michael j. morris

Sensation, Vulnerability, and the Present

I am behind on my work. I still have an article by Marcia Siegel to read and generate a kind of abstract of for a class that’s in a little over an hour. But I need to write right now, not read. I have ideas spinning, coming out of dancing and choreographing and relationships, and I think that’s is primary purpose of this blog, to note those contemplations/processes, and offer them as entry points into the creative process.

I am thinking about the line between sensation and interpretation. This is not a new speculation for me . . . I think it began with taking a class in Gaga (Ohad Naharin’s “movement language”) last Winter and being asked to expand my concept of pleasure. We worked in pairs slapping one another’s bodies as hard as we could, and inviting ourselves to interpret that sensation, both of slapping and being slapped, as pleasure. Before pleasure and pain there is sensation. What we think of as pleasure or discomfort or pain or exhaustion, etc., are interpretations of physical sensations. In that Gaga class we were being asked to reinterpret, to intercept ourselves before interpreting sensation and pain and potentially reinterpreting the sensation as pleasure. I remember that for the rest of the quarter, into the spring and my Somatics Survey course with Abby Yager, I continually brought myself back to the place of sensation, trying to intercept interpretation and perhaps discover new possibilities for pleasure.

Last night the I met with the “cast” (I hardly even consider us a “cast” . . . I am not yet sure what the purpose of this process is . . . it has to do with the present, with the doing, with what we are doing, not yet the “why” we are doing . . . what are we then, a group that does things together? Is that a “team” or does “team” necessarily denote competition, opposition? Community? Kula? Autumn Quartet?) to review the movement material for the dance that we’re creating, then we reconvened at my house for conversation. We each had generated a writing of our “Body History” (a concept from Andrea Olsen’s Body Stories that was adapted by Abby Yager in our Somatics course in the spring). The format/prompt was as follows:

“Body History (adapted from Andrea Olsen’s “Body Stories” via Abby Yager)
Write your personal body history. Allow yourself to collect memories over time.
-The story of your birth. Include the exact date and time of the day, season, and year. Include pre-birth, if possible; the mood, health, and activities of your mother affect life in the womb.
-Your earliest movement memory. Go back as far as you can to the point where memory blurs into dream.
-Your earliest kinesthetic sensation. Again, go back as far as you can. You might not be able to locate or identify where this sensation came from.
-Physical joys/physical pleasure/physical training
-The environment where you grew up, your favorite place, and where you feel most at home.
-Comments you received which shaped your self image.
-Attitudes towards sensuality, sexuality, and gender
-Injuries, illnesses, operations. Note differences you perceived in yourself pre/post event. Identify scars on your body and where those scars came from.
-Nutrition/food. When do you feel most alert? Sluggish? Revved? Calm?
-Anything else in the history of your body that interests you.”

We (Erik Abbott-Main, Eric Falck, Amanda Platt, and myself) each shared our body histories, aspects of which were extremely personal, aspects of which were vulnerable, etc. My evening concluded with a feeling of so much more insight, connection, understanding of these people with whom I am working. There was a sense in which I felt that this was a continuation of our experience with KNOW(TOUCH)ME(YOU)(MY/YOUR BODY). A more holistic way of knowing. Amanda made the statement that these were the kinds of things she wanted to ask/know about all of her friends. I think we all agreed. It’s a level of knowing that we don’t always get to with the people we know/work with/love. I adore these three people . . . because of what I know of them. How their bodies feel, how they direct my attention, my hand and focus and care, over the surface of their bodies, how they execute my movement material, situating these parts of myself in their own bodies (by which I mean their own selves), how they think of and remember their own histories, the histories of their bodies. It is intoxicating, the amount of knowing. I think it is a kind of knowing that provokes loving, in a sense. I question how I could know all that I know and not adore these three individuals. Somehow I feel that this way of knowing, maybe even loving, is at the center of this piece.

Erik made the observation that a kind of vulnerability seems to be what I am getting at in this process . . . and I think that is incredibly astute. It has to do, again, with getting inside who another person is . . . through all these various methodologies . . . and that somehow informing or contributing to the dance itself, its movement material, its choreographic structure, its content, and the more subtle qualities of how we experience one another/move with one another as a dancing ensemble. I love that these experiences are part of the work . . . and I wonder if there is a way to more specifically allow the work to emerge from these vulnerable, personal, intimate experiences with one another.

Of course this makes me think about Love Art Lab and the conflation of life and art, love and art, life/love/art/relationships/gender politics/sexuality/etc. I am pleased to recognize that connection.

One of the questions in the body history related to the concept of physical pleasure . . . which, I realized after I read my body history, I had interpreted in an incredibly limited fashion. Given the speculation on sensation and interpretation, why had I limited my description of my physical pleasures to “expanding awareness in movement as in practices such as Butoh”? What about the pleasure of white wine with brie, honey, and red pears? What about the pleasure of hugging or kissing or sex or masturbation? What about the pleasure of the wind blowing on me, warm blankets, or throwing myself across the floor in a dance studio space (re: “click here 4 slideshow or 6-8 character limit”)?

In this speculation on pleasure and sensation, I am brought to an idea that I am teaching/offering in the yoga class that I am teaching this quarter at OSU. It comes from the Bhagavad Gita primarily, the idea of taking action without concern for results of actions. I can offer a couple of quotes:

“But the man who delights in the Self,
who feels pure contentment and finds
perfect peace in the Self—
for him, there is no need to act.

He has nothing to achieve by action,
nothing to gain by inaction
nor does he depend on any
person outside of himself.

Without concern for results,
perform the necessary action;
surrendering all attachments,
accomplish life’s highest good. (65)”

“You have a right to your actions,
but never to your actions’ fruits.
Act for the action’s sake.
And do not be attached to inaction.

Self-possessed, resolute, act
without any thought of results,
open to success or failure. (Chapter 2, stanzas 47-48)”

In returning to sensation itself, before interpretation or expectation, we are thrust back into the present. Sensing, not considering sensing. Focus on action and the sensation of the action. I feel this when I am dancing in Abby Yager’s modern technique class this quarter, mostly phrase material from works by Trisha Brown. The execution is something like “this right now, bending the leg, now spearing the arm, now dropping the weight, now pushing away, now, and now, and now . . .” I think the movement lends itself to this sort of approach. It means letting go of what comes next, what just happened. It means letting go of expectation and even interpretation (for a bit).

And that’s what I am thinking about right now. That is what is coming into the work, influencing and generating the work. Back to Marcia Siegel and the development of lexicons for the observation, analysis, and critique of dance.

Thoughts on Batsheva and Gaga
11 February, 2009, 3:32 pm
Filed under: art, Dance | Tags: , , , , , , ,

feel your bones moving beneath your skin
feel your blood moving through your body
find curves in your body; multiply them
find the moons in your body, in your hands, on the back of your neck, etc.
[move as if there are galaxies all throughout your body]
find a quake coming from your center, as if someone were shaking you from the core
[boil your body; it’s 80-90% water; shake so that you boil your body]
let the quake come entirely from your back body; your front body
break apart your body so that you are moving in a million pieces
lose yourself in the quaking and shaking; have fun
take pleasure in your movement
hang over and touch the floor like you would touch a person
become thick, your body and your movement, as if moving through mud
[let the air be thick, and move as if you are shaping/containing the space]
become spaghetti in boiling water
[boil your body]
move from the periphery of your body; now lead from your pelvis
find the snake in your spine
slap yourself/your partner hard; soften into the blow and allow yourself to take pleasure in the pain
[embrace the fullness of your experience]
find a dense ball at whatever point of your body that you are touched; move that ball through your body to the next place your are touched; now do this on your own
[with each step, plant a seed and feel the flower grow up through your body to blossom somewhere on the surface of your body]
tap into your explosive power
tap into your voice
stretch your bones through your skin
stretch points of your body as far as you can from one another
melt the skin off of your body
[let your body dissolve, then let it return]

[a mix of Gaga verbal cues, as expressed by Bobbi Smith, Batsheva company member,  and Butoh-fu from Kazuo Ohno, Yoshito Ohno, and Yuko Kaseki]

Yesterday I had the opportunity to take a class in Gaga, the “movement language” developed by Ohad Naharin as director of the Batsheva Dance Company. It is conducted as one continuous movement, no stopping, no mirrors, less “right and wrong”, more about sensation and synthesis within the body, led through a series of verbal cues. Shockingly, in my experience, this is how many Butoh classes are conducted. There may be pauses between exercises/experiences, but the essentials are still common: a basis in the kinesthetic synthesis of imagery in the body, led by verbal cues, less about form and more about authentic experience. I am curious about this commonality as the two forms seem to share no common root. A colleague of mine is formulating research into the inquiry of movement forms/techniques that come out of or after times of conflict and unrest. Butoh evolved after WWII. Gaga has evolved in the midst of the Israeli conflict. Austrucktanz evolved in Germany just after WWI, and shares many of these same sensibilities. There may be something here, some common denominator of why dance artists/human beings return to this places of sensing, de-prioritizing form, and prioritizing authentic experience/expression. All in all, taking this Gaga class fed my love of these concerns and reawakened many of my experiences in Butoh. I am curious how these tendencies/sensibilities/concerns may affect how I eventually “teach” a dance technique class. Having experienced these forms, I’m not sure I could teach a modern/contemporary class in the more traditional manner of matching shape and form, at least not without it being in the service of these concerns. And clearly these approaches have the ability to shape amazing dancers/performers.

Batsheva trains almost exclusively in Gaga and their performance of Three last night was easily one of the top three performances I have ever seen.

A brief clip. This is not from last night’s performance but is from the piece. This duet is not only virtuosically stunning, but it also feeds profoundly into the socio-cultural contemplation/research with which I have been engaging surrounding gender (and also gaze):

There may be little of my ecstatic reaction to this work that I can articulately express in verbal language at this point. Thoughts that comes to mind/words readily (and do not even begin to scratch the surface of its profound impact) are:

-My work so often concerns the expression/articulation of basic human conditions and qualities, theories and understandings of what it means to exist, to be human. And those things find expression in a slow, minimal fashion (especially in my current work). Yet they addressed so many of those same sensations and kinesthetic identities, but with speed and intensity and explosive energy. It was overwhelming, as if submerge in crashing waves of our own humanity, slung and flung and thrust from these moving bodies/beings.

-It was so refreshing to see choreography that seems so aware of its own meta-narratives. The choreography contained so many implications and potential interpretations concerning identity and gender and politics and even the semantics of the performing space (the theater). And I felt the truest conviction that it was all intentional, all aware, all sensitive to both what it was (literally, the movement, the bodies, without interpretation, valued simply as it is) and what it might “mean” (the meaning brought to it be the experience of the the audience). I felt that it took responsibility for itself, and did so audaciously, articulately, discreetly, and almost dangerously, somehow all at once.

And those may be the only two thoughts I can articulate in words at present. In lieu of something further, I can offer two other videos of Batsheva: