michael j. morris

24 October, 2010, 11:36 am
Filed under: Dance, dance review | Tags: , , , , , ,

I posted the following on the “Dance in Columbus Online Community & Forum” discussion board:

I’m finally making some time to sit down with a cup of coffee and sketch out some of my ideas about “Double/Take” on Friday night.

Moving from the “outside”/large scope in, starting with something like the “circumstances of production,” I was impressed overall. I was impressed by Meghan and Karl’s initiative and commitment to producing independent work despite the density of their commitments elsewhere (other companies, OSU, etc.). I was impressed by the stamina necessary for a two-person evening-length show. I was impressed by this beautiful performance space (BalletMet) that I didn’t know existed in Columbus.

One of the largest themes that emerged for me throughout the evening has to do with the multiplicity of the body–its composite/bricolage condition–so excellently framed by the circumstances of this production. All dancers (bodies of dancers) emerge continuously from a rich nexus of praxis, a constellation of practices and participatory encounters with others. Our dancing lives are necessarily intersubjective, and our bodies become one of many sites at which we negotiate that densely intersubjective collaborative project. I’m thinking a lot here of The Body Eclectic: Evolving Practices in Dance Training edited by Melanie Bales and Rebecca Nettl-Fiol. Part of their project is the examination of dance practices as deconstructive and bricolaged; it is the bricolage that came to mind during “Double/Take.” But my sense here goes beyond the awareness of dancing bodies produced through the bricolage of training practices, and towards the participation of other individual subjects (who are always already themselves richly citational and intersubjectively constructed, carrying their own histories of what they have trained and by whom this training has taken place): I, for instance, haven’t just studied Butoh, yoga, ballet, modern, and danced with an series of unnamed choreographers. I have studied Butoh with Yoshito Ohno, Yuko Kaseki, and others; I have studied yoga with Scotta Brady, Edy McConnell, Bruce Bowditch, etc.; I have studied Vaganova ballet with Britta Wynne, modern with CoCo Loupe, Garland Goodwin Wilson, Cynthia Newland, Amy Roarke-McIntosh, Stephen Wynne (and a bunch of other folks); I have dance for Garland, Amy, Cynthia, Stephen, etc. etc. etc.—the point being that my dancing then becomes a citation of not only these practices and forms of moving, but the participation of these other individual subjects. Of course, there is a sense in which the performance of any dancing body is the articulation of a string of citations, synthesized before our eyes as a cohesive, individual form (which today seems to echo the writing process, the culling of sources and the synthesis/crafting of new ideas from those sources . . . and dancing bodies functioning similarly). But I left this concert with a strong feeling of this reality being demonstrated due to two conditions of this production: the array of choreographers involved, and the opportunity to observe just these two bodies as they moved their ways through that material. I was acutely aware not only of ways of moving that each body/dancer carried through the length of the program, but perhaps even more interestingly, the through-line of ways of moving that were shared by these two bodies/dancers throughout the program, to me an indicative effect of working together and working with these three additional choreographers, Susan Hadley, Bebe Miller, and Lisa Race.
That was the largest contemplation that lingered with me from the show.

I echo CoCo’s observation:
“continual refiltering and shifting of the lens between the sensation of being alone, in the company of someone and their beauty and weaknesses, and alone while delighting in the company of that someone and their beauty and weaknesses.” This swing between the complexity of relationships (how they start, how they are lived, how they end–including the relationships that were suggested/represented/acted in various works, the relationships between Meghan and Karl (there were many), the relationships between themselves and the choreographers (present in the space mainly through the program and the dancers’ bodies), and the relationship between them and us (which more often felt like just “us”), among others) and isolation, duets and solos, was a huge theme for me. These concerns were both formal (what are the spatial/temporal constraints of the solo/the duet) and emotional (how do I feel about what I am experiencing). I was faced with my own tendencies in choreographic construction, as well as my own baggage/hope/desire in the area of what it means to be with another person, both of which constituted significant journeys through the course of what was only about two hours.

Susan Hadley’s “Hello, Night,” read as extremely representational for me, and that representation ran the gamut of the seen and the unseen in relationship (one in this case that read fairly hetero, married/committed, etc.). It moved from tender to playful to hysterical to tumultuous to despondent in eddies all over the stage; it was not a linear journey for me, but the way we [might] cycle through each of these experiences in our attempt to be with another person. Representational dance can sometimes be distancing for me, but sitting as closely as I was (second row, near to the dancing bodies, which I prefer), I was struck by the fact that even if this was representational (and even narrative in that it was telling the story of a relationship that is not Karl and Meghan’s), it was also kinesthetically mimetic, and mimicry, whatever its source, is still felt/experienced by/as the mimetic body. This became another theme throughout several works for me: it was both “not them” and completely inescapably “them.” In Hadley’s piece, the relationship represented was not Karl and Meghan, but the labor of the bodies, the kinesthesia of tender/playful/hysterical/tumultuous/despondent bodies were being practiced as themselves (I think). This gave me an “in” to the representationality of it.
I had been offered a disclaimer before the show that there were themes of heteronormativity in this production. This piece may have been a part of that disclaimer, however, in examining the narrative content (to the degree that I might delve into some mild interpretation), I would say that there was a subversive element to the normativity that was portrayed. Throughout the piece I felt as if I was being shown aspects and facets of relationship (love?) that we are not always shown. I felt a pervasive sense of the question, “Why am I still with you? Why am I still in this?” (which could be as much “my stuff” as anything else), but having that question continually come up destabilized the potential idealization of heteonormative relationships, and that was another way that I felt invited into the work.

Durham’s solo “Ten minutes of your life you’ll never get back” was delightfully absurd in what read as its enthusiastic address of the question, “Why can’t I ______?” Framed in text (a series of statements involving the word “minute,” like the title), I was left pondering while watching: what is worth doing? how long has this been going on? how long is this piece/how much time does she have? The piece itself functioned as a string of disconnected events (to be considered as connected still, a consideration fostered by the through-line performer, the setting, the sequencing, etc.) asking continually “how are these elements related?” Sometimes I made connections, and sometimes my experience resided more in the disjunction, the discontinuity. Sometimes I found relationships between the text and the movement, sometimes I was asked to deal with the abrupt shift from spoken word to Meghan’s beautiful, articulate dancing. I also felt that there was a kind of critical commentary/question of “what will you spend your time watching? when has the performance crossed over your line of what is dance/art/etc.” There was exquisite concert-style (for lack of a better succinct signifier) dance, more vernacular “club dancing” jogging and shouting and (what looked like) lap dancing through the audience, sitting and eating a hamburger and fries, and just laying stationary on the stage, all next to one another, all framed as a way in which we (Meghan and the audience) were spending our lives, minute by minute.

Bebe Miller’s “Hands Down my Favorite Ever, Really, Now Go” was truly rewarding in the way that I often find Miller’s work to be: my inability to pin it down. Usually this is my experience of her work on the large scale, my reading of the piece as a whole as it develops. This was true/present in my experience of this duet, but also more precisely in specific actions of partnering. I felt constantly that nothing went (physically, gravitationally) where I expected it to go. The bodies felt as if they were in a constant state of redirection (which, to me, has profound phenomenological implications), as if constantly asking, “It feels like we’ll go here, but what if we went here?” And sometimes, “What if we had gone here?” Miller framed the piece (via program notes) as part of her current creative research into developing a ‘process’ archive of her previous collaborative work. The piece then took on a tone of memory and re-membering, history and revision, consideration and reconsideration.
The text/dialogue of the piece (written by Talvin Wilks) was poignant, and yet another moment in the concert of recognizing that this piece was both “them” and “not them”–they were saying these things, and in saying them participating in what was being said as their inescapable “selves;” however, the conversation they were having was not “really” between Meghan and Karl. It was referential, not only to the piece Verge for which the text was originally created, but also referencing those types of conversation (“I have to leave,” “I want you to stay,” “Come closer,” etc.) and how we live in them.

Rogers’ solo (ish) “Just knot enough” was an expansion of a work I saw Karl present in “Ten Tiny Dances” last year. The piece was successful for me then, and was even more so in this expanded iteration. This piece was the highlight of my evening. It was theatre (to the degree that I understand what theatre is, which is on some level predicated on simulation/make-believe), and uniquely successfully so (I am typically a little put off by the simulated quality of theatre; I feel manipulated by it. With Karl’s solo, I wanted to be manipulated, because I wanted to know where this journey would take me). Again, perhaps most poignantly so, the question of both “him” and “not him” came up. This piece (as explained by a monologue at the end of the piece) was not about Karl, and yet it was (for me) still completely him, and to that degree still very much about him. It was not “about” his life, his actual relationship situations. The “break-up” elements in the piece were staged, acted. But even though they were not necessarily grounded in actual events, they were (to me) inescapably grounded in actual experiences. Their success and legibility came from the knowledgable place from which they arose (somewhere between “Even though this isn’t real, I know what this fees like,” and “Even though this isn’t real, you know what this feels like.”). Similar to Meghan’s solo, there were moments in which I had difficulty navigating the disjunction between the theatrical/spoken text and the dancing (most specifically the “concert dance” style dance, as opposed to the sexy dancing with/for the beer on the floor, which felt completely integrated into what was happening). These disjunctions weren’t bad, just jarring between worlds for me, the abrupt shift between one part of life (the part of life spent in studios and on stages practicing/performing particular modes of bodily being) and another (the part in which we deal with life-stuff: breakups, presentations, relationships, etc.). The disjunction, in hindsight, feels startlingly accurate to life . . .
Having Matt Slaybaugh’s monologue at the end of the piece presented an interesting predicament: he spoke of this piece not being about Karl or himself, not being about anything, but not being about nothing either; and breakups are difficult (I think was the word he used). There was a sense in which, if I had taken the piece to be autobiographical (which I didn’t), I don’t think I would have been persuaded otherwise by this speech . . . or maybe I’m realizing that this was my experience. Again, I don’t think Karl was making a piece that was either a reflection of or commentary on his life/relationships/etc., but it read to me as autobiographical to the degree that this piece was the process of Karl’s choice making around this theme of breakups; it was for me (among other things, because my readings were multiple) a piece “about” Karl creating a piece that considers “breakups.” It read as an immense personal investment, and that was what was seductive and rewarding about it: I felt as if I went on a personal journey (even if it was one that is not intimate to Karl’s actual living).

I appreciated the subtle and overt ways that both Meghan and Karl’s solos challenged the tropes of theatrical presentation: what is dance, what is not dance, what is the “distance” between the performer(s) and the audience, etc. I appreciate when concert dance, while operating within (some of) the traditional modes of theatre also disrupts some of the assumptions, structures, etc.

The final piece, “Thaw” by Lisa Race, was a great moment for appreciating both Meghan and Karl as extremely high caliber dancers. The movement vocabulary was demanding, and their execution of it was demonstrative of their skill and proficiency. This was the reward of the piece. It was not my favorite of the evening. It felt a little long, the narrative (what read as a simple “boy meets girl” story) which, however resonant it may have been with both Hadley and Miller’s thematic decisions was not enough to hold my attention, and I had some questions about the brightly colored shirts. This piece also raised the issue of abrupt disjunction between what I’ll call “dancey-dance” and more sentimental narrative moments; as a viewer I sometimes didn’t know how to get into/out-of/between coy smiles/trading notes and spectacular, rigorous dancing. I had moments of interest in the repetition phrase material and its manipulation through canon and unison, but these ideas also might have been explored more succinctly. Still, the demands of the choreography gave me the opportunity to appreciate the performers’ skills anew, and that was rewarding.

Overall, this was an extremely successful concert, locally generated and produced, profoundly collaborative, and a model (not to mention a high standard) for others making work in the area.

There is SO MUCH MORE to be said about this production, but my time/brain has run out.
I look forward to hearing other perspectives/thoughts/ideas.

Manimals and Other Human Creatures

Last night I had the privilege of seeing “Manimals and Other Human Creatures,” the Resident and Visiting Artist Concert put on by the Department of Dance at OSU. I rarely write full reviews/responses to dance concerts, but I left with so many ideas scribbled on my program that I felt the need to put them down somewhere.

Susan Van Pelt Petry presented a new work entitled “Patterns of Prayer.” Because I work as the assistant to the costume director in the department, I had already seen this piece several times, but new ideas and aspects presented themselves in its theatrical staging. When the lights first came up, the audience was met with a line of dance kneeling at the front edge of the stage, each one working strands of cord intricately between her hands. I immediately felt as if I was at a wall of contemplative human activity, the simple concentration of the dancer’s actions demonstrating a reverence and relevance for their tasks. There is something loosely impermeable about dancers in a straight line from one side of the stage to the other, as if they have formed a barrier of some sort. But the intricacy and focus of their gestures drew me into their contemplation, creating an interesting tension, like an invitation into something remarkably exclusive, all via spatial formation and gestural material.

Spatial configurations played a significant role in this piece, moving through circling pathways, grids, lines and braiding pathways. Perhaps the most captivating passage of the piece involved the dancers’ organization into a three by three person grid. In this grid the choreography moved in and out of unison, composed of a steady stepping and continued intricate hand gestures. As their bodies moved through levels of space, from mid to low to high, etc., I had the distinct impression that there was something almost mystical in their gestures (the mystic was constantly reinforced by the sacred sounds of ancient music, the repeated movement of a continuous stepping turn, reminiscent of a whirling dervish, casting a meditative quality to much of the piece). I felt as if these intricate hand gestures were somehow unlocking passage between levels of space. The concept of enlightenment has long been represented spatially, moving upward into transcendence and illumination with the base or mundane existence being situated below. As the dancers shifted upward and downward on this vertical axis, I symbolized the gestures as somehow giving access to those various levels of mystical transcendence.

The piece involved a video being projected behind the dancers. Its imagery was simple: a white cord moved along the top edge of the projection, and a red silhouette of a dancer continuously turning in that dervish-esque fashion mentioned above moved along the bottom of the image, level with the dancers on stage. I chose to read this relationship between the projection and the live dancers as meaningful: I read the projection as symbolic of the meditative/spiritual ideal, the constant practice, the continuous action towards ecstasy. This image was literally interrupted by the play of shadows cast by the dancers on stage, as if acknowledging the interruption of the ideal by the effects of human action. In the final moments of the piece, however, the video faded, and the dancers took on the whirling, stepping action, the piece concluding with a single dance embodying the turning that had been imagined by the video throughout the piece. It felt like the achievement of a goal, or the transfiguration of the immaterial into the material, the ideal into human practice.

Melanie Bales presented a new work left untitled, set to music by Erik Satie, and danced by Abigail Yager and Ming-Lung Yang. It was a charming, intimate and skillful dance. Beautifully performed and sensitively choreographed. Perhaps most interesting for me was seeing Abi dance like Melanie. I am familiar with both of their ways of moving, and it is always intriguing to me to see movement and ways of moving that I associate with one individual coming so precisely from the body of another, especially when I have a fairly intimate familiarity with the movements of that body. I am in Abi’s technique class this quarter, I am very familiar with the way that she moves. To see her move like Melanie . . . well, it addresses my interest in the transference of movement material and the relationship of that process to the constitution of identity. Now there is something of Melanie that lives in both Abi and Ming’s bodies, and that was demonstrated with ease and precision in this piece.

Vicki Uris presented a new work entitled “Littoral Zone.” Again, I had seen this piece several times before, but it was somehow transformed into something new and yet unseen in its translation onto the stage. It may be enough to say initially that I hold Vicki as a goddess, a master choreographer, an exceptional craftsman. What she crafts is the whole picture, the dance as an arch and each moment frame by frame. When I focus in on the individual movements, gestures and actions of the dancers, they are not always movements that captivate my interest. Then I widen my scope, I take in the moment as a whole, and I am utterly overwhelmed. I can safely say that I don’t know how Vicki’s mind works, how she can recognize and orchestrate the degree of connectivity and organization that she accomplishes. All of that being said, I don’t feel that I can adequately describe this dance. I can describe my sensations of the movement, what I retained of the action of the dance, but its organization is of such a level of skill that I cannot even begin to comprehend it.

Long pulling movement with sudden flicks of action. Steady stepping or swaying or swinging interrupted by sudden holds or quick gestures. Scurrying steps that seemed to take the pulse of the dance and amp it up for moments. Beautifully odd and grotesque postures. Reaching upward as if suspended by the reach, then falling, collapsing. Grounding, stable stances giving way to flings and jumps.

The organizing structures I can recall are thus:
-A stunning interplay between ambiguous clumps and ordered lines of dancers. This was most potent in the final pass across the stage: the dancers began in a loose line upstage right. Moving in waves of falling forwards and backwards in a slow progression across the stage, the line was distorted. At any given moment, one would just see a clump of dancers scattered across the stage. But if one were to figure the spatial mean of the forwards and backwards action, the line was implicit in the clump. There was something meaningful there, about the implication of order in what seems to be disorder, an order recognizable only through careful observation over time.

-Reverberations of action via attention and observation: Near the start of the dance, there was a sensational counterpoint between a clump of dancers and a line of dancers on the opposite side of the stage. The line seemed to observe the clump and respond energetically and sympathetically to the actions of the clump. There was a wonderful atmosphere of attention as choreographic structure.

-I remember thinking that I would love to annotate the spatial alignments of this dance (re: Synchronous Objects for One Flat Thing, reproduced).

Dave Covey performed a perfect solo entitled “For Merce and John.” It was elegant, delightful, reverential, with an atmosphere that felt much like a séance. I think for most of the audience this was a humorous piece, but for me there was more pang to it. Yes, there was an unmistakable humor in the characterizations that Dave embodied, but those characterizations could never be separate from the fact that this was in memory of two men who have died. In his delightful appropriation of these physicalities that were not his own, there was an atmosphere of almost possession. I found myself wondering . . . if the body is the site of identity and movement or ways of moving that emerge from that body might be considered extensions of that identity, how might this sort of representation, this reanimation of those ways of moving constitute a living presence of those who have passed on? How might Merce have been alive in Dave’s movement, Dave’s body? This summer marked the death of both Merce Cunningham and Pina Bausch. I am curious about the continued life of their ways of moving in the bodies of those who have danced for them. It recontextualizes methods for accessing movement such as Labanotation as well. To what degree does inhabiting ways of moving relate to inhabiting a specific being? Reconstruction via Labanotation as séance, embodying and reanimating the departed . . . what an interesting notion.

Back to Dave’s solo, what I found most intriguing was his focus and attention, his concentration on what he was performing. Performers committed to what they are doing are so much more interesting to observe . . . because it becomes real for them. At that degree of concentration, it is no longer an act; it has become real, and I the observer am then present for their experience, not for their imitation of experience.

There was also the beauty of the references. The piano solo in homage to Cage had an overt humor to it, but beneath the humor for something far more profound. It had to do again with attention, with attending to the mundane as meaningful, as relevant, as worthy of being called art. Yes, there was humor in Dave “playing” the squeaks of an old piano’s keyboard cover, but there was also something beautiful about finding the simple and mundane meaningful, giving time and attention to them, perhaps even appreciating them as an art experience.

John Giffin presented a new work entitled “Manimal House,” set to Camille Saint-Saens Le Carnivale des Animaux. It was an over-the-top piece of humor and dance theater. It had so many sections and characters and gimmicks and punchlines, it feels impossible to describe it at any length. I will take the opportunity to rave about Maree ReMalia. I have no objectivity when it comes to Maree; she is one of my dearest friends. But I truly felt like she stole the show when it comes to this piece. She played a tortoise-esque old lady, and I dare say that she was the nucleus of the piece. In what might otherwise been a configured chaos of characterization, a veritable zoo of characters and action and humor, Maree provided a subtle center to the piece, a simple gravity around which everything else could spin (at points almost out of control). Having her in the piece, the way in which she embodied the movement persona of her character, gave everything else more significance.

Meghan Durham presented an excerpt of a larger work entitled Lunar Project. It was a charming solo with a cameo appearance by Shawn Hove. It is always so rewarding to watch Meghan move. She has a fluidity and specificity that she navigates and even interrupts expertly. Last night she did so in the presence of a enchanting sound and set: her set piece involved a collection of hanging lights, like flashlights suspended from the fly at various levels in space. The set itself had the feel of an art installation. I would have loved to see her dance just in the company of the lighted set piece, with no additional light. It was so elegant, as was her movement. I felt myself longing for there to be a more simple relationship between these sites of beauty.

Finally, John Giffin and Vikci Uris performed a duet choreographed by Susan Hadley entitled “Companions.” I hardly know what to say about this dance. It moved me to tears, but on the cusp of John and Vicki’s retirements, this was to be expected. I was moved by knowing them. I was moved by the care, precision, and almost perfect unison of their actions. In the series of actions/gestures/emotions, I felt the inescapable indication of temporality, that each thing lasted only for a time, to be followed by something else. Moments of pause seemed to indicate that movement would follow. Moments of smiling seemed to indicate that moments of not smiling would follow. It was an interesting journey through not only what they were doing but something like the constant foreshadowing of what they would next do. I found myself wondering how someone who doesn’t know them saw this piece. I treasure both Vicki and John, and I have only known them a little over a year. I wonder how those who don’t know them saw that dance, and I wonder how those who have known them for years, decades even, saw the dance. Intimacy was implicit in the choreography; I wonder how that intimacy played itself out in the various viewers. The final moment was just light on two empty chairs. A simple yet potent play of presence and absence, the passage of time, memory and loss.

If I was left with an arching thoughts from the concert, it has to do with this final question of intimacy. I find dance so much more enjoyable when I know the performers, the choreographers. Because the dance is then functioning within a framework of familiarity. Through the dances I am expanding or recreating my knowledge of someone I know. This of course relates to the ongoing theme in this blog, the integration of dance and life. Movement, dancing, ways and degrees of knowing, how the knowing affects the dancing and the viewing of the dance. Resisting objectivity and reveling in the subjectivity of my own experience. That’s how I left this concert.

Constellations of Thought

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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