michael j. morris


The Stories We Tell

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Tonight I had the pleasure of participating in an event called “Tea Time: A Queer Storytelling Event” at the OSU Multicultural Center. The theme of the event was “Crushin’: Stories of Love, Intimacy, and Missed Connections.” This was the second event in a quarterly series. The first took place back in November; I shared a piece entitled “Fragments: A Cartography of Moments on a Gender Terrain.” I love these events because I think they gives folks—particularly queer folks—the opportunity to practice having and sharing their own voices, and practice listening to the voices of others.

The piece I shared this evening is entitled “The Stories We Tell”:

It’s that feeling you get when you hear yourself telling those same stories again for the how-many-times-has-it-been-now? First, second, third date, or maybe lying in bed after a hookup, talking because maybe this person could be more than only a hookup:
“I’m from Louisiana.”
“I was raised in a really conservative Christian family.”
“My twin brother lives in Chicago.”
“Yes, I’m a twin. Yes, we’re identical. We were actually conjoined; that’s why I have that scar.”
“I’m finishing my PhD in Dance Studies. No, it’s not really like So You Think You Can Dance.”
“I’m writing my dissertation about ecosexuality. Yes, I know you don’t know what that means.”
“I tend to be polyamorous.”
“I actually identify as genderqueer.”
And as I hear myself telling all of this again, I feel a little exhausted: can I do this again? How many more times can I tell these same stories to how many more people?
Here we are trying in some way to get closer to each other, to build a little archive together of who we each have been. And at the same time, there are those other feelings: the feeling that this person is a whole new opportunity. I could be anyone I want to be with them. This is my chance to try different patterns of behavior, to reinvent or rediscover myself through the eyes of this person. And the other feeling of vaguely losing track of myself, because who I am with you is someone new, not entirely who I have been. That feeling of seeing you seeing me and not quite yet recognizing myself in the spaces between telling you who I have been and imagining who I might become.

 

“What do you love to do?” I ask. “No, not necessarily what do you do for a living: what do you love to do?” Not everyone knows how to answer that question, but it’s usually the start to anything I want to know. Sometimes the word “love” gets in the way. Or sometimes we very quickly end up in a conversation about, “How do you define love?” Sometimes I ask, “What are you passionate about?” or “What brings you joy?” I’m always a little surprised when people hesitate or say that they have to think about it. No judgment, but aren’t our joys and passions and loves always right beneath the surface? Aren’t they the things that get us out of bed in the morning and get us through the hours of each day?
I realize I’m asking bigger questions than other people might ask, that hesitation and needing to think about it are not so much symptoms of not having loves, passions, and joys, but probably an effect of rarely if ever having been asked to talk about them. But those are the things I want to know.

 

I’m also getting older. I turned 30 this year, and after a series of significant relationships and five years of therapy, I’m starting to also need to know:
Will you be able to see me beneath your projections? Will I?
Are you critically aware of your own wounds, rather than repressing them to your unconscious where they continue to wreak havoc through your decision making in ways you can’t recognize or comprehend?
Will I be able to approach you as an equal rather than as a patient or broken bird who I’m taking care of?
Have I actually learned how to trust someone fully with who I experience myself to be rather than adjusting myself to meet their expectations in order to secure their love?

May Sarton once wrote: “I hate small talk with a passionate hatred. Why? I suppose because any meeting with another human being is a collision for me now. It is always expensive, and I will not waste my time … it is a waste of time to see people who only have a social surface to show … time wasted is poison.”
So I sit there across the table from you or lying next to you, trying to get beneath surfaces—yours and my own—trying to make the most of this collision that carries so much collateral hope and attention and empathy and care, trying to figure out: what are the basic details that I need you to know, my own social surfaces necessary to orient you as to how we might proceed? Who have you been thus far, who are you now, and who do you want to become? What can each of us see or experience with each other that we couldn’t on our own?
It’s like having a partial map that you’ve used before, but now your navigating a completely different city, discovering whether this old map can take you new places, and sometimes revising the map, making new marks and scribbles to try to track where you’re going now.

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fragments: a cartography of moments on a gender terrain

A few weeks ago, on November 19th, I shared a piece of writing at an event called Tea Time: A Queer Storytelling Event co-sponsored by Queer Behavior, the OSU Office of Student Life’s Counseling and Consultation Services, and the OSU Office of Student Life’ Multicultural Center. It was a really lovely event, full of people sharing stories about their own experiences with gender—often as it related to family, sexuality, religion, intimacy, and so on. Since then, several people who were not at the event have asked if I could share the story I read, and a few people who heard it have said that they would like to read it again. I’ve been hesitant to post the writing itself; I wanted to honor the fact that it was an oral storytelling event, an oral performance. So I finally sat down and recorded it. You can hear the story, entitled “Fragments: A Cartography of Moments on a Gender Terrain,” here: 



Projected Research Trajectory
16 September, 2010, 10:11 pm
Filed under: research | Tags: , , , , , ,

So I’m writing a grant right now, and as part of the grant I was required to author a “statement of purpose” describing my projected research trajectory. While it may be a bit too specific to be considered as a general guiding statement for my research, it does articulate (fairly succinctly) many of the areas of inquiry that I am interested in pursuing. I wanted to share it here as a summation of where things are at right now, and maybe a hint at where things are going next (NOTE: this is not exhaustive; the most notable absence for me is any discussion of Butoh as a significant experiential/corporeal methodology for queer ecologies; there just simply wasn’t the space, and there are several other posts of the blog that touch on this subject):

My primary interests for doctoral research in the field of Dance are the exploration of dance and choreographic practices as functional systems of interdependent corporealities (the constructed realities of the body) and subjectivities (the constructed nexus of perception and action of the individual); and the situation of the body as the site for the constitution (and constant re-constitution) of permeable identity within these systems of interdependency. It is my intention to examine choreographic processes, improvisational methodologies, and dance training, both theoretically and in practice, for their potentials to provide knowledge concerning human and more-than-human ecologies and the construction of corporeal identity that can be utilized both within and beyond the field of dance. Too often dance is relegated to the status of autonomous cultural value—relevant within its own history and discipline, or as a cultural product to be studied—but not considered to be a site for useful knowledge that might be incorporated into other fields of study. It is my intention to explore these concerns in such a way that they might operate in truly interdisciplinary discourses surrounding the body and systems of interdependent organization. I am supporting this research through continued study and creative activity in dance practices—such as choreographic practices in movement generation and group organization, improvisational and “score-based” methodologies, movement analysis and notation, and pedagogical practices in dance; in ecology, as a relevant lens for the analysis of systems of human and more-than-human (referring to other-than-human elements within systems of interdependency) participants; and in queer theories, particularly as they relate to the theorization of identity and the body.

Dance practices—including but not exclusive to choreography—are predicated on an assumption of interdependency between multiple subjectivities. Both the immediate participation of teachers, choreographers, and collaborators within choreographic and performance situations, and the aesthetic and training histories in which those individuals are citationally implicit, have been incorporated into the body and the dance experience of every dancer. In this sense, dance practice always already involves the collaborative construction of individual bodies by way of physical practice, training and the exchange between choreographer and dancer in the choreographic setting, and the collaborative construction of choreographies and dances as objects of intrinsic intersubjectivity. Dances do not reside within a single body or space, but function as systems of interdependency (considerable as ecologies) involving the incorporation of multiple bodies/subjectivities, and often include further interdependency with more-than-human elements, such as scoring and documentation systems across a variety of media, specific spaces (as in site-interactive choreographies), and technology. Of particular interest to me are the more-than-human elements of dance scores in the production of bodies and dances. I consider dance scores such as those written in Labanotation (a system for the analysis and notation of movement based on the work of Rudolf von Laban) and other comparable systems of movement analysis/notation to function as artifacts of transhistorical and intersubjective significance. The score simultaneously describes the movement of historical bodies (descriptions in which the corporeal presence of both the historical dancer(s) and the notator of the score are both necessary and implicit) and provides that information as impetus for the construction of the movement of contemporary bodies, and thus the construction of the contemporary bodies themselves. The score’s full meaning and function only exist between these transhistorical subjectivities, and the dance that the score produces exists only with the participation of this nexus of human and more-than-human elements. While my projected research will include a survey and analysis of a variety of dance practices, ranging from body-to-body methodologies (such as the choreographer transmitting movement directly to the dancer by way of demonostration and instruction) to methodologies incorporating additional more-than-human elements (such as scoring systems or the dissemination of movement material through media and technology), Labanotation, as a significant component of my research profile and expertise in the field of dance, holds for me a particular interest in the investigation of the ecologies of dance practices. The Ohio State University is uniquely qualified to host this kind of research: the Dance Notation Bureau Extension for Education and Research—the only extension of its kind maintained by the Dance Notation Bureau in New York City—is housed within the OSU Department of Dance. The resources for Labanotation research made available through the DNB Extension, including dance scores, research libraries, educational materials and opportunities, and certification programs, are truly unique to this institution, and make OSU the ideal setting for doctoral research involving these lines of inquiry.

In addition to my continued work in Labanotation, it is also my intention to maintain my own choreographic practice as a methodology for this research. Adjacent to my studies in indirect movement generation (the construction of movement in processes that incorporate elements beyond a body-to-body/person-to-person choreographic model, such as Labanotation scores), I consider it important that these studies take place within the setting of the choreographic construction of dance and (coextensively) bodies. The importance of making and doing as useful ways of knowing are uniquely emphasized within the field of dance. It is an assumption of my research that these concerns cannot be fully explored remotely, but that they necessitate an active, embodied exploration through the process of making choreography. Maintaining my creative practice as a choreographer will provide an opportunity for this exploration, a type of research and knowledge generation that is truly unique to my field.

The infrastructure of these inquiries is an appreciation of the body as the permeable and transformable site for the perception, negotiation, construction, and performance of identity. Identity is not a new or unproblematic topic in academic research; it has proven to be a complex nexus of intersecting trajectories of power, politics, and participation within many fields of inquiry. My interest is in the corporeal situation of the complexity of identity. This investigation will draw heavily on the work of queer theorists and my own queer understanding of non-normative, subversive, and fluid identities. The perspective of the body as composed from the collaboration and contributions of multiple sources as intrinsic to dance practice suggests a permeable body, one that maintains ability, definition, and morphology as mobile boundaries characterized by a multiplicity of potentials and possibilities. Queer theories support this perspective by offering a wealth of language, perspective and utility for the maintenance of such permeable borders and mobile definitions. Queer theories also provide methodologies for enacting a necessary critique of and resistance to dance practices that function as systems for regulation and “normalization” of bodies, and as systems of oppression that reiterate sexism, racism, homophobia, and economic inequality through physical education. This critical lens will operate in my analytical engagement with contemporary dance practices, as well as with historical materials such as dance notation scores and conventional writing practices.

A meta-concern of this research is the importance of interdisciplinary inquiry, drawing from relevant adjacent fields of study (such as ecology and queer theory) in my dance research, as well as considering dance as a field of productive knowledge for these adjacent fields and others. My interest is in investigating these topics within practices unique to the field of dance, and offering the knowledge produced by those investigations to other fields addressing these same topics. It is my hope that in doing so I might participate in and further similar endeavors within my discipline to recognize the potential for dance to provide unique and invaluable knowledge within and beyond the field of dance.



Erotics (eco-logic)

This is not going to be my most eloquent post, but I’ve had ideas spinning around the notion of “eros” and “the erotic” for a while now (years?) and I think it might be developing into something a bit more effable, but I think I just need to get the ideas down.

I think my earliest encounter with the speculation on “eros” was with Anne Caron’s Eros: The Bittersweet, still one of my top recommended reads. Carson is a professor of classical literature, and Eros is her formulation of how eros functioned within Greek lyric poetry and thus how it might be considered to function within interpersonal relations. She explores the evolution of a literary culture’s impact on the senses of those engaged with that culture, a bounding, an edging and delimiting in the conception of the individual, concurrent with these lyric expressions of the sweetness and agony of eros. In her formulation, eros is desire that denotes lack: it is that which we do not have (or, she goes on to formulate with certain Freudian tones, that which we no longer have, that which we perceive to have lost), and the sweet-bitterness of eros comes in that agony of not having. We can no longer want that which we have, because wanting is itself predicated on lack.

I employed Carson’s text in a paper I wrote recently exploring theorizing “Sexecology” and “Ecosexuality” as it is performed in Love Art Laboratory’s Green Wedding Four (2008). In this paper, I began to explore the possibility that the erotic is a state of contingency. It is a state of empty spaces, spaces of lack, that seek to be filled. I correlated this with collaboration, that when we allow ourselves to collaborate, as artists, as researchers, as people (relationships themselves might be viewed as collaboration), we are actively engaging with those places of lack, perhaps even forming or formulating spaces of lack in order to find compliment from those with whom we are collaborating. It is an intimate exchange, it is a space of varying degrees of vulnerability, because in bearing our lack, we relinquish portions of our control. We ask to be filled by another, and coextensively, we do our part to fill in and meet and complement the places of lack presented by our collaborators. The product is necessarily unpredictable, indeterminate, and emergent. I don’t mean to imply that in all collaborative settings the distribution of power is equal and balanced; I think of settings in which I have functioned as a choreographer or director. There is a collaborative experience with the dancers in the work because the work would not be possible without their participation, and certainly the dancers bring their own personal and creative energies to the work. But the power is not balanced: I maintain a degree of control that extends beyond that of anyone else in the project. There are of course nuances throughout, but what I mean to address is that in this discussion of collaboration being predicated on a kind of erotic exchange between lack and complement, I am aware that power is imbalanced, potentially in flux, and rarely distributed equally.

This is where I begin to equate “collaboration” with “ecology”–it is not a perfect equation, but a functional one. Ecology (etymologically “the study of habitation/dwelling”) is predicated on “situation,” situation being necessarily complex, reciprocal, and potential systemic. For my purposes, I tend to shorthand “ecology” as the study of functional systems of interdependency. The jump to “collaboration” is not far. What I think I’m getting at is that the functionality of ecologies and eco-systems (systems of habitation, situation, which, again, are necessarily reciprocal; habitation is not passive) depends on complement, which depends on spaces of interdependency and lack. This in itself seems to evoke the erotic to me, but I think there may be yet another step. For there to be lack and complement, in itself, may not be erotic. Instead, it may be the sensation of that lack and complement. Is eros a sensation or a structural/systemic relationship/state, both or otherwise? Not sure.

I think our culture carries an anxiety surrounding “lack.” Perhaps it is simply the modern humanist individual, perhaps it is even reinforced by feminist projects that have deconstructed the conceptual/social/sexual dependence of women on men, but we shirk away from dependence (inter-dependence, co-dependence) towards notions of independence, that we are each our own, complete, lack-less, need-less, individual. I not only find this to be a tad bit inaccurate, but not helpful. I remember talking to Annie Sprinkle and Beth Stephens in December, and their discussion of their move away from the “modern genius” individual artist to collaborative work, because there’s more possible when you collaborate. I think I am theorizing this draw towards the “more that is possible” as the erotic. It softens at its edges, it expands and becomes fluid, willing to mingle and mix and exchange; it is porous and permeable, and accepts the risk of that permeability (the risk of “pollution,” perhaps). There is a danger to the erotic, to exchange, and collaboration; to no longer being in control. Catriona Mortimar-Sandilands, among others, has written exceptional writing addressing the correlation between environmental projects such as state parks and “nature reserves,” the project against pollution of the “natural environment” (need I remind myself that to inhabit is not passive, but is already an exchange?), and the medicalization and defense of bodies, the fear of the polluted body, the dangers of sex and exchange of fluids and the solidification of the edges. It is a complex question without (for me) a yet clear trajectory (I can see it pertaining to questions surrounding sex work, pornography, safer-sex practices, contact improvisation, localvore food cultures, etc.), but there is something about an acceptance of the permeability of edges, spaces of lack within our borders/boundaries, and the invitation for exchange across those edges in order to complement those spaces of lack. I call this ecology. Or eros. Or sexecology, or ecosexuality.

This relinquishing of (some) control/power connects to another conversation I recently had with Daniel Holt. In discussing his Guerilla Dance Project, I began to identify with a certain desire to not be completely in control. In other words, I noticed and identified with a need/desire (lack) to create work for which I (or one) is not solely responsible. I think this tendency fits into larger meta-narratives: for instance, the post-modern shift away from the single generative choreographer (prevalent in early modern dance) towards sourced-materials (dancers generating movement material to be shaped/crafter by choreographer) to collectives and improvisation (Grand Union, etc.), and even (what I have been referring to as) indirect methodologies for movement generation: methodologies that do not dictate movement from one body to another (direct), but put (indeterminate, or at least not fully determinate) systems or scores in place by which movement is then produced (image-based systems like Butoh and Gaga would fit into this category, but also the vast field of improvisational scoring that has evolved from the mid-20th century onward). It is a shift away from singular determinacy towards multiple indeterminacies, and it is fully engaged with this shift towards permeability, complementarity, and (erotic) lack. I think it fits into a context of yet larger meta-narratives, like the shift to Web 2.0, and maybe even models for emergent taxonomies in general. There is a move away from hierarchy and toward democratization of power, which necessitates interdependence and collaboration. I don’t know if I could pin-point a single or even list of reasons for this shift, except maybe what Annie and Beth said: there is the potential for something more. I might identify this, in a broad sense, as the erotic sensation.

Lastly, I’ve been thinking more about the notion of the sensation of the erotic, how this sensation comes to be (the genealogy of sensation?). I’ve been thinking about erogenous zones as spaces and surfaces with which we comes to associate “something more:” a site of further sensation/increased sensation, a site for potential pleasure, a site for potential participation, etc. These spaces and surfaces becomes charged through their histories (by histories, I mean the complex intersections of experiences that contribute to the construction of these spaces and surfaces as we experience them; I am assuming that biology is always infused with culture, and thus to say, “My body feels this way or that way,” is never unaffected by the (cultural/social/ecological) history of that body), through experiences that allow for the recognition of potential. This is where I begin to correlate “queer” and “erotic:” both are an insistence on possibility. There are differences perhaps . . . I take queer to connote a range of possibilities always in flux, always fluid and mutable and unfixed. The erotic, on the other hand, is possibly dependent on a degree of predictability. In order to experience the sensation of the erotic, we must have first identified or become aware of a potential that we then experience as lack (available to be filled/fulfilled).

Or maybe not.
I remember something I said to Bebe Miller last year about the erotic experience of discovery. There is something intensely titillating about not-knowing (the not-knowing being a place of lack) that seeks knowledge. It has not clearly identified the lack, nor that which might fulfill it, but it allows for the gap. I experience this with bodies, with trees and landscapes, with new research endeavors, with collaboration and experimentation: the erotic charge is in those spaces of not-knowing that then fuels the search, the seeking. I feel it in contact improvisation, I feel it in sex, I feel it in nature walks, etc. These experiences deaden when it feels completely “known.” In contact jams, it deadens when we fall into patterns, the same sequences of actions and supports, without any new discovery/ies. The same is true with sex: when it feels scripted, when sensations feel predicted or expected, when actions and positions begin to feel sequenced and even practiced, when bodies are no longer landscapes to be discovered, etc. And so much is lost of our experience of our environment when it becomes predictable or “known” (which is of course inaccurate; it, like us/with us, is always in flux). On my walk to and from school in the mornings, or across the Oval and back again when acquiring (yet more) books from Thompson library, or our delightful “Notice What You Notice” practice in Current Issues with Bebe Miller and Norah Zuniga Shaw this past spring, all of these become an ongoing space for (erotic) discovery. Acknowledging the unfamiliarity of the seemingly familiar, searching for the unexpected or unnoticed, seems to me an act of constructing spaces of lack, spaces of potential, in order to be filled. I am reminded significantly of David Abram’s work in The Spell of the Sensuous and Sara Ahmed’s queer formulations of phenomenology: we are always potentially in reciprocal exchange with our environments (be that landscapes, dance settings, other people, etc.) and when we tune into that exchange and recognize our participation in it, I think we/I begin to experience that erotic sensation.

As I’ve worked through so many of my ideas about Sexecology and Ecosexuality, a questions that comes up every now and again has been “why?” Why look for sexual experiences with the environment? Why try to understand habitation and systems of interdependency through a sexual lens or epistemology? One reason that I have come to before is that sexuality, among many other taxonomies of our selves and our experiences, has the potential to serve as a site for liberation, transformation, discovery/re-discovery, and political/personal activism. I still think this is true. But I also think that it has something to do with this logic of the erotic. We (can) experience eros acutely through our sexuality; sex and sexuality are constant discourses of lack and complement, subjects and objects, desire, etc. It’s not, as I think I’m beginning to formulate, that sex is the only situation for the erotic, but that it is a familiar space. Here is where I see the potential for the employment of a sexual epistemology as a means for accessing/understanding/recognizing the erotic, both within and beyond what we experience/identify/taxonomize as “sexual.” Annie and Beth talk about sex being something really big and broad, not narrowly defined. I think this expansive sexuality, that explodes sex beyond specific acts and experiences and begins to recognize the relationship between those normally(normatized) experiences identified as “sex”  with a larger landscape of experience(s). I think that the erotic might be a significant connective tissue within this expansion.

Those are some of my thoughts. Looking forward to seeing where these ideas go.



Blue Wedding: Venice

I apologize for my recent absence from my blog. For those of you who do not know, my computer crashed two weeks ago. It was under warranty and so the repairs will be covered, but going through the proper channels always takes time. For now I am borrowing friends’ computers wherever I can. Today I finally feel as if I have time to update my blog.

Last weekend was the Love Art Laboratory (Annie Sprinkle and Elizabeth Stephens) Blue Wedding in Venice. I so desperately wanted to be in attendence, but financially that was impossible at this time. Today I finally came across images from the wedding, and I wanted to share those images with you. They are my joy today, and I hope they are joy for you as well.

I feel as if there is so much I can say about my perception of this work, and my evolving perspectives on the work of Love Art Lab. As I have written before, I think that their work represents something about inegrated living/loving/making, a conflation of creative practice, politics, ecology, sexology, sex and personal partnership, individual and communal identity, ritual and performance, and so many other elements of what it means to be human. As I experience this wedding vicariously, all of these things come to mind. But more than ever before, either because of the specific perspective of this documentation or because of my own artistic/scholarly concerns at present, I am aware of the politics of body morphologyand performanceand the unique subculture of body identities that I see represented in the documentation.

The images include a series of photos of Natalie Loveless doing a performance piece as part of the celebration that involves microfilament, dye, etc. I find it stunning, and so I have dedicated quite a few photos to it. This specific piece is might be central to the subculture of body morphology that I read through these images. The piece literally uses the body as the site for transformation, literally reshapes and recolors the body of the artist. I find that fascinating.

I think there is also an interesting question of costume . . . and suddenly I feel as if I am touching a new idea (for me). I have a perspective surrounding the body, that of the tension between the “social body” (the body as we present it and as it is perceived interpersonally in society) and the “actual body” (the unique morphology of the individual body). This is only one potential taxonomy for ways of looking at the body, and I think identity is situated somewhere in the midst of these. I am wondering as I look at these images where the concept of “costume” or even “role playing” might enter into this taxonomy. I am thinking of costume or role playing as a chosen social body that deviates from our regular social body, wearing clothes that are different than our regular clothes, make-up or paint that we do not usually don. How might costume enter the discussion of the politics of bodily identity? And what  significance/implications (for the individual and the community) might there be in the space created by the Love Art Lab wedding celebrations for diverse body expressions, including costumes and role-playing?

These are scattered speculations that are sparked by these images.

I want to post a bit from the “Artists’ Statement” for this event:

“For our seventh wedding, and in our Blue Year, we will marry the Sea. We are passionately in love with her and desire to take care of her in order to help save her. We are eco-sexuals, meaning that we find nature incredibly romantic, extraordinarily sensual, and an exquisite lover. Additionally, we are “sexecologists,” who combine sexology and ecology, and we intend to make the environmental movement a little sexier.

 

Why marry the sea in Venice? During the Renaissance, the Doge (chief magistrate) de-

creed that, “Venice must marry the sea as a man marries a women and thus become her Lord.” So each year the Doge would go out on a boat and drop a ring into the water. But can people really Lord over the Sea? What is perfectly clear is that people do have the power to destroy her, and are rapidly doing so. We will follow the tradition of marrying the Sea in Venice — as two women who have moved beyond the dominant-male and submissive-female dynamic, as seductive eco-sexual artists, and as global citizens who care deeply about the welfare of our planet.”

All images are by Mark Snyder via facebook.

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Reflecting on the Spring Quarter

The spring quarter is almost complete. Two informal showings today, and I will be off into my summer. For a day, at least. Wednesday I start a two-week intensive Labanotation Teacher Certification Course. Which then segues straight into the summer quarter. But the schedule will have  bit more breathing room.

Perhaps my largest project this quarter was in my History, Theory, Literature of Choreography course. I decided to do a queer analysis of choreography by Frederick Ashton. Originally it was my intention to analyze two ballets, The Dream and Sylvia, but after in-barking on the analysis of The Dream, I found it so rich in “queer potential” that the emphasis of the research became The Dream alone. 

My primary interest in this research was to consider the potential contribution of Frederick Ashton’s choreography to queer culture, or for his choreography’s queer contribution to dance culture. It also came primarily as a response to Jane Desmond’s assertion of the centrality of dance history and queer theory to one another in her book Dancing Desires: Choreographing Sexualities On & Off The Stage. She writes:

“. . . to understand dance history and dance practices, we must analyze them in relation to histories of sexualities. Conversely, it suggests that the analysis of dance, as a form of material symbolic bodily practice, should be of critical importance to gay and lesbian studies and the ‘queer theory.’ Until now neither analytical approach has received much attention from dance studies scholars or from those in gay/lesbian studies . . . What happens to the writing of dance history and criticism when issues of sexuality and sexual identity become central? And what happens to our considerations of queer theory and to gay and lesbian studies when a dancing body takes center stage? What do we see that we didn’t see before? What questions do we ask that were heretofore unspeakable, unnameable, or unthinkable? What analytical tools will we need to formulate these questions and to develop provisional answers? In what ways might these initiatives reshape our readings of past histories and give rise to new ones? . . . This claim for the necessary intersection of sexuality studies and dance studies is based on two assertions: first, that issues of sexuality, and especially of non-normative sexuality, are not merely relevant to but play a constitutive and under recognized role in dance history; and second, that dance provides a privileged arena for the bodily enactment of sexuality’s semiotics and should thus be positioned at the center, not the periphery, of sexuality studies.”

These ideas were a central point of departure for this research. When I first became aware of Ashton’s sexuality, I was struck by the fact that his work (like so many other choreographers) is not discussed in relationship to his queer identity. It is not that I was interested in establishing a causal relationship between his autobiography and the content of his choreography, nor even speculating about his intentions for his own work. Instead, having become aware of his queer identity, I was interested in how one might interpret his ballet through a queer lens, and how this interpretation might reveal a relationship to queer culture.

In the paper, I attempt to situate The Dream in relationship to the queer culture, such as the relationship of the term “fairy” in the late 19th century and early-to-mid (to present?) 20th century describing an overtly effeminate man who was assumed to solicit male sexual partners (as opposed to “normal men” who abide by the socially expected behavior of masculinity). I also situate the ballet in relationship to the Radical Fairy movement of the 1970s that evolved out of the social politics of gay activists such as Harry Hay. Besides this “cultural situation” of the subject matter of Ashton’s ballet, the paper is primarily a choreographic analysis, looking at the narrative, character development, relationship of characters to one another, individual movement vocabulary, and use of partnering as it relates to the notion of “queer,” or a subversion of the normative or heteronormative.

While I would love to post the whole paper here, as it represents a significant investment in my own research, I will resist the urge. If you are very interested in this analysis, just let me know and I’ll try to find a way for you to read it.

Another significant portion of research this quarter has been in the are of Labanotation. In addition to pursuing my Elementary Labanotation Certification (almost done), I did the work of reading/learning two pieces of choreography in my Intermediate Labanotation course. We learned from score: Yvonne Rainer’s  “Trio A” and three versions of the Sylph’s variation in act II of La Sylphide (the versions were from 1849, 1865, and a version considered current to today). These were in vastly different dancing styles which necessitated different methods for employing the notation system. But more importantly (to me) they addressed a certain kind of hunger in the study of dance history. Too often in studying dance history, our primary points of access are through watching (visual) and reading/lectures (linguistic). Rarely do we have the opportunity to embody seminal dance works from the past. Both of these pieces represent profound periods in the history of dance, La Sylphide representing the Bournonville ballet tradition and the Romantic ballet, “Trio A” representing the 1960’s Judson/post-modern shift in American dance. Not only did we have the opportunity to understand the meaning of these periods in our bodies, but they were made to co-exist within our bodies, disparate styles and periods collapsed into a singular corporeal experience.

I want to briefly describe my experiences of each of these pieces. “Trio A” was surprising in many ways. The first was the extreme complexity of the notation for this piece. “Trio A,” along with most of the work that came out of the Judson group, is considered pedestrian, anti-thetical to traditional theater and concert dance. For me, having read and written about this work, it has always seemed as if it would be simple. The notation revealed that it is not; it is incredibly specific. This quality revealed itself further as we interpreted the notation and learned/practiced the piece. It demanded so much concentration which gave it an almost intense, meditative quality. As it became familiar, it retained this quality of a moving meditation. Some of the directives in the score have to do with evenness of tempo, phrasing, and dynamics. Nothing is to be emphasized, nothing should be given more importance than anything else. And like Rainer’s “NO Manifesto” (below), it is a run-on sentence, nothing repeating, just streaming along in a similar fashion. I feel this quality, the meditativeness, the almost effortless physicality (paired with intense mental focus) infecting the way I approach other movement material as well.

“NO Manifesto:

“NO to spectacle no to virtuosity no to transformations and magic and make-believe no to the glamour and transcendence of the star image no to the heroic no to the anti-heroic no to trash imagery no to involvement of performer or spectator no to style no to camp no to seduction of spectator by the wiles of the performer no to eccentricity no to moving or being moved.”

“Trio A” was meant to embody these ideas. You can see how they translate in Rainer’s performance in the video below:

La Sylphide was more difficult for me. The notation was specific but not as specific as “Trio A.” It made assumptions of certain stylistic understanding. Because my ballet training is not in Bournonville, these assumptions were lost on me. The learning took far more time. The most interesting part of this process was recognizing the relationship of one historical interpretation of the choreography to others, how movements were rearranged, cut, reversed, sped up, or slowed down, etc. It raised questions (that have come up throughout this year) about the nature of choreographic information. If the steps change, what is it that makes each “version” the same ballet? What is the choreography beyond the steps? What is necessary to its integrity? Etc.

I tried to find a video of this variation, but I couldn’t find the exact section on youtube. 

One of my most interesting courses was a Somatics survey taught by Abby Yager. The goals for this course were for practicing a deep listening to the body, cultivating a appreciation and understanding of the Self through this awareness of the body, and the development of a personal somatic practice based on one’s sense of one’s own body. This sort of information feeds directly into a central research interest of mine, the relationship of the body to identity, the embodied nature of existence and experience, and the relationship of a dance practice to the development (or choreography) of identity. I am interested in how these investigations might synthesize in my creative practice and choreography, how choreography might come out of this kind of self awareness, or how I might consciously consider the practice of choreography as a shaping of individual identity through its engagement of the body. In a larger scope, I am interested how individual identity comes out of the way we “choreograph” ourselves, how our conscious and subconscious choices of the ways we handle ourselves physically come to define us for ourselves and others. I am interested in how a cultivated awareness or “deep listening” of the body might contribute to this choreography of identity. The modalities explored in this course (Qi’Gong, Alexander technique, Yoga, Trager, experiential anatomy, Klein technique, etc.) have offered me a wide range of approaches to this sort of research.

This quarter I also produced a solo-in-progress entitled “Red Monster.” It was partially inspired by Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red, and evolved (for me) as an investigation of the ways in which shame and desire transform us (me) into monsters. I just posted a video of this piece on youtube. I don’t think it is an ideal performance (15 May 2009, as part of SIP, the first year dance MFA’s informal showing), for many reasons, but it does offer a look at what I have been exploring choreographically. I may continue to work on this piece. I’ll keep you posted on its evolution.

Here at the end of the quarter I also made several trips to Cincinnati where my twin brother lives. These trips were mostly about seeing art, but this past weekend I attended an event called Dance_MF, which was essentially a huge late-night dance party at Northside Tavern. It is a monthly event, and this was my first time there. It brought several things to mind. The first was a fairly simple observation, something that I have observed before in “dance floor” situations: individuals are far more likely to dance around one another or even in reference to one another than they are to actually dance with another person, by which I mean share any sort of physical contact. It’s always struck me as a disparity, that a social situation primarily characterized by its intense physicality is more based on a visual engagement than one of connected physicality. This is indicative of a larger social disparity with which I’ve been discontented for some time: despite the fact that we are embodied, corporeal creatures, our engagement with one another or knowledge of one another as human beings is more based on our visual interpretations of one another than our actual physical engagement. This strikes me as odd, in culture at large, but especially on a dance floor. I wonder if this awareness has emerged from my dance/choreographic life. To consider a three-to-four hour dance “composition” or “improvisation” in which the participants rarely touch one another feels either boring, ill-crafted, or a very specific social statement. What happens when we engage with life as art, social behavior as composition? How might “society” become a comment on society within the confines of the dance floor?

It also made me think of Jonathan Bollen’s article “Queer Kinesthesia: Performativity on the Dance Floor” (a portion of which can be read here). I’ll try to summarize this article sometime soon.

Another curious effect of this event was an awareness of myself as a “transgender presence.” I decided to wear a dress to the dance (an evolution of wearing skirts and heels and other traditionally female articles of clothing and accessories), not in an attempt to be female, but as an interpretation/expression/expansion of masculinity/my own identity as not being relegated to the narrow expression of identity traditionally associated with masculinity and maleness. At some point during the evening, I became aware of how much the population on the dance floor respected the gender binary. I do not identify as transgender, but in my transgression of traditional male expression, I became a kind of symbol of transgender. Which was an interesting dynamic on a dance floor, not to mention an interesting evolution in my perception of self.

And that’s my reflection on the spring quarter.



Prop. 8 Upheld

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/27/us/27marriage.html?_r=1&hp

Today the California Supreme Court ruled to uphold Proposition 8 in the state of California. From the New York Times (link above):

“Chief Justice Ronald M. George for a 6-to-1 majority, said that same-sex couples still have the right to civil unions, which gives them the ability to “choose one’s life partner and enter with that person into a committed, officially recognized, and protected family relationship that enjoys all of the constitutionally based incidents of marriage.” But the justices said that the voters had clearly expressed their will to limit the formality of marriage to opposite-sex couples.

“Justice George wrote that Proposition 8 did not “entirely repeal or abrogate” the right to such a protected relationship, but argued that it “carves out a narrow and limited exception to these state constitutional rights, reserving the official designation of the term ‘marriage’ for the union of opposite-sex couples as a matter of state constitutional law.””

This makes me crazy. It offends me that this is the perspective of the law being upheld in the country in which I live. While it is true that the state of California does allow same-sex civil unions that offer equal legal protection under the law (along with four other states and the District of Columbia; see HRC’s website for the full info on same-sex marriage rights in the United States), civil unions are issued by and recognized BY THE STATE, whereas the legal status of “marriage”, while issued by the state, is recognized by the Federal Government, a recognition that is accompanied by more than 1,100 federal rights, benefits, and privileges. What I cannot wrap my head around is how a state supreme court can offer “equal state rights by another name” as the illusion of true equality. Nor can I understand to any degree how a federal government that currently supports this inequality is doing nothing in this or similar situations.

Then I recall that there are powerful voices in our nation advocating against equality. I hate that I came across this commentary on Anderson Cooper 360 today. I hate that things like this are being said.

Tony Perkins is the President of the Family Research Council. Here is the Family Research Council’s official press release on today supreme court ruling in California:

 “FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 26, 2009

CONTACT: J.P. Duffy or Maria Donovan, (866) FRC-NEWS

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Family Research Council President Tony Perkins today praised the California Supreme Court’s decision to uphold democracy and reject efforts to strip the right of the people to amend the state’s Constitution to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman. 

“Over one million Californians signed petitions to place Proposition 8 on the ballot and over seven million voters approved the measure on Election Day. California’s Constitution gives its citizens the right of self-governance and we are pleased that the court resisted demands to strip the right of the people to amend the state constitution. Even this widely-recognized liberal court understands that overturning Proposition 8 would represent a repudiation of the state Constitution it is sworn to uphold. 

“Unfortunately, the Court chose to ignore the plain meaning of Proposition 8 and will force state recognition of same-sex ‘marriage’ licenses issued last year. The Court’s recognition of these ‘marriages’ clearly seeds the ground for a possible legal battle before the U.S. Supreme Court. 

“At every opportunity, the people of California have voted to protect marriage because they recognize the far reaching consequences that redefining marriage will have for children, the family, religious liberties, businesses and every facet of American society. Today’s decision should encourage pro-family activists not only in California but across the country. Marriage redefinition is not inevitable unless advocates of the family stand aside and allow it to happen.”

– 30 –

 

I am offended to read praise for empowering a population to impose inequality in a nation that was supposedly founded on equal rights for all citizens. I am offended that this issue is touted as an issue of faith, family values, or semantics rather than one of civil rights. I am offended that heterosexual marriage is elevated as somehow sacred simply on the basis of it being between a man and a woman, no matter its content, no matter its foundation or integrity. I am offended that the re-definition of the legal status of marriage to recognize same-sex marriages is discussed as anti-family and the end of civilization as we know it, as if marriage has not been understood and re-defined culturally throughout history. The Family Research Council made similar statements in April after Iowa moved to recognize same-sex marriage under the law. 

 

 

The court decision is discussed with language such as “forcing same-sex marriage on an unwilling populous,” as if the decision to recognize equal rights for same-sex couples means that the population of Iowa at large will be subjected to non-consensual homosexual unions. It offends me that same-sex marriage is discussed as the gateway to polygamy and marriages between adults and minors, as if the one logically leads to the next. It offends me that the contemporary American definition of marriage is touted as the icon of “5000 years of human behavior,” as if past centuries in cultures around the globe have not recognized all sorts of variations not only on the formal composition of a marriage, but also the meaning which the culture gave to it. 

Earlier this year, I wrote a letter to the FRC responding line by line to their official statement on homosexuality. At the time I did not feel it necessary to make my statement/response public, but today as events such as the California Supreme Court decision continue to unfold, and as organizations such as FRC continue to proliferate statements of their views into arenas of public discourse, I felt the need to make my statements more public as well. It can be viewed here.

At the same time, I am encouraged that their are public advocates for equality to continue to be just as vocal as the FRC. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) released the following statement today:

5/26/2009

WASHINGTON – The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization, responded to the California Supreme Court’s split 6-1 decision today ruling that Proposition 8, the narrowly approved measure which eliminated the right of same-sex couples to marry, is valid.  As a result of the court’s decision in Strauss v. Horton, California becomes the first state in the nation to strip away marriage rights for same-sex couples.  As same-sex couples and allies from across the country react to the news, HRC is releasing an online, YouTube video set to the song “I Won’t Back Down”: www.HRC.org/California
 
“Today’s ruling is a huge blow to Americans everywhere who care about equality.  The court has allowed a bare majority of voters to write same-sex couples out of basic constitutional protections,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese.  “This ruling is painful, but it represents a temporary setback.  There will be a groundswell to restore marriage equality in our nation’s largest state, and HRC will not give up until marriage equality is restored in California.” 

One significant effort already underway is a strategic partnership between HRC and California Faith for Equality (CFE), a statewide group established to educate, support and mobilize faith communities on LGBT equality.  The partnership joins CFE and its 6,000 supporting faith leaders with both HRC’s Religion and Faith Program expertise as well as HRC’s National Field Department to broaden, diversify and deepen religious support for marriage equality in California.

“This ruling couldn’t be more out of step with what’s happening across the country,” said Solmonese, pointing to recent marriage victories in Iowa, Vermont and Maine. “We have no choice but to return this basic question of fairness for the estimated 1 million LGBT Californians back to the voters.”
  
“While we are relieved that the 18,000 couples who married before the Prop 8 vote will still have valid marriages, it does not in any way remove the sting of this ruling,” added Solmonese.
 
Over the past decade, public acceptance of marriage equality for same-sex couples has changed dramatically.  For the first time, more Americans say they support marriage for same-sex couples (49%) than oppose it (46%), according to the latest Washington Post/ABC poll released in late April.”

 

Below is the video referenced in the body of HRC’s statement. If nothing else, it inspires me to hope.

 

I am sure there are some who might read this and wonder what relevance it has to me creative activity or work as a dance artist/scholar. The shortest answer is that it is all connected. As I make work, as I consider the body and its social relevance, I am brought face to face with the society in which I am creating, in which I am living. As I consider the subjects of my research, I consider the research and analysis and writing that has not been done, that has not been explored by dance scholars. This was the fuel for my recent presentation on the negotiation of gender in the work of Bronislava Nijinska. I am currently exploring the potential for analyzing the work of Frederick Ashton through a queer lens. Ashton was a homosexual choreographer, and yet his work has rarely been considered for its potential as a contributor to queer culture or a queer contribution to dance culture. It all relates, it all synthesizes, and part of the purpose of this blog is for these ideas and interests from seemingly disparate parts of living and making to co-exist in this space, to find relationships and offer new points of interest in the process. If this particular post seems too political or too removed from art/dance/creative activity, I encourage you to reconsider it as a component of the making, of the thinking that leads to the making, of the living which fuels and influences and shapes the making. I encourage you to follow a trail of “tags” and see how ideas start to relate, maybe in ways that they didn’t before.