michael j. morris

Les Noces
4 December, 2008, 5:05 pm
Filed under: research | Tags: , , , , ,

I am presently concluding research and authoring a paper on the effects of Vaslav Nijinsky and Bronislava Nijinska on the presentation and perception of gender in early 20th ballet. In the work that the two produced (Nijinsky’s first three of four ballets, L’Après-midi d’un Faune, Jeux, and Le Sacre du Printemps; two of Nijinska’s ballets, Les Noces and Les Biches), the roles of gender in society and in the ballet were radically challenged, disregarded, or overthrown. 

I will resist the urge to compose an abstract of the paper here and now, but I did want to give a sense of another aspect of my current research. I thought I would offer you links to video footage of Bronislava Nijinska’s first significant ballet. It was produced in 1923, presented first in Paris by Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes. Nancy Van Norman Baer says of the ballet: it was “a primitive ritual where both the bride and the groom are trapped by fate and repressive social custom.”

Nijinska herself wrote of her ballet: “I saw a dramatic quality in such wedding ceremonies of those times in the fate of the bride and groom, since the choice is made by parents to whom they owe complete obedience–there is no question of mutuality of feelings. The young girl knows nothing at all about her future family nor what lies in store for her. Not only will she be subject to her husband, but also to his parents. It is possible that after being loved and cherished by her own kind, she may be nothing more, in her new, rough family, than a useful extra worker, just another pair of hands. the soul of the innocent is in disarray–she is bidding goodbye to her carefree youth and to her loving mother . . .”

So here are videos of Nijnska’s Les Noces. It is one of the most powerful historical ballets I have seen in quite some time. It is in three parts on youtube, but well worth the watch. Remember that this were performed in 1923, and is a commentary on the role of marriage in Russian peasant traditions. Enjoy:

part one:

part two:

part three:

Nijinsky, etc.
23 November, 2008, 12:56 am
Filed under: creative process, research | Tags: , , ,

Earlier tonight a friend of mine expressed her concern for me being shut up inside my house with these ghosts. . . and that’s a bit what it feels like, submerging myself in this research on Vaslav Nijinsky and Bronislava Nijinska. I have read Vaslav’sDiary and Bronislava’s Memoirs and I feel so familiar with them right now. I am presenting research this week on the relationship between Nijinsky and Serge Diaghilev and the affects of the relationship on Nijinsky’s work. Then I am writing a paper on the work of Nijinsky and Nijinska and their affects on the presentation and perception of gender in the early 20th century ballet. This research is consuming my life at the moment.

I am also considering overhauling my choreographic process right now. I had an informal showing of the piece on which I am working right now this past Thursday, and I was struck by what I saw (somehow in a new lens, just having outside viewers). I am considering scrapping about half of what I have created, set, and rehearsed, in favor of a more simple, subtle articulation of my intention. It could be stunning. And the question now becomes if I can release this material, honoring it for the role it played in getting me and this piece to this new crisis point, but recognizing that it may or may not be essential in the final presentation of the work. This would be a new step for me in my process, allowing the work to shift so dramatically from this initial plan. Generally when I begin work on a piece I have a sense of its arch, the entire direction in which it is moving. Partly that is because of the lengthy incubation period through which my concepts germinate. . . so that when I finally move into the studio to create/teach/structure/rehearse movement, I have a clear vision of where I am going. That was the same with this piece. . . it has been steeping since some time in the spring. . . and yet now, faced with its embodiment, I am deciding to take it in another direction. Which is a bit terrifying, but more objectively, most likely a positive shift in my process, allowing myself to let go, be more present in the now, truly see what it is I am looking at rather than clouding my vision with images of what I want to be looking at. . .

We’ll see how this all turns out.

It is amazing to think how close we are to the end of the quarter.

Research and Love
9 November, 2008, 4:16 pm
Filed under: Ontology | Tags: , , , ,

I don’t really have time to be blogging right now. I am sifting through a pile of books for two different/related research projects. The first is an oral presentation of Vaslov Nijinsky, specifically the effect his life and work had on the perception of the sexual/gender identity of the male dancer. The second continues this research with a look as his sister Bronislava Nijinska, comparing and contrasting her effects on the perception of sexual/gender identity with those of her brother.

I came across a line at the end of The Queer Afterlife of Vaslov Nijinsky by Kevin Kopelson, where he quotes a poem by W. H. Auden. Auden wrote:

“We must love one another or die.”

Kopelson goes on to discuss:
“[This] final line is famous. Forster, for one, felt that because Auden “once wrote ‘We must love one another or die,’ he can command me to follow him.” Auden himself, however, came to view this line as dishonest, both because we die whether or not we love one another and because the kind of love he values isn’t a “hunger,” an instinctive–or purely sensual–need. Rather, it’s a gift we bestow as a form of forgiveness. . .”

This is a line which struck me, and I was interested in dropping it into this creative space, seeing how it exists alongside the other thoughts previously explored here. How ideas such as love (which is central to my ontology) and forgiveness (in which I have a difficult time believing) co-exist/relate to subjects such as inequality in America, research, creative process, Meredith Monk, the Love Art Lab, etc.


Tonight I am thinking about listening. This is a recurring concept in my creative outlook, one that arises from my experiences with Butoh, various somatic forms, and an aesthetic that is continually fixated with subtlety. It finds resonance with the work and words of Pauline Oliveros and her practice of “deep listening”, an almost meditative practice of heightening sensory awareness as a method for creating, where creating (in her case music, in my case dance) comes out of absorbing, processing, responding, approaching an environment with an open mode of consciousness and letting the creative act arise from that form of engagement. This concept of listening is finding new echoes in subjects I am experiencing here in grad school: the concept of “emergent taxonomy” from Applied Technologies in Dance, the idea of an organization of material (which is what creating is all about) arising out of what is there rather than imposing an organizational structure hierarchically; also, the practice of “post-positivist research”, a way of looking as a subject without defining absolutely what it is you are observing, without deciding what form your findings will take, allowing the direction of the research to evolve from the practice of observation; in reading/reporting an article on Pauline Oliveros and the construction of gendered identity in her music. The author (Timothy D. Taylor) writes about Oliveros’ invocation of “feminine” characteristics in music such as intuition and sensitivity, as opposed to the “masculine” qualities of notation, prescription, and order. Gender politics aside, reading about the investigation of these approaches (intuition, sensitivity, listening) in the creative process was invigorating.

So, what I’m curious about is what this looks like in dance. There is certainly precedence, especially in areas such as improvisation, contact improvisation, Butoh, etc. Even in other choreographers’ creative process, the idea of a choreography emerging from the process/experience of dancing (such as appropriating/structuring improv experiences into choreography) is not unheard of. That is not typical of my choreographic approach. Typically, find myself fixated with a subject. I steep myself in that subject matter, then generate movement material as a metaphorical exploration of the subject. This material is given to dancers, structured, rehearsed, and eventually performed.

I am wondering what would happen if I deepen my research/understanding of these “listening”/awareness based practices (Butoh, somatic techniques, Oliveros’ “deep listening”, etc.), then direct dancers through experiences in these processes of listening with the body, and eventually allow choreography to surface from this practice of listening, even through to the point of performance, maintain a constant approach of dance and movement as listening rather than expressing. What would that experience look like? How would it feel for the dancers? For the audience?

More and more my aesthetic is drawn towards details/subtlety/nuance. I connect these propensities to this quality of awareness, or listening.

I have a sense that this might be the starting point of what might evolve into my MFA research project. I am interested in exploring other ways of listening. . . even this blog is an experiment in both speaking/authoring, but also listening, paying attention to what is emerging, what responses there are, and allowing that awareness to shape the content. That is part of how this blog is a creative activity for me, and how it is playing a role in the way I am thinking right now, especially in how I am thinking about my art. It’s very circular: something is set into motion, that motion is observed/listened to, that awareness loops back into the creative process to shape the direction of that which is being set into motion, more feedback, more response in the way in which information (movement, writing, graphic, etc.) is generated, etc.

What do you think?
How do you listen with your body, or in your own creative media? How can the act of creating also be an act of listening?

I would love to hear your thoughts.



Creative Process
22 October, 2008, 11:24 pm
Filed under: creative process | Tags: , ,

I am in the midst of creating a new dance, one which is exploring the tension between noumenon and phenomenon, or something like objective reality and subjective personal perceptual reality. That which is and our individual experiences/understandings/interpretations/constructions of that which is.

As of now it is a dance for eight dancers.

I am in flux/crisis as to what direction this process will take. There is a polarity between two different process models that I am considering. . . I don’t know if there is a gradient between the two, a kind of compromise between them, a way to address both. I think that is what I am investigating right now, in rehearsals, in my journals, even typing this post right now.

These are the “models”:

Model A: My personal “traditional” creative process which involves the selection of a subject, the development of conceptual material, the structure of the piece, and the actual movement vocabulary of the piece, the conveyance of that material to the dancers working on the project, the rehearsal of that material in conjunction with various exercises (written, movement, conceptual, group/individual, etc.) intended to develop not only the actions of the piece, but the manner in which those actions are considered and carried out, a mode of consciousness in a sense. This is Model A which was initially my plan for this project.

Model B: Now I am wondering if this isn’t an ideal process in which to incorporate a kind of post-positivist research component, intermingled with the creative process, in which the subject of the dance informs the actual process/product. This model could look something like: I as the choreographer generate movement material. I convey that material to the dancers. I observe how they perceive/interpret/construct the material for themselves (a microcosm of the existential macrocosm about which the piece is being developed), then set/rehearse the movement vocabulary as a synthesis between the “original” (objective) and the interpretations (subjective). This is fascinating. . . but also labor intensive.

Perhaps it is possible to land somewhere in between. Tonight in my rehearsal, for instance, I taught movement phrases, then observed the interpretations of those phrases, taking notes as to how they differed from the original. Maybe it is enough to simply consciously compile that data as the process emerges, giving it some ability to influence the choreographic process, but ultimately maintaining the primary responsibility of what is set/rehearsed/performed as an expression of my own creative voice. Having compiled the additional data throughout the rehearsal process opens up the possibility of interpretation/organization of that data into some sort of discovery after the project itself. Still involving the research component, but more after-the-fact rather than mingling it too much with the creative process (for this project; for another project, that would be a fascinating process).

That is the creative crisis I am in tonight. Writing about it has helped me quantify/qualify some of my thoughts. Thanks for being present for that.