michael j. morris


Factum, phenomenology, biopolitics, embodiment
13 February, 2011, 1:04 pm
Filed under: creative process, research | Tags: , , , , , ,

This week has involved several new insights into potential shifts in my creative/research processes and practices, alongside a stream of personal revelations, many of which were artwork-inspired.

Of particular note was a profoundly affecting experience with work recently introduced at the Wexner Center for the Arts. the pieces are entitled Factum, by Candice Breitz. On display are three of Breitz’s two-channel video portraits of identical twins. I spent about an hour with this work, and it is my intention to revisit it throughout its time at the Wex. The basic form of the work are videoed interviews/portraits with identical twins, dressed and styled identically, interviewed separately in the same seated locations. When I first approached the work, I thought the two screens displayed the same person; when I realized that they were twins, a lifetime of experiencing assumptions about the sameness of twins came rushing up, and I myself was implicated in these assumptions by my encounter with the visual display. On a formal level (which carried a weight of emotional significance for me), an interesting component of the pieces are how the individuals begin to register in their differences as time passes. After having spent almost forty-five minutes with the piece Factum Misericordia I realized that the sisters no longer looked anything alike to me. I’ve experienced this with twins I’ve known (and frequently been informed of this process as people knew my brother and I for longer durations, especially when we looked more alike): the gradual differentiation that takes place, the recognition of asymmetrical details in facial features, mannerisms, patterns of speech, etc., but this usually takes place over longer stretches of time. To have the recognition of this content condensed into a matter of minutes (facilitated by the concentrated looking, reinforced by the exactly identical attire and setting), had a shocking quality to it, one bolstered by my own emotional content (calling up experiences in which I felt that I was or was not being seen clearly because I am a twin).

There were so many poignant moments in the narratives being shared in the interviews. There were specific experiences with which I could identify acutely, but also just a general sense of familiarity with the kinds of lives being told. The tendency for people to assume that twins are the same person; the shift when people begin to differentiate and impose/inscribe polar qualities to each twin (the dominant v. the passive, the light v. the dark, the happy v. the brooding one, etc.); the powerful anxieties surrounding death–not particularly around one’s own mortality, but the weight of knowing that two came into the world together, but will not leave the world in the same way; the inevitable sense of losing that connection.
In watching the Factum Misericordia piece, I was struck by a particular resonance. Both sisters used very clear language distinguishing between being “a twin” or “a single” in the world, and periods of their lives in which they were apart and were living in the world as “a single.” I brought up notions of passing, a certain historical (not so pervasive in our present moment) stigma of being a twin (particularly a conjoined twin), and the differences in the existential experience of being in the world as one rather than two. Right now my twin brother and I live in two different cities. For all practical purposes, we live in the world as “singles” rather than “twins.” This distinction (and the recognition that even if we live as “singles,” we are still twins) has made me ponderous. I’m curious how this sense of a shared history, shared life, shared flesh/fluids/body has impacted my particular research interests (the loss of the subject/object binary, the fluid boundaries of the self, intersubjectivity, etc.). It’s a curiosity, one that may not come very much into play, but I am curious how a particular “twin subjectivity” might come to bear on these areas of interest in my research.

Also of note was a rather important conversation I had with my friend/colleague Mair Culbreth. We were discussing the development of our areas of candidacy for our exams in our doctoral program. I mentioned that I keep questioning whether or not phenomenology will be one of those areas for me. Phenomenology might be the research paradigm/methodology that makes the most sense to me in the investigation of dance as a site of knowledge. What I view as the real potential significance of our field is the experience of dancing, the experience of being inside of physical practices and choreographies and creative processes and performance situations. This is not to say that the spectatorial experience of viewing dance is not of any use; I don’t believe that to be the case. But it functions differently, more into the realm of signification and kinesthetic empathy. I am interested in analysis of dance works/practices from “the outside,” as it were, because those performance events circulate in the production of culture. I am fascinated by projects like Synchronous Objects for One Flat Thing, reproduced that conducts an analysis of choreographic structures, as if from the outside, but developed from the insider accounts of dancing inside of the work. This hybrid inside/outside analysis interests me. But of even more interest is the research developed from the phenomenological experience(s) of being inside of the work. I see the practice of dance to be a practice in forms of biopolitics, learning and unlearning, forming, unforming, reforming bodies (thus subjectivities) through the acts of doing, the practice/rehearsal being the space of reiteration, where new bodies with new potentials and new knowledge are formed. Most significantly to me is that these practices and bodies have the potential to subvert the dominant biopolitical discourses in our culture, the various ways in which bodies are regulated, produced, and normalized within society. My interest (it seems) is broadly in a phenomenology of biopolitics, and particularly how dance/body-based practices participate in these biopolitical discourses. More particularly, my interest seems to be a phenomenological account of the biopolitical potentials and effects of the lived experience of dance practices. Most particularly, I am interested in the production of an ecosexual subjectivity through the lived experience of various body-based/dance practices, and giving an account of these.

As I gradually move towards candidacy exams and dissertation, and attempt to understand what it is that my project is/might be, I have been considering the development of a theory of ecosexuality (drawing from studies in ecofeminist philosophy, ecology, queer theories, psychology, phenomenology, sexology, etc.), and then applying this theory as a system of analysis for various historical/contemporary body-based performance work (such as Rudolf Laban’s movement practices, Butoh, Anna Halprin, the Love Art Laboratory, Karl Cronin’s Somatic Natural History Archive, etc.). This has felt like a rewarding pursuit, but it struck me that I would still be offering an outsider account, an analysis of work based on viewing, documentation, conversation, etc. This is where Mair connected a dot for me: she was discussing research from embodied knowledge, researching from a place of practice and the knowledge produced by the body, and it occurred to me:
why would I not engage with these performance works as practices, “re-staging” them as it were, in order to experience them myself, to encounter the lived experience of Laban’s practices, writing from Butoh on the inside, marrying the earth, sky, sea, moon, mountains, snow, etc., embodying the kinetic patterns of various species of flora and fauna and holding those as a corporeal archive, all in the production of a different body, an ecological body, and researching the potential production of an ecosexual body.
Last year I wrote a paper giving a phenomenological account of learning and dancing Trio A from Labanotation score. This project has felt adjacent, off the map of my primary research interest (ecosexuality). Now it feels as if that paper could function as a kind of model for how I might engage with this work. It could of course be paired with outsider analysis, but it introduces embodiment as a methodology for research, a methodology that I see as germane to the field of dance. Our practices are those of physicalizing movement, particularly movement patterns generated by others. We are practiced in taking “the other” in/on/as ourselves, in technique class, in choreographic processes, in various improvisational techniques. This feels like a potential shift in where I thought this work might go. It will of course be grounded in the development of a theory of ecosexuality, which will involve a grounding in critical theories, BUT it centralizes a embodiment as a mode of engagement, the body as the site of knowledge, the body as a practice in knowing the biopolitical potential of body-based performances, rather than only offering an external account.

I’m excited about this potential development.



brainstorming about research/dissertation

It never ceases to amaze me how just a little time and space (in this case, the first day of the Thanksgiving break) can allow so much development of thought.
I’m beginning (continuing?) to map through how some of these ideas, these various research pursuits, might cohere into concepts and theories, and eventually chapters and a possible dissertation.

The frame I’m beginning to construct (which will certainly go through the process of deconstruction and reconstruction, likely again and again and again) looks something like this:

It begins with the deconstruction of the discontinuous bounded individual/body, the body that stops at the flesh, the human subject that is discrete from the environment in which it occurs and the vast nexus of intersubjective forces by which the subject (and thus the body) comes into being. This could have its roots in phenomenology and the implication of the subject in the perceived life-world, reinforced by studies/philosophies of embodied cognition, perception, and maybe even psychology (I still feel like I need to educate myself on “continuum psychology” and “ecological psychology”). With this as a foundation, there is space to begin to incorporate (pun intended) Tantric philosophy (hopefully as a critical theory), queer theories, relationality, and most recently Georges Bataille (as of this week—this is still a very fresh connection), each one contributing to the destabilization of the fixed edges of the individual subject/body along trajectories of desire and the erotic (among other things). I feel like from there I could begin to establish a theory of ecosexuality, the mobilization of (queer) sexual epistemologies in the destabilization/expansion of the individual and the (anti-colonial) in-corporation of the perceived “other.” It might be necessary (I hope not) to address the subversion/mutation of the symbolic register (Lacan, I think?) as the affect of an ecosexual paradigm and performativity (in an effort to establish how/what things are changed by this altered sense of “self”/body).

This might constitute a first section, possibly with multiple chapters?

The second section is where this theoretical framework could begin to find application in dance practices. Right now (today) I’m framing these practices in three large groups:

1. The incorporation of space as the body: I feel like this is where Laban studies can come to bear, the body never functioning as a body in a vacuum, but a body-in-space whereby both the body and space take on (mobile) definition through their unity with one another. Other movement methodologies might also come into play, things like Viewpoints (of which I know almost nothing), architecture-based scoring systems, and space-based movement scoring. This might also include site-specific work and work that engages with the landscape as participant (like the Love Art Laboratory)

2. The incorporation of the “human-other” as the body-self: this is where I might look more directly at “traditional” body-to-body choreographic practices, whereby seemingly discrete bodies become intermingled and blurred in their clarity through their choreographic participation with one another. Here I am most interested in the intimate exchange between bodies, an intimacy that is based on interdependency and intersubjective corporeal construction, the movement exchange demonstrating the porousness, permeability, and mutability of bodies/selves.

3. The incorporation of the more-than-human “other” as the body-self: This could be the biggest section because is includes practices like Butoh (that involves the incorporation of the landscape, the environment, and imagery derived from that which is “other”) and Karl Cronin’s Somatic Natural History Archive, but also movement/dance/performance methodologies that incorporate artifacts/objects, such as the use of written scores, moving with props/objects (here I would love to look more at “object theater” as a practice), among other practices.

When I write things like this out, I begin to see where I need to focus my attention:

1. Fleshing out my foundation in phenomenology (yes, that means finishing Phenomenology of Perception)

2. Tackling “relationality”

3. Taking some time with continuum psychology and ecological ecology

4. Spend more time with Bataille

5. Go back to Laban’s early writings

6. Choreograph more (as research)

7. Write about Butoh; write about Karl Cronin



Queer Theorists, Ecology, and Labanotation software

I have been negligent of my blog for too long. This summer swept me away in several new (and some unexpected) jobs, and lots of reading for my second comprehensive exam (most of the reading will likely also be useful towards whatever my dissertations shapes up to be). Getting close to a month without writing, I decided that it was time for an update.

My work situation for the summer is spread across three sources: I have a part-time GA in the Department of Dance teaching Modern I for non-majors and continuing work on a digital video archive for the dance documentation materials within the department. The teaching has been an unexpected challenge and delight. There is a beauty to bodies that (for the most part) have not been trained in dance techniques. I’m having lots of thoughts about dance technique as a form of discipline for the docile body (re: Foucault), but in contrast I am also taking delight in entertaining the perspective of the early modern dance pioneers (Duncan, Humphrey, Graham, etc.), that modern dance has the potential to function as a liberatory project, a resistance to the normative physicality of daily social existence. I think this beginning level course is an ideal demonstration of this perspective: these are bodies that are not going to become “disciplined” through this technique (we meet twice per week for five weeks; ten classes total). My hope/intention for the course is to provide a range of physical experience through which to develop heightened awareness of possibilities through the establishment of an array of sensorimotor schemas. The material that we are exploring is predominantly on the floor, exploring alternative supports and methods of locomotion through a dynamic experience of exchange with the earth; it does not require a significant development of strength or flexibility (impossible in the given time) but does provide the opportunity for the students to become aware of physical possibilities, especially those absent from normative physicality in our culture (horizontal axis of movement, supporting/exchanging weight with the earth predominantly through supports other than the feet legs, etc.). I hope in the next few weeks to also explore systems of timing, cueing, and awareness that depend primarily on group attention rather than counts; I think there is something valuable in a system of organization that emerges from mutual/communal attention (as opposed to an external regulatory system like counts or following me).

My second employment position is also in the Department of Dance, a Research Assistant position funded through the Dance Preservation Fund. I am assisting Dr. Sheila Marion and David Ralley with the initial phase research for developing a Movement Interchange File Format, a file format capable of encoding/recording the complex information of a Labanotation score in such a way that it might be useful for future software developments in writing software, animation, and translation between systems of notation (others most notably including Benesh and Eshkol-Wachmann). My work this summer is attempting to systematically describe the interdependent assumptions and “defaults” of the notation system, and construct a kind of comprehensive “script” that might then be used to formulae the first layer of programming for the file format/associated software. It’s an entirely different way for me to be thinking, and has involved going deeply into the notation system, primarily the Advanced Labanotation series by Ann Hutchinson Guest and Joukje Kolff, alongside Sheila Marion’s dissertation, and a thesis by Kolff proposing a “formal movement structure” that amounts to a computational representation of Labanotation in order to develop computer-based writing software.

I am also working part-time with Laurel Hodory, a local yoga teacher and trainer of teachers. I am assisting primarily with marketing and video work. Some of the footage that I have shot and edited is live on Laurel’s Vimeo account.

My reading for the summer is a survey of several seminal queer theorists (Michel Foucault, Luce Irigaray, Monique Wittig, Judith Butler, Eve Sedgwick, Jeffrey Weeks), some phenomenology (Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Sara Ahmed), continued readings in ecology, ecofeminism and other feminist writings (most notably Catriona Mortimer-Sandilands, Karen Warren, Greta Gaard, Carole Vance, Elisa Glick), and dance/art scholars/philosophers (Valerie Briginshaw, Judith Hanna, Erin Manning). I have also been reading Radically Gay: Gay Liberation in the Words of Its Founder, a collection of the writings of Harry Hay, the founder of the Radical Faerie “movement” (edited by Will Roscoe), because of its potential relationship to my Sexecological/Ecosexual research, but also in preparation for revising a paper on Frederick Ashton’s “The Dream,” using Hay’s writings and the Radical Faeries as a lens for a contemporary queer choreographic analysis of the ballet. I am only a few weeks in, but already themes are beginning to emerge around notions of fluidity, permeability, a recognition of the constructed nature of many of our borders, boundaries, and systems of description, and the genealogies of those edges that divide and distinguish. For this exam, I am going to continue my examination of the work of the Love Art Laboratory, situating their Sexecological weddings and exhibitions in a larger frame of queer(ing) projects, looking mostly at the Green Wedding in Santa Cruz (2008), the Blue Wedding to marry the Sky in Oxford (2009), the Blue Wedding to marry the Sea in Venice (2009), and the 2009-2010 gallery exhibition “Sexecology: Making Love With the Earth, Sky+Sea” at Femina Potens in December-January.

One of the most exciting readings I have done thus far has been an article by Catriona Sandilands entitled “Eco Homo: Queering the Ecological Body Politic.” In addition to its direct address of tissues that of becoming central to my line of inquiry (contemporary ecological practices, queering ecologies, the implications of these for the body, etc.), Sandilands anchored this article in a personal account of her experience in a series of Butoh classes. Within a matter of pages, she had linked for me what superficially have functioned as disparate areas of interest in my work, ecology, queer theories, and Butoh/dance practices. I was in tears at the end of the article . . . which might be strange for reading academic prose. But it was partially because of the punctuation of the article with passages of personal accounts. And not just any accounts, but writing about the meaningful experience of practicing Butoh, and its potential to function as a physical practice that embodies the concerns of a queer ecology, and fluidity across the borders of presumably bounded bodies through the “taking in and taking on” of the environment as the butoh-fu (the imagistic score informing/forming the dance).

I wish I could post the entire article here, but I am certain there would be copyright issues with that. Instead, I will offer the bibliographic information and quote/cite specific passages that I found to be extremely relevant to bridging these areas of interest.

Sandilands, Catriona. “Eco homo: Queering the ecological body politic.” Environmental Philosophy As Social Philosophy. Editors Cheryl Hughes and Andrew Light. Charlottesville: Philosophy Documentation Center, 2004.

“To conclude this paper, however, I would like to offer a brief, and perhaps unusual, conjecture. Specifically, I would like to suggest the possibility of practices of embodiment that performatively render the boundaries of the body negotiable by engaging in representations and rituals that open the skin to the somatic presence of the abject. This project is, I think, an ecological aesthetics of the body that recognizes the perpetual dancer of the outside but that orients, nonetheless, toward the (self-) creativity imanent in the dynamics of skin transgression. In so doing, I would like to suggest, following Diprose, that a performative politics might include both a transgressive element and a committed desire to re-habitate, re-familiarize, and re-materialize the body in relation to others.

“In this performative re-embodiment, I would like to point to the skin, both as a metonymic focus for an altered politics of corporeal representation and as a physical site to which to pay ritual corporeal attention in alternative enactments. Skin is a porous, changing and active organ that is at once crucial to our lives as organisms and, is, significantly, not thematized as our internal core. Skin is, precisely, a surface, but it is also an active participant in our corporeal renegotiation of the world. Skin is part of the appearance of the world, an aesthetic referent in self/other relations; all organisms are en-skinned, but we all have different qualities of skin and inhabit them differently. Focusing ecological attention on the skin, I think, forces us to pay bodily attention to the complex physiology and social relations by which our bodies bleed into the world, and the world into us. And skin shows us our porous vulnerability to the world always, not just in moments of crisis, and suggests that we learn to live, in non-apocalyptic ways, with that openness” (32-33).

“Rather than skin vigilance, then, skin aesthetics: How to live the body on and in this dynamically porous skin? How to practice a body-on-the-skin in a way that does not aim to coherence and closure, nor to infinite fluidity, but to an active, sensual and contextual semi-permeability? How to think of the skin as a site for the art of the body, for coporeal practices drawn from a range of traditions but without the strong orientation to self-govenance and order? How to think of the skin as a site of a specifically ecological aesthetic, an art form not dependent on infinite consumption and management of body parts and appearances? How to democratize the skin? How to create, on the skin, an ars erotica rather than scientia sexualis?” (33)

She brings this all to her description of Butoh:
“One way I have thoughts about Butoh is that the dance is the animated tension of the body held between external and internal influences. the dancer doesn’t perform an image, say, as an act of willful mimesis; he practices taking it in and taking it on, embodying and performing the interaction between the image and the body’s response. Memory is vital, here: by animating corporeal memory, the dancer opens the skin to the materialization of the image . . . From a more explicitly ecological viewpoint, I understand the idea of a body moving with the carefully ‘installed’ figures of nature–cranes flying in the shoulders–as an aesthetic practice of ecological incorporation. To dance with an orientation and openness to the fact of one’s own materialized body is to dance, not only with the awareness that the other is in your skin, but with the varied embodiments of others as part of one’s corporeal vocabulary. In Butoh, dancing a leaf in the wind is not about representing the leaf to an audience, nor is it about claiming to know the essence of that leaf’s being; it is about performatively re-membering the leaf’s wind-tossed body in one’s own, about losing one’s ‘self’ to the memory of the leaf’s body” (34).

She finishes with a moving description of a Butoh class:
“Thursday, June 20: I carry a landscape in my body. There are trees growing out of my head; my left arm is a waterfall, my right hand a rotting cabbage; old women are playing cards in the sun in my torso; my shins are brittle sticks, breaking and snapping with the tiniest movement. I must walk to the other side of the studio; I am all of these elements but I am also responsible for carrying them and keeping them safe in the crossing. I bear my trees, my cabbage, my old women, my precious sticks, through elemental changes–a windstorm from the west, electrified cattle guards under my feet–and I fall from the effort, damaging my precious cargo, my precious landscape, my own body in the process. But I do arrive. And even as I deposit my little body-world, tenderly, on the floor, I feel the presence of trees, cabbage, women, and waterfall, sticking to my skin, tiny flecks of memory mingling with sweat. I am the history of the presences, and my body is not really mine” (35-36).

Simply stunning. The article also traces/formulates relationships between the governing of bodies and the governing of the environments, the relationship between sexuality and wilderness, the establishment of borders around bodies, borders around landscapes, all in an attempt to “preserve” the “integrity” of each, resisting permeability, resisting fluidity and “pollution.” It is extremely provocative, and I think that it will constitute a sea-change in the direction of my research.

Perhaps lastly for today, and in perfect concert with Sandilands article, is the work of Karl Cronin. My dear friend CoCo Loupe has referenced Karl’s work to me for literally years and this spring I finally got around to taking a look at it. I cannot even begin to write all that I want to write about this work (I am currently entertaining the possibility of it as a chapter in a dissertation; maybe an article). Cronin is doing precisely what Sandiland describes, almost eerily so. He is constructing a Somatic Natural History Archive. Cronin’s description of the project is as follows:

“The Somatic Natural History Archive is a work of conceptual art and experiential geography research. Following direct physical encounters with plants and animals, Karl Cronin creates movement portraits that capture key features of each particular organism.”

“The Somatic Natural History Archive (SNHA) is a research project and public resource developed and hosted by Karl Cronin.

The SNHA will begin with Series 1, the embodied histories of 10,000 plants and animals. Series 1 will take roughly 50 years to complete.

The number 10,000 was chosen because it is large enough to reveal some of the breadth of our planet’s biodiversity, and because the number has been used historically to refer to the “phenomenal world” (all that is), particularly by early Zen Buddhists.

The SNHA is being built in the regions surrounding three research hubs: San Francisco, Santa Fe, and New York City.”

I am in awe of this work. I think it is saturated with theoretical inquiries surrounding the collapse of a hierarchical bio-diversity, the merging of the subject with the “other” (other more-than-human subjects), and echoes/enacts much of what my research around ecologies in performance has been orbiting. I know that this work will have some role to play in my own as time goes by. It is more than simply the exposition of bio-diversity; it formulates the (human) body as the site of this exposition, for this archive. That is perhaps the most exciting part for me . . . I have been working on a digital video archive for two quarters and in the fall I will take up a position managing the Dance Notation Bureau’s collection at the Theater Research Institute in Special Collections at OSU. Archives have been on my mind, and the notion of the body functioning as an archive, materializing the (human) body as an archive of that which is more-than-human . . . it is such a profoundly reverential service. It recognizes and enacts the body as permeable, malleable; it disrupts normative physicality through the adoption of the “other.” By taking the “other” inside/on/as oneself, there is a performative collapse of the distance between self/other. This relates for me to much of Sandiland’s writings, and also Harry Hay’s perspective of a “subject=SUBJECT” consciousness. I have commenting before that with different motives, there could be a sense of colonization and appropriation attached to this work. But there isn’t; it has something to do with the space between owning and becoming, occupation and surrender, taking and receiving . . . I have yet to fully deconstruct these nuances, and I know that there will be much to write and say about this work for a long time to come. For now I will simply offer a video of the work:

There is also an amazing video for Cronin’s “The Dancing Ecologist” fundraiser at Kickstarter here (it doesn’t embed, but PLEASE go view it; it’s short but stunning).

And that’s the short version of where things are at right now. Pride was a few weeks ago, I’m going to be spending the next two months housesitting in three different locations, I am dreaming up projects and choreographies for the fall, over the moon that Dr. Harmony Bench is going to be joining our faculty in the fall, working on papers for two different conferences in the fall (Doing Queer Studies Now at Michigan Ann-Arbor, and CORD in Seattle), etc. I’m not sure what is going to emerge from all of the intersecting projects (How does Labanotation software and sexecology co-exist? What comes from the cohabitation of a digital video archive and queer theories? Etc.), but that’s the lay of the land.

Hope you are well.



The Phenomenological Conflation of Dance/Dancer/Author/Reader/Text/Trio A/and Me

Because I have mentioned it at various points during my blogging, I wanted to offer the paper that I wrote at the end of last quarter, currently entitled “The Phenomenological Conflation of Dance/Dancer/Author/Reader/Text/Trio A/and Me.” It is not exactly a paper or article in the most traditional sense: it is intended as a score for a presentation, a lecture and demonstration of the phenomenological hermeneutic research I conducted into the reading and dancing of Trio A from Labanotation score. That being said, it is intended to accompany/be accompanied by my own dancing of Trio A where indicated. However, I still wanted to include the document itself here as part of my ongoing exposition of my creative practice:

“The Phenomenological Conflation of Dance/Dancer/Author/Reader/Text/Trio A/and Me”

Enjoy.



Trio A, Labanotation, dance as text, and the validity of phenomenological hermeneutics

I’ve been spinning in a sea of sources . . . and I really need to be writing the paper/presentation itself. I even have some sense of what it is going to be, how it will all shape up, but I feel stuck in the “information gathering” phase.

I’m writing a paper, you see. Another paper. I feel a little exhausted of writing mediocre papers every ten weeks. I think I have written a large paper every quarter that I’ve been in grad school. They are never completely what I want them to be, they never have the time to develop into what I aspire towards as far as quality writing, and I have yet had time to return to any of them because there is always yet another paper to write. I keep telling myself that one day I will have time to revisit some of that work, revise what feels worth revising, seek publication for that which continues to feel relevant. But for now I am forging ahead on yet another relatively mediocre paper. This one is orbiting Trio A: I am looking to consider the dance as text, dancing as a site for knowledge, and the “embodied scholarship” that the program I am in so adamantly advocates but seems to so rarely achieve. I don’t know whether I will achieve anything of consequence in this endeavor, but I felt as if I needed to start trying to make those connections: how can the dancing body by the site of research, the formation of knowledge, the “doing” of history and theory. Trio A became a kind of “case study” for this hazy methodology. More specifically, my process has involved reading/dancing Trio A, choreographed by Yvonne Rainer in 1966, as notated by Melanie Clark and Joukje Kolff in 2003. To be clear, I have learned this dance from Labanotation score. The piece was notated as it was taught by Rainer at the London International Summer School. Already the process has become more complicated. Where/what is “the dance” (the text)? Is it Trio A as choreographed and performed by Rainer in 1966, or as it was taught and notated in 2003? Or is my Trio A, the dance that is formulated in/as my dancing body, as initiated by this score, the site of investigation? Certainly it seems that my terrain is the spaces in between these various related sites, yet my interest is not in a comparative analysis (although it may come to that). My interest in the dance as text becomes further complicated by post-structuralist perspectives that deconstruct the role of “author,” and situate the meaning of the work not in its writing but in its reading, in reading-as-writing, reception as authorship. The shift of these theories/philosophies into the dancing body, my dancing body, makes my research site even more elusive. My (literal) reading of the dance also becomes my demonstration of it, my formation (re-formation? the relationship is not entirely clear) of the dance as it is danced by/as me.

After reading (most of) the dance from score (I am still a few pages away from the ending . . . which I hate; I want to read/know the dance in its entirety, but because of the deadline of the presentation, I feel myself giving in to yet another aspect of mediocrity in this project. The reality, however, is that I don’t technically need to read the entire dance in order to formulate perspectives on the topics about which I’m writing, and the reading of other sources in which to situate my assertions became necessary in the process) I have begun to situate my understanding of this/my experience in additional literature, spanning phenomenology, phenomenological hermeneutics, issues surrounding notation, reconstruction, staging dance works from score, choreological studies, history as a creative/embodied practice (Susan Foster), intertextuality in dance interpretation, essays by Yvonne Rainer, Sally Banes, Pat Catterson, etc. Here is where I continue to find myself, gathering more and more resources in which to situate my own experience, composing a field of texts in which to allow an intertextual understanding to emerge. It may sound compulsive, but I can’t seem to stop myself. I keep making trips to the library, I keep finding new sources, I keep going down to the Dance Notation Bureau Extension Office to survey more theses on issues in notation. I am so keenly aware of borders of my knowledge, where my understanding of these issues stops. I feel a voracious appetite for needing to have more at my fingertips from which to craft this paper. And yet time is running out.

Things I feel like I know I can say:
I think that the reading of Trio A from score can potentially serve as a stylistic training for the dance itself, this particular dance. I am interested in asserting that the way that the movement comes off of the page for me, without bringing anything else to it in the performative/dancerly sense, one is operating in the “style” of Trio A. There is a doing-ness to the dance, the long sequence of actions as a series of tasks, without pause, one giving way to the next, without variation in dynamics or phrasing. It is my experience that in embodying the dance as precisely as possible from the way in which it is written, this in the way of moving that the writing produces. Unlike other dances in which the reader/performer is expected to add to what is offered on the page, flesh it out (what an appropriate idiom) with expression and style and energy. Trio A asks for none of this. The score serves as a sequence of instructions for tasks, and that is the expectation for the dance.

I feel as if there is an education as to the nature of being in its embodiment, something about a pervasive, connective quality that is suffuse throughout . . . in the dance it is the almost meditative quality of the movement, the dynamic without variation, and the manner in which that way quality permeates and relates the 31-page sequence of unrepeated actions. Each moment is distinct, discrete, markedly unrelated to every other action in the dance; that was part of Rainer’s intention. And yet this suffuse, pervasive quality makes connections, addresses an underlying consistency through the body, through time, and space. I also feel as if it offers an education in the egalitarian nature of the body, no part more important than the other, and a similar commentary/perspective of three-dimensional space, no part receiving more attention than another. There is an awareness of “front,” but no addressing of front (in fact, a specific avoidance of addressing “front,” democratizing the space from its previously established theatrical hierarchy).

And that’s what I have. I need to plough through a few more sources, then begin to hammer out this paper. I need to dance the piece again and again and give more attention to how I construct its meaning from the various texts between which I have now situated it. This will be my Sunday afternoon. And likely most of the week to come. I just needed to address this project in a different space.

This week is the last time we will do “Autumn  Quartet.” Very complicated feelings surrounding that. The most prominent are a deep sadness and a kind of relief. But I don’t really have time to unpack that right now. Back to work.