michael j. morris

Cloud of Interests

This week I read an article by Alexandra Carter entitled  “Destabilizing the Discipline: Critical debates about History and their Impact on the Study of Dance.” In it she describes history not as neat boxes of knowledge but as clouds of “dispersing interplay” of discourses. My life, art, and interests feel a bit like that right now. I feel as if I have several large foci with small shifting bolts of connective tissue (big ‘ole mixed metaphor) linking them together. Some of these are illustrated in my tag cloud, others are not so concrete as to have a “tag” attached to them. I feel like I am trying to figure out how they all relate, how they inform or reinforce one another, and how the work I am doing might adequately address/serve/interrogate all of these interests.

At the heart of it all is the body. There is the subject of my arching research interests, that of situating the body as the site of the perception, negotiation, and demonstration of identity, and how this state is considered within the choreographic process. Specifically I am interested in considering movement material generated by the body as the extension of personal identity, and examining how the physical practice of movement material constitutes not only the construction of dance but also the construction of personal identity.

From here I am already aware of the paths that connect to other interests. One that seems to be of increasing centrality is the expansion of the notion of the body. This comes up in my yoga teaching, in the paper I wrote about Synchronous Objects, and in the ideas I have surrounding the work of Love Art Laboratory, Sexecology, and Ecosexuality. In yoga I privilege the body as the site of perception. The sage Abhinavagupta wrote: “Nothing perceived is independent of perception, and perception differs not from the perceiver; therefore the [perceived] universe is nothing but the perceiver.” If perception is a physical activity, as Mark Johnson, George Lakoff, and Alva Noë (among others, I am sure) have suggested, and if perception is the unity between the subject and the object (that which is “external” of self, the perceived universe), then the body take on far more importance as the site not only of the subject, but the subjective universe. This is perhaps not a profound recognition, but I think it may have profound implications. Our experience of the world can no longer be entirely considered as a subject moving through an external landscape; instead, the subject (and thus the body) becomes implicated in the “external” world. I think this may be the connection point to Sexecology/Ecosexulaity. The foundation of my understanding of these radical, fabulous, and beautiful notions as they have evolved out of the collaborative work of Annie Sprinkle and Elizabeth Stephens is that one looks to find sexual (thus bodily) content in the natural environment. I think this recognition of the body as already implicated in environmental situation by virtue of its role as the creative/perceptual site for the subjective universe offers a natural extension to the exploration of sexuality in that environment. For more about my ideas surrounding sexecology/ecosexuality, see my earlier post. Going back to my yoga practice/yoga teaching, part of the way in which I understand yoga is a kind of alchemy of self, the “splendor of recognition,” the recognition being that Self is not separate from the universe in which it occurs, consciousness is the substance by which we create our own universe, Self is not fixed, nor is the universe, nor is the body, and that by cultivating this awareness of the body/Self/universe in our yoga practice, we are substantially transforming not only ourselves, but our consciousness, and thus the universe in which we live.

Adjacent (but connected) to these interest is the piece that I am working on right now, Autumn Quartet, with Erik Abbott-Main, Eric Falck, and Amanda Platt. This piece has been in process since September, and I am still not quite sure I understand it yet. There are so many blog posts writing specifically about this piece, I don’t want to be redundant, but the major ideas that have emerged from this process are: the relationship between intimacy and violence, undressing/redressing the body, shifting power dynamics, indeterminacy/agency (as created by the structure for the piece being an algorithmic score), the integration of life and art . . . those are the main ideas. Recently I’ve become interested in how this piece relates to sex, the presence or implication of sex in the piece even in the absence of actual sexual action. As I listened to Jiz Lee and Tommy Midas discuss sex in a couple of docu-porns by Madison Young, I was reminded of this dance. I’m still not quite sure what the connections are, but I think they are there. Part of how I am interrogating those connections is by bringing that text, that language, into the process, into the studio. I am situating it into my commentary on the work here on my blog, and in the sound score for the piece. [On a side note, I follow both Jiz Lee and Madison Young on Twitter, and it was an exhilarating surprise to have both of them tweet about my using that text in this piece]. I think as I watched footage of a run-through of the piece, I also began to make aesthetic associations with several films, a few that I have been thinking about since the start of the piece, and one that I had not considered. The last couple of scenes in Perfume: The Story of a Murderer have always been iconic moments for me, and as I looked at this dance, I recognized images that directly relate to those scenes, namely the wild flurry of bodies in various states of undress, and the biting, consuming, eating of a person. In case you haven’t seen the film, I don’t want to go into too much detail, but it was a new connection for me.

Other points of interest branch out from this piece. I am in a course looking at the history and theory of post-modern and contemporary dance this quarter, and in considering what it is I would like to research for this class, this piece has suggested several points: the utilization of undressing as choreography, its reasoning, its perception, etc.; the explication of violence in choreography in post-modern dance: this has interested me for a while. Much of dance has an intrinsically masochistic quality to it. It is difficult, demanding, and often damaging to the body, in small, overlooked ways. I am interested in tracing the expansion of explicit physical violence in choreography, and considering how it might be indicative of an explication of the intrinsic violence, masochism, and even sadism  of dance practices. I am also considering writing my paper on Love Art Laboratory, Sexecology/Ecosexuality, as a component of this course, as the destabilization of fixed parameters of the body might be considered essentially post-structuralist, i.e., essentially post-modernist.

I have been feeling hungry for Butoh lately. Butoh has been the most transformative, fulfilling, actualizing physical practice of my life. Studying with Yoshito and Kazuo Ohno in Yokohama in 2006 was a formative experience for my dancing life. And yet ever since I came to grad school, the time and attention I have made available for a Butoh practice has been non-existant. I regret this, and at the same time I’m not sure of the solution. And yet all of these things, the body as the site of identity, the situation of the subjective universe, subliminal and explicit violence, these are all aspects that I find that Butoh can address.

I’m interested in applying notions of queer theory to choreographic practice, subverting the assumed normative roles of choreographer and dancer, without reverting to the post-modern model of dancers generating movement/choreographer structuring that movement. While that suggests the (perhaps illusion?) of a democratic process, I don’t know if it has substantially subverted those roles. Again, I think of statements made by Jiz Lee in “Thin Line Between Art and Sex” about being a “switch,” the fluidity of roles, leading and following, and how that sexual perspective might inform not only dance practices (as reflected in forms such as Contact Improvisation), but also choreographic methodologies. Truly, I am fascinated by Jiz’s ideas. They have addressed a whole spectrum of concepts that I have wanted to explore for a while and to which I have not yet given my attention. Jiz also wrote an article in a publication called ArtXX looking at the relationship between cognitive science and queer porn. I just ordered my issue; can’t wait to read it.

Which leads to the last interest that I might address here, and that has to do with a notion I’ve considered as “Sexual epistemology,” or ways of knowing that emerge from sexuality, sex, sexual identity, etc. This sense of considering choreographic process from the perspective of “switch” as suggested by a kind of sexual identity could be considered a kind of sexual epistemology. I am curious about what modalities or methodologies might be suggested by other sexual topics, like penetration/non-penetration, arousal, auto-erotic behavior, kink, etc. I have been interested in how the “sex-positive movement” might address or inform academia, or even more specifically, dance in academia. There has been some acknowledgement of sexual dynamics as playing a role in dance practices, but I question whether these have been acknowledged through as “sex-positive” lens. Carol Queen defines sex-positive as follows: “It’s the cultural philosophy that understands sexuality as a potentially positive force in one’s life, and it can, of course, be contrasted with sex-negativity, which sees sex as problematic, disruptive, dangerous. Sex-positivity allows for and in fact celebrates sexual diversity, differing desires and relationships structures, and individual choices based on consent” (quoted from her article “The Necessary Revolution: Sex-Positive Feminism in the Post-Barnard Era.”). How might our acknowledgement, treatment, and even utilization of sexual understanding affect dance practices in a positive way? I don’t know, but it is a budding interest of mine.

I’m not sure of all the ways in which these interests relate. Nor am I sure of how to give attention to all or any of these during the difficult and demanding period of grad school, but even just by articulating them and cataloguing them here on my blog I feel that I have served the process in some way.

On to other things.

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.

The other half of a dissertation

For months I’ve been thinking about the direction of my research, the areas that I am interest exploring relating to the body and dance and movement. For the most part, what fascinates me is corporeal/kinesthetic identity, which for me refers to the way in which we both perceive and present who we are as individuals through the (moving) body. We come to know who we are through our corporeal/kinesthetic experience, and we present or perform who we are through our physical actions and interactions in the world around us. The body is the site of negotiation between our inner perceptions and the outer perspectives of who we are. Identity then is a kind of choreography, in which the body is organized in time and space as an extension of who we are. I am interested in exploring cognitive sciences, philosophy, research about embodied consciousness (from authors like Mark Johnson and Alva Noe), identity politics (it’s about time I read Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble), and how these forces intersect in the choreography of the body/identity.

The sub-theme or assumption of this research is a privileging of the body as essential to personhood, to identity. The  body is not the vehicle for consciousness, it is not the shell or container for personhood or essence, but it is intrinsic to all of these aspects of existence and experience. I am interested in expanding this understanding as well.

As of yesterday, I have come to another understanding of where I would like my research to go. For me it is something like the “other half” of the above described research interest. As fascinating as embodied consciousness and corporeal/kinesthetic identity might be, and as interesting as it might be to consider these aspects of humanity to be a kind of choreography, there was really nothing that grounded this research in the field of dance (as opposed to psychology, philosophy, other sciences, etc.). Until now.

Yesterday I was thinking about the intimacy of the act of choreography. If the body and the way in which it moves is essential to identity, then the act of generating movement for choreography is (to varying degrees, I’m sure) an extension of identity. The act of making dances takes on a quality of intimate exchange, the choreographer extending and offering his or her identity into movement material that is then absorbed into the body of the dancer who invites the movement (which I am thinking of as an extension of the identity of the choreographer) into his or her body and cultivates it as part of himself/herself. Just as the body in general is a site for the perception, negotiation, and performance of identity, this process becomes intensified in the dancer’s body. The dancer’s body becomes the site for not only negotiating his or her own identity, but negotiating the integration of aspects of the choreographer’s identity with his or her own. Out of this negotiation comes the dance. I’m thinking about dance making not only as a creative act but a procreative act. The dance is the product of the negotiation between choreographer and dancer, their actions extensions of identity, the dance being produced out of the integration of discrete movement identities or identifying movement. I discussed this dynamic a bit in a post from May, describing the unique experience of creative collaboration, specifically in working on the piece “Observing Solitude”: https://morrismichaelj.wordpress.com/2009/05/09/queer-presence-in-creative-process-and-spirituality/. I think that I have felt this way about the choreographic process for quite some time and only now am I finding language for it, and its relationship to these other research interests. The arching subjects of this research seem to be in two parts: the relationship of the body to identity, and the relationship of identity to the act of choreography. There are other implications: I’m thinking about how dance notation (Labanotation, for instance) takes on a quality of biography, not only the writing of movement, but the movement of a specific choreographer. If in fact that movement contains an essential connection to the identity of that choreographer, then the writing of that movement is literally a kind of biography. I’m thinking about the reconstruction of dances from score not only as a study of the dances themselves, but as a study of biography, literally embodying a kind of kinesthetic biography of historical choreographers. Ann Cooper Albright spoke at OSU last fall and discussed her research on Loïe Fuller and how part of what revealed this woman to her was the actual kinesthetic experience of hold the long rods draped in fabric, the length of time it took to perform a piece, the ache of the back and the arms, the stability of the core, etc. By moving as Loïe Fuller, Albright came to know her in a different way. I think there are also implication for the more “collaborative” way that many choreographers now work. I think this research will be interested specifically in the practice of the individual choreographer generating movement material within his or her own body that is then transmitted to the dancer; but so much choreography is not made this way. It is becoming increasingly common for the choreographer to shape the dance out of improvisations and brief compositions generated by the dancers. This has never been my preferred way to work, either as a dancer or a choreographer, and I think these research interests might offer an explanation as to why that is. The material that is generated in this way has less affiliation with individual identities; it becomes a kind of raw fodder to the tweaked and wrecked and deconstructed and reorganized and adjusted. If not done carefully, this has felt almost abusive in different projects of which I’ve been a part. If the way we move is essentially related to who we are, and the movement material we generate is thus an extension of who we are, then working in this way risks feeling like the tweaking and wrecking and deconstructing and reorganization and adjusting (etc.) of who people are . . . This is not necessarily a negative thing (it certainly seems to suggest therapeutic potential, deconstructing the individual through the deconstruction of movement), but similar to the care and concern that goes into something like psychoanalysis, I feel a need to imbue those sorts of processes with a similar care. The movement an individual generates can be seen as separate from them, from who they are, but it’s origin cannot. It came to be in/through/and out of them, of who they are . . .

I was in a composition studies class this past spring. During one particular class we did an exercise in which we “danced” one another. It was like mimicry, trying to take on the movement qualities, physical idiosyncrasies, mannerisms, gate, etc. of our classmates. I found myself incredibly disturbed by this exercise. I felt intrusive and invasive when I took on the movement of another . . . and I felt violated and misunderstood as I looked around a room of my peers taking on my physicality and movement. Eventually I dropped out of the exercise. I think something was beginning to reveal itself in that exercise, the relationship I perceive between the way a person moves and who that person is. The casualness with which we were treating one another’s ways of moving and being felt at odds with the intimate nature of what we were doing. We were exploring not only how one another moved but by extension what it meant to be them. Which seems like an action of great beauty, profound intimacy, and something almost like love . . . I wanted there to be more sacredness to it, more gravity, more care and consideration and even consent. I wanted to have the opportunity to offer my ways of moving, to have them accepted and treasured. I wanted the opportunity to treasure the ways of moving/being of my friends and peers.

And that’s where I am right now. I am dreaming up a new piece to begin work in the fall. I have asked to work with three dancers who I admire greatly. I am interested in infusing that process with these concerns, cultivating an appreciation of the body as the source of (choreographed) identity, an appreciation of the intimate exchange between choreographer and dancer. We’ll see how that works itself out.

Scattered thoughts

Life seems too busy for any sort of formal exploration of a single idea. So I think this post is going to be yet another scattered list of the ideas that are playing around in my mind right now.

Spring is here in Ohio, and it has carried me into a week of bliss. Mornings of yoga and Qi’Gong in the grass facing the sun, afternoons reading on a blanket in the park, strawberries, and the negotiation of getting work done and surrounding myself with pleasant company. I feel happy, and it makes me think of something my dear friend Laurel once said to me: in a year in which their seemed to be a direct conflict between nurturing my art/my creative self and my larger life happiness, she offered that perhaps it was also a service to my art/creative self to be happy. That maybe being happy would also serve to produce “better” art. So in the blossoming weeks of spring and flowers and friends and sleeping with the windows open, I am again negotiating those poles (that probably overlap quite a bit): the pressures of graduate school and this intensive investment in my art/creative self/education, and the more holistic happiness of living life.

This addressing a speculation concerning the line between art and life (this is not a new paradox). Where does the line between the two lie, if in fact there is a line. This was a frequent theme in the class I took last quarter with Ann Hamilton and Michael Mercil, that of the intersection of art and life. How might the activities of our daily life be considered an art experience? How might the activities that we generally relegate to art be considered in the larger scope of our living (this is applicable for viewers of art, but even more so for creative artists)? If we distinguish between these, “Art” and “The Remainder of Life,” why do we make the distinction? Particularly in dance, which unfolds/progresses over time and space, is it “separate” because of the time/space in which we demarcate it? This is more simple when we speak of a  specific dance work. Or maybe not. I know my piece “About” because of it’s beginning and it’s ending. But in another sense, it also contains the months of conceptualization, the months of rehearsal, and continues to live on in the bodies and memories of those who encountered it, either as dancer or viewer. The “work” or “About” continues into the “remainder of life.” Is that continuation still an “art experience?” 

There is also this quality I have encountered in other dancers in which that which occurs within a specific piece is something like acting, pretend, or not real. And I don’t understand that. If you are playing a particular “role,” perhaps the distinction is more clear. If I were to dance in Les Noces, clearly I am not actually “The Bridegroom.” But is that the dance? Is the name the art, or is it the physical experience, the way the piece lives within the body? In which case, that “role” is a part of who I am, part of “real life.” Embodied experience cannot be “faked” or “acted.” It simply is, and as such, is for me part of the larger continuum of “real life.”

These are some of the ideas I’m thinking about.

On the subject of the collapse of Art/Life categories: This inspires me; I wish I could be there. An excellent example of art and life completely getting lost in one another:

Wedding as expression of relational love between two (queer) people. Wedding as performance art, as socio-ecological statement. The lines are blurry. The wedding is real, it is a wedding between these two women, their fifth actually, and it is also their art. And their art is their love. And their love is their art. I love this.


Other creative quandries:

I have a question about violence. I find that increasingly the subject matter of my work is the physical experiences themselves. Sometimes they exist loosely as a metaphor for larger existential experience, but even in those instances, my subject, my emphasis, is on the corporeal nature of that experience. How might those ideas live in the body, etc. Right now I seem to be thinking in reverse. This has come largely out of Mark Johnson’s The Meaning of the Body: Aesthetics of Human Understanding. He proposes the notion that meaning emerges from embodied experience, and it is in fact that experience that is the substance of what we know. For example, he discusses doubt or shame. These are feelings, pervasive sensations of emotion and the body that synthesize as an experience we might call “doubt.” He tries t describe the physical experience of doubt, the slight tension in the body, the effect on the breath, the hesitancy that enters into action and respiration. He proposes that these physical experiences do not “accompany” doubt, they ARE doubt. They are the experiences by which we “know” the thing we call doubt.

My interest right now is engaging with specific physical experiences, and allowing that which we feel/know/understand of its “meaning” emerge from the physicality. And right now there is an extremity to this interest, bordering on violence. Such as intense pulling in of the musculature towards the midline to the point of literal physical exhaustion. Or explosively launching from a squatting position up and back into space, as far as you can. These border on destructive, but they hold my interest because I think in them lies a specificity of experience that relates to larger existential topics. I am interested in the capacity of these specific physical experiences to reveal something . . . more. Something about what it means to exist. We’ll see where it goes . . . the connection is that these experiences, in all their brutality, are real, they are part of life. How do we live with them? How do I ask a dancer to live with them? I can articulate what I see as their value, and I do believe that risk can be part of what makes good art, but what about the lasting affects?

Which segues into another speculation, that of choreographing identity. I am interested in how these real physical experiences, that cannot be separated from “real life” are absorbed and retained in the body, and thus in identity. By engaging in specific actions, through the choices we make in the body, we are contributing to what our body is, its consistency, its memory, and thus who we are. It seems to add a gravity to what we do as dancers, as choreographers, the roles we take on, the classes in which we participate, etc. And I am also thinking about the “non-dancer population.” I am teaching a modern dance class to non-dance majors tonight. How am I contributing to their identities through the physical experiences through which I plan to guide them? 

Somatics is playing a big role in these research interests as well. In almost every branch or field of somatics, the body and mind are conceived of as inseparable, a unit, a soma. Memory, then, might exist in the muscles, the skeleton, the blood. Feelings and emotions have chemical foundations within the body, and those are experienced and retained. Thought is grounded in the brain, but extends into the body as well, which is why as  one directs thought to certain subjects, the way the body feels/is held/is experienced changes. Etc. etc. etc. This is where I see my research developing.


That’s all I have time for today. Those are my scattered thoughts, ideas, and inspirations.

Thoughts on Embodiment

As mentioned in a previous post, I am currently (slowly) making my way through Mark Johnson’s The Meaning of the Body: Aesthetics of Human Understanding. The progress is slow because of how many ideas each page provokes. Thus, I recommend it.

Here are some thoughts brought up today:

The dualism of “the body” and “the mind” is an abstraction of the reality that these are not separate entities but essential components/qualities of person-hood and experience. “Pure reason” (free from bodily concerns such as emotion, etc.) is an abstraction in that human reason does not in fact exist in processes free from the body. In an age that seems so increasingly “disembodied” by philosophy and technology, it is a refreshing reminder that none of those experiences or thoughts take place apart from the body itself, anchored and driven by its processes. Disembodiment too then is an abstraction, and for me, a threatening illusion. 

An idea that I am sure will be expounded upon is the idea that bodily processes (including emotion) are not separate from thought/reason/logic/concepts/propositions, but are something like the initial playing field in which those things develop. Meaning (or how we make sense of life, ourselves, this world, etc.) is emergent, not hierarchical, growing up out of the physical experiences, bodily reactions, etc. Even when we are not conscious of it, our emotional reactions are intrinsic and basic for our thought processes. They are the stage on which our ideas and reasonings unfold.

With this breakdown of the body/mind dichotomy into a body-mind or mind-body (I also like the term “soma”), there is a breakdown of the abstract classifications of “subject” and “object”, “self” and “environment”, “person” and “object”. Experience is the basis of our understanding or meaning-making, and experience is an active, moving interaction between the self and the environment, the subject and the object. These two things, although perhaps abstractly distinct as ideas, are never truly discrete; they are constantly connected in moving experience.

The centrality of movement in experience is the subject of the first chapter in Johnson’s book, and I am loving it. It gives whole new layers to dance as a field when movement is seen as central to life, experience, and meaning-making. There are two quotations I would like to share. The first is by Maxine Sheets-Johnstone. She says:

“In the beginning, we are simply infused with movement–not merely with a propensity to move, but with the real thing. This primal animateness, this original kinetic spontaneity that infuses our being and defines our aliveness, is our point of departure for living in the world and making sense of it . . . We literally discover ourselves in movement. We grow kinetically into our bodies. In particular, we grow into those distinctive ways of moving that come with our being the bodies we are. In our spontaneity of movement, we discover arms that extend, spines that bend, knees that flex, mouths that shut, and so on. We make sense of ourselves in the course of moving.”

The second quote is by Johnson himself. He says:

“Movement occurs within an environment and necessarily involves ongoing, intimate connection and interaction with aspects of some particular environment . . . From the very beginning of our life, and evermore until we die, movement keeps us in touch with our world in the most intimate and profound way. In our experience of movement, there is no radical separation of self from world.”

This idea of challenging “person and world” and replacing it with “person moving in world” is profound for me. Just as the mind does not exist apart from the body, the person does not exist apart from the environment. And that unity of existence is negotiated in movement, in time, etc.

Curiously, this reflects my present cosmology, in which the unique, discrete, distinct individual is merely a singular expression of a common Oneness that is existence. My current belief system is one in which all things that exist share a common substance (which might be existence, energy, Love, divinity, etc.), and that common substance finds unique expression in the individual (separateness), in order that our truer nature (oneness) might be reveled through action, relationship, and love. Our existence becomes a process of accessing and recognizing our oneness/commonality, beyond the details of our individual person, while also honoring those individualities and personal details as unique expressions of that commonality.
Something about this idea of “person in environment” as constant state of being (rather than “person” and “environment” as discrete states of being) seems to relate to this cosmology.

I am full of thoughts. I hope you are too.