michael j. morris


Conversation with CoCo

So I tried to blog about seeing my friend/colleague/teacher CoCo Loupe perform Deborah Hay‘s “The Runner” yesterday at the Agora festival at Junctionview Studios here in Columbus, and it just didn’t happen. The experience just did not lend itself to the third person. So I have instead decided to invite you, gentle reader, into my “personal” creative conversation with CoCo. I offer excerpts of our email correspondence as another way of looking into this dancing life, another way of contributing to the “cultural library” of dance literature. Here we go:

Michael wrote to CoCo 9:11am, 17 May 2009:
“I loved watching you dance. I will never tire of your movement quality. And maybe it’s just because we’ve been working on this in class (or maybe it’s part of why we’ve been working on this in class?), but I was transfixed by your ability to move from focus to focus, from extremely inner concentration, to smiling and making eyes and playing with a puppy, etc. I was fascinated how this affected your entire body attitude, or way of carrying yourself, your way of moving through the space, through your joints, in and out of the floor, etc. This plays a huge role in the “big thought” I left with.

I left thinking a lot about context and perception and framing and how dance is a truly physically transgressive medium. It rejects so much of how we’re “supposed to be” in our bodies. And as long as it is removed from us, sanitized by the proscenium or the performance space or even just a demarcated time and space in which it has been stated “this is a dance,” society/the culture of society can palate it. They can recognize their way of looking, their role of coexisting with this moving body. In the opposite “extreme,” when a space has been designated or described for “social dance,” in a club or bar or whatever, there is a kind of clarity in the expected role or way of looking/coexisting with the moving body. In the performance yesterday, all of this become blurred, and it was all related to the shifting of your “body attitude.”

I watched the dance, watched you dancing. But maybe it was the choreographer in me . . . I couldn’t not watch how it existed/negotiated itself in the space, with those others present in the space. And this is where I hit my “descriptive wall” in my blog, so bear with my meager language. There was a process of watching the audience not recognize, then recognize that they had not recognized, but rarely did they ever quite grasp what it is that they had not recognized. This was most palpable when your physical countenance was the most “normal” (fit neatly within the definition of the socially acceptable body), moments of just standing and looking, or meandering. They were brief, and those co-habitants (I’m not sure I can call them “audience members” in this speculation) who came upon you in those moments did not distinguish you/your body as atypical or anomalous in the space. But then your countenance would shift. Sometimes it was as subtle as the pacing of your steps, a shift in focus, or a sudden stop. Sometimes it was more overt, like a sudden battement or rond de jambe en lair. But whatever it was, in that moment, they would realize that there was something present that they had not previously recognized. That body (your body) was not “playing by the rules” and they did not know why. They were in this strange in between space of almost panic? When they had this moment of recognition, still had not oriented themselves in it, recognized that they had very likely walked right “into the middle of something,” and knew that they had been seen doing so. Maybe too much of my creative ideas right now have to do with shame, but I saw these flickering, vibrant moments of shame, when they recognized not only that this body (your body) was not playing by the rule, but by implication, neither was theirs. They suddenly weren’t quite sure of the rules, and they were aware of how public their “misstep” had been. Different individuals handled themselves differently in this suspended space, but it was that moment that I found fascinating.

And what it says about our perceptions of the body, our expectations and rules for it. And how quickly we take cues and prescriptions for ourselves from the other bodies we encounter. I felt like it revealed something so fragile: maybe the choreography of identity? Maybe when you develop a research interest you begin to see it everywhere, but it was something like that. Up until their encounter with you, the others in the space knew the “rules” and they were playing by them! That’s maybe the crux of this connection is that it revealed some layer of awareness or intentionality of the ways in which these other individuals were handling themselves in their bodies, the way they were choreographing their actions to fit within their understanding of the “rules,” and by encountering you/your dancing body, their understanding of the rule, and thus their “choreography,” was called into question. So fragile.

Moving past that moment/observation, I was interested in the moments in which your actions were recognized as a dance. And it seemed really clear. When there were spectacular actions (again, battements, rond de jambes en lair, roles to the floor, jumps, etc.), it was seen as a dance, you as a dancer, and thus both as entertainment. The viewer would stop and offer their attention. And when the “moments of spectacle” (for lack of a better term) had passed, so did the attention of many. I thought to myself, “These people are not ‘people-watchers’. They are not the kinds of people who are drawn into subtlety, who sit on the Oval and simply observe how people are their bodies, and how that works itself out. They don’t find themselves captivated by the gate of a person, or the architecture of the body.” I don’t know if it had to do with the amount of STUFF going on visual/aurally/energetically/etc. but so many people walking around seemed to be doing so like . . . something dense and blank, and gave pause to whatever made a large mark/impact of their perceptual fields. Because of this, it was interesting to watch people come in and out of an encounter with your dancing body as a dance.

It made me think of something Bill Forsythe said about the thought behind “Monster Partitur” and the whole exhibition at the Wex. He talked about how in the art gallery culture, their is a certain “viewer agency” to meander, to wander, to direct attention for whatever duration, to come in, to leave, etc. And in the dance world, we tend to hold our viewers captive. They come in, they sit down, we turn out the lights, and for the most part, they are expected to STAY. He was interested in moving dance into the gallery space to potentially explore this viewer relationship. it raises questions like, “Dance, unlike a static object, literally changes and unfolds over time. How does its meaning or relevance shift if the viewer can come in or exit an encounter with it at any point? How is its value effected if they don’t see the ‘beginning’ or the ‘end’, only some piece in the ‘middle’?” I felt that “The Runner” leant itself to this way of viewing remarkably well. There is something about the piece, how it moves from one thing to the next with very little through-line, how each moment it partially characterized by the total abandonment of the previous moment, that gives immense permission to see/encounter only a part of it. I felt like I was fully engaged with the piece for its duration, but by the end I could not begin to describe the sequence of events, or even recount all of the events that had transpired. Just as it seemed as if you moved from moment to moment, event to event, with a total abandonment of what came before, I felt that I was invited to do the same. Which seems to relate much more to that “gallery, come and go as you please” mentality than to the proscenium “come in, watch from beginning to end, then leave” way of engagement. In that sense, I commend you hugely. I think Agora was a perfect match for the piece. I think I would also love to see it in the Wex, either in a gallery or outside on that quad . . . something about framing it in the manner of engagement associated with gallery/museum spaces that I described above. I think that is a fascinating connection between the context and content of the piece.

And I think that’s all I have right now. I have this other thought, something about interpersonal engagement, the way the socially devious body, or the dancing body, becomes less “personal” or “human” in the way that people relate to it . . . but I haven’t found the words for that yet.

Thank you for an amazing performance, for creating such a thought-provoking experience, for being “benignly socially devious” in your body/environment, and the commentary that offers. Thanks for introducing me to Agora. I would love to experience it again in years to come, maybe even share work there.

-M”

 

CoCo wrote to Michael 9:54am 17 May 2009
“[from reading what you wrote], I immediately heard Deborah saying something to the effect of YOU MUST BE IN LOVE WITH IMPERMANENCE. i will get the exact wording from my notes later and send them to you. but that is one of the foundations of this work. her point being….you can’t take this moment too seriously..it’s gone. the next is here and you’re it and your cells are it and it’s gone. don’t die when that moment dies and goes….just let it go and enjoy the next. this is one of the big things i’ve been trying to share with our class at OSU……maybe i need to dig up Deborah’s exact words and share them with the class…..that’s what i’ll do.”

and at 10:30am 17 May 2009:
“there is great vacillation b/w interacting with people/objects/energy in the space and the same entities that are built into the structure of the work. the inner logic of the practice is constantly melding/threading/weaving with the natural flow and construction of the logic that comes with the environment in which the practice is being …..practiced…..(word weirdness)

anyway….it’s a very strange and lovely state that i’m in when doing The Runner…..i never feel like i’m “being” a particular way towards the environment….like extremely inner concentration, to smiling and making eyes and playing with a puppy….although i am doing those things…..while i’m doing them, i really don’t have an attachment to the connotations of those gestures and actions…..like “oh i’m doing this and it means this or can be read as that so therefore i’m building/having/presenting an experience that must hinge on this/that meaning”……it’s more like, “oh….i’m attending to this right now because it’s in the lab….and i need the lab….but i’m inviting being seen and surrendering the pattern of facing a single direction, while every cell in my body is getting what it needs….and it’s no big deal”…….so while the action seems very specific and makes it appear that i’m “meaning to make a statement by doing something like snarking a dog’s nose”, it is actually very omni-dimensional …..from the sheer physiological/anatomical physicality of the experience to the linguistic/textual interpretive potential of the experience……………….

does this make sense? in a way it means having to let go of accepted notions of dancemaking…..dancedoing…..dance-ness. there is no structural heirarchy….the rules are laid bare in the moment and constantly shift so that no goal or meaning can root itself other than the perpetual attention to the directive.”

 

I hope that offers you some insight into the performance, my perspectives, some of CoCo’s perspectives, and maybe in the larger sense the way we dancing artists think of/talk about what it is we do. Welcome.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Impermanence: “Monster Partitur,” Meredith Monk, “About” and “Passage”

I have been both thrilled and overwhelmed at the response to my last post. it amazes me how quickly anything on the web can go viral in so few hours. Thank you all for reading (if you are continuing to read); I hope my reflections offered you insight into this experience and provoked contemplations of your own.

I have further contemplations/connections to reflect upon emanating from this experience working on the constructions and tracings for “Monster Partitur.” For days now, despite the sound scape that has been present in our work space (that has ranged from Madonna, to BT, to Jay Brannan, to Cirque du Soleil, to the Cranberries, etc.), the sounds that are constantly occurring to me come from Meredith Monk’s album impermanence. Released last year, it was a composition triggered in response to the unexpected death of Monk’s partner, Mieke van Hoek, in 2002. It has been discussed as a meditation on death, loss, and the fragility of human life. You can read an article about the piece and Monk’s thoughts of music for posterity, and listen to a few of the tracks (I highly recommend “Last Song” as one of the most profound pieces of music I have ever experienced) from NPR here

I assume the connections between this work and the work with which I have been participating are fairly evident. Both are responses to or expressions of loss and grief, both contain a meditative quality on the transitory nature of life, of all things. Both raise issues concerning that which is left behind, the translation of an impermanent experience into a lasting trace, be that trace in musical composition, or graphite drawings on plywood panels. 

Monk offers these words in the liner notes of impermanence:

“How does one create a work about impermanence? One can only brush upon aspects of it; conjure up the sensation that everything is in flux, everything constantly changes, we can’t hold onto anything. What we have in common as human beings is that we will all die and we don’t know when or how. We will lose our loves ones, our own health and finally our bodies. Keeping this in mind leads to a deep appreciation of the moments we have, to not take anything for granted.

“In a way, making a piece ‘about’ impermanence is an impossible task. I could only imply it, offer glimpses, create music that would be evocative but would also leave space for each listener to have his or her responses. Generally, the music for impermanence is more chromatic and dissonant than what I usually write. My music tends to be modal while in this piece I explored other harmonic possibilities. The themes to the piece seemed to suggest the musical language that I found.

“In the past I composed primarily for the voice and deliberately kept my instrumental writing simple and transparent to leave space for the voice to fly. now after composing my first orchestral work and string quartet, I have begun to open up to the rich qualities of instruments. From the beginning, I wrote the voice as an instrument; now I am allowing myself to think of the instruments as voices . . . ” 
-Meredith Monk

Themes that this short passage bring to mind are the elusiveness of the impermanent, or perhaps even our condition at large; ending as more accurately changing, shifting, becoming; the inevitability of ‘endings;’ allowing space for the personal experience, the subjective, and the awareness that reality itself is objectively inaccessible, but perhaps apprehend-able as a conjunction of subjective experiences. 

How does one directly address that which is fleeting, constantly shifting, or gone? More elusively, how does one go beyond addressing a thing that is impermanent, and address the condition of impermanence? I’m not sure I would know how, and yet I find that both Monk and Forsythe have found solutions to this inquiry. As Monk states, she does so by implication, brushing the service of a thing, a state of being, that refuses to stay, to still. In my experience of this work with “Monster Partitur,” I find impermanence is addressed by facilitating an experience in which the relationship between that which is impermanent and the record of that thing is brought to the fore-front. I am not sure how that will translate into a solo performance, nor how it will reside in a gallery exhibition. Nor am I certain that a meditation on impermanence is the goal of “Monster Partitur;” yet that quality and subject have been essential to my experience of this project. I will be unable to view the “product” of this work without the connotation of loss, of creating and recording and destroying, of marking that which will shortly no longer remain, and how all of this pertains to the human condition.

Without a major segue into a discussion of my most recent work “About,” I did want to relate that piece to this discussion. First, there is the reality that it is “over,” that this process and performance with this cast, with this piece in this form, is now passed. I am experiencing the familiar “postpartum” grief of a lengthy process coming to a close. I am grieving that loss in a sense. Which certainly relates to the subject at hand. I am wondering the ways in which the piece now lasts, in body and cognitive memory, but also as concept or information, as a “choreographic object” (to allude further to Forsythe’s research), and how that choreographic information might find expression or realization in another form. A professor of mine speculated today whether this piece might become a sort of “life work,” continuing to be questioned, carrying its concerns throughout my life, with new dancers, new spatial situations, new configurations of the concept. What if the cast was larger? What if it evolved into an evening length work? What if it was seen from above, and the full complexity of the spatial patterns could be appreciated (perhaps is a space like the Guggenheim, where, remarkably, Monk just presented a performance of her “Ascension Variations” this month).

monk_ascension_guggenheim2

photo by Stephanie Berger for The New York Times

 

The question concerning “About” has become how might it live on in this field of constant flux and change? How might it’s “ending” contribute to a future “beginning”? 

This is another larger speculation that has recurred in my own work, but become more acute in this experience with “Monster Partitur,” the question of ending as something like an illusion. Perhaps nothing ends absolutely, but instead participates in a collective state of reorganization. This was the inspiration/subject of a piece I choreographed in 2007-2008 entitled “Passage.”

passage_reach

photo by Clara Underwood

It was a reflection of our human aversion to death and ending, the inevitability of loss, and an awareness that as any thing ends, it contributes to the formation of something new. I was thinking about decomposition as fertilization, or the conservation of matter/energy, how nothing truly ends absolutely, but instead in reconfigured, reorganized, to become something new. 
[You can see videos of “Passage” here or here.]

This speculation does shift me experience of the work on “Monster Partitur.” Yes, it is an exercise in perceiving impermanence, yes, there is a gravity in creating tracings of that which will cease to exist, and relating that experience to my personal experiences of loss and memory. But even in the loss, something new comes into being. It is not the thing itself, but it is the evolving expression of the thing. The trace, the translation, becomes the embodiment of that which no longer exists, and in that sense, it does continue to exist, reorganized into a new configuration, into new materials, new spatial and temporal situations, but born of the loss of what was.

This is perhaps all art. Nothing is truly created because all that exists always has and always will. The work that we do when we “create” is reconfiguration, reorganization, making and describing connections that perhaps had not been made before. The artistic/creative process is feeling like an eternal three-step-program, something like “the idea, the realization of the idea, the trace or record of the realization,” in which the tracings or that which remains from that which no longer exists becomes the basis of the next idea to be realized. In this sense, impermanence is a constant state of being more related to change than ending.