michael j. morris


Making Explicit

I think I am finally coming to a greater understanding of what the meaning or reason of this piece might be. I have been working for a few days on a new soundscore with which to experiment in our rehearsal this week. It is the basic mash-up that I have described before (Marie Antoinette soundtrack, ISAN, Lady Gaga, Aphex Twins) with new text and sound loops woven into it. The new text/sound is taken from two films by Madison Young, “Fluid: Men Redefining Sexuality” and “Thin Line Between Art and Sex.” I have transcribed the text in earlier posts, statements made by Tommy Midas and Jiz Lee. I have also lifted sound from the sex portions of these films, weaving sounds of fucking, sucking, moaning, groaning, slapping, sighing, orgasming, etc. into the soundscore. It’s pretty hot, a little kitschy, borders between overstimulation and potential humor. I recognize that. There is a sense of both poignancy and humor to hear Lady Gaga sing: “Russian roulette is not the same without a gun, and baby when it’s love if it’s not rough it isn’t fun,” while at the same time hearing a woman begging “choke me, please, choke me, please,” while someone else is moaning while getting slapped around. Several of my peers have asked why I’m creating this soundscore, and here in lies my new understanding: I think I am trying to make aspects of dance that exist implicitly in our practices explicit in this piece/practice. Often in the dance world, especially in Western theatrical dance and dance training, sexuality is significantly downplayed, as if to suggest that sex plays no part in what we are doing. I do not mean to imply that dance is all about sex, not at all. But dance is a physical practice, essentially embodied, and sexuality is persistently a part of our embodied existence. We may not be conscious of it, we may not even acknowledge it, but it is always present. I am interested in acknowledging this, bringing it from its implicit, unacknowledged place into the foreground, explicitly acknowledged as a dynamic in what it is we are doing. I don’t think that this piece/we as a cast/this academic institution are quite ready to literally have sex as part of a dance, especially in front of spectators (although I have to say that this intrigues me), so I am exploring other ways to make the sex/sexuality explicit. This soundscore is one strategy. I think the stripping and biting and rolling around on the floor in our underwear also foreground a space in which sexuality occurs. Similarly, I think the component of the biting is a strategy for making explicit the implicit violence of dance. Dancing is difficult, demanding, and often destructive to our bodies. There is an inherent masochism and sometimes sadism to much of dancing. By creating a dance in which masochism and sadism are made explicit in these “biting scenes,” mixing it up with intimacy, friendship, dancing, and the implication of sex, I am foregrounding aspects of what we do that generally go unacknowledged/unexplored.

I don’t think this is the only reason or meaning behind this work. I think equally as important are the themes of integrating art and life, shifting power dynamics, and agency/indeterminacy as I detailed in my previous post. I was discussing some of these ideas with a colleague of mine this afternoon, and she commented that maybe all of this, the dancing, the sex, the violence, Lady Gaga, maybe it’s all the same thing. Then she refined that statements: maybe it isn’t that it is all the same, but that it is all always a part, always at play. There is sex in dancing even if the dancing is not about sex. There is agency and indeterminacy and improvisation in sex, even if the sex is not about exploring these ideas. There is violence in dance practices, and in sex, and it is sometimes tangled up with intimacy, pleasure, fulfillment, excitement, etc. In a truly post-modern turn, this dance is perhaps less about isolating and examining each of these aspects of human existence and more about blurring the lines between them, layering them in all of there complexity and contradiction, just as they occur in life. Because the dance is our live, our lives are the dance, etc.

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From “Fluid: Men Redefining Sexuality”

When I was in San Francisco, I had the opportunity to meet Madison Young, the owner/founder of Femina Potens Art Gallery, a porn star, award winning director, published writer, and sexual educator. She is something of a super-hero. She is iconic to me of a sex-positive social/cultural/political figure. After returning home, I began to explore the range of some of her work. I came across a docu-porn she directed entitled “Fluid: Men Redefining Sexuality.” I think it a a fascinating blending of individual interviews, cultural reflection/commentary, and queer porn. I recommend it.

But this is not going to be a porn review. Instead I wanted to share a few quotes from one of the individuals featured in the film. He made several statements that I found striking when I first watched “Fluid,” but recently his words have been haunting me a bit. To be frank, on some small level they seem related to the process being explored in the piece I’ve been working on, “Autumn Quartet.”  This week I left rehearsal a bit beaten up, bruised, with dark red/purple bite marks. I’m sure there is a whole exegesis that might take place surrounding the violent nature of some aspects of this piece, completely woven into what seems essentially to be a dancing exploration of interpersonal intimacy. It’s this conflation of intimacy and violence that brought Midas’ words to mind. I decided to post them here as a way of bringing them into my thinking in this process:

“I definitely identify as queer, I definitely identify as a boy. I hate that, like, ‘man’ word. It’s really gross to me. I feel like there’s a separate, like, gender for, like, ‘boy.’”

“I love getting just as deep and dark in, like, the psyche as I can with all kinds of those different labels, I guess . . . little boy kind of stuff, and, like, ‘momma’s boy’ and ‘daddy’s boy,’ that kind of stuff gets me really hot. And it does feel like some sort of a reclamation, where I’m not forced into this, like, male, masculine role that has all the weight of, you know, destroying the world and bombing and killing and raping humanity, but has more of a fun, playful innocence that I may have grown out of it at some point, in some ways, been over-exposed to, but it’s kind of like a re-kindling of it for me.”

“I’ve had some really explosive relationships that were almost borderline abusive that . . . I actually burned out, and I had my most intense lover, who literally would, you know, drag me into the middle of 24th Street, ripping my clothes off in a wedding dress and fucking the shit out of me in public and throwing fists in every direction, so I was basically trying to run and she’s like . . . I feel like I’m constantly trying to find that again, that just wild, crazy, untouchable, like, no-holds-barred, and wherever it comes from, whether that person is male or female or whatever, just the wildest, craziest, and I find myself falling into those relationships, sexual and otherwise, as often as possible.”

“I’m all about this group thing, it’s super exciting for me. I’ve had a lot of really hot queer, per se,  group experiences that end in, like, everyone’s had all these weird ‘firsts’ and we’re, like, hugging and crying and covered in each other’s blood and it’s just, like, fucking awesome. And those are, like, the ones that I yearn for the most.”

* * * * *

After I went home last night, I thought of further contextualization for sharing these quotes. To be clear: these are not my fantasies. By sharing Tommy Midas’ words, I don’t mean to imply that these are these ways that I think or feel, or even that these are goals of mine for myself/this piece. But I find what he said poignant; the words stayed with me. To be frank, I initially found the last two quotes disturbing, the implication of violence and romance. I don’t aspire to pain, nor to transforming abuse into passion. And yet there is something about this dance (and other dances . . . I’m thinking about “click here for slideshow”),walking around badly bruised the week following a rehearsal . . . doesn’t that imply a fluidity between masochism and passion? Why do we/I do this thing (dance) that leaves us bruised? Are these wounds indicative of harm or are they simply traces of action, even passion? I’m not sure. I still cringe a little when I read those last two quotes, and yet because of that they haunt me.