michael j. morris

Urban Regalia

Friday, 14 August, I had the opportunity to see the premiere of Nathan Hurst’s new couture collection “Urban Regalia” at his show “Off with Their Heads” at CS13 in Cincinnati, Ohio. According to the show’s facebook, “Urban Regalia focuses on a royal renewal of precious vintage finds, explores the reconstruction of former garments, and serves as a host for his [Hurst’s] original design concepts inspired by a reinvention of historical regalia.”

I haven’t stopped thinking about this show since I saw it. I’m not quite ready to commit those ideas to type yet, but I thought I would go ahead and let you in on this inspiration in my world right now. Suffice to say that it was a brilliant first showing from a talented young designer/artist:



You can read Matt Morris’ article about Hurst and the show in CityBeat here.

You can also see images from the show at CS13’s facebook page.

Hurst just posted this video this week. Many of the pieces from the collection are on display. What I love most about it is that just as many of the pieces are appropriated and repurposed garments, their transmogrify is heightened further in their transgression of traditionally gendered morphology on the body of the designer. Just as Hurst engages in processes of “renewal” and “reinvention” and “reconstruction” of vintage finds, former garments, and historical regalia, their situation on the male body both further recreates the garments themselves, and recreates the meaning of the male body. Amazing:

I have an evolving ideology on the concept of the actual body and the social body. The actual body in my mind has to do with biological morphology. The social body refers to the contextual connotations that we associate with the body. The way it’s dressed, the way it’s depicted, the way we think about it because of its treatment in culture. Identity (including corporeal/kinesthetic identity) is situated somewhere in the midst of these. This seems to be the hazard of any sort of focused research: suddenly everything relates to your research interests, but I love how Hurst’s work and this video in particular  relates to my interests in the relationship between the body and identity, and that relationship to the choreography of identity.

I don’t want to make too much of the video as a “video dance” (for those of you who are unfamiliar, “video dance” is a whole field of dance expression, choreography and dances specifically made to be explored/directed/displayed via video rather than live/stage presentation), but I do have critical responses to the movement in the video, not just the garments it animates. To be clear, I view the organization of the body itself as a kind of choreography, the carriage of the body, its stance, its dynamics. But there is also the movement itself. Of course the most obvious observation is its appropriation/mimicry of the runway format, the advance and the retreat, the gate of the “model” (and to be clear, I read it as meaningful that in this case the model also happens to be the designer . . . it relates to my perspective on the choreographer and the dancer (see previous post), a relationship that although different is similar in that it involves the creative action of one individual, the negotiation of that creative activity on the body of another, culminating in an event that represents the identities of both. Here, those individuals are the same, the creative activity of the one individual recreated/translated on the body of that same individual, all taking place in and through the site of the singular body), and the punctuation of poses both near to and far from the camera lens. The advance and retreat reads as meaningful to me: the retreat gives way to the advance, moving away gives the opportunity to move forward once more. It’s aggressive. I like it.
I’m also struck by the contraction of time. We know because the outfits change that a remarkable amount of time has passed in the filming, but we are given something far more surreal to be viewed, in which events occur one after another, like a series of fevered memories (memory being the space in which time becomes flexible, fluid, non-sequential). This contraction of time seems to reflect in video editing what has been done in the construction of the garments. It says, “Look again. And again. And again. Because what it once was is not what it is any longer.”
I am also struck by the gaze of the model/designer (can I add “dancer” if I am viewing the video as a kind of choreography?). While the video reads to me as an aggressive invitation to gazed upon, it’s confrontational. The model/designer/”dancer” gazes back. The viewer can actually meet his eyes (negotiated through the video . . . and I can’t even begin to discuss the politics of presence and absence in the medium of video, not in this post). When he is undressed, it is he who undresses himself, not the viewer undressing him.
I love the drama of the tossed fan, the thrown jacket, the twirl of the long white dress, the coy smiles, the laps when he doesn’t pause to be viewed, but moves towards and away in a single path, almost as if to say, “You can look, but I’m not going to assist you in your looking.”
There. That’s my brief critical dance response to a fashion video.

Oh, and this is a picture of Matt and I at the party after the show. I think we look nice:


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:

Things I am thinking about

Several things have come across my radar the last few days. I have been formulating a potential new piece of choreography for the spring entitled “Negotiation of Gender and Gaze.” It would be intended to explore something I am thinking of as “kinesthetic gender,” or how gender roles are constructed, assigned, assumed, or reinforced by the way in which people move. I am also interested in how the dynamic of “gaze” participates in the negotiation of gender, and more broadly, the experience of dance performance. I am fascinated by the implications of gazing on another person, what it might say about power dynamics or intention or desire or fascination. All of this is steeping in my consciousness right now and perhaps because of this, certain media seems to be jumping out at me, either on these subjects or on adjacent subjects (gender, sexuality, sex, desire, power, etc.).

There was an article in the New York Times Magazine entitled, “What Do Women Want?” It is a fairly involved exploration of scientific efforts to analyze and understand the way in which women (heterosexual, lesbian, or otherwise) experience desire. It is a fascinating read, and an interesting exploration of the differences between the sexes (not to be confused with the differences or lack there of between genders). You can find it here.

I was also reminded of an episode of “This American Life” that my friend CoCo had written about on her blog sometime last year. I found it and listened to it again, and was still amazed by it. It has four “acts” in it: the first is about the experience of a man who, due to medical reasons, stops producing testosterone, and experience a life without desire. The second is about an female-to-male transexual who had the opposite experience, going from relatively low amounts of testosterone to an amount that is twice that of a testosterone-heavy man, and how his experience of life and himself change with that adjustment. The third is an analysis of the testosterone levels of those who work on the show (David Rakoff, a favorite author of mine and contributor to the show, had the most. The gay Canadian Jew living in Manhattan working as an author and contributor to public radio. I love it.) The fourth is a mother asking her fifteen-year-old son what it’s like to be a boy. All fascinating. You can hear it here.

One of the things that I found most profound about this discussion of testosterone is how much it connects to the reading I am doing about “embodied understanding” in a book by Mark Johnson. Johnson spends a fair amount of time rejecting the dualism of the mind and body, the concept that the person is comprised of two parts, and that the immaterial is somehow more “pure” or “authentic.” The experience of the two men in the first and second portion of this show reports just how much “who they are” is affected by the body and this hormone, affecting everything they thought of as themselves. I think it has the potential to at least raise questions about how we think about ourselves, our identities, who we are, etc.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a film my friend Courtney lent me last week also moving around these subjects. I won’t discuss it very far here, so as to not “give away” too much of the story, but it was provocative and subtle and profound. It’s called XXY and is about an inter-sexed fifteen-year-old, and addresses issues of sex, gender, sexuality, etc. You can read more about the film  and view the trailer here.

That’s all for now. I have a rehearsal to prepare for.
Thanks for reading.

La Luna Incantata
7 December, 2008, 12:03 pm
Filed under: Dance | Tags: , , ,

A friend posted this video on her blog yesterday, and I was completely undone by it.

I felt like it addresses so much of what I am reading and writing and thinking about right now, not to mention the dances that I have been presenting recently. As I think I have mentioned, I am writing a paper on the effects of Nijinsky and Nijinska on the presentation and perception of gender in the early 20th century ballet. This dance reminded me so much of Nijinska’s Les Biches which did not survive (we do not have the choreography, although there have been reconstructions). Les Biches is full of characters, the Garconne (the mannish woman), the Hostess (who is dressed as a man), the Girl in Blue, the Girls in Gray (a sapphist set), the Men (who are full of bravado, and themselves), etc. This dance evoked all of that for me. It’s a nice juxtaposition to flow from Nijinska into this piece by Fabrizio Monteverde.

I am also thinking about choreographing a new piece for the spring, a duet examining erotic desire and inverting the “gaze,” perhaps even framing this exploration in the structure of a classical pas de deux. It may become a trio as well. . . I am interested in exploring the layers of watching and voyeurism and the implication of power through the process of watching. Perhaps there might even be room in the piece to not only explore this concept choreographically, but also structurally, raising questions about the audience/performer relationship. What does it mean that the dancers are watched by the audience? Is there the same implications of power when one puts oneself on display?

Anyway, this video dance not only addresses almost all of those subjects, but also functions as a stunning film. Incredibly well done and inspiring on this Sunday morning. I hope you take five minutes to watch it. And remember, there are videos of Nijinska’s Les Noches in my previous post, and even though it is around 25 minutes, I think it is well worth your time.