michael j. morris


The Ubiquitous Mass of Us
The Ubiquitous Mass of Us Maree ReMalia | merrygogo photo by Mark Simpson

The Ubiquitous Mass of Us
Maree ReMalia | merrygogo
photo by Mark Simpson

On June 14, 2014, the New Hazlett Theater in Pittsburgh, PA, presented The Ubiquitous Mass of Us as part of their Community Supported Art (CSA) performance series. This piece is a new work created by Maree ReMalia | merrygogo in collaboration with a team of other artists.

From the very beginning, ReMalia et al forcefully and playfully bring attention to the physical space of the theater itself, banging and stomping and calling and responding throughout the scaffolding and catwalks that lined the upper walls surrounding the stage and audience. Large piles/assemblages of seemingly carefully constructed and altered cardboard boxes—set pieces by Blaine Siegel—are positioned around the stage. Through the acoustics, through the distribution of their bodies, their activities, and the set, and through the constantly changing direction of their own foci—where they are looking, what they are seeing—the cast brings my attention again and again to the space we all inhabit, often with amendments: each moment it does not necessarily feel like the same space from earlier. Space is part of the stated theme of the work, both in the program notes and in a monologue delivered in pieces near both the beginning and ending of the dance. If this dance is about space, it is about how space changes, how it is produced between us, an effect of our actions and reactions. To pay attention to space is to pay attention to the relationships between bodies, to how we are relating; to pay attention to our interactions, then, is also to pay attention to how we are together creating space. Space is where action potentially takes place, where something might occur; the space that we create affects what we might then do, what could then become possible. In this sense, space is an effect of what we have done together and a condition of what we might then do. To the degree that what we do—what we are capable of doing—both indicates and produces who we are, we might then say that who we are is in part an effect of the spaces between us, how we have managed or entered or shaped those spaces, and also that who we might become is in part a potentiality of what we might do with and in such spaces.

The Ubiquitous Mass of Us is an evening-length work with nine performers, a mix of people both with and without formal dance training. Over the course of an hour, the performers move individually, in pairs, in small groups, and sometimes—but rarely—as an entire ensemble. The action of the dance feels like a series of games, in which most people are playing along, but for which the rules are only partially ever decided or understood, by which I mean: the dance progresses through a series of structures that are gradually established/revealed through the accumulating participation of more and more of the performers, only to then be interrupted by someone doing something unexpected, an action that exceeds the parameters I had come to understand for the given group activity. These interruptions are not combative; they do not feel revolutionary. If anything, they feel revelatory; they feel like discoveries, as if the dancer has stumbled across some unexpected gesture, activity, or possibility. I think this has mostly to do with the unfaltering commitment of the cast: they behave in each moment as if what is happening requires all of their attention, their utmost conviction, even when it is silly, even when they’re laughing. There’s a kind of “serious play” to this dance, like playtime for adults, or adult lives lived back through the playfulness of childhood games, brief passages of whimsical regression. What is happening is never entirely clear from the outside: something that seems very much like a playground game suddenly feels like a sacred ritual; something that feels sacred swerves and might seem just a little bit raunchy, if I allow my mind to wander slightly. As a result, there are moments that come off as juvenile, even infantile in their delight with a new movement, sensation, or sound; yet other moments come off as distinctly sexual, erotic, or at provocative. One moment they seem to touch themselves as if feeling what touch feels like for the first time; the next moment, “touch” has become “stroke” or “rub” or kneed,” as if an innocent kind of carnality was potentially within anything one might do. This swirl of potential associations, ranging from childlike to salacious, keeps the dance from ever settling into fully familiar or recognizable territories.

The movement vocabulary of the dance—what they do—runs a full gamut: often bodies or limbs seem to spasm or fling, as if out of control, and the movement unfolds as a struggle between decorum and disorganization. Guttural noises escape their bodies, and their reactions seem between uncertainty and delight. At other points, their activities seem functional or quotidian: pick up this object and carry it over there. More than once, they tip-toe or scurry around the stage, as if sneaking in plain sight, almost like cartoon characters. Other movements seem driven by their attention to their own sensations, more about moving and feeling the movement than demonstrating any clear or recognizable forms. Almost all of the movements share this same quality: utterly unfamiliar, yet highly specific. Whether it is the jut of a hip, the fling of a foot, the thrust of a rib cage, the precise or imprecise measurements of steps, or small articulations of fingers, most of the movement in this dance could not be said to belong to any particular codified technique. Rather, these movements are almost always unexpected moment by moment and seem to emerge in all their specificity from this particular group of nine performers, both as individuals and with each other. At times, the cast dances in unison, either in small or large groups, indicating clearly structured and rehearsed movement, but it is in these passages of unison in which the casts’ differences surface most clearly: little shows how different bodies are more than showing how differently they execute the same movements. Related to unison is the prevalence of mimicry: the migration of gestures is a motif throughout this dance. Often an action or gesture or guttural noise begins with a single performer, and, as if compelled by curiosity or perhaps competitiveness, other performers begin to imitate and replicate what has been done. They seem to learn one another in an ongoing round of watching, showing, and mimicking. As the activities spread throughout the cast, they seem to established affinities, shared actions that unite them into something that looks like a community. Affinities and differences: it is precisely when they are the most alike that I can see just how different each of them are.

This heightened sense of difference and individual distinctiveness within a group is visually reinforced by the costumes, styled by Rachel Vallozzi; bold cuts, bright colors, and flashy patterns accomplish what might seem like a misnomer: a group of nine people in which each and every one stands out. What they are wearing—in addition to what they are doing and how they are doing it—makes each one recognizable. However ubiquitous this “mass of us” might be, it is a ubiquity that resists homogeneity (even within unison), exceeds familiarity, and achieves a careful balance of specificity and diversity. If there is something ubiquitous throughout this group of performers, it is their rarity, their heterogeneity. What if that which we have most in common is that we are invariably different [from one another]?

Throughout the dance, I am aware of the dynamic frequency of the performance, an oscillation—sometimes gradual, but more often sudden—between, at one extreme, placid periods of mostly small, subtle actions saturated with heightened attention and carefulness, and, at the other extreme, forceful, frenzied, nearing explosive movements or sounds or activities, often repeated incessantly, riding waves of urgency and pushing towards exhaustion. I feel this again and again: the dancers find themselves doing something that seems at first unfamiliar, perhaps surprising, sometimes perhaps even illicit, and then indulge in the escalation of that activity—a repeated gesture, a repeated noise, an ongoing interaction with another performer—with fervent tenacity until approaching exhaustion. Again and again, the performers come to a state in which their struggle is evident: not only struggling, but showing struggling seems to be part of what this dance is about. Then, often when exhaustion seems imminent, the energy subsides, the scene becomes more serene again, before that serenity is one more punctuated with something unexpected—a new discovery, a swerve away from anything that might be construed as narrative, a spontaneously erupting game—and the energy builds once again. This frequency, this fluctuation between relaxed placidity and almost frenetic activity, cycles and builds as we approach the end of the performance. The action on stage is perhaps the most reserved in what I will call the “faux ending,” in which the performers enter and process downstage two by two, often holding hands, as if returning to the stage for a curtain call. However, it is not the end, and while many people in the audience laugh, very few clap: although it looks very much like the end, the audience somehow knows—or at least reacts as if—it is not. I think it has something to do with pacing, the delay of each subsequent entry, the duration for which each of the pairs remains center stage. It feels like a curtain call, but not quite like a real curtain call. Following this relative calm, the stage erupts into pandemonium, an explosion of movement and noise and cardboard boxes and giant marshmallows being thrown around the stage, styrofoam packing peanuts pouring onto the stage and the audience from above. It feels to me joyful, a relentless celebration, a surprise party for…whom?

Early in the piece, one of the performers, Adil Mansoor, struggles through a monologue, his spoken delivery interrupted again and again by sudden, almost violent, gestures. I cannot recall all that he says, but I remember that in a complex explication of the concept of “space,” he somehow comes to the statement of “I love you,” which then turns into the request: “Love me.” By the end of Ubiquitous Mass of Us, I am left wondering: to the degree that each action one executes is entirely indicative of who one is—even while no single action could possibly indicate the entirety of oneself—and to the degree that every action is in a sense a re-action, both responding to the actions of others, but also re-enacting that which one has done before and that which one will likely do again—that which one perhaps cannot help but do again; to the degree that every action of oneself anticipates any number of possible reactions, but might prefer reactions that suggest sympathy and recognition; to the degree that our actions and reactions together create both space and a future—a future which is certainly unforeseeable, but nonetheless conditioned inexplicably by hope—I am left wondering: how might actions be loving? How might each act be, in part, in some sense, a request, or perhaps an even more emphatic plea, to “love me”? We each take action, and each action anticipates response, reactions. In The Ubiquitous Mass of Us, as I have come to appreciate in so many of ReMalia’s dances, I can see how the uniqueness of each individual is not only demonstrated but produced in and through their actions: their gestures, their facial expressions, the dynamic range of their movements, their preferences and proclivities in regards to their use of their own weight/force, the directness or indirectness of their movements, their approaches to time and space. If, as ReMalia and her collaborators have so expertly rendered, we are each the sum of our own actions, our capacities and preferences and idiosyncrasies—even if we are each also more than such a sum—then to watch as distinctiveness reveals itself over time, to give one’s attention to the activities of another, to go so far as to mimic another and, in a sense, attempt something that originated with someone other than oneself, to go so far as to come close, to breathe together, to hold hands, to touch one another’s bodies—understanding that bodies, in all their distinctiveness, are who we are—seems to me to figure in movement, in choreography, in dance, this fundamental double declaration: I love you/Love me. Or: This is me, for you. Can you, will you, try to see me, try to be with me, try to love me?

For more about this piece, Maree ReMalia | merrygogo, and the other artists/collaborators, visit: http://mareeremalia-merrygogo.tumblr.com

Credits:
Performers: David Bernabo, Joseph Hall, Taylor Knight, Paul Kruse, Adil Mansoor, Moriah Ella Mason, Maree ReMalia, Jil Stifel, Anna Thompson
Set: Blaine Siegel
Sound: David Bernabo
Costumes: Rachel Vallozzi
Lighting: Katie Jordan



penetrating and permeating
15 June, 2010, 9:17 pm
Filed under: art, creative process, Dance | Tags: ,

This past spring quarter I had the delight to participate in Maree ReMalia’s most recent process work, “Penetrating and Permeating.” You can read more about this piece process here. Tessa Anton shot some sensational images of the piece during its performance. The following are some dabblings of mine working with a few of those images:



Manimals and Other Human Creatures

Last night I had the privilege of seeing “Manimals and Other Human Creatures,” the Resident and Visiting Artist Concert put on by the Department of Dance at OSU. I rarely write full reviews/responses to dance concerts, but I left with so many ideas scribbled on my program that I felt the need to put them down somewhere.

Susan Van Pelt Petry presented a new work entitled “Patterns of Prayer.” Because I work as the assistant to the costume director in the department, I had already seen this piece several times, but new ideas and aspects presented themselves in its theatrical staging. When the lights first came up, the audience was met with a line of dance kneeling at the front edge of the stage, each one working strands of cord intricately between her hands. I immediately felt as if I was at a wall of contemplative human activity, the simple concentration of the dancer’s actions demonstrating a reverence and relevance for their tasks. There is something loosely impermeable about dancers in a straight line from one side of the stage to the other, as if they have formed a barrier of some sort. But the intricacy and focus of their gestures drew me into their contemplation, creating an interesting tension, like an invitation into something remarkably exclusive, all via spatial formation and gestural material.

Spatial configurations played a significant role in this piece, moving through circling pathways, grids, lines and braiding pathways. Perhaps the most captivating passage of the piece involved the dancers’ organization into a three by three person grid. In this grid the choreography moved in and out of unison, composed of a steady stepping and continued intricate hand gestures. As their bodies moved through levels of space, from mid to low to high, etc., I had the distinct impression that there was something almost mystical in their gestures (the mystic was constantly reinforced by the sacred sounds of ancient music, the repeated movement of a continuous stepping turn, reminiscent of a whirling dervish, casting a meditative quality to much of the piece). I felt as if these intricate hand gestures were somehow unlocking passage between levels of space. The concept of enlightenment has long been represented spatially, moving upward into transcendence and illumination with the base or mundane existence being situated below. As the dancers shifted upward and downward on this vertical axis, I symbolized the gestures as somehow giving access to those various levels of mystical transcendence.

The piece involved a video being projected behind the dancers. Its imagery was simple: a white cord moved along the top edge of the projection, and a red silhouette of a dancer continuously turning in that dervish-esque fashion mentioned above moved along the bottom of the image, level with the dancers on stage. I chose to read this relationship between the projection and the live dancers as meaningful: I read the projection as symbolic of the meditative/spiritual ideal, the constant practice, the continuous action towards ecstasy. This image was literally interrupted by the play of shadows cast by the dancers on stage, as if acknowledging the interruption of the ideal by the effects of human action. In the final moments of the piece, however, the video faded, and the dancers took on the whirling, stepping action, the piece concluding with a single dance embodying the turning that had been imagined by the video throughout the piece. It felt like the achievement of a goal, or the transfiguration of the immaterial into the material, the ideal into human practice.

Melanie Bales presented a new work left untitled, set to music by Erik Satie, and danced by Abigail Yager and Ming-Lung Yang. It was a charming, intimate and skillful dance. Beautifully performed and sensitively choreographed. Perhaps most interesting for me was seeing Abi dance like Melanie. I am familiar with both of their ways of moving, and it is always intriguing to me to see movement and ways of moving that I associate with one individual coming so precisely from the body of another, especially when I have a fairly intimate familiarity with the movements of that body. I am in Abi’s technique class this quarter, I am very familiar with the way that she moves. To see her move like Melanie . . . well, it addresses my interest in the transference of movement material and the relationship of that process to the constitution of identity. Now there is something of Melanie that lives in both Abi and Ming’s bodies, and that was demonstrated with ease and precision in this piece.

Vicki Uris presented a new work entitled “Littoral Zone.” Again, I had seen this piece several times before, but it was somehow transformed into something new and yet unseen in its translation onto the stage. It may be enough to say initially that I hold Vicki as a goddess, a master choreographer, an exceptional craftsman. What she crafts is the whole picture, the dance as an arch and each moment frame by frame. When I focus in on the individual movements, gestures and actions of the dancers, they are not always movements that captivate my interest. Then I widen my scope, I take in the moment as a whole, and I am utterly overwhelmed. I can safely say that I don’t know how Vicki’s mind works, how she can recognize and orchestrate the degree of connectivity and organization that she accomplishes. All of that being said, I don’t feel that I can adequately describe this dance. I can describe my sensations of the movement, what I retained of the action of the dance, but its organization is of such a level of skill that I cannot even begin to comprehend it.

Long pulling movement with sudden flicks of action. Steady stepping or swaying or swinging interrupted by sudden holds or quick gestures. Scurrying steps that seemed to take the pulse of the dance and amp it up for moments. Beautifully odd and grotesque postures. Reaching upward as if suspended by the reach, then falling, collapsing. Grounding, stable stances giving way to flings and jumps.

The organizing structures I can recall are thus:
-A stunning interplay between ambiguous clumps and ordered lines of dancers. This was most potent in the final pass across the stage: the dancers began in a loose line upstage right. Moving in waves of falling forwards and backwards in a slow progression across the stage, the line was distorted. At any given moment, one would just see a clump of dancers scattered across the stage. But if one were to figure the spatial mean of the forwards and backwards action, the line was implicit in the clump. There was something meaningful there, about the implication of order in what seems to be disorder, an order recognizable only through careful observation over time.

-Reverberations of action via attention and observation: Near the start of the dance, there was a sensational counterpoint between a clump of dancers and a line of dancers on the opposite side of the stage. The line seemed to observe the clump and respond energetically and sympathetically to the actions of the clump. There was a wonderful atmosphere of attention as choreographic structure.

-I remember thinking that I would love to annotate the spatial alignments of this dance (re: Synchronous Objects for One Flat Thing, reproduced).

Dave Covey performed a perfect solo entitled “For Merce and John.” It was elegant, delightful, reverential, with an atmosphere that felt much like a séance. I think for most of the audience this was a humorous piece, but for me there was more pang to it. Yes, there was an unmistakable humor in the characterizations that Dave embodied, but those characterizations could never be separate from the fact that this was in memory of two men who have died. In his delightful appropriation of these physicalities that were not his own, there was an atmosphere of almost possession. I found myself wondering . . . if the body is the site of identity and movement or ways of moving that emerge from that body might be considered extensions of that identity, how might this sort of representation, this reanimation of those ways of moving constitute a living presence of those who have passed on? How might Merce have been alive in Dave’s movement, Dave’s body? This summer marked the death of both Merce Cunningham and Pina Bausch. I am curious about the continued life of their ways of moving in the bodies of those who have danced for them. It recontextualizes methods for accessing movement such as Labanotation as well. To what degree does inhabiting ways of moving relate to inhabiting a specific being? Reconstruction via Labanotation as séance, embodying and reanimating the departed . . . what an interesting notion.

Back to Dave’s solo, what I found most intriguing was his focus and attention, his concentration on what he was performing. Performers committed to what they are doing are so much more interesting to observe . . . because it becomes real for them. At that degree of concentration, it is no longer an act; it has become real, and I the observer am then present for their experience, not for their imitation of experience.

There was also the beauty of the references. The piano solo in homage to Cage had an overt humor to it, but beneath the humor for something far more profound. It had to do again with attention, with attending to the mundane as meaningful, as relevant, as worthy of being called art. Yes, there was humor in Dave “playing” the squeaks of an old piano’s keyboard cover, but there was also something beautiful about finding the simple and mundane meaningful, giving time and attention to them, perhaps even appreciating them as an art experience.

John Giffin presented a new work entitled “Manimal House,” set to Camille Saint-Saens Le Carnivale des Animaux. It was an over-the-top piece of humor and dance theater. It had so many sections and characters and gimmicks and punchlines, it feels impossible to describe it at any length. I will take the opportunity to rave about Maree ReMalia. I have no objectivity when it comes to Maree; she is one of my dearest friends. But I truly felt like she stole the show when it comes to this piece. She played a tortoise-esque old lady, and I dare say that she was the nucleus of the piece. In what might otherwise been a configured chaos of characterization, a veritable zoo of characters and action and humor, Maree provided a subtle center to the piece, a simple gravity around which everything else could spin (at points almost out of control). Having her in the piece, the way in which she embodied the movement persona of her character, gave everything else more significance.

Meghan Durham presented an excerpt of a larger work entitled Lunar Project. It was a charming solo with a cameo appearance by Shawn Hove. It is always so rewarding to watch Meghan move. She has a fluidity and specificity that she navigates and even interrupts expertly. Last night she did so in the presence of a enchanting sound and set: her set piece involved a collection of hanging lights, like flashlights suspended from the fly at various levels in space. The set itself had the feel of an art installation. I would have loved to see her dance just in the company of the lighted set piece, with no additional light. It was so elegant, as was her movement. I felt myself longing for there to be a more simple relationship between these sites of beauty.

Finally, John Giffin and Vikci Uris performed a duet choreographed by Susan Hadley entitled “Companions.” I hardly know what to say about this dance. It moved me to tears, but on the cusp of John and Vicki’s retirements, this was to be expected. I was moved by knowing them. I was moved by the care, precision, and almost perfect unison of their actions. In the series of actions/gestures/emotions, I felt the inescapable indication of temporality, that each thing lasted only for a time, to be followed by something else. Moments of pause seemed to indicate that movement would follow. Moments of smiling seemed to indicate that moments of not smiling would follow. It was an interesting journey through not only what they were doing but something like the constant foreshadowing of what they would next do. I found myself wondering how someone who doesn’t know them saw this piece. I treasure both Vicki and John, and I have only known them a little over a year. I wonder how those who don’t know them saw that dance, and I wonder how those who have known them for years, decades even, saw the dance. Intimacy was implicit in the choreography; I wonder how that intimacy played itself out in the various viewers. The final moment was just light on two empty chairs. A simple yet potent play of presence and absence, the passage of time, memory and loss.

If I was left with an arching thoughts from the concert, it has to do with this final question of intimacy. I find dance so much more enjoyable when I know the performers, the choreographers. Because the dance is then functioning within a framework of familiarity. Through the dances I am expanding or recreating my knowledge of someone I know. This of course relates to the ongoing theme in this blog, the integration of dance and life. Movement, dancing, ways and degrees of knowing, how the knowing affects the dancing and the viewing of the dance. Resisting objectivity and reveling in the subjectivity of my own experience. That’s how I left this concert.



New Video by Teoma Naccarato
22 February, 2009, 5:18 pm
Filed under: art, Dance, Grad School | Tags: , ,

This is a video dance project created by Teoma Naccarato in which I and our colleague Maree Remalia performed. Videography, editing, and music by Teoma Naccarato. Enjoy.



New dance videos
23 December, 2008, 4:25 pm
Filed under: art, Dance, Grad School | Tags: , ,

I uploaded a video of a piece I choreographed this past quarter. This is likely its final embodiment. The video is rather dark, and you could make out more detail in the actual live performance, but you will hopefully still be able to get a sense of what the piece was like.

The performers are Alejandra Jara, Teoma Naccarato, and Maree ReMalia.

Enjoy.

 

Below is a video of a piece in which I performed choreographed by Maree ReMalia: