michael j. morris

Sources of insight and inspiration

I feel as if a new post is dreadfully overdue, but I’ll be honest: I am absorbing a lot of information right now; it hasn’t really had time to synthesize into my own thoughts. So I thought I might just offer a list of what I am taking in right now as inspirations and source materials:

Ballet technique classes with Karen Eliot three days per week. It is amazing to have been practicing this technique for almost ten years now and still have moments of total tidal shifts in my understanding of what it is that I’m doing. Karen is an exceptional teacher.

Reading The Splendor of Recognition: And Exploration of the Pratyabhijna-hrdayam, a Text on the Ancient Science of the Soul by Swami Shantananda. I’m swimming in thoughts of Consciousness (citi) as the creator and substance of the entire universe, the creative pulsation (spanda) of creation, sustainment, and dissolution, the nature of subject and object, knowledge, and the mind. One quote for today (and understand that several terms in this quote are specialized; most importantly, identification of Siva as a specific deity is symbolic, and in fact refers to the Supreme Consciousness out of which all Reality emerges):

“Wherever the ind goes, whether toward the exterior or toward the interior, everywhere there is the state of Siva. Since Siva is omnipresent, where can the mind go to avoid him?”

Reading The Yoga Tradition: Its History, Literature, Philosophy, and Practice by Georg Feuerstein. I am only a chapter into this, but it is an exhaustively precise description of the historic evolution of this complex system of thought/practice.

Reading Normal: Transsexual CEOs, Crossdressing Cops, and Hermaphrodites with Attitude by Amy Bloom. This is Bloom’s only non-fiction, and it is lovely. It is truly queer in that it is completely undermining my concepts of normality, gender, sexuality, social roles, relationships, etc. It is written in an easy fashion on subjects that are less easy to contemplate. For all my support of transsexuals, it is not easy to read about phalloplasty and metoidioplasty female-to-male surgeries. These are complicated, invasive and painful surgeries that are offered as part of an FTM transition. It isn’t easy to read about the tension in relationships between heterosexual male crossdressers and their wives. Etc. And yet I think it is contributing positively to broaden my perspective of identity and society and self-perception/presentation/performance.

Reading Matt Morris’ genius writings on Aeqai: A Journal for Writing on the Visual Arts in the Greater Cincinnati Region. Matt (who is my twin brother) is writing an excellent series concerned with sculpture in public spaces. In them he has touched on concepts of the private/public dichotomy, the relationship between social, psychological, energetic, and geographic space, the relationship between art and identity, etc. They are truly brilliant and worth your time to read.
First installment.
Second installment.

Watching HBO’s In Treatment. This series is GENIUS. I am completely addicted. It follows a psychoanalyst and his progress through the cases of five patients and himself week by week. The episodes are short, generally limited to the content of his sessions. The acting is superb, the writing even better, the filming excellent, etc. Everything I want in a television show.

Listening to Jay Brannan‘s new cd In Living Cover. Jay Brannan is probably best known for his role in the John Cameron Mitchell film Shortbus, but makes beautiful music as well. I loved his first album, and this week he released an album of covers, including Joni Mitchell’s “All I Want” and the Cranberries “Zombies,” among others. Great listening for this week.

Dancing in a new project with CoCo Loupe, Eric Falck, and Jeff Fouch tentatively titled “3 Boys and an Old Prophetess.” No idea where this project is going, but you can read more about it on CoCo’s blog here.

finishing my Elementary Labanotation Certification exam

I have a lengthy to-do list for the summer and I am slowly making my way through it, absorbing and continuing to move and thrive and live. These are pieces of that process.

All come highly recommended.

Consciousness and Queer Kinesthesia

The summer is offering a little bit more space for ideas to sink in and saturate and synthesize into new ideas. I’m taking in a lot of material right now, mainly through physical practices of ballet and yoga, but supplemented with readings (some of which were described in my previous post). Currently I am reading The Splendor of Recognition: An Exploration of the Pratyabijna-hrdayam, a Text on the Ancient Science of the Soul. It is an essential text of Kashmir Saivism, and has been influential in the philosophy of Siddha yoga. In a truly fundamental description of my experience with it thus far, I would say that it is a reflection on/exploration of the nature of existence, consciousness, and highest reality. It explores the nature of the Self and its relationship to all things. I won’t transcribe the text here (for this type of reading, context is essential; I highly recommend the book if you are interested in exploring some of these ideas), but I will offer two quotes and one idea that have stayed with me throughout the week.

The first is by Baba Muktananda addressing himself as if speaking to a seeker:
”Because of your existence,
Creation exists.
If You do not exist,
nothing exists.
Muktananda, first know your Self.
What are you looking for
east and west,
north and south,
above and below?
Muktananda, the whole universe
you alone are, you alone are,
you alone are.”

Out of context, this perhaps seems bleak or irrational, but it follows a discussion of spanda, the divine creative pulsation by which the universe is constantly in a state of creation and destruction. It situates the subject (the individual) as the origin of the universe, because the universe as he or she knows it arises completely out of his or her consciousness of it, and that consciousness is in a constant state of fluctuation (the creative pulsation). In each moment, as we perceive and become conscious of ourselves and the world around us, we are creating that world for ourselves and our own understanding/knowledge out of our consciousness. The world as we knew it previously is gone; in each moment it is created anew within our consciousness. This is the creative pulsation, and this is how the universe only exist because you the seeker exists. It, the universe (or more specifically perhaps, the universe as you know it, the universe in which you live) arises out of your consciousness, and thus its existence is contingent on your own.

The second quote I would like to share is a simple phrase that has been something of a mantra for me this week. I won’t analyze it here, just offer it for contemplation:
”I am a mirror, and my life is nothing but a reflection of my Consciousness.” 


The next amazing thing I read this week was an article called “Queer Kinesthesia: Performativity on the Dance Floor” by Jonathan Bollen. This was perhaps one of the best articles that I have read this year as it specifically relates the understanding and presentation of identity to physical/dance practices, which is essentially where I am interested in my research developing. This article was basically an analysis of gay and lesbian dance parties at the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras festival in Australia. It is an amazing read that I also highly recommend (it is part of an anthology by Jane Desmond entitled Dancing Desires: Choreographing Sexualities On and Off the Stage). It has some ideas that might be more easily extracted from the article. It’s theoretical inquiries create a dialogue with Judith Butler’s performative theory or gender. Butler offers, “Gender ought not to be construed as a stable identity or locus of agency from which various acts follow; rather, gender is an identity tenuously constituted in time, instituted in an exterior space through a stylized repetition of acts.” This leads Bollen to a discussion of the difference and tension between an enactment of gender as a kinesthetic stylization and the materialization of gender as a morphological process. It is the difference between an indication of form and an indication of action or motion. He explores a fission between the the morphology of the body and the potentially queer kinesthesia with which the body takes actions. Two queer kinesthesias that he addresses are the “girly poofter” (gay men dancing in a demonstratively feminine manner; think show girls and drag queens, lots of arms and torso and hips, light shifts of weight, etc.) and the “cool dyke” (lesbian women dancing in a way that might generally be associated with straight men, heavier weight, grounded stance, less mobile arms, a sort of hunch of the upper torso, etc.). He states that these are hardly the only ways in which gay men and lesbians dance, nor is it the only way to organize an analysis of movement material presented on a dance floor, but were more like kinesthetic stylizations that might be sourced on the dance floor. These are examples of indications of where kinesthetic gender departs from morphological gender; this constitutes queer, the subjugation of the normative, the accepted or expected, in which a body behaves in a way differently than expected from its form. It adds complexity to both a reading of gender and of sexuality.

Another exciting discussion in this article pertains to dance floor practices in general. Bollen discusses the dance floor as the site for not only an unfolding performance (and choreography), but also of training and rehearsal. It is on the dance floor that one learns how to dance on the dance floor, and it is there that one “practices” or “rehearses” those ways of moving, in the process of performance. I find that fascinating, and I am sure that I will never be able to experience a dance floor setting the same way again. He also discusses the dance floor experience in a way that I have been contemplating for a while now, as a sort of emergent choreography, a collective or communal negotiation of space, tempo, temporal synchronization and counterpoint, and movement vocabulary (which tends to emerge through a process of borrowing, appropriating, mirroring, or abstracting gestures from others on the dance floor). I find this fascinating. And it sparks another contemplation: if the way in which we move our bodies is indicative of our perception and/or presentation of our identity (I consider this to be a kind of choreography), then this process of integrating movement derived from the movements of others into the way in which one moves transforms the dance floor into a site for the evolution of identity, literally creating/recreating who we are through the way that we move. I think it also raises some interesting questions about the sourcing of other people’s movement/presentation of identities as material with which to construct one’s own choreographed identity.
Clearly this article is blowing my mind. 

I am also dreaming up a potential collaborative project with my friend/colleague CoCo Loupe. I’m not yet sure of the details of how it might all work out, but I wanted to share some of the earliest musings on what form this piece might take. This is raw, scattered brainstorming, but part of the function of this blog is to give entry points to my creative process and my dancing life. Everything you read here is a part of that, from political observations, to posts of inspirations, descriptions of course work, etc. I cannot emphasize enough how much all of that goes into the making of the work. But this is a more rare opportunity to share quite literally the earliest ideas for a new piece of choreography. It involves a list of things that I am thinking about (notice its relationship to my tag cloud), pieces of inspiration, and a rough sketch of how I am currently mapping the piece. It may not make perfect sense, and it is hardly a detailed description, but it is how I am thinking about the piece, and that’s what I want to share:


Thinking of things that might inform a new piece.

Transgressing gender boundaries. Me in a dress. CoCo in a dress too? That story from Come to Me about the woman and her transvestite hairdresser friend . . .

queer politics. subverting the normative. how do you subvert the normativity of a dance performance situation? venue? Audience relationship? making it into something unfamiliar, or transforming into something familiar from another setting?
A Wedding? Wedding as performance.
Les Noces? Love Art Lab?
This is moving around an idea . . . how to make it not comic. A wedding touches a poignant political issue for me.

Integration with life. What would that look like? Yoga. Dance floor experience. Lady Gaga. Observing solitude. Secret single behavior. red monster.
Vignettes, moving fluidly from one thing to the next, solos, duets, different ideas suggesting themselves as other things. What is it and what else might it be?

Methods of translation/transformation. Notation/motif/metaphorical description . . .

“I am a mirror, and my life is nothing but a reflection of my Consciousness.”

Cuddle performance (Love Art Lab)
KNOW(TOUCH)ME(YOU)(MY/YOUR BODY) (the piece I developed in the Embodied Knowledge Ensemble with Ann Hamilton and Michael Mercil)

danger. risk. violence. the solo I was making for Betsy.
pulling in to the midline. being invisible. squatting. throwing body back through space. hitting the floor. dropping. falling. catching. fighting. struggling.
Les Noces.
austerity of Les Noces. contrasted against the gaiety of Les Biches.

Loving the earth. Making love to the earth.
Making art into love and love into art.

Nicole Cassivio “Many Feathers” duet/group piece.

performance art/service aesthetics.

public/private. bringing the private into public. making the personal universal. May Sarton. Erik Erikson.
“Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing.”

Contributing to the queer history of dance.


Forsythe principles. choreographic objects. improvisational technologies.

CoCo stands near center facing Michael wearing a dress and high platform boots
Michael begins in underwear and starts by putting on dress. Maybe doing hair into a big Gibson girl wave sort of thing?
Michael meets CoCo at center stage. Turn to face upstage, and perform a kind of wedding march. Michael keeps collapsing/falling, CoCo keeps stabilizing him. This might become a bit more stylized into some sort of partnering or might stay very literal.
Reach “altar” . . . maybe some sort of ‘wedding dance’? Maybe ‘writing’ vows with some part of the body (in a Forsythian manner). Turn to face one another. Maybe some sort of enactment of the KNOW(TOUCH)ME(YOU)(MY/YOUR BODY) piece . . . Michael places CoCo’s hand on his chest, leans in and awkwardly kisses CoCo’s cheek. CoCo gently pushes him away, then put his hand on her chest. Fumbling to negotiate arms for a waltz; fumbling continues as the feet negotiate who is leading and who is following.
Waltz carries them to tiny dance floor space (maybe described by a lighting special, maybe not), music changes to Lady Gaga’s “Just Dance;” bust into club style dancing. Coco starts collapsing/falling (escaping?) as Michael did in wedding march, with Michael now catching/stabilizing her. Eventually she hits the floor and begins ‘violent solo’ (struggling in the floor, thrashing, throwing body/limbs into the floor, etc.). Michael begins by pulling intensely into midline, legs falling open, trying to walk. Walk becomes labored by the muscular action, incorporate lowering to squat. Eventually throw back in space and begin violent solo (same movement sequence as CoCo). CoCo at some point has softened to gaze at Michael. As the violent solo builds, she builds in involvement/vicious jeering as if ringside at a fight. As Michael eventually softens in the violent solo, CoCo stands and begins a strip tease (which means she needs to have layers . . .), perhaps moving around the space (ref. Judson). As the strip builds, Michael builds in vicious jeering (also as if ringside at a fight or a scary strip club). CoCo’s stripping becomes angrier, culminating in throwing her shoes (maybe at Michael?). This starts a physical “shouting match/knife fight” sort of thing with distance between the figures.
Both (or one person) begins to get tired, weak, exhausted, sick, etc.
I don’t know if it makes more sense for each to continue in the “fighting dance” as the other gets weaker, or for one or both to show concern . . . but I think this is how the piece ends, whether in some reflection of compassion or continued animosity. . .


In the list of inspirations for this piece, I mentioned Amy Bloom’s short story “Only You.’ This is an amazing little story that I have loved and contemplated for years now. I think it completely relates to whatever it is I might be investigating in this new choreography, and I thought I would share it with you. It can be read here, and it’s a pretty quick read. I hope you enjoy it.

Finally, also related to the evolving new piece is this fascination with violent action. This is not a new interest. I can see it in my work as far back as . . . well, the first thing I choreographed, really. To be clear, rarely is it an interest in interpersonal violence, but in intense, almost uncontrolled action of the individual. I think the sense of violence comes from the sense of impact in which I am interested: bodies hitting the floor, falling, throwing, swinging with a terminating impact, etc. I am also interested in the fact that this sort of action cannot be faked. There is a tangibility and a reality to it that can be felt. I am currently questioning the nature of presentation, of staged dance works (as opposed to dance as it is experienced by the dancer, a kinesthetic experience rather than a visual). The value I can currently still find in the visual presentation of a dance work is the way that seeing might be related to feeling, how a viewer might relate their visual experience of the dance taking place to their own corporeal and kinesthetic experience, a kind of kinesthetic sympathy. I find this sort of “violent” movement to be much more evocative sympathetically. We tend to feel it when we see it; we cringe, we pull away, sometimes we hold our breath. It evokes almost a sense of terror . . . and I don’t mean that it is my interest to terrorize my audience, only that if my interest in presentation is to evoke this kind of kinesthetic sympathy in the viewer, this sort of violence lends itself powerfully to that kind of experience. I am also interested in the irrevocability, the irreversibility of this kind of movement, unlike the slow, almost meditative quality that my work can sometimes tend to demonstrate. This violent action is one that cannot be faked, and it cannot be taken back. This is true of all movement, but this quality is emphasized in this type of action. So in the description of this new work that I am contemplating, this is what I mean when I say “violent.”

Those are my thoughts this Sunday afternoon.