michael j. morris

Shows I ache to see
9 October, 2009, 8:53 am
Filed under: art | Tags: , , , , ,

I just read a review of William Forsythe’s “Decreation,” a piece choreographed in 2003 with connections to Anne Caron’s book by the same name. Anne Carson is my favorite author, unquestionable. Autobiography of Red, Eros: The Bittersweet, Plainwater, Glass, Irony, and God, etc. I love these books. This is not the first time that I have discovered connections between Forsythe and Carson. But I ache to witness this connection:

“The Forsythe Company performs through Saturday at the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House, 30 Lafayette Avenue, at Ashland Place, Fort Greene, Brooklyn; (718) 636-4100, bam.org.”


I found a short video clip of the piece:

Later this month, Meredith Monk  will also be performing at BAM. October 21-25, she will be presenting Ascension Variations, another piece created in collaboration with Ann Hamilton. I don’t think there is any way that I will be able to see that show, but it feels destined that one day I will be able to see Monk’s work. She, along with Hamilton, is one of the most important artists to my work and I have yet to see her work live.

Again, I found a little video:

One day . . .

Queer presence in creative process and spirituality

My thoughts are scattered (as usual?), but I felt the need to situate a few disparate-but-related speculations together here for my own reflection and articulation.

I have recently been reading an anthology entitled ReCreations: Religion and Spirituality in the Lives of Queer People. It is a collection of essays and other writings of queer people, mostly in first-person, describing their journeys through various religions, faiths, and spirituality, and the relationship of these journeys to their sexual identities. It is in no way a prescriptive anthology; no one seems to offer concrete “answers” or absolutes of what it means to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, etc. in any specific spiritual path. The emphasis seems to be the act of sharing, a recognition of the diversity of related paths. It’s been an inspiring read. Connell O’Donovan wrote in his essay “My Journey into Faerie and What I Found There” (regarding his experiences in the Radical Faerie movement): 

“I have come to this place to lose myself and find myself, to heal from old wounds, to be vulnerable, to (re)claim the heroism of my childhood, to find power (the kind that is unrelated to the prevelant ‘power over’ paradigm), to be extraordinary (not merely queer), to remember Magick, to learn to spread my wings and fly free, to encounter ecstasy, to fuck and be fucked, to embrace my mortality (the authenticity of bodies), to make peace with decay, to love and be beloved, to remember what I wanted to become.” I found this to be a provocative and inspiring statement/manifesto of faith.

Maybe one day I’ll write my own journey of faith and sexuality. If nothing else, reading this book has brought the path of my journey into focus, into memory, into a new context of my present life. The reality is that the “two journeys” were really one journey of identity; faith and sexuality are both part of the question of who one is. Neither evolved or developed separate from the other, and each served as stimulation for the other. What has come out of that is a more unified spiritual, sexual, creative, embodied Self.

Queer identity has also come up twice this week in relationship to dance and creative process. In my History, Theory, Literature of Choreography, we have been looking at the work of Frederick Ashton. While reading some of the required course readings, I came across this article: “Gender, Sexuality, and Community” by Alastair Macaulay. In all that I had read and seen about Ashton, I had not yet come across any mention of his sexuality. It reminded me of a tension discussed by Jane Desmond in her introduction to the anthology Dancing Desires: Choreographing Sexualities On and Off the Stage. She addressed concern that the fields of dance history and queer theory rarely ever addressed one another, when it is clear that the two have an intimately intertwined history. Macaulay writes:

“No one will be shocked now to hear that Ashton was homosexual. But it was not mentioned – was not in good taste to mention – in discussions of Ashton’s work during his lifetime. Still, the fact is that when we speak of the ballets of George Balanchine or Marius Petipa, we automatically connect their vision of women and womanhood and partnering to the fact that these men were married more than once, and to their heterosexual world view. It is time that we began to ask equivalent questions about Ashton’s choreography.”

It makes me curious about the presence of queer identity in Ashton’s choreography, or how his choreography might be “read” from a queer perspective. I have a final research paper for this class, and I am considering proposing a choreographic analysis of Ashton’s The Dream and Sylvia from a queer perspective. I may address some issues of biography where appropriate, but I more than making connections between his homosexuality and the material of his choreography, I am interested in how one, knowing or not knowing of Ashton’s sexual orientation, might read his work as queer. I am curious how I might read it differently now knowing of his homosexuality. I remember hearing Meredith Monk’s music differently after learning of her lesbianism. Maybe that’s not very evolved of me, maybe it would be better to engage with each artist’s work as the work of a unique individual without assumptions of cultural, social, racial identity. But I remembering a sense of understanding, of experiencing something more in common with the music that had already moved me so deeply (in regards to Monk). I wonder if I might have a similar experience with Ashton’s choreography.

In a more personal experience of “queer presence in creative process,” this year I had the unique experience of collaborating on the creation of a new piece of choreography entitled “Observing Solitude.” I generally do not choreograph collaboratively, so already this experience was unique. It was made even more so by our process. The piece began with my authoring a lengthy libretto detailing the progression of the choreography, then my collaborator interpreting this libretto into choreography and performance. I was never in the studio with her or the piece; in fact, I have not even yet seen the finished version of it. But last week I heard from her that the piece was finished and had been performed, and I had the most unique emotional reaction to this news. It is not uncommon for my work to be deeply personal to me, to feel an almost maternal relationship towards my choreography. This piece was no different, coming from a deep introspection of the nature of recognizing one’s own solitude. But this time I share this “parenthood” with my collaborator. We created this piece together; it is a genetic hybrid of both of us, a result of neither she nor I alone, but the two us of together. Beyond the profound sense of shared-parenthood associated with this piece (reinforced by such synchronicities as the rehearsal period being almost exactly nine months, etc.), it strikes me as notable that this piece is was produced by myself, a homosexual man, and my collaborator, a gay woman. I can’t even really explain the relevance of this point, except that it feels as if it carries socio-political-artistic relevance, a creative act between a gay man and a lesbian. I wonder what might be gleaned from an analysis of the piece with an awareness of it as the collaborative creation of queer artists . . .

That’s all for now.

Oh, and come see SIP this Friday night. I am presenting my solo-in-progress “Red Monster”. It is an exploration of how shame and desire (might) transform us into monsters, among other things. There will be a lot of other exciting works-in-progress by my peers and colleagues from the first year MFAs in the department of dance at OSU. 7pm in Sullivant Hall, Studio 1. Free and open to the public.

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).


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.”


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.

So many things; so little

Tonight I saw the show Japan Dance Now at the Wexner Center for the Arts, featuring three contemporary Japanese dance companies: BABY-Q, Nibroll, and Sennichimae Blue Sky Dance Club. I am enraptured. All three were amazing performances, and although they had moments of stylistic intersection, overall were three profoundly different voices. It was a well curated show, and excellently performed. Oh, and there’s the part when I was moved to tears.

You can see a video with clips of these companies below (they appear in this order: Sennichimae Blue Sky Dance Club, BABY-Q, Nibroll):

The piece by BABY-Q brought me very much into my head it was a solo by Yoko Higashino accompanied by multimedia elements entitled E/G-Ego Geometria. It was for me a successful integration of dance and video (not all dance accompanied by video succeeds in successfully integrating the two, in my opinion). The meaning I brought to it had to do with the erasure of individual identity, the seen and the unseen, the known and the unknown of the person, and all the factors that contribute to these dichotomies. Descriptions that come to mind are:
faceless legs in silver platform heels
the body lost in the barrage of visual media
small conversations between a person and a camera, projected on a twenty-foot tall wall
white. black. red.
In the incredible density of the video projected into the space, which also served as the primary lighting for the first half of the piece, the body of the soloist became transported into an almost virtual world. The media was so much and so encompassing that it almost served to remove the dancer’s presence. Gradually stage lighting was added, and in seeing the body lit from multiple angles, and the lighting of the videos faded by the additional light, the body became more present. And then was further uncovered. We were allowed to truly see the dancer, her face, “who” she was.

The second piece was entitled Coffee by Nibroll. It was even more of a battery of video images, loud music, fast movement, constantly shifting costumes and characters and interpersonal dynamics. The program notes described it as an exploration of the boundaries we cross in the course of our daily lives.

The true gem of the evening (for me) was The end of Water by Sennichimae Blue Sky Dance Club. It was full of subtlety, slow movement, articulate gestures, gradual lighting fades, stationary dances, and a gamut of humanity and emotion. They describe their company: “this butoh-based all female troupe seeks to uncover new, original physical expression with a pop sensibility. Their choreography is born out of carefully observing elements from the physical memory of modern life and bringing them into new light.”
From the first section as the lights came up to reveal four figures lying on the ground slowly and gently stirring, I started to cry. I can’t necessarily explain this emotional reaction, except to say that it had to do with recognition. This is a big word for me, and is central to the relevance I see in art as a whole. The most profound experiences I have had with art, be it music (such as Meredith Monk’s mercy or impermanence) or dance (such as Yoshito Ohno’s Emptiness (Kuu) or Moeno Wakamatsu’s Dryope from Project OVID or CoCo Loupe’s In the Clear), standing in front of a wall sized Lee Krasner painting or a piece by Ann Hamilton, or reading Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson or Journal of a Solitude by May Sarton, the common thread of these experiences is that I sensed or saw or felt something familiar, something being created by someone else that I recognized as connected to my own experience. This sort of interpersonal human connection is why I engage in art, in dance, reaching towards a sense of knowing and being known through the work.
I felt that tonight with Sennichimae Blue Sky Dance Club. I felt understood and represented and recognized. I felt their humanity, saturated with nuance and complexity, immediacy and history.

It was a truly rewarding show. It has two more nights here. For those of you in the area, I hope you have an opportunity to see it.

For those of you interested in a more in-depth review of the show itself, and not just my experience, I found this nice blog by a commentator who saw the show a couple of weeks ago. You should check it out.

1 February, 2009, 12:36 am
Filed under: creative process, inspiration | Tags: ,

In the post I posted moments ago, I revisited the idea of “between” and I had a list forming in my mind. So many charged spaces . . . charged with difference. Don’t know where it might all go, but I hope you add to it, either your own “between” spaces, or perhaps what exists in the spaces described here as “between”:

between me and you
between ‘I love you’ and ‘I love you, too’
between this year and last year
between work and home
between lonely and alone
between sleeping and waking
between the action and the object
between the gift and the product
between the giver and the receiver
between obligation and desire
between phenomena and noumenon
between the inside and the outside
between speaking and listening
between analysis and intuition
between male and female
between masculine and feminine
between expectation and disappointment
between who I am and who you want me to be
between who you are and who I am looking for
between blossoming and wilting
between birth and death
between one and one
between foot and sidewalk
between teacher and student


More “between” from Meredith Monk’s “Between Song” (you can listen to the track in full here):

“between the paint and the wood
between the pen and the writing hand
between the rug and the floor
between the hairs on your head . . .
between the clouds and the night
between the window and the street
between the air and the men walking, walking,
between the heels and the sound . . .
between the skull and the brain
between the lens and the eye
between the tear and the lens . . .
between your hand and my hand
between the seed and the dead . . .”


between . . .

A Ongoing love affair with subtlety
1 February, 2009, 12:17 am
Filed under: art, creative process, Dance | Tags: , , , , ,

As part of the audition for the graduate program in the Department of Dance here at OSU, I ran sound for all of the auditioning potential students’ solo presentations. It was such a vast, rich array of work, all within a form a limiting as a solo. I was acutely aware of the contextual nature of this presentation, that for me, seeing all of these solos (something like 30 dances?) twice in one day, each one was taking place in the context of all of these other works by all of these other artists, each with their own identities and backgrounds and personal politics and interests in the field of dance. In this dense field of material, contrast emerges, one piece setting the next in sharp relief. Without deviating into a discussion of specific works by specific artists, I am more interested in exploring a developing awareness of what I enjoyed seeing, and why (note: this is not likely to be an extremely academic or theoretical analysis of excellence in the composition and performance of dance; more likely is that it will be an extremely subjective exploration of my own tastes. you’ve been warned.)

I am in love with subtlety. Nuance. Specificity (I have reservations concerning the inclusion of this word; it requires further explanation; read on). The work I enjoyed the most was not composed of popular movement vocabulary, feats of strength, flexibility, or virtuosity. They were specific, by which I do not mean to say that they were overt or clear expressions of a communicable idea. By specific I mean that had a pronounced identity, even if that identity was not easily quantifiable, classifiable, or recognizable. These pieces were like the individuals that created them (perhaps, even most likely, reflected the individuals their creators), full of layers, few if any of which looked like popular movement vocabulary. To be honest, so much dance, and much of what I saw today, looks the same. There are the same movements, gestures, postures, positions, relationship to the music, relationship to the body and the audience, and gravity. The piece that I am considering “specific” were not those things. I also don’t mean to say that they were “novel,” something new that is interesting for the sake of its newness. I suppose what I am trying to say through my addled, clouded mind is that the postures, gestures, and movements were specific because of their nuance. Simple, subtle qualities that made this person, this dance, specifically this and less relatable to . . . that. And this specific, nuanced, subtle identity (captivating in itself), served as the departure point for specific, nuanced, and subtle transitions, deviations, and returns. It’s almost intoxicating.

And why is that? Why this love affair, this fascination with subtlety, specificity, nuance? I think it has to do with why I engage with art, and even more specifically, dance. It has to do with the depths of perception. My choreography, and what I look for in the dances of others, is something almost . . . erotic. There’s a charged word. By erotic, what I mean is longing, a desiring/reaching/wanting that contains lack. I engage in art for the sake of interpersonal human connection, in dance for those experiences and expressions that find articulation most readily in the body. This corporeal articulation of experience is for me primarily in the pursuit of understanding and a recognition of our common and uncommon human experiences. 
When I see a dance saturated with specificity and nuance and subtlety, I feel that I have so much more of a sense of those experiences. I may witness this dancer moving and be overwhelmed with a sense of shared experience, that whatever it is that they are expressing/embodying/experiencing, it connects to my own history/memory/sense of my humanity. Or perhaps I don’t have that sense of shared experience. Instead I may have an awareness of our Otherness, the uniqueness of our identities, our individual experiences of self, our individual realities, and our experiences of more communal realities. I feel that the more subtle, the more specific and nuanced the physical expression, the more access I am given into those insights, those connections, those things that are the objects of my desire (through dance).

I wonder if these qualities I appreciate in choreography/dance have direct connections to qualities of identity. I wonder if the choreographer who holds a more specific awareness of self creates choreography with more specificity (even with “self” is not the subject of the work; Meredith Monk once said something along the lines of her work not being autobiographical, but still being extremely personal. She entertained the possibility that the more personal we are/our work is, the more universal we/it becomes. And here we are again at this word universal. I believe here I mean it in the sense of readily relatable to a multiplicity of individual experiences). I wonder if this specificity has to do with memory, or age. What might be the relationships between the nature of personal cognition and the nature of the creative activity in which you engage?

I just looked over at my “tag cloud” and saw the word “between”: between is an ongoing thought process with me. It is something like the space of understanding, framed or hedged in by distinct or discrete objects/ideas/identities/etc. Perhaps the specificity of those things at the periphery of the “between” space contribute to the richness of the experience that takes place in that space. What I mean to say is that perhaps the space between the more specific sense of myself and a dance that is more specifically itself in more fertile with possibility for understanding/recognition. 

I feel as if this post is all over the place. If you’ve read this far, please forgive my fragmentation. It’s been a long week/day, but these were ideas that were rolling around in my consciousness. I felt that I needed to address them in some way.

New Links
1 November, 2008, 8:40 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , ,

I just added a smattering of new links to my sidebar. These are mostly various sources of inspiration for me and my work- mostly artists and arts organizations, as well as complimentary physical practices.

I hope you take a look.