michael j. morris


documentation of TOWARD BELONGING

On April 29 and 30, I premiered a new dance work entitled TOWARD BELONGING, featuring performers Phil Brown Dupont, Justin Fitch, Eve Hermann, and Counterfeit Madison. Over the last several years, while working on my PhD, my choreographic practice has been almost entirely focused on developing solo queer burlesque pieces, dances that I choreographed for me to perform on burlesque stages in and around Columbus, Ohio. TOWARD BELONGING was a step back into the studio, working with people I care about on making something meaningful and critical together. If you were not able to see the performances, I have finally gotten documentation posted.

April 29 in the Barnett Theatre in Sullivant Hall in the Department of Dance at the Ohio State University, videoed by s lumbert:

April 30 in Studio 290 in Sullivant Hall in the Department of Dance at the Ohio State University:

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TOWARD BELONGING

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On April 29 and 30, I will be premiering a new dance work entitled TOWARD BELONGING, featuring performers Phil Brown Dupont, Justin Fitch, Eve Hermann, and Counterfeit Madison. We have been developing this week since the beginning of January, and now we are mere weeks away from sharing our work with you. This new dance moves through the mechanics and formal dimensions of sociality, the physical vocabularies of how bodies are together. It examines how bodies follow one another along paths that are straight or along trajectories that veer queerly, how they fall in line and out of step, how they carry one another along and are moved by what other people do, how they gather and separate.

Here are the details for the performances:
TOWARD BELONGING
choreography: Michael J. Morris
performance: Phil Brown Dupont, Justin Fitch, Eve Hermann, and Counterfeit Madison

TWO PERFORMANCES:
-Wednesday, April 29, the Sullivant Hall Barnett Theatre, 8pm
-Thursday, April 30, Sullivant Hall Studio 290, 8pm
Sullivant Hall is located on the OSU campus at 1813 North High Street in Columbus, Ohio.
This event is FREE and open to the public.

Please enter from the front (east) entrance facing N. High Street. Other entrances to the building may be locked after hours.
The Barnett Theatre is on the third floor, just off the rotunda.
Studio 290 is on the second floor, in the north-west corner of the building. Follow the second floor north corridor.

Accessibility:
Sullivant Hall has an elevator to the second and third floors, located just off the rotunda.
The seating in Barnett Theatre is folding chairs on risers, with floor space for additional adjustable seating.
The seating in Studio 290 is folding chairs and floor seating.
Please contact me at morris(dot)787(at)buckeyemail(dot)osu(dot)edu if you have any questions about access or have particular access needs.

You can RSVP on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/events/1411144869192127/

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columbus moving company: IN HOUSE

Today I managed to make it to the second performance of Columbus Moving Company’s IN HOUSE at the Garden Theater.

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The production involved three different dance pieces, with guest musical performances by Counterfeit Madison.

The first piece, “Staticsystem,” introduces four dancers of CMCo, Eric Falck, Jeff Fouch, Gabby Stefura, and Christeen Stridsberg. The relationship between these four dancers evolves like the formation of a pack, but rather than a pack populated by wild animals, this pack is comprised of arms and legs sweeping and swiping through the air and across the floor, deep squats and lunges that rock back and forth, sudden bursts of forceful, frenetic activity, and moments of shared, sustained, focused articulation of their joints. Actions, gestures, and movement qualities spread through the group from one body to the next, the flexible cohesion of this pack developing over time through the migration and gestation of these movement contagions. Throughout the short track by Amon Tobin, the four alternately cling to one another and break away for brief moments of dancing solo, being absorbed again and again into the group until finally dissipating to into the backstage wings.

At the start of the second piece, Counterfeit Madison comes onto the stage out of the audience, her face hidden behind the hood of her sweater. Not being able to see her face lends her two songs a strange anonymity despite the soulful style of her playing and personal quality of the lyrics she sings. After her second song, six dancers emerge from the audience and make their way to the stage. This piece, “Obstinate Trajectory,” is performed by students of the CMCo, Zachariah Baird, Jason Brabbs, Justin Fitch, James Sargent, Corinne Steger, and Heather Stiff, and accompanied by Counterfeit Madison. At the start of the piece, the dancers stand at the outer edges of the stage; each one moves in their own ways towards the center—towards one another—and back away to the edges, some moving in quick and startled patterns, others as if they are exploring how it is that they might move moment by moment, and one walking in slow, concentrated, patient steps. Later, they move in a line from stage left to stage right, and their formation allows me to appreciate the various ways in which their actions come into brief and unanticipated alignments with one another as well as the many and varied differences between them. It seems to me a physical exploration of co-existence, how we move towards and away from one another, and how we stay together—not in spite of, but inclusive of our differences and fleeting similarities.

The final piece of the production, “Living Rooms,” again brings the dancers of CMCo to the stage, now set with an area rug and four pieces of living room furniture. Each dancer enters the space one at a time, and each in turn reconfigures the arrangement of the furniture, rotating and pushing and dragging and overturning the ottoman, end table, and two chairs. Over the course of the dance, the four performers attempt to exhaust the possible orientations, functions, and challenges of both the furniture pieces and one another. In a smattering of solos, duets, and group movements, the four wrestle and grasp at one another, impede one another’s actions, partner and lift and carry one another, watch and are watched by one another, and occasionally they dance in canons or unison set choreography. At its most subtle, I feel drawn by their movements into the intimate proximity of this living room space; at its most exuberant, their movement seems to fling them to its edges, like fervent attempts at escape that take them no where. If there is a unifying characteristic of “Living Rooms,” it is that these four figures will be drawn again and again into the folds, grips, embrace, gaze, and intentions of one another. No matter how many times any one of them deconstructs the space or reconfigures the bodies and furniture inside of it, there is always someone there to remake it—and each other—into their own design. The possibilities of these living rooms are not limitless: incessantly, inexplicably, these four are drawn back into one another, and however they attempt to reinvent the living room, this is where they remain.

I am delighted that the Garden Theater and the Short North Stage are continuing to include dance in their production seasons, and I look forward to continuing to see more dance, more of the Columbus Moving Company, and the work of more local choreographers and dance artists on this historic stage.



hold sway

proximity
visibility
contact

they see one another
and they continue to see one another
even when their eyes are looking
elsewhere

toes seek the floor
like eyes opening out onto
hardwood vistas
and this is how each one’s mass
approaches
orbits
collapses into and pushes off of
the other’s

the excess of each exchange
is always retained
it goes somewhere
propels them into whatever comes next
with the meager force that is the
remainder
of weight and thrust and caress and push and pull

I see them seeing one another even when their eyes are looking elsewhere
seeing turns into feeling
as if it could have always been feeling all along
if only we could just get past all that distance.

this will not be a very refined piece of writing.
I’m recovering from a cold, I’m behind on grading papers…I’m behind on a lot of things.
this will be more like a response, a gesture following the gestures of HOLD SWAY, the duet choreographed and performed by Noelle Chun and Leigh Lotocki this evening at Till Dynamic Fare in Columbus, OH. there are two more performances, Saturday, November 3 at 7PM and 9PM (Neo V Gallery inside Till Dynamic Fare, 247 King Avenue).

this initial doodle of a poem (above) was how I dealt with the opening of the piece, a duet that followed text, text that suggested—among other things—that there was the possibility that there were already many duets happening, and that this duet would continue even after the performance was over. this duet is simultaneously so strong and so sensitive. both Chun and Lotocki demonstrate a such a heightened sense of where their bodies are in space, each joint and surface and ounce, how it shifts on and around its supports, and how it gives way to find support beyond itself, in the body of the other. their bodies yield forcefully—and sometimes not so forcefully—into one another, around one another, bounding and rebounding, springing into and out of one another and the floor as if all these elements were somehow caught in the gentle tug of one another’s gravity. I can’t stop watching their eyes. when they are looking at one another, they are seeing one another. there is nothing presentational about this seeing; it is not as if they are demonstrating to the audience, “we are seeing one another.” they are simply seeing. but what is exhilarating to witness is the way in which their bodies find one another, the ways their surfaces and weight meet, even when they are no longer looking at one another. even after doubtless countless rehearsals, there is a seeking out of one another as they move, a push and a fling and a soft throw out into space knowing [trusting] that they will meet one another in the air. as they make contact—shin to hip, palm to back of neck, waist thrown into arm, leg pushed into chest—I can watch as each one’s weight becomes their weight, however briefly, and together they redistribute that weight back into each body, back out into the space, down into the floor, only to follow that momentum, the remainder of their encounter, into another drop, another push, another fall or fling or spring. together, they are more, and that more carries over into their separateness, only to draw them back again into one another, together.

in the second section part of the piece, entitled “duet #2: too much too little”—with live music provided by Andrew Graham and Sharon Udoh (Counterfeit Madison)—Chun and Lotocki dance behind a screen that is about the height of their shoulder lines. a light from behind projects their dancing shadows onto the screen. tiny little tops of bodies drifting above big shadow-bodies. the distortion of the scale, the slice of the screen that bifurcates their bodies, the blending of the shadows into one another, and those precious moments in which their top halves get away from their bottom halves, and we are left with four halves, seeming to dance independently of one another: in the encounter between dancing bodies and backlight and screen and space and viewer, we all become somehow more. what I am seeing is not simply what they are dancing. the dancing meets the light, and that meeting encounters the screen, and that encounter meets the space, across which it comes into contact with me, my eyes. they said from the beginning that there was the possibility that there were already many duets going on, and in this “duet #2,” I glimpse some of the many ways in which we and our world partner one another, each of us becoming more in and through the encounter. material intra-activities, intersubjective realities, each of us—and I do not only mean the people—become apparatuses through which we are all extended and reinvented, in ways both small and big. these are the manifold duets, and certainly they continue far beyond the performance.

hold close.
pull in tight.
look at me and see me
and see me as if
you can feel me
and feel me
even when you aren’t looking at me
and see how much more we can be
when we meet across
all that distance.



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