position.

Autumn Quarter rehearsal in what was formerly Studio 2 of Sullivant Hall at OSU

Autumn Quarter rehearsal in what was formerly Studio 2 in Sullivant Hall at OSU

Over the next year, we danced together sometimes, as CoCo healed from her injury. She played golf. And sometimes we danced.

improv jam at Travonna Coffee House

improv jam at Travonna Coffee House

improv jam at Columbus Dance Theater

improv jam at Columbus Dance Theater

One time we danced at a food festival in the Gateway.

gateway food fest

gateway food fest

[I’m forgetting all kinds of things, and leaving things out. Each memory unravels into all kinds of other stories, other histories, other connections. Why don’t I remember enough to write about BACKSPACE or the times I saw CoCo perform with them, all the different settings and situations in which we were together at Columbus Dance Theater? Why not explain that at the Gateway food festival, in the middle of an improvisation with whatever band was playing, I met Heidi Kambitsch who would eventually host the Queer Yoga classes that I teach at a space called It Looks Like It’s Open? How can I not tie together all the strings of relationships with other people and faces in these photographs? Isn’t it amazing that in trying to write one impossible trace, I can feel the pull of so many intersecting histories and how we’ve all made a life together here in this place called Columbus?]

That year—2010, the year I was accepted into the PhD program in the Department of Dance at OSU—CoCo did several performances/practices with the idea of “the other woman” (I think that’s what she was called). It was a version of CoCo, a video of her dancing, sped up and digitized, and the flesh-and-blood CoCo tried to learn this digitized, sped up version of herself, tried to dance like this other woman. Those were really important works for me to witness; I felt like she was dealing so directly with the impossibility of ideals, the intense labor of our bodies struggling to live up to standards that have been manufactured as digital images of ourselves, while also fully accepting our own cyborg statuses, how we are already actualized in conjunction with all kinds of digital software/hardware, and how our flesh-and-blood bodies have already become something other than they might have been because we have looked at ourselves in the mirror of technology and (mis?)recognized ourselves as our digital avatars. This is grown-up, cyborg “mirror phase” shit, and I was enthralled. She danced around this hybrid other woman for a while, at Wild Goose Creative, in the window of Wholly Craft, other places.

dancing with the other woman at Wild Goose Creative

dancing with the other woman at Wild Goose Creative

dancing as the other woman at Wholly Craft

dancing as the other woman at Wholly Craft

I didn’t know that soon thereafter CoCo and collaborators would stage an interactive dance/projected chat room spectacle at Wild Goose where I would be invited to be an “expert commentator,” to write about the dance that was happening live, to have that writing projected on the walls of the gallery for the spectators and performers to see, to have that text absorbed back into the dance. She has been dancing around our lives with technology for a while. I didn’t know that years later I would be dating someone that CoCo introduced to me who performs at Wild Goose month after month. There’s a lot we didn’t know all along.

A lot happened the following summer—2011. We did a performance with a lot of dancers at Comfest, and many friends I have since come to know and adore reference that performance as the first time they saw me (dancing with CoCo).

Comfest performance 2011

Comfest performance 2011

That same summer, Feverhead came into existence.
How do I even begin to write about Feverhead? It has been the setting for so many important moments in my life and in the lives of dancing and not-dancing people in this city. In July 2011, CoCo had the opening and tour of the Feverhead space, a space for making dances and for dancing, for performances and classes, the home of a collective of dancers called They Might Be Dancers and their collaborators. I showed up late after teaching yoga across town. I stretched out in the space for the first time that night.

Feverhead opening 2011

Feverhead opening 2011

I had no idea how many times I would stretch in that space, dance in that space, rehearse in that space, watch performances in that space, teach in that space, read my own writing in that space, teach and take Queer Yoga classes in that space, watch myself in a dance film projected on the walls of that space, cuddle in a bed with friends and lovers and strangers in that space, screen queer pornography on the walls of that space, cry on the floor of that space, pose for photos for a Valentine’s article about Columbus couples in that space, listen to music composed and performed by friends and loved ones in that space, discover new ways of thinking and moving and loving and performing all in this crazy little space called Feverhead. We simply had no idea at the time.

That fall, CoCo asked me to perform with her at TRAUMA, an annual kink/fetish Halloween event that has been happening in Columbus for over a decade. We learned choreography and rehearsed at Feverhead. This would be the first time I would perform in six-inch heels on stage. This would be the first time I would be flogged in front of hundreds of people. We danced for almost five hours on two different nights, on the main stage, on the dance floor, and again on the main stage. We left with welts and bruises from COREROC/Ashley Voss whipping us with floggers dipped in paint, marks on our bodies that would linger for days/weeks. It continues to be one of the most intense performances I have ever done, and I did it with/for CoCo. I have continued to perform in TRAUMA every year since then. Performing together was surreal and a total genderfuck: CoCo is this intensely muscular body wearing combat boots and I am next to her, long and lean, in six-inch heels; we were both wearing gas masks. I like to think that we brought something queer/genderqueer to the TRAUMA stage, that together/alongside one another, we brought contemporary dance to a non-traditional space, and performed bodies that do not readily conform with the normative expectations for what gendered bodies should be. I know I felt visible because I was dancing next to her.

TRAUMA 2011

us at TRAUMA 2011

me at TRAUMA 2011

me at TRAUMA 2011

A month later, CoCo had an event at Feverhead called “Afternoon Delight,” a kind of mixed-media casual art event, with live music and visual art and dancing. She asked me to read an essay that I had written called “Who/How I?” We didn’t know at the time that two years later, this essay would be published on NPR’s This I Believe web archive. I thought this one public reading constituted the life and impact of that writing, and sharing it in public was a gift that CoCo gave me. We ended up dancing together that afternoon; it seems like we always end up dancing together.

Afternoon Delight November 2011

Afternoon Delight November 2011

In 2012, CoCo decided to create an event modeled on events that she used to produce in Texas (I think?) called STUPID CUPID, an alternative Valentine’s party. She asked me to contribute a performance, and I staged a piece called cuddle which I had first performed in U.Turn Art Space in Cincinnati as an homage to the piece by the same title originally performed by artists Annie Sprinkle and Elizabeth Stephens. This piece involved installing a full sized mattress in what was then the gallery space at Feverhead. Over the course of the evening, I cuddled with partygoers for seven minute intervals, in solos, pairs, and trios. We may have had one quartet? I think I cuddled with around forty people that night. But one of the first people was CoCo. We were very quiet. Some people talk when they cuddle. Some want to chat or share intimate details or ask questions; we just rested together, for seven minutes, before the party really got going.

Cuddle at STUPID CUPID 2011

Cuddle at STUPID CUPID 2011

Shortly there after (maybe a week?), I hosted my first queer porn screening at Feverhead. I had attempted to have a queer porn screening in multiple other venues in the city, and it had never come together. CoCo offered me the space. It was an opportunity to bring more visibility to work that is already being done in pornography to bring visibility to more bodies, sexes, sexualities, and genders. We screened the work of Shine Louise Houston, Madison Young, and Courtney Trouble, all queer/feminist pornographers committed to ethical productions and ethical representations of bodies, people, and their sexualities. This was the first of two porn screenings that I have had at Feverhead.

15_warming_up_feb2012
The screenings were both followed by conversations in which a room full of people talked about their perceptions of pornography, sex, sexualities, what it means to be queer, what it means to be trans, how to stimulate the g-spot, what it means to produce ethical representations of sex and bodies, and the sheer excitement of seeing other people have sex in ways that you perhaps have never imagined. Feverhead has been an incredible space for many people and for may purposes, but hosting those queer porn screenings/conversations were pivotal for me: through those events, Columbus became more of the city where I wanted to live. I know I’m not the only one who feels like Columbus is a better place to live because Feverhead is here.

Sometime that spring, CoCo was training for a 24-hour or multi-day performance. She had a (I think) four hour performance in which people were invited to drop by for any amount of time throughout the afternoon. I stopped by for a bit. I ended up dancing with CoCo while DJ Moxy made sound with us live in the space. It was not the first time I had danced to Moxy’s music, but it was maybe the first time I had danced with CoCo to Moxy’s music. It would not be the last. I have lost track of how many times and the different places where we have danced so hard while Moxy dj’ed that we sweated through all of our clothes and closed down the bar, soaking wet and completely alight. We had no way of knowing that over a year later, the three of us and others would be grooving through a yoga practice that might be one of the most transformative physical experiences of my life thus far (also at Feverhead), or that we would be standing together on Gay Street watching Way Yes at the Independents Day Festival, or dancing into another sweaty mess together at the Columbus RED Party.

CoCo, Moxy, Michael

CoCo, Moxy, Michael

That autumn—2012—CoCo premiered a new dance called FROM ONE FOOT TO THE OTHER: what was once digital is dead & now lives on as a dance with They Might Be Dancers Too (Zachariah Baird, Counterfeit Madison, and Eve Hermann), with appearances by They Might Be Dancers (Noelle Chun, Nicole Garlando, Lindsay Caddle LaPointe, Noah Demland, Leigh Lotocki, CoCo Loupe) and Karen Mozingo, with original music by Counterfeit Madison and Noah Demland. This was the dance that her blog became, the blog that I read before coming to grad school. It became a zine and it became a dance, made with and for three adult dancers—Zachariah Baird, Counterfeit Madison, and Eve Hermann—who had only begun dancing months earlier. I have written at length about that piece here, and if you have time, I hope you follow the tangent to read about that piece and come back here.

FROM ONE FOOT TO THE OTHER: what was once digital is dead & now lives on as a dance

FROM ONE FOOT TO THE OTHER: what was once digital is dead & now lives on as a dance

[There’s so much I’m leaving out. There’s so much I’m forgetting. There was the time that I desperately wanted to present my research at the Ecosex Symposium II in San Francisco and I did not get the travel grant I applied for and CoCo sponsored my travel so that I could present my research, where I continued to collaborate with Annie Sprinkle and Elizabeth Stephens, about whom I am writing part of my dissertation, who first performed the cuddle piece to which I performed in homage, where I met Jiz Lee who performed in the queer porn that I would eventually screen in Feverhead, where I stayed with Karl Cronin who CoCo introduced to me years earlier and about whom I am also now writing in my dissertation. And the quarter that CoCo taught technique at OSU and I took her dance class again, six or seven or eight years after I had first taken her classes in Baton Rouge. And that CoCo performed with the Velvet Hearts before I did, and I watched her performing with this burlesque company on the stage of Wall Street years before I would perform with them on that same stage. And dancing into a sweaty mess at HEATWAVE. And the time we were both part of the Noble Peach Awards, and I gave Eileen Galvin the award for Biggest Genderfuck, and CoCo called the two of us goddesses, and she was given an award for—I think—most likely to dance into exhaustion, and I was so excited to be part of a community of people who would show up and celebrate and honor these kinds of people and accomplishments. And watching one another perform more times than either one of us could possibly count. And more.]

In the spring of 2013, I created a dance for the first FIERCE International Queer Burlesque Festival based on a solo that CoCo had choreographed that I had watched again and again on an old VHS tape of a concert called Loupe’d in Baton Rouge. CoCo let me use/adapt her choreography for this solo, choreography that was too difficult for my body to dance, choreography that had to be slowed down and altered to fit my body and to function as burlesque. Somewhere in what the choreography became, our bodies met (again). I made a video from footage that CoCo shot so that there could be a video component that approximated an idea that CoCo had for the original piece that had never been realized. She met me in a warehouse in Franklinton, and videoed me dancing this solo that I had made from her solo; in the final performance, the video was projected on five screens surrounding the audience at Wall Street Night Club while I performed the solo live on stage. This is the video that was projected, CoCo videoing me dancing the solo made from her solo:

CoCo photographing me outside 400 West Rich after videoing my/our solo

CoCo photographing me outside 400 West Rich after videoing my/our solo

me performing the solo alongside the video projected at the FIERCE Festival

me performing the solo alongside the video projected at the FIERCE Festival

There’s so much more to tell, about sitting on a couch at Impero and exchanging mantras to mend our broken hearts while clutching mala beads as spring became summer. About all the dances and classes and collaborations through which CoCo has made Columbus what it is, for which I was not present, for which I cannot account. This is, after all, an impossible trace. It’s all fragments and gaps and memories and forgettings. There are people who maybe should have appeared in these traces that have not, and tangents that I maybe should have followed. There are so many other accounts that could be written.

This autumn—2013—we knew CoCo would be moving back to Baton Rouge.
She also started this Friday night class called Grooveasana, a yoga/movement improvisation hybrid class the danced in and out of asana, that found asana and transitions between asana as we danced around them. I can’t completely explain why this practice has been one of the most fulfilling/generative practices in my life…it has something to do with my long-time yoga practice providing a trusted preparation and container for wherever else my curiosity might take me/my body. For many weeks, we were still trying to figure out exactly what it was we were doing, how to go about a loosely structure yoga asana practice that could dissolve into grooving and dancing and exploration and then easily transition back into savasana/relaxation. Sometimes Moxy dj’ed. And we found our groove, again and again and again, in different ways, along different paths.
But I don’t want to diminish the significance that it was CoCo leading the way, and my earliest experiences in dancing were following CoCo’s lead, as a teenager taking dance classes in Baton Rouge, following her lead to OSU and Columbus, OH, following her throughout this community, in and out of Feverhead in so many ways, and through this groovy familiar/unfamiliar yoga/dancing space.

Grooveasana, photo by Kate Sweeny

Grooveasana, photo by Kate Sweeny

It is no exaggeration to say that I don’t know where I would be if I had not followed CoCo, all the traces she left for me and in my dancing body/life; I know that I would not be here. I don’t know how my body would move; I would have never considered moving to Columbus or going to OSU; I’m not sure if I would have made the dances that I’ve made; I know I would not have danced the dances that I’ve danced. When and where would I have ever had queer porn screenings or cuddling performance art or watched my loved ones new and old performing together for the very first time or grooved my way in and out of yoga?
I have never lived in this city without CoCo, and Columbus will always be what it is to me because of CoCo having lived here with me.
But this is really just a concrete metaphor for something vastly more true: I have never lived the life I am living—and dancing and writing and teaching and loving—without CoCo, and it will always be what it is to me because CoCo has been braided in and through it for so long.

This is an insufficient trace. I can’t seem to put words to what it felt like, all these years, the ebbs and flows of inspiration and elation and hesitation and contemplation and perplexity and frustration and grief and laughter and seeing each other again after longer periods of time and the overwhelming sense of recognition, of having been seen by another for so long, and so much delight and so much relief and so much love… There is so much I can feel slipping just beyond the edges of the screen, and what I’ve written cannot begin to do justice to this person I love. But I needed to try to record what I could fathom of these years, pieced together from memory and Facebook. There’s a part of me—the part of me who is a writer, the part of me who writes in order to show appreciation, in order to extend the duration of that which I appreciate—that is already grieving the loss of being able to write about CoCo and her work, at least for the foreseeable future. And here I’ve found myself writing a trace of her/our dancing life/lives perhaps as a way of holding in the present—and into the future—the tangle of that dancing and writing that I will miss so very much.

Our lives will continue to braid, in Baton Rouge, beyond; the trace certainly does not stop here.

[Friday, December 13, CoCo is offering a gratitude and farewell concert at Feverhead: https://www.facebook.com/events/391730200961595/
On the program:
Noah Demland’s “Timelines”
Obstinate Robinson AKA Counterfeit Madison AKA Sharona Sharona Sha-ro-na
Corbezzolo – Marie Corbo, Philip Kim, and Noah Demland
“Very, Very, Very”: A new trio by CoCo Loupe with music by Noah Demland for Nicole Garlando, Leigh Lotocki, and Amanda Platt
New video work by Nicole Garlando w/ photography by Eve Hermann
“re: addressing”: A solo (CoCo) bon-voyage-dancing-gift
Friday, December 13, 2013
8pm
Feverhead: 1199 Goodale Blvd, Columbus, OH, 43212
Tea and BYOB party follows performance.
Free admission but donations happily accepted.]



queer burlesque and the velvet hearts

Last week I had the opportunity to speak to Sofie Clemmensen’s Freshman Seminar in the Department of Dance at OSU. Sofie had invited me to talk about blogging (and now I’m blogging about talking about blogging—so meta) and writing artist’s statements. In addition to these main speaking points, I also talked about web presence more generally, the social constitution of identity (we are all always more than who we are to ourselves; both on the web and off, who we are is an aggregate of content the we have generated and content/parameters generated by others), identifying and articulating one’s contribution to the field, and some of my own work/reasons for being in dance. In the discussion of my own work, I talked a little about the work I’ve been doing this past year performing as a principle dancer in the queer burlesque company Viva Valezz! and the Velvet Hearts. I realized after the talk that I haven’t posted anything about that work here on my blog, and so I wanted to offer a brief account of my time with the company over the last year (plus).

I joined the Velvet Hearts in August 2012. I had never considered being a burlesque performer before then, but when I was invited to audition, it made sense. I had been going to burlesque shows for years, specifically queer burlesque shows, because I was interested in the staging of eroticism, the celebration of bodies, and the reconfiguring of the “traditional” (straight) strip show for queer performers and audiences. I was excited by the empowerment of watching women stripping for women, and how the orientations of these crowds seemed to influence the possibilities for the form that the burlesque took, such as gender ambiguity, androgyny, or genderfuck, overt lesbian content, and the way the audience related to the performers. At Velvet Hearts shows, I was always so moved by the overwhelming gratitude that the audience displayed; rather than demanding or catcalling performers to take things off, these crowds cheered and tipped when clothing was removed. When I joined the Velvet Hearts, it was in part because this was a culture that I wanted to be a part of, a culture that feels sex-positive, feminist, queer, and body-positive, right here in Columbus, Ohio. As so much of my own choreography and research interests engage directly with bodies, sexuality, sex, and porn, I was also interested in how choreographing and performing in this genre would open new avenues of exploration for my work. Going in, I knew that I was approaching burlesque as a choreographer/dancer coming from the contemporary/post-modern dance world. My interests were in the choreographic tropes and principles of burlesque—delay, anticipation, and reveal, the spectators’ gaze—the vocabularies through which “sex” and “sexy” are signified—things like shimmies, bumps, grinds, sustained, lingering touch, etc., as well as normative and non-normative gender codes—and the role of costuming in choreography; in many ways, what you wear determines what you do. The fashion of burlesque—boas and satin gloves and zippers and corsets and bras and pasties, etc.—prescribes certain parameters for movement, not only the gestures that are performed, but the sequencing on those gestures (the order in which articles of clothing are removed). In each of the pieces I have created over the last year, I have been experimenting with these formal properties of burlesque: how long can one sustain anticipation before a reveal? if I am only wearing one article of clothing (a sari, for instance, as in my solo “Like This”), is it possible to take six minutes to remove it, and what choreography does that costuming enable? are there ways to critique the gaze of the spectator—by which I mean, make it visible or appreciable as a certain norm, not critique as in criticize or demean—heightening the spectator’s self-awareness of their own gaze and desires to see, while also reversing the gaze, giving the spectator the sensation of being viewed or seen? what is “minimalism” in burlesque? if I reduce the choreography to only a few actions—a grind, a shimmy—repeated indefinitely, does the significance of those actions change? does their erotic potential/function shift into something else? do they become de-naturalized, and does the de-naturalization of certain erotic tropes open the parameters for what might then be appreciable/recognizable as erotic? in what ways does burlesque participate in what I think of as the larger project of dance, the exploration and presentation of what bodies can do, thus what bodies can be? if burlesque is an exploration/presentation of what [more] bodies can be, is it possible to consider burlesque to be participating in the politics of the life and livability of bodies, as it relates to sexuality, visibility, and recognition? These are some (not all) of the questions that I’ve been exploring in my choreography within the queer burlesque scene. I don’t have video footage of most of my performances, but I have been very grateful for the work of a number of photographers who have captured moments from my performances over the last year (credited below).

I’ll try to be better about posting about upcoming performances and shows, but if you are interested in this work, feel free to follow the Velvet Hearts on Facebook; all of our performances are announced there.

This video was produced as part of a solo I performed in the FIERCE International Queer Burlesque Festival. The piece was performed at Wall Street Night Club on May 4, 2013. This video was projected on screens on all sides of the audience while I performed the same solo on stage, facing away from the audience. This was an experiment in heightening the sensation of voyeurism and surveillance that is implicit within the structure of a burlesque performance. The choreography was derived from a solo originally choreographed by CoCo Loupe, who also shot the footage for the video.

rehearsal stills from "becoming emma, becoming imperceptible"

rehearsal stills from “becoming emma, becoming imperceptible”

fierce_burlesquebitch1

solo from FIERCE International Queer Burlesque Festival, photo by BurlesqueBitch.com

fierce_provocatique1

solo from FIERCE International Queer Burlesque Festival, photo by Provocatique.com

fierce_provocatique2

solo from FIERCE International Queer Burlesque Festival, photo by Provocatique.com

likethis_provocatique2

“Like This,” photo by Provocatique.com

likethis_robwalker

“Like This,” photo by Robert Walker

likethis_provocatique1

“Like This,” photo by Provocatique.com

likethis_robwalker2

“Like This,” photo by Robert Walker

trauma_provocatique1

Geryon from TRAUMA 2012, photo by Provocatique.com

trauma_provocatique

Geryon from TRAUMA 2012, photo by Provocatique.com



and with: my body is possessed by past dances, my dance is possessed by bodies yet-to-be danced

The last two days have been completely saturated with performance. Last night I saw the premiere of FROM ONE FOOT TO THE OTHER: what was once digital is dead & now lives on as a dance at FEVERHEAD, a new work by CoCo Loupe and They Might Be Dancers Too (Zachariah Baird, Counterfeit Madison, and Eve Hermann), with appearances by They Might Be Dancers (Noelle Chun, Nicole Garlando, Lindsay Caddle LaPointe, Noah Demland, Leigh Lotocki, CoCo Loupe) and Karen Mozingo, with original music by Counterfeit Madison and Noah Demland. Following the performance, I made my burlesque debut with the Velvet Hearts in the Red Light Girlie Lounge at Wall Street Night Club. This afternoon I saw Bebe Miller’s new work, A History, at the Wexner Center for the Arts. Each of these experience deserves to be written, to be told through writing, but I am particularly interested in trying to articulate the play between FROM ONE FOOT TO THE OTHER and A History, how the two are operating as a diptych in my experiences of them within the last twenty-four hours, uncovering themes and concepts that are surfacing for me within the reverberation between these dances. In both works, my attention is directed towards the dance/dancing as a form of community, towards the ways in which dances and dancing both cohere and emerge from relationships, towards the choreographic strategies that come to operate as cultural values within the community of these dancing bodies (“these” being in one instance the bodies of They Might Be Dancers Too and They Might Be Dancers, in the other instance, the bodies of the Bebe Miller Company, specifically the dancers Angie Hauser and Darrell Jones), strategies such as mutual seeing and being seen, mimicry, audience interaction, partnering, and so on. In both instances, relationships become a kind of choreographic device, or at the very least, a material within the dance making. The relationships are not (merely) the conditions of the dance; they are formative. The work of making dances come together and comes out of the relationships between people, between bodies. The pieces also do something quite different: in A History, the attention of the choreographer/company is directed towards the archive of their work together, a history of dances and dance making, and the ways in which the memory of that history lives within their bodies. The work is a “remembering remembering,” creating something now from what was then, from how “then” lives within “now.” Dating back to a working/dancing relationship that began with Verge in 2001, through Landing/Place in 2005, and Necessary Beauty in 2008, A History (in 2012) builds itself from the re-membering of the memories of years of developing and rehearsing material, years of practicing and repeating, years of bodies coming into contact with Miller’s choreography, one another’s movement and flesh and personalities, and so on. This dance emerges from their history of dancing. In fact, their bodies themselves materialized through this history, a history with and through and alongside one another. In FROM ONE FOOT TO THE OTHER, Loupe foregrounds the dancing bodies of three individuals—Baird, Hermann, and Madison—who have only just begun their dance training this year. My attention is directed towards a horizon of potential. These three bodies entered FEVERHEAD with a lifetime of experiences, lived embodiment, habits and patterns, preferences and predilections, and through their work with Loupe, those bodies of experience have become dancing, and then they became choreography, and then they became a dance. This dance/dancing is situated alongside seasoned dancers (They Might Be Dancers et al), in a move that creates a flattening/leveling of movement experiences, emphasizing the interest—the importance even—of bodies moving with one another. Foregrounding dancers who came to dance only this year makes the concept of “dancer” not about hierarchy—those with more experience are more important—but rather emphasizes that “dancer” is truly about a willingness/eagerness to dance, to be with one another dancing.

And:
I’m dancing through my own memories.
Modern dance class with CoCo at the Dancers’ Workshop in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, circa-the-early-2000s. The class is fast and difficult, and I never feel strong enough, and I am becoming intensely aware of how difficult it will be to be a dancer. We’re listening to the soundtrack from Run Lola Run. We do “G.I. Jane’s,” a series of crunches and pushups that I can never quite finish. We “shnorkle.” We do “illusions” and lots of work upside down with our legs in the air.
I know I want to dance with CoCo, for CoCo. I’ve seen a video of a piece she made with Amiti Perry called Two Arms Full Circle, and it’s the most amazing dancing I’ve every seen. I know I want to be a dancer in part because of CoCo.
Years later, I am in my junior year of college, and I present a solo at ACDF at the Ohio State University. CoCo presents an excerpt from her MFA project, In the Clear, and I fall in love with CoCo’s work all over again.
In 2008, I move to Columbus, Ohio, to start my MFA at OSU, and finally, CoCo and I live in the same city again. In the months preceding my move, I’ve been actively engaged in conversations with CoCo and others on her blog, from one foot to the other. CoCo’s blog is a lifeline to critical dance making during the year after I finished my BFA, and it is emblematic of the kinds of dialogue I desire in grad school.
In grad school (I think in the spring of 2009?), I take modern dance with CoCo again, now at OSU. I am startled by how much is familiar, how much of how CoCo moves lives in my body and my movement, and how pronounced our differences still are. I still get tired. I still don’t feel strong enough. And yet the forcefulness, the relationship of distal actions to the core of my body, the evidence of attention is the body (even when my eyes glaze over) harken back to my first modern dance classes with CoCo in Baton Rouge. I do not dance like her, but she is in the dancing that I do.
In 2009, I dance in a new work by CoCo Loupe entitled click here for slideshow or 6-8 character limit, with Eric Falck and Jeff Fouch. We are goddesses and boys and pop stars, and I am finally dancing for/with CoCo Loupe.
For years, CoCo and I watch and respond to one another’s work. We improvise together. We sometimes perform together. We sometimes take class together.
In 2011, CoCo and They Might Be Dancers start FEVERHEAD, a creative dance/arts space. They have classes and performances and workshops and exhibitions, and FEVERHEAD becomes a home for dance artists in Columbus. FEVERHEAD also becomes a home for people who are not dance artists, but who want to dance.
Last night CoCo premiered FROM ONE FOOT TO THE OTHER, working with people who are new to dancing, building material from ideas taken from her old blog, building a dance from the improvisatory movement of Zachariah Baird, Counterfeit Madison, and Eve Hermann, where their bodies, their histories of movement, interface with these old, digital ideas. Something new happens.
The piece begins with ten performers in a line holding hands, shifting their weight from their left foot to their right foot, back again, over and over. They look at us, the audience, and we look back at them. And I am already overwhelmed by the tenderness of soft and open faces, the interdependence of bodies articulated through interlocking hands, the shifting ankles and metatarsals on the floor as bodies maintain standing (together), from one foot to the other. Zachariah (my boyfriend) is directly in front of me, and I am undone by the vulnerability that is made visible just by standing on one foot, then the other foot, then the other, and then the other. We make eye contact briefly, and he exhales audibly, and I feel myself hope that I somehow remind him to breathe. I catch Eve’s glance, and we both smile broadly. I am warmed by the gentleness and kindness of Nicole’s eyes as she scans the audience, also smiling; she is beautiful and reassuring and exudes an energetic calm. I am drawn into Noah’s stance, noticing how very still he is, how steady he seems, and wondering how that steadiness extends inwards within his inner world and outward to those hands he is holding. I watch Counterfeit, and notice that something about the space between her neck and shoulders and how she holds her chest looks as if she is barely restraining the force of her excitement and anticipation. And so on. I am falling in love with each of them.
The dance that unfolds is complex and layered, a play of attention (lots of watching one another), imitation, repetition, and proximity. I watch them watching one another, watching me.
I can’t watch CoCo without feeling the swell of history, the “us” that is “me,” her dancing body in my dancing body; I never can. I can’t help but think that we are so much softer now than we were then, and how remarkable that is. And here she is surrounded by (other) dancing bodies that she has inspired, and that have inspired her.
This dance does critical work, flattening the plane in which movement is appreciated, playing with the roles of performers and spectators, experimenting with perception through the alignments of bodies, music, lights, and text.
But would it be too sentimental to say that it is more about love? That when I’m watching, all I care about is how much I appreciate each of these performers, the nuances and individualities that only find expression in the context of one another, in the repetition of phrases and the mimicry of movement, and the performances of “solos” alongside one another. That I feel a part of something so simple and profound just in watching someone else watching. That I am honored to see bodies excited to be dancing. That it’s all about relationships and what is produced in-between: how CoCo and I go back so far, how CoCo told Zachariah that he needed to meet me, how Leigh told Counterfeit and Zachariah about FEVERHEAD, how Eve found her way to FEVERHEAD, and how just by their persistence in taking class and their insistence to move—to dance—CoCo was inspired to make a dance, how the room was filled with people who know and love someone(s) in this piece, and how this dance is the site of so many relational articulations…
I apologize.
This dance deserves to be described. How they never stop watching one another, seeing one another, both while they are dancing , and while they are sitting on the sidelines. How I can watch as their attention—so evident in the directness of their foci—sinks into the action, into the others, in ways that are intense and serious, and in ways that sometimes erupt or dissolve into inexplicable laughter or a smile. How when they stand in line, their feet rock minutely, their toes lifting away from the floor, how their toes find the floor again and press into it, just as the performers find one another palm to palm and the tendons of their wrists flex as they press into one another. How the shove of Zachariah’s weight into a lunge tangibly softens into care as he approaches the floor, and how at other times he never quite settles into the ground, quick to push back out of it as soon as his weight shifts into it. How his fingers seem to direct his shoulders, lifting and falling and reaching together. How the precision and clarity of Eve’s lines exude incredible power, and how when she suddenly stops, alone in the middle of the space with her back to me as the others move to the sides, she seems small for the first time all evening. How Counterfeit seems so strong and steady, and how her limbs reach and fling and fly with such freedom, anchored to the strength of her core. How every joint in Leigh’s body seems to rotate around and orbit every other, as if her flesh is wrapped around a constellation that is constantly reconfiguring itself. How Noelle can stand on one leg and shift her weight dramatically in every which way, while still never losing track of where her support presses into the earth (and where it presses back into her). How Karen seems to be crafting, literally sculpting, a different world as she dances, tenderly opening and collapsing space around her, and how I feel as if I could spend the whole duration of the piece just watching her watching.
And see, there I go again, swept down these tangents of what I feel while watching…

At the end of the piece, the giant loading dock door is raised, and the dancers run out into the parking lot. The audience turns in their seats to look through this “reverse proscenium arch” to offer their applause. It is as if in here, inside FEVERHEAD, is the “real world,” and out their, in the streets beneath the stars, out their in the world, is where they/we have been training all this time to finally perform, to finally witness one another. It is significant that this piece features three dancers who are newcomers to dance training, but their dancing does not come only from their training in the last six-to-eight months. Their recent training and the creation of this piece has simply given them skills and opportunities to dance what they had been learning and practicing all along.

We are each and all a history.
When we dance, we dance those histories. When I watch, it is my history watching.
It is a perspective of the past looking out onto a horizon of what is coming into being, where history unfolds into potential. It is a perspective that is not singular; it is defined by those standing behind and standing on either side, hand in hand. And it is not an empty horizon that is faced; it is a horizon populated by the (dancing) bodies of those with whom we are becoming.

Whether it is the dancing of bodies looking back through now to then, or whether it is the dancing of bodies only beginning to form such a history, oriented towards what might be, what could become possible, the potential of bodies dancing, for both A History and FROM ONE FOOT TO THE OTHER, what becomes most prominent is that the dancing is dancing with. The body is always more: it is a history of dancing, it is a horizon of potential, it is the coalescence of relations and attention and awareness and contact and surface and inner worlds and outer worlds and and and and and. And with.

performance photo from FROM ONE FOOT TO THE OTHERphoto by Michal Mitchenson 

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rehearsal photo from FROM ONE FOOT TO THE OTHER; Zachariah Baird, Leigh Lotocki, Eve Hermann, and Counterfeit Madison
photo by CoCo Loupe

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Bebe Miller, A History; Darrell Jones and Angie Hauser



Queer Theorists, Ecology, and Labanotation software

I have been negligent of my blog for too long. This summer swept me away in several new (and some unexpected) jobs, and lots of reading for my second comprehensive exam (most of the reading will likely also be useful towards whatever my dissertations shapes up to be). Getting close to a month without writing, I decided that it was time for an update.

My work situation for the summer is spread across three sources: I have a part-time GA in the Department of Dance teaching Modern I for non-majors and continuing work on a digital video archive for the dance documentation materials within the department. The teaching has been an unexpected challenge and delight. There is a beauty to bodies that (for the most part) have not been trained in dance techniques. I’m having lots of thoughts about dance technique as a form of discipline for the docile body (re: Foucault), but in contrast I am also taking delight in entertaining the perspective of the early modern dance pioneers (Duncan, Humphrey, Graham, etc.), that modern dance has the potential to function as a liberatory project, a resistance to the normative physicality of daily social existence. I think this beginning level course is an ideal demonstration of this perspective: these are bodies that are not going to become “disciplined” through this technique (we meet twice per week for five weeks; ten classes total). My hope/intention for the course is to provide a range of physical experience through which to develop heightened awareness of possibilities through the establishment of an array of sensorimotor schemas. The material that we are exploring is predominantly on the floor, exploring alternative supports and methods of locomotion through a dynamic experience of exchange with the earth; it does not require a significant development of strength or flexibility (impossible in the given time) but does provide the opportunity for the students to become aware of physical possibilities, especially those absent from normative physicality in our culture (horizontal axis of movement, supporting/exchanging weight with the earth predominantly through supports other than the feet legs, etc.). I hope in the next few weeks to also explore systems of timing, cueing, and awareness that depend primarily on group attention rather than counts; I think there is something valuable in a system of organization that emerges from mutual/communal attention (as opposed to an external regulatory system like counts or following me).

My second employment position is also in the Department of Dance, a Research Assistant position funded through the Dance Preservation Fund. I am assisting Dr. Sheila Marion and David Ralley with the initial phase research for developing a Movement Interchange File Format, a file format capable of encoding/recording the complex information of a Labanotation score in such a way that it might be useful for future software developments in writing software, animation, and translation between systems of notation (others most notably including Benesh and Eshkol-Wachmann). My work this summer is attempting to systematically describe the interdependent assumptions and “defaults” of the notation system, and construct a kind of comprehensive “script” that might then be used to formulae the first layer of programming for the file format/associated software. It’s an entirely different way for me to be thinking, and has involved going deeply into the notation system, primarily the Advanced Labanotation series by Ann Hutchinson Guest and Joukje Kolff, alongside Sheila Marion’s dissertation, and a thesis by Kolff proposing a “formal movement structure” that amounts to a computational representation of Labanotation in order to develop computer-based writing software.

I am also working part-time with Laurel Hodory, a local yoga teacher and trainer of teachers. I am assisting primarily with marketing and video work. Some of the footage that I have shot and edited is live on Laurel’s Vimeo account.

My reading for the summer is a survey of several seminal queer theorists (Michel Foucault, Luce Irigaray, Monique Wittig, Judith Butler, Eve Sedgwick, Jeffrey Weeks), some phenomenology (Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Sara Ahmed), continued readings in ecology, ecofeminism and other feminist writings (most notably Catriona Mortimer-Sandilands, Karen Warren, Greta Gaard, Carole Vance, Elisa Glick), and dance/art scholars/philosophers (Valerie Briginshaw, Judith Hanna, Erin Manning). I have also been reading Radically Gay: Gay Liberation in the Words of Its Founder, a collection of the writings of Harry Hay, the founder of the Radical Faerie “movement” (edited by Will Roscoe), because of its potential relationship to my Sexecological/Ecosexual research, but also in preparation for revising a paper on Frederick Ashton’s “The Dream,” using Hay’s writings and the Radical Faeries as a lens for a contemporary queer choreographic analysis of the ballet. I am only a few weeks in, but already themes are beginning to emerge around notions of fluidity, permeability, a recognition of the constructed nature of many of our borders, boundaries, and systems of description, and the genealogies of those edges that divide and distinguish. For this exam, I am going to continue my examination of the work of the Love Art Laboratory, situating their Sexecological weddings and exhibitions in a larger frame of queer(ing) projects, looking mostly at the Green Wedding in Santa Cruz (2008), the Blue Wedding to marry the Sky in Oxford (2009), the Blue Wedding to marry the Sea in Venice (2009), and the 2009-2010 gallery exhibition “Sexecology: Making Love With the Earth, Sky+Sea” at Femina Potens in December-January.

One of the most exciting readings I have done thus far has been an article by Catriona Sandilands entitled “Eco Homo: Queering the Ecological Body Politic.” In addition to its direct address of tissues that of becoming central to my line of inquiry (contemporary ecological practices, queering ecologies, the implications of these for the body, etc.), Sandilands anchored this article in a personal account of her experience in a series of Butoh classes. Within a matter of pages, she had linked for me what superficially have functioned as disparate areas of interest in my work, ecology, queer theories, and Butoh/dance practices. I was in tears at the end of the article . . . which might be strange for reading academic prose. But it was partially because of the punctuation of the article with passages of personal accounts. And not just any accounts, but writing about the meaningful experience of practicing Butoh, and its potential to function as a physical practice that embodies the concerns of a queer ecology, and fluidity across the borders of presumably bounded bodies through the “taking in and taking on” of the environment as the butoh-fu (the imagistic score informing/forming the dance).

I wish I could post the entire article here, but I am certain there would be copyright issues with that. Instead, I will offer the bibliographic information and quote/cite specific passages that I found to be extremely relevant to bridging these areas of interest.

Sandilands, Catriona. “Eco homo: Queering the ecological body politic.” Environmental Philosophy As Social Philosophy. Editors Cheryl Hughes and Andrew Light. Charlottesville: Philosophy Documentation Center, 2004.

“To conclude this paper, however, I would like to offer a brief, and perhaps unusual, conjecture. Specifically, I would like to suggest the possibility of practices of embodiment that performatively render the boundaries of the body negotiable by engaging in representations and rituals that open the skin to the somatic presence of the abject. This project is, I think, an ecological aesthetics of the body that recognizes the perpetual dancer of the outside but that orients, nonetheless, toward the (self-) creativity imanent in the dynamics of skin transgression. In so doing, I would like to suggest, following Diprose, that a performative politics might include both a transgressive element and a committed desire to re-habitate, re-familiarize, and re-materialize the body in relation to others.

“In this performative re-embodiment, I would like to point to the skin, both as a metonymic focus for an altered politics of corporeal representation and as a physical site to which to pay ritual corporeal attention in alternative enactments. Skin is a porous, changing and active organ that is at once crucial to our lives as organisms and, is, significantly, not thematized as our internal core. Skin is, precisely, a surface, but it is also an active participant in our corporeal renegotiation of the world. Skin is part of the appearance of the world, an aesthetic referent in self/other relations; all organisms are en-skinned, but we all have different qualities of skin and inhabit them differently. Focusing ecological attention on the skin, I think, forces us to pay bodily attention to the complex physiology and social relations by which our bodies bleed into the world, and the world into us. And skin shows us our porous vulnerability to the world always, not just in moments of crisis, and suggests that we learn to live, in non-apocalyptic ways, with that openness” (32-33).

“Rather than skin vigilance, then, skin aesthetics: How to live the body on and in this dynamically porous skin? How to practice a body-on-the-skin in a way that does not aim to coherence and closure, nor to infinite fluidity, but to an active, sensual and contextual semi-permeability? How to think of the skin as a site for the art of the body, for coporeal practices drawn from a range of traditions but without the strong orientation to self-govenance and order? How to think of the skin as a site of a specifically ecological aesthetic, an art form not dependent on infinite consumption and management of body parts and appearances? How to democratize the skin? How to create, on the skin, an ars erotica rather than scientia sexualis?” (33)

She brings this all to her description of Butoh:
“One way I have thoughts about Butoh is that the dance is the animated tension of the body held between external and internal influences. the dancer doesn’t perform an image, say, as an act of willful mimesis; he practices taking it in and taking it on, embodying and performing the interaction between the image and the body’s response. Memory is vital, here: by animating corporeal memory, the dancer opens the skin to the materialization of the image . . . From a more explicitly ecological viewpoint, I understand the idea of a body moving with the carefully ‘installed’ figures of nature–cranes flying in the shoulders–as an aesthetic practice of ecological incorporation. To dance with an orientation and openness to the fact of one’s own materialized body is to dance, not only with the awareness that the other is in your skin, but with the varied embodiments of others as part of one’s corporeal vocabulary. In Butoh, dancing a leaf in the wind is not about representing the leaf to an audience, nor is it about claiming to know the essence of that leaf’s being; it is about performatively re-membering the leaf’s wind-tossed body in one’s own, about losing one’s ‘self’ to the memory of the leaf’s body” (34).

She finishes with a moving description of a Butoh class:
“Thursday, June 20: I carry a landscape in my body. There are trees growing out of my head; my left arm is a waterfall, my right hand a rotting cabbage; old women are playing cards in the sun in my torso; my shins are brittle sticks, breaking and snapping with the tiniest movement. I must walk to the other side of the studio; I am all of these elements but I am also responsible for carrying them and keeping them safe in the crossing. I bear my trees, my cabbage, my old women, my precious sticks, through elemental changes–a windstorm from the west, electrified cattle guards under my feet–and I fall from the effort, damaging my precious cargo, my precious landscape, my own body in the process. But I do arrive. And even as I deposit my little body-world, tenderly, on the floor, I feel the presence of trees, cabbage, women, and waterfall, sticking to my skin, tiny flecks of memory mingling with sweat. I am the history of the presences, and my body is not really mine” (35-36).

Simply stunning. The article also traces/formulates relationships between the governing of bodies and the governing of the environments, the relationship between sexuality and wilderness, the establishment of borders around bodies, borders around landscapes, all in an attempt to “preserve” the “integrity” of each, resisting permeability, resisting fluidity and “pollution.” It is extremely provocative, and I think that it will constitute a sea-change in the direction of my research.

Perhaps lastly for today, and in perfect concert with Sandilands article, is the work of Karl Cronin. My dear friend CoCo Loupe has referenced Karl’s work to me for literally years and this spring I finally got around to taking a look at it. I cannot even begin to write all that I want to write about this work (I am currently entertaining the possibility of it as a chapter in a dissertation; maybe an article). Cronin is doing precisely what Sandiland describes, almost eerily so. He is constructing a Somatic Natural History Archive. Cronin’s description of the project is as follows:

“The Somatic Natural History Archive is a work of conceptual art and experiential geography research. Following direct physical encounters with plants and animals, Karl Cronin creates movement portraits that capture key features of each particular organism.”

“The Somatic Natural History Archive (SNHA) is a research project and public resource developed and hosted by Karl Cronin.

The SNHA will begin with Series 1, the embodied histories of 10,000 plants and animals. Series 1 will take roughly 50 years to complete.

The number 10,000 was chosen because it is large enough to reveal some of the breadth of our planet’s biodiversity, and because the number has been used historically to refer to the “phenomenal world” (all that is), particularly by early Zen Buddhists.

The SNHA is being built in the regions surrounding three research hubs: San Francisco, Santa Fe, and New York City.”

I am in awe of this work. I think it is saturated with theoretical inquiries surrounding the collapse of a hierarchical bio-diversity, the merging of the subject with the “other” (other more-than-human subjects), and echoes/enacts much of what my research around ecologies in performance has been orbiting. I know that this work will have some role to play in my own as time goes by. It is more than simply the exposition of bio-diversity; it formulates the (human) body as the site of this exposition, for this archive. That is perhaps the most exciting part for me . . . I have been working on a digital video archive for two quarters and in the fall I will take up a position managing the Dance Notation Bureau’s collection at the Theater Research Institute in Special Collections at OSU. Archives have been on my mind, and the notion of the body functioning as an archive, materializing the (human) body as an archive of that which is more-than-human . . . it is such a profoundly reverential service. It recognizes and enacts the body as permeable, malleable; it disrupts normative physicality through the adoption of the “other.” By taking the “other” inside/on/as oneself, there is a performative collapse of the distance between self/other. This relates for me to much of Sandiland’s writings, and also Harry Hay’s perspective of a “subject=SUBJECT” consciousness. I have commenting before that with different motives, there could be a sense of colonization and appropriation attached to this work. But there isn’t; it has something to do with the space between owning and becoming, occupation and surrender, taking and receiving . . . I have yet to fully deconstruct these nuances, and I know that there will be much to write and say about this work for a long time to come. For now I will simply offer a video of the work:

There is also an amazing video for Cronin’s “The Dancing Ecologist” fundraiser at Kickstarter here (it doesn’t embed, but PLEASE go view it; it’s short but stunning).

And that’s the short version of where things are at right now. Pride was a few weeks ago, I’m going to be spending the next two months housesitting in three different locations, I am dreaming up projects and choreographies for the fall, over the moon that Dr. Harmony Bench is going to be joining our faculty in the fall, working on papers for two different conferences in the fall (Doing Queer Studies Now at Michigan Ann-Arbor, and CORD in Seattle), etc. I’m not sure what is going to emerge from all of the intersecting projects (How does Labanotation software and sexecology co-exist? What comes from the cohabitation of a digital video archive and queer theories? Etc.), but that’s the lay of the land.

Hope you are well.



Dissertation musings: sexecology, somatic natural history archive, laban, butoh . . .

Here I am at the end of another quarter. I am about to embark on a summer of reading and writing for my second comprehensive exam. I hardly feel like writing at all right now . . . yesterday I turned in a real labor (full of great love), my first bit of writing on Sexecology and Eco-Sexuality in the work of the Love Art Laboratory. For this paper, I grounded my theorizations in the text from Green Wedding Four. The support for my theorizations came primarily out of the writings of David Abram, Judith Butler, Catriona Mortimer-Sandilands, Greta Gaard, William Cronon, Anne Carson, Chaia Heller, some Karen Warren, and a smattering of other writers in ecofeminism and ecology. It is not a refined paper, not yet, but it excites me to no end to have finally written some of the implications/situation of this work that means so much to me.

Perhaps the most relevant summaries come at the end of the paper:

“The formulation of an Eco-Sexual identity is a practice of an erotic eco-logic, deconstructing heteronormative constructions of gender, sex, sexuality, and nature in order to continually queer and destabilize identities, actively form and retain spaces of lack that necessitate interdependency, and engage a permeable sensuous self in perpetual sensorial reciprocity with the sensing and sensible more-than-human environment. It is an identity identified by desire rather than a stable essence or being, and it is a desire for the more-than-human environment in which the human subject is sensorially implicit.

“Similar to the queer ecofeminist and queer ecological project, Sexecology looks to this Eco-Sexual identity for fundamental qualities of its organization. It is a functional system of interdependency that discovers its functionality through this erotic eco-logic and its destabilized, permeable, and necessarily interdependent participants. Green Wedding Four functioned as both a performative enactment of this Eco-Sexual identity, reified in the queer lesbian wedding between Sprinkle, Stephens, and the Earth, and as a demonstration of this Sexecology, predicated on collaborative construction and a necessary interdependence between its seemingly disparate human and more-than-human participants.”

This summer I am going to be reading more queer theorists (more Butler, Luce Irigaray, Monique Wittig, Eve Sedgwick) and some phenomenology (namely Merleau-Ponty) in order for this research to find grounding and situation in those fields of inquiry. I have submitted an abstract of this research to two different conferences in the fall; we’ll see if those pan out.

And I finally feel as if some ideas are coalescing that may be a direction for a dissertation. It will definitely grow, transform, evaporate, condense, explode, and be re-built many, many times in the months to come, but I feel the need to sketch out some ideas/sources/etc.

I have spent the afternoon falling in love with the work of Karl Cronin. My dear friend CoCo has referenced this work to me several times, and today I finally found time to peruse it. This is Kronin’s description of the project:

“My name is Karl Cronin and I’m the creator of the Somatic Natural History Archive.

I am using movement sketches to document the life histories of 10,000 plants and animals. This work is similar to John James Audubon’s drawings of birds, only I’m using expressive movement.

Now, you may be wondering “what does dance have to do with ecology”?

The short answer is, at its core, dance involves researching and expressing our experiences. Ecology includes creating descriptions of how organisms interact with their ecosystems.

By placing my whole self as a sort of recording device in a given environment, I can use all my faculties to document how a species is interacting with its environment. What I see. What I hear. What I smell. What it feels like to be there. I use all these faculties to explore the individual expressions of particular plants and animals.

I then share all this information in public presentations across the country – a mixture of story-telling, movement, and film.

Kickstarter donations will be used to cover my field expedition travel costs for 2010.

Fore more information, please visit my website – http://naturalhistory.us

I appreciate your support!

Your dancing ecologist,

Karl Cronin”

You can see a great promotional video for this project here.

What a turn-on. Kronin’s work in experiential geography and this project of the Somatic Natural History Archive seem to be a really lovely additional hub in my constantly evolving constellation of ideas surrounding dance, the body, ecology, sexecology, eco-sexuality, the unity of body-and-environment, phenomenology, the situational construction of identity, etc. I look forward to reading, seeing, funding, and maybe even writing more about this work.

I have also long been interested in examining both Rudolf von Laban’s early writings (and the consequential systems of Labanotation and LMA) and the early Butoh movement for their perspectives of the body and its relationship (unity with) environment.

I’m interested in how these perspective inform creative practice, how they come back into the studio as methodologies within creative practice and as methodologies for analyzing creative practices. I am also interested in how creative practices in dance might function as sites of useful knowledge to other (related) fields of inquiry: if we might consider choreography as the formulation of unique micro-cosmic and performative human ecologies, how might analyses of these “choreographic eco-systems” inform ecological analyses in the fields of biology and anthropology, etc.? If we accept that all scientific formulations are emergent of specific historical, cultural, and social situations, then how might choreography function as a source of intentional methods of observation, analysis, and taxonomy? How might perspectives coming from areas of study/practice like Laban’s work, Butoh, Cronin’s work in experiential geography and somatic archive, and Love Art Lab’s work in Sexecology offer useful perspectives/information to other fields, as well as their own fields?

Somewhere in here there is still strands of questioning the ways in which movement(dance) and choreographic practices contribute to the construction of individual and ecological identities, the difference between different methodologies for movement generation in these constructions (direct methods such as body-to-body demonstration and coaching, indirect methods such as improvisational scores and notation-based movement generation, etc.), and the ways in which dance/movement practices functionally disrupt/subvert socially regulated physical normativity and bodily decorum in both training and presentation. There’s a lot about exchange and reciprocity between body and environment (which is not separate from culture/society), the conflation of the two . . .

And then my ideas run out of words. Those are my scribblings for today. I’ll be fascinated to see how this pans out.