michael j. morris


Alejandro
8 June, 2010, 5:05 pm
Filed under: inspiration | Tags: ,

Yes.

I don’t have time to write about this video now, except to say that there is much room for analyzing the presence/absence/subversion of the male gaze, the disruptions of normative sexuality, the function of the video in discourses of war, domination, nationalism, discipline and punishment, transgressive sexuality, gender expression/identity, etc.

She’s done it again.



In between places
4 February, 2010, 9:13 am
Filed under: inspiration | Tags: , , , , , ,

Somewhere between here:

and here:

and here:

and here:

Where is that?



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.



Lady Gaga, Ballet, Synchronous Objects, etc.

I haven’t updated as recently as I would have liked. There is so much going on here at the end of the quarter, but I feel that there are several points that I want to quickly share. I confess, there is very little overt connective tissue between these various ideas, but the common denominator is that they are occupying my attention right now, and as I hope is clear through the overall journey of this blog, that which occupies my attention inevitably finds its way into influencing “the work” (i.e. my creative practice, the dances I make, the papers I write etc.)

So there’s Lady Gaga. There’s her new album Fame Monster that is blowing up my world.

And there’s its connection to ballet. On November 14th, Lady Gaga premiered her new song “Speechless” at MOCA’s 30th Anniversary Gala in Francesco Vezzoli’s “Ballets Russes Italian Style (The Shortest Musical You Will Never See Again).” She played a piano customized by Damien Hirst, wore a hat designed by Frank Gehry, was accompanied by dancers from the Bolshoi Ballet, who were attired in costumes designed by Miuccia Prada. That alone should be enough said. But you can read more about it here. And see a clip of it below. And an image.

So for my last week of teaching ballet this quarter (to beginner non-majors), I set all of my barre combinations to Lady Gaga, predominantly the new album, as an homage to this contemporary intersection of high Russian ballet and contemporary pop culture, it in itself an homage to the Ballets Russes and the work of Serge Diaghilev. After having taught Vaganova Technique all quarter, it felt appropriate.

I had an amazing opportunity to take a class with Jill Johnson, former dancer with William Forsythe and the Frankfurt Ballet (among a list of other credentials). I relished the opportunity to revisit a way of moving that became familiar last winter working with Nik Haffner and Forsythe’s “Improvisational Technologies.” Today Jill emphasized the relationship between these ideas and classical ballet technique, epaulement as rotations in the body, and working rigorously in abstracting these various rotations and counter-rotations. It was not the same way of moving that I explore last year, but there was significant overlap, and moments of realizing how that experience last year changed the way that I move “naturally.” You can see me exploring some of those ideas in a piece I performed in October here.

I am also working on authoring a new paper, the working of title of which is “Body of Knowledge/Knowledge of the Body: An Analysis of the Presence of Embodiment in Synchronous Objects for One Flat Thing, reproduced.” I am working to construct a working theoretical definition of what is meant by “embodiment” from synthesizing writings by Mark Johnson, George Lakoff, Judith Butler, Amelia Jones, Heidegger, and Henry Sayre, among others, and then looking for the presence of embodiment in Synchronous Objects. I have found that there is a fairly widespread uncomfortability amongst dancers engaging with this dance-based research project. I think it has something to do with a sense that the knowledge that we know as our moving bodies has been extracted, transformed into date, and re-presented in forms/objects other than the moving body. My interest in the implication of embodiment throughout the project, in the site of origin (the dance), the collection and translation of the choreographic systems into data, the transformation of the data into alternative re-presentations, and ultimately (and perhaps most viscerally) in the viewer of the project himself or herself. While the paper is still in the works, I feel that there are implications of embodiment throughout the project; this is most acute in the viewing of the project. The project is an object to be viewed, to be understood by a viewer. It is a request for the re-embodiment of the knowledge being re-presented. I am attempting to describe that not only does the site itself necessitate the (embodied) presence of the viewer, but that the way in which the objects themselves are understood are through conceptualizations of time, space, density, movement, etc. that emerge from an embodied experience of the world in which we live. This is supported primarily by Johnson and Lakoff’s writings in Philosophy in the Flesh and The Meaning of the Body: Aesthetics of Human Understanding. I’ll keep you posted on the paper. In the mean time, I hope you go and explore the site.

In the reading I’ve done in preparation for writing this paper, a gem of a resource was a book I came across by Henry M. Sayre entitled The Object of Performance: the American Avant-Garde since 1970. Sayre writes about the shift of importance in the visual art world from the art object to the performative act, and in doing so the shift of “presence” from the artist/object to the viewer of the object. He writes beautifully about the photograph emerging as a respected medium, a signifier of both presence (the viewer of the photograph, and even the photograph as an object itself) and absence (that which the photograph depicts). He also wrote about the action painting (re: Pollock, Krasner, others) as a significant shift, in which the paintings that were bought by museums and collectors were not the action painting itself. It was a thing concerned with the immediacy of the action; the painting acted as a trace, a document of the action, and yet an object itself. Like the photograph. Like Synchronous Objects. It has sparked some fascinating notions as I have engaged with visual art after this reading. Last weekend I saw a series of works by Dale Chihuly, mostly large glass sculptures. It was fascinating and exciting to engage this work as “movement traces,” the documentation of the actions of the glass artists (which, in Chihuly’s work, art already mostly interpretations of Chihuly’s “action painting” designs for the pieces), and even farther as potential “movement scores.” Visual art as movement score. Reading visual art as movement scores as a method for engagement. There is something there.

Speaking of art object as documentation of action, I just ordered a “Tit Print” by Annie Sprinkle. She posted on her facebook today that she just made another batch of them, and had them on sale today. They consist of large ink or paint prints using her breasts as her instrument. I think they’re lovely, a kind of Yves Klein way of revealing the body. And the fact that I am going to San Francisco later this month to interview Annie and Beth and see their upcoming show “Sexecology: Making Love with Earth, Sky and Sea” at Femina Potens Gallery.

One of Annie's Tit Prints

Yves Klein "untitled"

Finally, a little rant: I am exhausted about hearing about making art or dance “accessible.” I take issue with this word. Because it rarely refers to making art experiences available to the population. It most often implies that the art be constructed in such a way that the viewer can “get something out of it.” It is not about making the art itself accessible as it is about making a specific experience (or kind of experience) of the work accessible. I think it has emerged from the collective anxiety of audience and artist worrying that they have somehow misunderstood the art experience. And my issue is this: “accessible” implies that there is something to be “accessed,” something encoded that must be (able to be) decoded. It assumes that art is essentially communicable, that its purpose or intention is that the viewer understand or “access” the experience that the artist has of her or his own work. And I think that is simply not the purpose of art. My theory is also that we live in such a visually complex, communication driven culture that we spend our lives trying to “figure out” what we’re supposed to understand from images, advertising, commercials, etc. etc. etc., that we come to the art experience with that same pressure. It is my opinion that the art experience is perhaps the opportunity for reprieve from this way of engaging and understanding. The purpose is not to access the encoded meaning, but instead to engage with that with which you are presented and make it meaningful for yourself. Construct meaning rather than access meaning, using your experience of the dance or sculpture or literature or music, etc., as the materials by which you construct your meaning. In this sense, I am opposed to making art “accessible.” I am in favor of making art available. But I would like to do away with this language/concept that there is anything to “access” in art. It is there. You experience it. You make that experience meaningful for yourself using the materials before your as the materials of your meaning.

There. That’s my little rant for today.

Back to reading/writing about Synchronous Objects.



Autumn Quartet: The Dance/Our Lives

We ran the piece twice Thursday night. It came in almost exactly 20 minutes both times. I’m not quite sure how that happened, but it works for me. To briefly describe what the choreography is as of now:

-a collection of set movement material (two long phrases, and several tasks)
-an algorithmic improvisational score that determines the structure of the piece (I may share the score here at some point . . . right now that feels like too much information)
-a set way of beginning and ending, and a momentum that carries through the enactment of the score. The decisions are different every time we do it, but it facilitates the accomplishment of certain things: we all get undressed. we all get redressed. in between, we dance phrases, make angry gestures, strip for one another, bite one another, roll around a bit, etc.
-there is a sound score at the moment, a mashup I did from a playlist that we’ve been using in rehearsal:
“Intro Versailles” by Reitzell/Beggs from the Marie Antoinette soundtrack
“Caddis” by ISAN from “Lucky Cat”
“Poker Face (Space Cowboy Remix)” by Lady Gaga from “Poker Face (remixes)”
“Bad Romance” by Lady Gaga (single)
“Gwely Mernans” by Aphex Twins from Drukqs
then back to “Intro Versailles” by Reitzell/Beggs from the Marie Antoinette soundtrack

I think I am finally beginning to understand what it is that we’re doing. It just took talking to CoCo for a little bit. She helped me connect several “dots” that have littered my creative landscape for quite some time: the violent action and the integration of life and dance. These are very new ideas, but I’ll try to get them down somehow.

For years now I have had a mounting interest in violent actions of the body, for lots of reasons: their irreversibility, their potency for kinesthetic empathy, the fact that they cannot be faked, not really. And, on some level that I perhaps have not admitted before, because they leave a mark. A kind of testimony to the fact that the action was real, a real, visible, tangible effect on the body, a mark of how it is retained. This may have found a ready expression in my Lady Gaga “I Like It Rough” solo in CoCo’s “click here for slideshow or 6-8 character limit,” (early version of that solo can be seen here), the bruises finally fading over a week later. I’ve had lots of questions over the years about “why the violence?” Talking to CoCo last night about the new piece I am making, I think I finally have a bit more of an answer.

In thinking about the integration of life and dance, I have for years been concerned about the fact that dance is an art that lives in the body, the individual person. I’ve always had a discomfort surrounding the “theatrical” aspects that come into dance, the characterization element, the idea that what we do in the dance is somehow separate from who we are as real people. I think that was part of what first attracted me to Butoh, the emphasis on the cultivation of an inner experience that then emerges as the dance. It isn’t something that is put on, nor can it be taken off. In the more theatrical heritages of dance (I’m thinking a bit of story ballets, etc., but maybe even into more contemporary dance theater), the character is something that is put on, it is pretend, an impersonation. I think there is a place for dance of that nature . . . but it is becoming further and further removed from my experience/interest in dance. I think what interests me is the actuality of the action in the body, actions taken by realm people with realm ramifications in the body (and thus, perhaps, who they are). This is part of what I’m interested in researching for my dissertation (if I am accepted to the Ph.D. program to which I’ve applied), the ramifications of the choreographic process for the construction of individual personal identity through the body. At the heart of this is not only the assertion that the body is the site of identity, but also that dance action is an actual occurrence within the body. We are actually doing what we are doing/dancing. And that action is thus part of our “real” lives, who we really are, our identity. Even if a dancer is “playing a character” or putting on a role for a dance, the actions taken in that part are still real, they emerge from and have an effect on the body/the individual. I think this is the fundamental awareness that has provoked my passion for figuring out the integration of life and dance, the fact that the two are not two, they are one, dance and life all comprising experience that is lived in the body. The conceptualization of the two as somehow separate is something reinforced (maybe) by “dance as profession” versus “personal life.” Or maybe it comes from the theatrical heritage, that dance is something like theater in which fiction is enacted. But while fiction may be enacted, the way in which it is executed in the body is not fiction, it is real action taken in the actual body/person with real ramifications (this can be said for theater as well).

So how does this relate to the violent action, or this new piece I am making?

The violent action may have been an entry point into the speculation for me. The action that overtly, audaciously, has real effect on the body, irreversible, unable to be faked, emphasizing the “realness” of the dance. I still have a lot of interest in this, but now this has expanded a bit; I’m finding other ways to explore the dance as reality in the body, thus reality in the lives of the dancers. In this piece, we dance phrase material. It has its effect on our lived and living bodies, the way each of us move. The more familiar it becomes, the more that way of moving is integrated into our bodies, the more it changes the way we move “naturally” (loaded word, I know; what I mean is something like the ways of moving that occur easily, consciously and subconsciously, in the body), thus potentially changing aspects of who we are. There is floor work, some that borders on violent, and it leaves marks on and in our bodies. We undress, and it is our actual bodies being uncovered; it isn’t faked. We bite one another, and it is really our teeth pressing into flesh, our real flesh in one another’s mouths, in between one another’s teeth. We take off our clothes and we put on one another’s (real) clothes. These are all ways I think of this dance privileging/emphasizing the fact that it is not separate from our lives, from who we are, from the actual lived experience of our bodies, and the community of our bodies.

But it isn’t only the dance extending into (real) life, but life extending into the dance via the choreographic structure. There are discrete components of prescribed movement material, and a multiple page algorithmic improvisational score for the dance, but the choices are made by us in relation to one another. Those relationships are not (cannot?) be separate from the (personal) relationships that we have created with one another. When I choose to strip for Amanda or bite Erik or roll around on the floor with Eric, those choices are made both within the context of the dance/movement/structure and our lives. And even more subtly, there are the ways we relate in the dance beyond our structural choices. The ways we look at one another, the ways we react to one another, the way we laugh or talk or adjust for one another during the piece, even the “rules” (of the algorithm) that we choose to break. All of it is not separate from who we are to one another.

 

Okay.

I think I’ve run out of words. But that’s where this piece is, where my thoughts are.

Tonight I’m going to see the Resident and Visiting Artist Concert being put on by the OSU Department of Dance. I’ve seen some of the work and heard great things about the other work. I’m looking forward to it.



Lady Gaga “Bad Romance”
12 November, 2009, 5:45 pm
Filed under: art, creative process, culture | Tags: , , ,

I somehow felt that I was keeping something from you.

By not telling you.

How completely OBSESSED I am

with Lady Gaga’s new “Bad Romance” video:

I wish I could tell you why. Besides the fact that I seem to be moving deeper into a worship of Gaga. And maybe for today it is simply enough to admit that I am obsessed with this video/song. And I would be lying if I tried to imagine that this won’t somehow enter the creative process.

Maybe we’ll wear diamonds.
Or Alexander McQueen.
And we’ll undress.
And dance.
To Gaga.

There is a music mash-up happening . . . I’m not sure if it is “for” the piece or just for “rehearsals.” But it goes like this:

“Intro Versailles” by Reitzell/Beggs from the Marie Antoinette soundtrack
“Caddis” by ISAN from “Lucky Cat”
“Poker Face (Space Cowboy Remix)” by Lady Gaga from “Poker Face (remixes)”
“Bad Romance” by Lady Gaga (single)
“Gwely Mernans” by Aphex Twins from Drukqs

We’ll see what that turns into.



More POP solo (revised)
14 August, 2009, 2:02 am
Filed under: creative process, Dance | Tags: ,