michael j. morris

Queer presence in creative process and spirituality

My thoughts are scattered (as usual?), but I felt the need to situate a few disparate-but-related speculations together here for my own reflection and articulation.

I have recently been reading an anthology entitled ReCreations: Religion and Spirituality in the Lives of Queer People. It is a collection of essays and other writings of queer people, mostly in first-person, describing their journeys through various religions, faiths, and spirituality, and the relationship of these journeys to their sexual identities. It is in no way a prescriptive anthology; no one seems to offer concrete “answers” or absolutes of what it means to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, etc. in any specific spiritual path. The emphasis seems to be the act of sharing, a recognition of the diversity of related paths. It’s been an inspiring read. Connell O’Donovan wrote in his essay “My Journey into Faerie and What I Found There” (regarding his experiences in the Radical Faerie movement): 

“I have come to this place to lose myself and find myself, to heal from old wounds, to be vulnerable, to (re)claim the heroism of my childhood, to find power (the kind that is unrelated to the prevelant ‘power over’ paradigm), to be extraordinary (not merely queer), to remember Magick, to learn to spread my wings and fly free, to encounter ecstasy, to fuck and be fucked, to embrace my mortality (the authenticity of bodies), to make peace with decay, to love and be beloved, to remember what I wanted to become.” I found this to be a provocative and inspiring statement/manifesto of faith.

Maybe one day I’ll write my own journey of faith and sexuality. If nothing else, reading this book has brought the path of my journey into focus, into memory, into a new context of my present life. The reality is that the “two journeys” were really one journey of identity; faith and sexuality are both part of the question of who one is. Neither evolved or developed separate from the other, and each served as stimulation for the other. What has come out of that is a more unified spiritual, sexual, creative, embodied Self.

Queer identity has also come up twice this week in relationship to dance and creative process. In my History, Theory, Literature of Choreography, we have been looking at the work of Frederick Ashton. While reading some of the required course readings, I came across this article: “Gender, Sexuality, and Community” by Alastair Macaulay. In all that I had read and seen about Ashton, I had not yet come across any mention of his sexuality. It reminded me of a tension discussed by Jane Desmond in her introduction to the anthology Dancing Desires: Choreographing Sexualities On and Off the Stage. She addressed concern that the fields of dance history and queer theory rarely ever addressed one another, when it is clear that the two have an intimately intertwined history. Macaulay writes:

“No one will be shocked now to hear that Ashton was homosexual. But it was not mentioned – was not in good taste to mention – in discussions of Ashton’s work during his lifetime. Still, the fact is that when we speak of the ballets of George Balanchine or Marius Petipa, we automatically connect their vision of women and womanhood and partnering to the fact that these men were married more than once, and to their heterosexual world view. It is time that we began to ask equivalent questions about Ashton’s choreography.”

It makes me curious about the presence of queer identity in Ashton’s choreography, or how his choreography might be “read” from a queer perspective. I have a final research paper for this class, and I am considering proposing a choreographic analysis of Ashton’s The Dream and Sylvia from a queer perspective. I may address some issues of biography where appropriate, but I more than making connections between his homosexuality and the material of his choreography, I am interested in how one, knowing or not knowing of Ashton’s sexual orientation, might read his work as queer. I am curious how I might read it differently now knowing of his homosexuality. I remember hearing Meredith Monk’s music differently after learning of her lesbianism. Maybe that’s not very evolved of me, maybe it would be better to engage with each artist’s work as the work of a unique individual without assumptions of cultural, social, racial identity. But I remembering a sense of understanding, of experiencing something more in common with the music that had already moved me so deeply (in regards to Monk). I wonder if I might have a similar experience with Ashton’s choreography.

In a more personal experience of “queer presence in creative process,” this year I had the unique experience of collaborating on the creation of a new piece of choreography entitled “Observing Solitude.” I generally do not choreograph collaboratively, so already this experience was unique. It was made even more so by our process. The piece began with my authoring a lengthy libretto detailing the progression of the choreography, then my collaborator interpreting this libretto into choreography and performance. I was never in the studio with her or the piece; in fact, I have not even yet seen the finished version of it. But last week I heard from her that the piece was finished and had been performed, and I had the most unique emotional reaction to this news. It is not uncommon for my work to be deeply personal to me, to feel an almost maternal relationship towards my choreography. This piece was no different, coming from a deep introspection of the nature of recognizing one’s own solitude. But this time I share this “parenthood” with my collaborator. We created this piece together; it is a genetic hybrid of both of us, a result of neither she nor I alone, but the two us of together. Beyond the profound sense of shared-parenthood associated with this piece (reinforced by such synchronicities as the rehearsal period being almost exactly nine months, etc.), it strikes me as notable that this piece is was produced by myself, a homosexual man, and my collaborator, a gay woman. I can’t even really explain the relevance of this point, except that it feels as if it carries socio-political-artistic relevance, a creative act between a gay man and a lesbian. I wonder what might be gleaned from an analysis of the piece with an awareness of it as the collaborative creation of queer artists . . .

That’s all for now.

Oh, and come see SIP this Friday night. I am presenting my solo-in-progress “Red Monster”. It is an exploration of how shame and desire (might) transform us into monsters, among other things. There will be a lot of other exciting works-in-progress by my peers and colleagues from the first year MFAs in the department of dance at OSU. 7pm in Sullivant Hall, Studio 1. Free and open to the public.