michael j. morris


Separate Panes

I compulsively suspend my “real work” to write and reflect about significant art and dance that I have seen. This morning I am aware of (almost to the point of anxiety) the stack of Labanotation projects to grade and the stack of books to read that have taken over my desk. And yet I feel compelled to give at least a little time to reflect on James Graham’s Separate Panes: An Installation and Site-Specific Dance Work that I had the opportunity to see last night.

Separate Panes constitutes the partial fulfillment of Graham’s MFA in Dance at the Ohio State University. The piece was staged (installed) in the former Sullivant Library in Sullivant Hall above and adjacent to the Department of Dance on OSU campus. Going in to the performance/installation, there were already fascinating issues at play concerning uninhabited, vacated spaces, the history of the space as a library sharing a building with dancing spaces, a building that was formerly a historical and archaeological museum. I think going in I was also interested in the choreography of the space, the traces of former movement, how that movement is or was choreographed by the architecture, and how that choreography would be reinforced/altered/activated/or resisted by the presence of this new artistic participation in the space.

At this point I would be remiss to not address the work of Nicole Bauguss in the space.

Bauguss quite simply transformed the space (less reductively, she both transformed and revealed the nature of the space in both simple and labor intensive ways), in collaboration with projected video work by Graham and lighting designer Dave Covey, with an expansive and nuanced installation in the reinhabited spaces. Materials included an intense variety of found/reclaimed materials (including window panes, doors, wooden furniture, hanging lights, an antique bath tub, tree branches, and, most notably, book pages). Bauguss artfully forged a through-line for the piece, offering material relationships between the dance material (initially occurring in separate spaces throughout the main floor of the library, and consolidating into the formerly main reception area for the finale), the video work, and the past and present condition of the space itself. Her installations were essential in formulating the atmospheric situation of the piece, and were the significant component in my perception of the work as “installation,” creating a tangible integration of the dancers into the space/architecture, and providing material structures by which the choreography of the audience’s movement in the space developed (trails of pages leading from one room to the next, bits of seeming debris serving as a kind of trail of breadcrumbs from one space to the next). In some spaces Bauguss made the space into something notably new while still referencing the history and condition of the space: in one room the viewer was met with veil upon veil of hanging paper airplanes made from former book pages, the presence of the pages seeming to reference the former library, the absence of the books/bindings seeming to reference the absence of this former use of the space, their hanging giving an almost ghostly, haunted quality to the room. In other places pages and paper airplanes were left almost like debris, drawing attention to the space, heightening my attention of my surroundings and the participation of the dancers in those surroundings. There were also little rewards in the details: not only were the various papers and pages (mostly from what seemed to be vintage dictionaries or encyclopedias) reclaimed and re-deployed in this installation, but they were altered with images printed on them: images of the dancers, of pomegranates, of other details from the space, etc. By adding her own details, she cultivated a sensitivity to the details of the space itself. Without writing a comparative essay situating Bauguss’ work, I will say that there were what I consider to be “Ann Hamilton” qualities throughout the work, specifically in the relationship of the materials to the history and current condition of the space, and the pairings of both dense collections of materials with carefully nuanced details, all creating a charged situation for performative exchange.
(you can read more about Bauguss’ process and view additional images of both her work and her documentation of the dancers in the space at her blog)

As for the dance performance aspect of the piece, I will say that I left feeling extremely overstimulated, vulnerable, and exposed, all of which might attest to the general success of the project. The dancers in the piece were: Erik Abbott-Main, Mair Culbreth (due to an injury that occurred during the Saturday matinee, Culbreth did not perform in the piece last night; Graham stepped in to dance her part), Katy Gilmore, Leigh Lotocki, and Carson Moody. There was a broad spectrum of movement quality in the work, from introspective, quiet movement that drew me into the immediate space and condition of the dancer, to intense, violent movement of bodies colliding into architectural structures and into one another. This spectrum from soft and quiet to violent collision was somewhere between kinesthetically and emotionally dismantling. It was human drama without the need for discernible narrative. Graham offers about the piece:

“Separate Panes is a site-specific work that follows five performer’s journeys through literal and figurative spaces of isolation and community. Is it an easy transition walking a solo path towards converging with someone else? In an Installation the audience is welcome to be among the art. The audience members have choices as to what they choose to look at, for how long, and in what proximity (up close or further back).”

These themes were definitely present in the movement/choreography, journeys charged with connotation and frameworks in which to construct meaning, but without heavy-handed manipulation of these structures to demand the articulation of a particular narrative. As I have mentioned throughout other posts on this blog, the work I appreciate the most act as agents of “the specificity of ambiguity.” Graham’s Separate Panes definitely operated within this paradigm for me, demonstrating itself as intensely and purely itself without needed to anchor itself to something immediately recognizable/classifiable, and as such made for an extremely rewarding experience. I had strong resonant/empathetic responses to so much of the work, specifically the proxemics of separation and collision (between body and structure, and body with body), and the unmediated nature of violent impact. I have attempted to articulate this aesthetic predilection of mine before, this fascination with the violent impact of bodies. It came up in the violence of my “I Like It Rough” solo in CoCo Loupe’s click here for slideshow or 6-8 character limit, and comes up constantly in the pairings and partnering in “Autumn Quartet.” I have expressed it before as a concern with the irreversibility of the action, and in its irreversibility, its “authenticity.”  Last night I kept thinking of the words “the unmediated nature of impact.” It is of course not entirely unmediated: the structures (columns, walls, windows, floor) interrupt and intervene in the trajectory of the body. But it is something about the body’s impact, the effect of the impact on the body . . . the risk of putting more energy into movement than the dancer can control, the relinquishing of control to the structure, to the space, to the other . . . setting something into motion that must be stopped by something/someone else. That is as articulate as I can be on the topic at the moment, but the persistence of this movement/way of moving throughout the piece was over-stimulating, moving, and specifically addressed my deep fascination with the implications of impact and the body. It contributed to a kind of polarity in the dancers’ relationship with the space, at moments softening into the walls as if for solace or comfort, and other time introducing this combat of collision.

[After I posted this earlier, I felt compelled to return and add in a bit more description of my experience of more specific details from my experience of the piece, especially in the roles of the performers. The demand to navigate my own path through the the piece was not a simple task; each dancer offered so much to my attention, and synthesized with their spaces to create the kind of ambiguous but incredibly specific situations/identities to which I alluded above. Sometimes the profundity of that situation was addictive and I could not pull myself away; other moments with other dancers were difficult to endure, not because of any failure on the part of the dancer, but because the atmosphere which she or he evoked was so particular and complete, it left little room for distance or escape. One such moment was very early on with Katy Gilmore in the High Street rotunda of the library. Gilmore is a captivating dancer, a remarkable technician of movement (this is a dancer with who I have regular classes), yet in this capacity these were not the qualities she brought to bear. She moved slowly, minutely along the rotunda walls, seeming to rub out the words that had been scribbled along them (the text was overwhelming, mostly phrases beginning with the words “my body is _____,” although I think there were additional quotations as well). The synthesis of her introspective, concentrated, and seemingly corrective actions with the scrawl of the text and the chill of the space provoked such a deep despair, I felt compelled to both lose myself there alongside her, or find escape into another space. I escaped to the room which Graham occupied, quietly folding paper airplanes along one wall of a vast room. In contrast, watching Abbott-Main became addictive. The compulsion and ferocity with which he struggled in his space, thrashing about on the floor, throwing his weight against columns and walls and windows, in a perfect counterpoint to moments of near stillness and a similar introspection as earlier exhibited by Gilmore, kept me inthralled. I think it also had to do with light, the warmth of the exterior light coming in through the window panes along one side of his room, the deeper orange of the lights in the next room, and a field of hanging battery-powered lanterns offered more of an invitation to exist within that space between solace and combat, in a way that the chilly light in the rotunda did not. The intensity with which Abbott-Main threw himself into his activity, punctuated with fleeting moments of near-control in which the precision and control of his training became demonstrative (fluid exchanges of weight into and out of the floor, flowing circularity from legs, up spine, out hand or head, etc.), and in contrast to moments of total retreat, was not something I easily left behind. I was also moved by the duet that unfolded between Leigh Lotocki and Carson Moody in the next room over (I say duet because that if how I wanted to view it, the tenuous possibility that there was a connection between these discrete isolated figures, the pull towards no longer being alone as each of the other dancing figure had been framed). The range of movement quality that they explored was similar, the extremes of near-stillness softening their weight into the structures of the architecture and the almost out-of-control actions of falling, flinging, reaching, etc. They eventually came to dance together, a pair, which was then added to Abbott-Main, making a trio. It became clear that Gilmore and Graham had coalesced into a duet as the five eventually made their way into the main space for the finale, the gradual movement from isolation to a society, a community, a struggle to be a tribe. It was in this large group finale that I experienced some of the most intense encounters with the dancer, particularly Graham. As I made my way into the central space, I chose to situate myself at a column on one side of the room. Shortly thereafter, Graham began interacting with this column, throwing his weight into it, struggling as if with it. The presence of struggle between the moving and the unmovable was persistent in the piece, but this was the closest I had been to it. Sitting there against the column with Graham throwing his weight into it only inches away, feeling the heat of him, the intensity of his breath, the slight reverberations of his actions in the solidity of the architecture, the way his movement stirred the air between us, I felt very close to something very sincere. I can’t speak for his experience, and I think it best to not assume the articulation/expression of the personal in the content of the presentational, but there was an honesty of action, a sincerity of a condition of struggling against the immovable, the impossible, that struggle somehow distinct from the struggle within the group itself . . . it was an intimate moment for me.]

Other themes that emerged for me between the dancing, the video work, and the installations of materials in the spaces were: an insistence on personal agency (the freedom of the viewer to move through the space as if a museum) amidst a series of structures to influence that agency (the anchoring of the dancers and videos in specific spaces, the trail of materials and light and sound from one to the other, the unfolding of the soundscore over time, etc.). This insistence on personal agency structured within the installation of the piece itself seemed to echo aspects of the “human drama” that I felt being addressed, specifically the freedom to come and go as one pleases. Even without reading specific narratives, I could not help but construct/recognize the mutability of the interpersonal relationships established in choreography, and this quality of “come and go as you please,” a kind of spatial/physical promiscuity, an ambivalence of attention, seemed to be demonstrated in the proxemics of the dancers and echoed in the insistence on “audience agency.” There was also a sense of insanity in isolation, something between cabin fever and inconsolable loneliness (I felt this most acutely in Katy Gilmore’s dancing of the rotunda space, amidst charcoal scribblings covering the walls, Erik Abbott-Main’s thrashing about the floor and walls and windows, like a caged bird, and James Graham’s almost obsessive repetition of making paper airplanes in the space already filled with hanging paper airplanes; there was a kind of insanity in the excess). I had a sense of insight into the private, personal practices of individuals left alone (this was perhaps most acute in the video of Abbott-Main alone in the bathroom, the video of Carson Moody alone in theater space, the nudity in both videos), thrown into harsh relief with the almost intrusive recognition that the “private” moments I was witnessing were not private at all, compromised by the invisible presence of the videographer and video editor. This tension of presence and absence was also persistent in my experience, of both the video work and the dancing in the space. There was a remove to the work, the dancers sometimes being incredibly close to the audience (there were moments in which I found myself only inches away from trashing, sweating, gasping bodies), but never fully acknowledging the presence of the spectator. This was echoed in the videos, the figure in the videos never directly addressing the camera/viewer. This lack of acknowledged viewership heightened the sense of privacy and almost voyeurism.

For all its intensity, the piece was not without the possibility of humor. At one point the soundscore (the soundscore for the piece was composed by Anthony Vine and was a pervasive contribution to the situation of the work) introduced a Justin Timberlake song. The dancers present (Abbott-Main, Lotocki, and Moody) moved slowly from one room to another, in an almost trance-like state of attention. The potential for humor was in the shift of the audience following them, a crowd moving slowly, as if blindly, mindlessly, to see where they would go and what would happen next, all underscored by the pop music. My connotations were mostly zombie related in that moment, watching the crowd as much if not more than I was watching the dancers, the choreographic manipulation of the spectators via the dancers and soundscore; it would not be difficult to parlay that into a fleeting commentary on the nature of popular culture.

Questions of gender came up for me throughout the piece, but most notably in the finale, in which all five dancers moved together in the large central space of the former library. There were several moments of boy/girl+boy/girl pairings, and a trio of all three men. These were not gender choices I would have expected, at which point I reminded myself that Graham was dancing the role of Mair Culbreth. Until last night’s performance, one of those girl/boy pairings was a girl/girl pair; the trio of three men was a trio of two men and a woman. And while questions of gender can’t be conflated with questions of sexuality, both came into play due to my familiarity with the dancers. The presence of gay and lesbian identities, the substitution of a gay man into the role previously danced by a lesbian woman, all created fascinating structures for the perception of individuals, pairings, and group dynamics.

Overall, I found Graham’s Separate Panes to be a great success, a moving address of spaces and human drama, richly supported and defined by its collaborative creative team of makers. It was rewarding to see work so expansive in its space and scope coming out of this department at this time.

Also, check out the nice article on Separate Panes in The Lantern.

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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.



Chakras, Marriage, and the Love Art Lab

I’ve been reading about chakras lately. I am preparing a guided experience for my somatics survey class as well as deepening my knowledge/experience of yoga (both for my own journey in the form, as well as in preparation to begin teaching yoga for the Department of Dance at OSU in the fall). I am mainly reading from Anodea Judith’s Wheels of Life: A User’s Guide to the Chakra System. The energetic or subtle body has been a focus of my yoga practice for some time, but this is the first time that I have delved very deeply into this system of understanding of the body/human experience.

Judith calls chakras “organizing centers for the reception, assimilation, and transmission of life energies.” The seven main chakras are as follows:

Chakra One (Muladhara): Located at the base of the spine, associated with survival. Its element is earth.

Charka Two (Swadhisthana): Located in the lower abdomen is associated with emotions and sexuality. Its element is water.

Chakra Three (Manipura): Located in the solar plexis, associated with personal power, will, and self-esteem. Its element is fire.

Chakra Four (Anahata): Located over the sternum, associated with love. Its element is air.

Chakra Five (Vissudha): Located in the throat, associated with communication and creativity. Its element is sound.

Chakra Six (Ajna): Located in the center of the forehead, associated with clairvoyance, intuition, and imagination. Its element is light.

Chakra Seven  (Sahasrara): Located at the top of the head, associated with knowledge, understanding, and transcendent consciousness. Its element is thought. (Judith 25)

 

As I have been dipping into this study, it has revitalized me a bit after a week of disappointment and anger surrounding the state of equal rights in this country. As I have incorporated these ideas into my meditation practice, I have brought more wholeness and connectivity to my daily experience.
And I’ve made some other connections between chakras and same-sex marriage, mainly through the beautiful work of the Love Art Lab

Here is how the Love Art Lab introduces themselves:
“We, Elizabeth M. Stephens and Annie M. Sprinkle, are an artist couple committed to doing projects that explore, generate, and celebrate love. We utilize visual art, installation, theater pieces, interventions, live-art, exhibitions, lectures, printed matter and activism. Each year we orchestrate one or more interactive performance art weddings in collaboration with various national and international communities, then display the ephemera in art galleries. Our projects incorporate the colors and themes of the chakras, a structure inspired by Linda M. Montano’s 14 Years of Living Art. 

“The Love Art Laboratory grew out of our response to the violence of war, the anti-gay marriage movement, and our prevailing culture of greed. Our projects are symbolic gestures intended to help make the world a more tolerant, sustainable, and peaceful place.”

 

Every time I visit their website, I leave inspired (and not only because I am greeted with a flow of “We love you”s). In Annie and Beth’s work, I see an elegant and provocative synthesis of living, loving, and art-making. There is something beautifully balanced in their work, a way of addressing a more complete way of living and being in their practice. I love that their weddings are organized around the chakra system. I love that their material is both personal and universal. I love how queer it is, how subversive to normativity, and yet joyously so. Their work carries intense personal and political weight, and yet it is full of light and love and fun. It sometimes involves risk and vulnerability, and yet it seems to demonstrate that risk and vulnerability are okay, they are a part of living, and a BIG part of loving. I think I want to share some of their work with you as a counter-balance to the anger of my previous post. It isn’t that I’m not still angry and fed up of the voices that discuss homosexuality and same-sex marriage in the terms detailed in my last post; but in addition to anger, I also want to honor love and balance and connection. I want to relate the beautiful elegant system of the chakras to holistic, healthy living and loving. And I want to honor same-sex marriages that exist, whether or not they are recognized by the government. That’s a crux in this debate surrounding same-sex marriage: it isn’t whether or not anyone has any say as to the existence of same-sex marriage; it’s about civil rights. But for now, I hope you are as inspired by the beauty and joy of the Love Art Lab as I am:
(all materials are from the Love Art Lab website)

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“25 Ways To Make Love With The Earth:

1. Tell the Earth, “I love you. I can’t live without you.” 
2. At first you may feel embarrassed to be lovers with the Earth. Let it go. It’s OK. 
3. Spend time with her. 
4. Ask her what she likes, wants, and needs– then try to give it to her. 
5. Massage the Earth with your feet. 
6. Admire her views often. 
7. Circulate erotic energy with her. 
8. Smell her. 
9. Taste her. 
10. Touch all her all over. 
11. Hug and stroke her trees. 
12. Talk dirty to her plants. 
13. Swim naked in her waters. 
14. Lay on top of her, or let her get on top of you. 
15. Do a nude dance for her. 
16. Sing to her. 
17. Kiss and lick her. 
18. Bury parts of your body deep inside her soil. 
19. Plant your seeds in her. 
20. Love her unconditionally even when she’s angry or cruel. 
21. Keep her clean. Please recycle. 
22. Work for peace. Bombs hurt. 
23. If you see her being abused, raped, exploited, protect her as best you can. 
24. Protect her mountains. Stop mountaintop removal mining. 
25. Vow to love, honor and cherish the Earth until death brings you closer together forever.”

 

Now they are into their Blue year with two exciting weddings planned and other art events already taking place:

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Shockra

Shockra

 

So I know just scrolling through these images (and following links to more image galleries and videos) I am thoroughly inspired, to live and love and create. I hope you are too.

I’m off to see RAVE, the newest BacKspace show here in Columbus. Should be a blast.

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SIP: An Informal Showing
5 May, 2009, 10:33 am
Filed under: art, creative process, Dance, Grad School | Tags: ,

For those of you in the Columbus (or near Columbus) area:

The First Year MFA candidates in the Department of Dance will be presenting “SIP”, an informal showing of our current work, at 7:00pm on 15 May 2009 in Studio 1 in Sullivant Hall. This event is intended as an evening of sharing our work with one another, friends, faculty, colleagues, and community. The work being presented will be mostly in-progress, and as such, we hope that dialogue and feedback might be part of the sharing process.

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Presenting Nijinska, etc.

Suffice to say, this quarter of grad school seems to be my busiest thus far. As such, my blogging has become a bit more infrequent. But I did want to offer a brief description of my most recent contribution to the field of dance.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to present a paper at the Midwest Slavic Conference being held here at OSU. I presented on a panel entitled “Aspects of the Ballets Russes” with my colleague Hannah Kosstrin. She presented a fascinating paper exploring vestiges of the Ballets Russes in American popular culture, specifically making a comparative choreographic analysis between Vaslav Nijinsky’s L’Après-midi d’un Faune and Michael Jackson’s music video for “The Way You Make Me Feel.” 

I presented a paper entitled “The Negotiation of Gender in the Work of Bronislava Nijinska.” It is an excerpt from longer work exploring the negotiation of gender in the performance and choreography of both Nijinsky and Nijinska. For this particular presentation, I limited myself to choreographic analyses of Les Noces and Les Biches. Sadly, Nijinska has been extremely under-recognized, and when she has been recorded or discussed, it is most often in relationship to her brother. It was exciting to have this opportunity to share my experience of her and her work to an academic audience.

Resisting the urge to copy-and-paste the entire paper, I will try to highlight the major points of my presentation. As I said, it was primarily a choreographic analysis of the negotiation of gender in Nijinska’s Les Noces and Les Biches. I presented Les Noces as demonstrating gender as an expression not of individual identity but of social will. Noces is the depiction of a Russian peasant wedding in four scenes. One of my main points was that although it is a wedding supposedly between one man and one woman, the central figures of the ballet, the Bride and the Bridegroom, are essentially inactive, passive figures, surrounded, moved, and eventually upstaged by the massive active groupings of their community. Although presented as discrete figures, they appear without discretion. Nijinska seems to present this young woman and young man as symbols both of those oppressed by the social expectations attached to gender and of the means by which they are oppressed, epitomes of woman and man and all of that those roles represent.

Yet there is a subliminal break from this thematic binary. Although she clearly addresses the oppressive roles of woman and man, the movement vocabulary of the ballet remains primarily genderless. Spatial groupings of men and women dissolve to form a genderless mass. Absent is the traditional partnering and support work previously inherent in ballet. Even the steps and gestures of the masses hold little distinction between male and female. What I suggest is that Nijinska presents a “solution” choreographically (the in-distinction of gender) to the problem she addresses thematically.

Les Biches I discuss primarily as returning gender and its expression to the realm of the individual. Gone are the passive figures represented in Les Noces. In Biches, we are given a vibrant cast of characters each with a distinct sexual and gender identity. This ballet is rooted not in narrative or plot, but in the expression of these characters, the negotiation of their roles with one another. These roles range from parody of popular gender roles of the 1920s (in the Girls in Pink, and the Male Athletes), to divergent sexual expressions (the Girls in Grey, a pair of young sapphists), to the ambiguous characters who seem to lie in the realm of the “third sex”, neither clearly male nor female in their gender identity (namely, the Hostess (Nijinska’s own role), and the Garçonne). These characters of the “third sex”, both female, transgress social and physical roles of what was expected of women. In them, Nijinska separates biological fact from social reality, and this would seem to me to be the success of the ballet.

Here are a few photos from the presentation (mostly from the Royal Ballet):

Les Noces

Les Noces

 

Les Noces (from the Joffrey Ballet)

Les Noces (from the Joffrey Ballet)

Les Noces

Les Noces

 

Les Biches, Girls in Pink

Les Biches, Girls in Pink

 

Les Biches, Male Athletes

Les Biches, Male Athletes

 

Les Biches, Girls in Grey

Les Biches, Girls in Grey

Les Biches, Nijinska as the Hostess

Les Biches, Nijinska as the Hostess

 

Les Biches, the Hostess

Les Biches, the Hostess

Les Biches, the Garçonne

Les Biches, the Garçonne

 

Les Biches, Nijinksa with Georgina Parkinson as the Garçonne

Les Biches, Nijinksa with Georgina Parkinson as the Garçonne

 

And here is the version of Les Noces that I used for my analysis of the choreography:

 

 

 

 

Perhaps one of the most rewarding aspects of the presentation was the diversity of fields represented in the audience. Those listening came from the fields of dance, Slavic studies, and musicology, all of whom have ties to the work that we were addressing. It reminded me of an awareness brought to the forefront by the “Synchronous Objects” project, that what we view and study and consider as dance is in fact a complex phenomenon with relevance in many fields, and the way in which we define a thing (such as dance or choreography) comes entirely out of the lens or context through which we are viewing it. I was extremely aware of this condition as I spoke about what I think of as the choreography of Nijinska, but is also thought of as a part of the legacy of Stravinsky, or an expression of Slavic folk custom and ritual. And it is in fact all of those things simultaneously; its “meaning” or relevance is not an intrinsic quality, but a quality that emerges out of engagement with it. the way in which it is engaged shapes the meaning that emerges.

Other ideas/influences in my dancing/creative/researching life right now are:

-Somatic studies (developing deep listening within the body and an awareness of the individual Self through its expression in bodily experience)
 -Labanotation: I am currently taking Laban II, learning Yvonne Ranier’s “Trio A” and the Sylph variation in Act II of La Sylphide from Labanotated scores. I am also digging deeper into the theory of the notation system in preparation for a Labanotation Teacher Certification Course I am taking this summer.
-Mark Johnson’s The Meaning of the Body: Aesthetics of Human Understanding, which seeks primarily to connect the nature of meaning to the embodied nature of experience.
Teaching Seminar with Susan Hadley, challenging me to think through what it is I value in the teaching of dance techinque
-History, Theory, and Literature of Choreography with Karen Eliot and Melanie Bales
-Modern technique with CoCo Loupe (rocking my world)

Etc.

 



“About” in the round
5 April, 2009, 6:50 pm
Filed under: creative process, Dance | Tags: ,

Today I staged two informal showings of my choreography “About” that premiered in March in the OSU Department of Dance Winter Concert. The cast and I were both interested in experiencing the piece in a circular space and how that spatial reconfiguration might effect the perception of the work, both from the inside and the outside. I was also interested in staging it in a circular space in which the piece might be viewed from above (re: the Guggenheim). Sullivant Hall has two rotunda’s, one that is left over from when the building was a museum, with marble floors and columns, a domed ceiling, circular walls, and intimate lighting. The other is the front entrance for the building, a major thoroughfare, that has a mezzanine above that wraps around the space, closed in with glass, allowing you to view the first floor from above. These were our performance spaces.

I am full of thoughts after the fact. I feel a deepening postpartum emotion, realizing that this was the “final” performance for this life cycle of this work. While I’m sure that this is a piece I will revisit in the future, recontextualize, and restage, this is likely the final performance with this cast, with this specific version of the piece. And I feel something akin to grief with that realization.

The other major thought process is how these showings did so much more than I expected of them. Not only did they reveal to choreography in a new way (there were structures that I never even realized were in this piece), they explored the social context of dance performance. The first showing was incredibly intimate, with an audience of five seated no more than a few feet away from the dancers. The second was perhaps one of the most public performances I have ever staged, and both of these feel into sharp contrast to the traditional theater context of dance performance. In the traditional space, no matter the size of the audience, there is a basic common understanding of what is transpiring. Whether or not the audience fully engages with or “understands” the work, they understand that they have come to a dance concert and that what they are seeing is being presented as dance. This common understanding was heightened in the intimacy of today’s first showing, with only a few of us watching with an intimate knowledge of dance, this particular choreographic work, and the purpose for presenting it in the space in which is was being presented. In poignant contrast, the second showing had no common understanding. Spectators were puzzled as they came upon a group of seven people dressed in uniform attire, moving so slowly that motion was almost imperceptible. Many simply stopped and watched with no understanding of what it was they were seeing. Several people asked what was happening, asked questions about specific gestures, asked about choreographic structures and what sort of information the dancers had been given to do what it was that they were doing. This was the treasure of the second showing, offering points of access into dance to two or three viewers, points of access that can potentially inform their future understanding of dance. Maybe. It makes me think of “Synchronous Objects” offering insight into the nature of choreography through the exposition of choreographic structures in a single piece, “One Flat Thing, reproduced.” The scale and scope are clearly incomparable, but something about having this viewing space removed from the work itself offered a real-time liberty for viewers to raise questions about what it was that they were seeing down on the first floor beneath us. This was an exceptional opportunity for me in my work.

I was also shocked at how vulnerable this second showing felt. Whereas as the first had a sense of immense privacy, the second felt as if we were undressed in a public space. This was my sense as the choreographer, and this experience was only amplified for the dancers in the piece, literally bare (the costumes are more revealing than one might find in everyday “street wear”), clearly Other by the nature of what they were doing, almost a world apart, and yet so clearly present in the natural world. The sense of exposure and of being on display were so much more than we imagined; I am incredibly proud of them for taking this step in their artistic/performance journeys as dance artists. 

And those are the only thoughts I have time to share at present. There is other work that demands my attention.

Here are videos of the first showing today:



Constellations of Thought

I am so overwhelmed at the prospect of sitting down to write this post, and I can hardly even justify the time, knowing that it will be insufficient and incomplete (as are most things) for all that I am interested in exploring/expressing. And I have not even expanded on my “tag cloud reflection” in my last post. But I also feel that in three days of this new quarter, with new and important classes, as well as the density of inspiration coming from all of the Forsythe work in and around OSU/the Wexner, I am adrift amongst veritable constellations of thought. I am sure that I will only be able to address a few specific ideas, and even then, from light years away (as opposed to the microscopic examination I would prefer), but here we go. In no particular order.

Yesterday I attended a lecture by Alva Noë. His primary research concerns are philosophy and cognitive sciences, specifically exploring the nature of consciousness. He posits that consciousness in action, it is something we do, not some internal phenomenon that exists somewhere in our brains. He is questioning a somewhat established assumption that consciousness takes place specifically in the brain, and that thus on some level we are our brains. He asserts that the brain is only a part of the larger structure of consciousness.

And all of this is fascinating to me, especially in the context of dance.

But more of what I would like to address in these brief lines, in this brief time, is his comparison or art and philosophy. I commonly reference my choreography as being specifically concerned with the exploration of aspects of the human condition through the moving body. In a sense, it is an action of philosophy (and research). The piece I just premiered in March, “About,” was previously entitled, “Phenomena to Noumenon: This Simple Thing,” which is essentially a philosophical discourse concerning the nature of reality and perception, objectivity and subjectivity. Noë began by saying that art has been a problem for philosophy for a long time (in the same sense, philosophy is the central problem for my art), asking what is art, what is its value, can it produce knowledge, etc. He asserted three points:
1. Both philosophy and art either have neutral or no subject, or their subject is the whole or time and space, anything about which there can be thought, consciousness itself. Unlike other fields, they are not subject specific but more a way of approaching or addressing subject, which might be anything, and certainly arises out experience and thus consciousness.
2. Both philosophy and art find themselves problematic. Both raise the question for themselves, “How can a dialectic that does not need to produce results be a thing of value?” Both are in a constant state of reevaluating, recontextualizing, reenvisioning and questioning the nature of themselves, what they are and what they do. This relates to a subject Bill Forsythe has spoken on several times this week, that of doubt. We as artists/dancers/choreographers/philosophers are problems to ourselves because we have the ability to doubt or question what we know of ourselves, what has been previously established in our fields.
3. There is a blurring distinction between method and result, process and product. There is a sense in which the results of both philosophy and art only have value in the context of their methods/processes, and thus where on ends and the other begins because a difficult edge to find.

Noë also spoke about the nature of understanding, of understanding or recognition as the essential way in which the world reveals itself to us, and that this understanding is one of context. We recognize a thing in that way in which it fits within our frame of reference, our particular continuum of experience. A thing is unrecognizable, unseeable, when it completely unexpected, when you don’t even know what to look for. This is perhaps one of the values or interests of art, that it cultivates an ability to truly see, to recognize and understand, a microcosmic experience reflecting the macrocosm of all of life. All human experience is a process of bringing the world into focus through understanding and consciousness. Engaging with art gives us the opportunity to cultivate this process of understanding; it is the domain of investigating the process of perception and understanding.

And this is the work of “Synchronous Object for One Flat Thing, Reproduced” (NOW LIVE! CHECK IT OUT!). It is the process of cultivating the experience of understanding. If understanding is truly a phenomenon rooted in a context for perception, than understanding is the problem addressed by “Synchronous Objects.” It the exposition of choreographic work and information in the form of choreographic objects, or visual or pictorial expressions or representations. 

Today, in conjunction with the launch of “Synchronous Objects,” the Wexner Center for the Arts and the Department of Dance at OSU hosted the Choreographic Objects Symposium, bringing together a panel of collaborators and experts in the fields of dance, computer programming, animation, geography, architecture, philosophy and beyond to discuss the work of this project. I cannot possibly address all that was said by which I was inspired, but I will throw out a few key moments.

Maria Palazzi, the director for the Advanced Computing Center for the Arts and Design, commented of the process of understanding through the process of making, the creative process as an act of recognition or understanding. This ties directly into the lecture Noë, and adds another layer, taking consciousness as action into an area in which context for understanding is constructed through the process of making. This was a consensus across the panel, many of whom had very little experience with dance previous to this project, that is doing this work, in creating about this choreography, the choreography became legible for them. The hope is that these points of entry that emerged during their creative work are then transmitted into the objects offered on the new site. It raises new ideas (or new to me) concerning the development of audience literacy in our field. Beyond the incredible work that has been done on this project, what is the potential for making dance legible through creative activities? An obvious application is that once people take dance classes, they understand dance further, but what are other creative (by which I mean generative, making) activities in which might audiences in order to make this art form more accessible? In order to establish a context in which understanding might thrive?

This relates to ideas that are coming up in my graduate teaching seminar with Susan Hadley about the relationship between content, the organization of material, and methods of communicating. What are the ways in which we transmit information?

Which connects to ideas I have been pondering surrounding the application of Labanotation to adjacent dance studies. I am finding my research profile situating itself somewhere between choreography/composition and history/theory; notation serves as a ready link between the two. In Labanotation, choreography becomes a written history, and a written history becomes choreography. I am becoming more and more interested in how this system might lend itself to embodying what is essential an embodied history. Far too often I find that we read, write, view and listen to our dancing history. It is transmitted textually, orally, and visually, but rarely corporeally. I am curious about the potential for notation to lend itself to the study of history, giving students the opportunity to embody seminal dance works that have previously only ever existed for them in disembodied translations. I am considering taking a Labanotation Teacher Certification Course this summer to these ends, to fuel this inquiry. 

Amidst much of this other thought there is the constellation of Somatics. I am taking a course this quarter with Abby Yager that surveys various somatic forms and methods. It may reveal itself to be one of the most significant (to my own interests and research) courses that I have taken thus far at OSU (and I have taken some incredible courses). Among its goals are:
-to cultivate deep listening
-to awaken awareness and clarify a sense of Self 

These are essentially my primary research interests in dance. I am fascinated by how awareness comes from movement of the body and how awareness then affects the way in which the body moves. Ever since I experienced the work of Pauline Oliveros (who has developed a musical/meditation technique described as “Deep Listening”) I have been interested in what a “listening body” might be, and more specifically, how it might move, and how choreography might arise out of that movement. I have felt a resonance of this idea in the somatic fields, but having it so explicitly stated in the syllabus excites me to know end (I am also in a course with Bebe Miller entitled “Creative Processes” exploring the process by which we make dances; I am interested to see how this research interest might be addressed in this composition course, supported by the work I am doing in Somatics with Yager).

My larger research interest has been evolving into something like “the choreography of identity,” the ways in which we come to recognize ourselves and others through the ways in which we move, and how we participate in the formation of who we are through these same processes. Clearly this relates to awareness. It also relates to issues of gender representation, queer theory, gaze theory, relational politics, social conditioning, etc. And it addresses another larger issue, that of the individuals connection to their body. I am interested in resisting the dualistic Cartesian model in which the body is merely the vehicle for the mind, the mind being the essence of the individual. The individual is composed of a mind-body, a body-mind, a cohesive, holistic, inseparable unit. A person is as much their body as they are their mind, and in honoring this fact, we discover that part of knowing ourselves and knowing one another is through an awareness and investigation of the body. This was illustrated in a piece that I designed in my seminar with Ann Hamilton and Michael Mercil last quarter but have yet to enact entitled KNOW(TOUCH)ME(YOU)(MY/YOUR BODY) in which participants engage in a physical conversation with one another, directing one another in a dialogue of physically exploring one another’s bodies.

And perhaps here is where this post comes full orbit and finds its pause: beginning with cognition/consciousness as more than the brain and ending with the person as more than the mind. The essence is that it is through the body that we come to know. Through dancing, through making, through embodying history through a practice of Labanotation, through somatic study, etc. we come to know ourselves and the context that makes up that concept of Self.

Other subjects that deserve attention but must wait for some other time: seeing the performance of “Monster Partitur.” Twice. The process of continuing work of this new piece “Red Monster,” and how it relates to the subject of identity and a sense of Self. The potential for “Synchronous Objects” to inspire further investigations into the representation and exposition of dance and choreographic knowledge. Briefly, this relates to a conversation I had with a friend this evening after the symposium. He raised the question of how this work might be continued. Forsythe has expressed interest in developing a Motion Bank, a library of these sorts of investigations, and while he is currently pursuing funding for the next addition to this “library,” one wonders how else this continuum of information my evolve. Partly, I see it as present in endeavors such as this blog (in the most basic and fundamental of ways): by this blog serving as a public creative platform, I am contributing to the exposition of the internal information of my dancing/choreographing life. I think the more interesting potential evolution of this “library” is one that emerges from public culture, embedded in public culture, rather than continuing to develop out of the work of a single (admittedly remarkable) choreographer. That is yet one more potential development for “Synchronous Objects,” how it my inspire and provoke additional investigations of a similar nature . . . 

And finally an announcement for my readership:
For those of you at OSU or in Columbus:

This Sunday, 5 April, I am restaging “About.” The cast and I had a particular interest is re-contextualizing the work site-specifically. We were interested is how it might be experienced in a circular space, and also how its choreographic structures might be further revealed when seen from above. So this Sunday we are going to explore the piece in these contexts by performing it in both Sullivant Hall rotundas, first in the one next to Studio 6 (the entrance faces Mershon Auditorium) around 5pm, followed by the High Street rotunda (the entrance faces High Street, between Sullivant Library and the Music and Dance Library). The first rotunda offers a circular, domed space with seating in the round, the second has a full mezzanine, from which the piece can be viewed in the round and from above.

I am not particularly advertising this event; it is less about a public performance and more about exploring the nature of this choreography in a different space. It will be informal, and there is no pressure to be in attendance. I simply wanted you to know that this was happening in the event that you had an interest in experiencing the work in this context.