michael j. morris


Current Ideas

Because I have neglected my blog since this Autumn quarter started, I feel the need to offer a quick update on thoughts/ideas/creative activity/etc. It will hardly be comprehensive, but I need to take a break from reading; blogging will be my break.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to take a Butoh class with Marianne Kim. It was amazing. it was the most pleasure I have taken in movement in years. I’ll confess, directly after the class, I wanted to drop out of grad school and just go do Butoh somewhere. This is of course not what I’ll be doing, but it did reawaken a need for that way of moving in my life. I’m not sure how that will affect my physical practice, my choreography, or my research . . . but Butoh has been essential to my evolution as a dance artist, and it feels like it is time to return to that “movement home.” I’m not yet sure what that will be.

Last week I started working on a new trio (maybe a quartet if I dance in the piece; I haven’t yet decided). It is one of the most ambiguous works of choreography on which I have ever embarked. I don’t yet know what it is going to be or even what I want it to be; I simply have a field of disparate interests, and this piece is forming somewhere in between those interests (it’s always about the in-between). I feel now that Creative Processes with Bebe Miller in the spring affected me more profoundly than I could have been aware of at the time. I have never just gone into a studio with a cast to see what happens; I always have a plan, an idea of what the piece will be, and even if I deviate from that plan, I have the fundamental structure as my anchor; that is not how I am working with this piece. I began by casting the piece; the cast went through several evolutions. As of now it is comprised of: Erik Abbottmain, Eric Falck, and Amanda Platt (plus myself). I generated several movement phrases. I listed my interests and shared that list with the cast. it included:
-the cooch dancers in the HBO show Carnivale
-the cultural fascination with vampires, with biting, the sexiness of it, the tension between predator and willing prey, the possible relationship to rape fantasies
-Undressing/Redressing; the actual body v. the socially presentable body (many of these ideas I began to explore in the solo I performed in 60×60)
-How we know one another, how we “get inside” who one another are
-Getting inside one another’s clothes (a metaphorical action)
-KNOW(TOUCH)ME(YOU)(MY/YOUR BODY)
-My larger research interests concerning the constitution/negotiation of identity as the body, the extension of identity in the generation of movement material, the intimate act of choreography in which the movement material (extension of the choreographer’s identity) is transmitted to the body of the dancer and integrated into her own corporeal/kinesthetic identity

I don’t know where this piece is going yet. For this week, we will likely engage in KNOW(TOUCH)ME(YOU)(MY/YOUR BODY); we might try biting one another; I may teach more movement material, and we will review the material we learned last week. The existing movement material is dance-y and a little vulgar; there are choreographed facial expressions (this is likely influx from my History, Theory, Literature of the Analysis of Movement course; we’re looking at Delsatean systems of theory and training; more on this below).

This course (HTLAM: The History, Theory, and Literature of the Analysis of Movement) is a core Ph.D. course in the department. More than anything, the meta-inquiry of the course is, “How do we find movement meaningful, and what are we looking at in order to apprehend that meaning?” We began doing readings in phenomenology, then into analysis of movement for meaning (work by Paul Ekman, David Abram, Charles Darwin, John Martin, etc.) Now we are looking at Delsarte and his theories about the meaning of the body (this is what I am reading about tonight). I am already starting to consider my potential final paper topics. I am thinking about something like: the construction of female identity through Delsarte, compared/contrasted with female identity as constructed through contemporary lesbian dance club practices. Both evolved in primarily homo-social settings but exist(ed) in social structures driven mostly by male power/dominance. I’m not sure yet, but that’s the direction I’m considering.

I finally saw a video of the piece I co-choreographed last year (I supplied a libretto that was the interpreted into choreography) with Audrey Lowry called “Observing Solitude.” I am not yet prepared to write a description/analysis of the piece, or even describe my experience of it beyond simple, stunning beauty. I was very pleased.

I am still in rehearsals with CoCo Loupe, preparing for Anthro(pop)ology II, the piece now entitled “click here for slideshow or 6-12 character limit.” Here is CoCo’s blurb about the piece:

“cocoloupedance will be premiering click here for slideshow or 6-12 character limit. Choreographer CoCo Loupe has structurally designed this piece to metaphorically resemble an internet slideshow. Composed of interconnected (still-framed, slideshow-like) solos, duets and trios danced by Eric Falck, Jeff Fouch, and Michael J. Morris, this work examines the kind of dehumanizing social fragmentation that results from overwhelming over exposure to current trends in rapidly developing technology and mass mediation. CoCo Loupe will sit “in a cafe” on stage and engage in blogging, texting, emailing, and tweeting activities directly related to the performance. Her real-time computer interactions will be projected on a screen in such a way as to question what it means to interact socially in today’s touch screen (rather than touch each other) world.

For more information about cocoloupedance or CoCo Loupe, visit http://www.cocoloupedance.com/

I am writing a grant right now to hopefully travel to San Francisco in December to view/review a show or prints by Love Art Lab at Femina Potens Gallery, and to interview Annie and Beth about their work. Here is my working “project description”:

“I am requesting funding for travel and lodging in order to interview performance and mutli-media artists Annie M. Sprinkle and Elizabeth M. Stephens—who together make up the artist couple Love Art Laboratory—and have the opportunity to experience an exhibition of their work entitled “Sexecology Solo Exhibition” at Femina Potens Gallery in San Francisco. While Sprinkle and Stephens are not specifically identified as dance artists, I find the work of the Love Art Lab to have profound implications for politics surrounding the body, the emergence of progressive physical cultures, and the body as the site for sexual, ecological, and political activism, all of which are relevant conceptual situations for the evolving field of dance. These ideas are expressed and explored through their performance work, including their annual performance weddings, various gallery and alternative space performance installations, and theatrical stage productions, as well as their photography, paintings, and prints.

In addition to the relevance of their work to issues surrounding the body, I am also interested in interviewing Sprinkle and Stephens about their integrated art-and-life practices and the concept of sustainable practices in arts professions. In my analysis of their work, the Love Art Lab seems to produce work that functions not only as their profession, but also as an expression of their personal relationship, their sexuality and sexual identities, their creative interests, their politics and activism, and their ecological concerns. I am interested in hearing them speak on these subjects, and how integrated life/art practices contribute to personal sustainability. I feel that Sprinkle and Stephens may in fact be authorities on these subjects, and there exists very little critical writing about their work as Love Art Laboratory.

It is my intention to review the show of prints at Femina Potens, potentially for publication, and also generate critical writing surrounding their work and the issues discussed above, also potentially for publication or conference presentation. I feel that I have exhausted the limited literature that has been produced about the work of Love Art Laboratory, and I believe there to be value to expanding critical dialogue surrounding their work by contributing to the existing literature. I have yet to have a first-hand encounter with Love Art Laboratory’s work, basis my understanding and limited analysis on existing literature and web documentation of the work. Having the opportunity to experience Sprinkle, Stephens, and their work first-hand would profoundly enhance my ability to write critically about the work, and its relevance to issues that concern both the field of dance and art practices as a whole.”

It’s a draft. it will probably evolve. But it offers a sense of something I am working on/towards.

And that’s all I have time for. That’s my brief offering about my creative life.

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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.