michael j. morris

Recent and forthcoming work

Where to begin? My dear friend Mara commented to me the other day how long it has been since I’ve posted things here. Partly, if I’m honest, it’s that I have a difficult time right now spending any more time in front of a computer than I have to. But there’s also something to do with the scope of ideas. I feel like my ideas of too big at the moment, and the bundle of threads knotting them together feels just out of reach. I wrote another term paper this autumn quarter exploring/theorizing ecosexuality, this time drawing correlations between my previous explorations of a theory of ecosexuality, Tantric philosophy, eroticism (as discussed by Georges Bataille), and Butoh. It was a culminating point in one sense, in that I finally articulated how these ideas/lines of inquiry live in and alongside one another in my thinking/understanding. But it was also a big start of something, of finally putting these various paradigms in the context of one another to really see what it is I’m getting at. I don’t know if the paper itself is entirely successful, but I do want to share it here:

pulsing through and between, I am that

I’m not sure what the next steps for these ideas will be. I do know that the next quarter is going to be intense in its creative/research output, and I feel certain that those projects will be related to these ideas.

I am performing my solo “Re-Membering the Mountains” twice more in the months to come: In February, I have submitted this piece to the Annual Battleground States Conference at Bowling Green University. The conference is entitled “Collapsing Cultures and Darkened Dreamscapes: Societies and Imaginations in a State of Disorder,” February 25-26, 2011. I am presenting the piece as part of a panel address the Purple Wedding to the Mountains and performative ecosexuality. I was invited to present on this panel by two colleagues who also performed as part of the Purple Wedding, Erin Paun and Jp Staszel:

Erin and Jp at the Purple Wedding to the Mountains

I  will also be performing that solo as part of OSU’s Winter Concert (details forthcoming).

Another performance project with which I am involved is a solo entitled “Marriage,” originally choreographed and performed by Mair Culbreth in 2005. Mair Culbreth and Nicole Bauguss are having a month-long exhibit at the Urban Arts Space entitled “domestic matters: a performing installation.”

domestic matters: a performing installation

More details for this project will come later (I hope to write a bit about the process from the inside of the choreographic/rehearsal practice). The dates for the show are March 1-31, with performances throughout. Already I find the process fascinating: Mair and I spent time discussing the original context and content of the solo, then together devised a score for the piece based on the original. From this score, I choreographed movement to function within it. We will begin to rehearse/revise/edit/etc. in the new year. I’ll keep you posted.

I am also rehearsing my own reconstruction during the winter quarter, a piece entitled “Sketches of Shame” that I choreographed in 2007 with myself and Clara Underwood. The new version will retain the intention and some vocabulary from the original, reworked and recontextualized in my current situation  and research. You can see the original vocabulary from which I’ll be working here:

I will be working with Daniel Holt, reconstructing this original material, and developing additional material exploring the corporeal situation of shame within a context of sexuality and sexual expression. Again, more details will be forthcoming, but that will hopefully offer a sense of the spectrum of what I’ll be working on.

I have also submitted a paper I wrote last year entitled “The Phenomenal Conflation of Dance/Dancer/Author/Reader/Text/Trio A/and Me” to the 27th Biennial International Council of Kinetography Laban/Labanotation Conference being held at the Institute for Musicology, Budapest, Hungary August 1-6, 2011. I will hopefully find out in January or February if the proposal is accepted.

That is a sampling of work that is both recently completed and forthcoming. I think I might make a separate post sharing some other ideas/inspirations that I am considering right now.

Reflections on Dance Downtown: The Event that Comes After the Event

Last night I had the opportunity to see “Remix Culture: OSU Dance Downtown” at the Riffe Center’s Capital Theatre. There’s another show tonight, and I highly recommend it.

Although I hardly have the time for such an endeavor, I feel a strong conviction to spend more time with this experience. So often we simply view/experience art/dance (life) and just keep moving forward. While there is certainly something to be said for being fully situated in the present, I also feel the need to process how these incredibly significant experiences live with/in me. This is not the first time I have written about a dance performance or art exhibit; it won’t be the last. These are not reviews or even critiques. They are an opportunity for me to reflect on my experience, give space for it to live and sink in and develop into something more particular in which to live. I post it here on my blog as a way of sharing that reflection.

While this should be obvious, this writing is not a telling of what happened in this show. It is not even a description of the dances, per se. It is more accurately a reflection on my own experience, constructed within my perceptual experience from the materials provided by the performance itself. There is nothing authoritative, “accurate,” or “inaccurate” about this writing. It is simply a record of my experience, and it is as such that I offer it to you.

The concert began with Michael Kelly Bruce’s new work entitled Sinuous Moonlight. The rewards of this piece included the energy of the dancers, the swishy, swooping, almost sultry quality to the overall body attitude of the work, the transparency of the dance as a dance, and the persistent (but not heavy-handed) potential homoeroticism of the choreography. Bruce worked with a cast of incredible dancers (this could actually be a blanket statement for the entire concert; Dance Downtown was, as a whole, an exhilarating demonstration of exceptional dancing and dancers), and the spectacular spectrum of their unique abilities seemed to be a through-line in the piece, exemplified perhaps most specifically in Erik Abbott-Main’s expert performance of hula-hooping in the second section of the dance. The second section began with Abbott-Main’s entrance and the descent of a light-up hula hoop from the ceiling to the immediate elation of the audience. I appreciated the opportunity that the hula hoop (and hula hooper) provided for multiple readings: it could be a symbol, a metaphor, signifying some more esoteric content; or it could function as an absurdist device, throwing the internal logic of the piece into a tailspin; or it could simply be an element of spectacle, something purely for fun and entertainment. One of my favorite moments of the evening occurred during this section. During Abbott-Main’s hula-hooping, a second male dancer (Daniel Holt) entered the space, gazing at Abbott-Main. In a pricelessly (potentially) homoerotic moment, Holt (in a low lunge) rhythmically thrusts his hips while watching Abbott-Main (topless) touch himself sensually, hula-hooping all the while. It was not heavy handed, and I suppose there could be multiple readings of this particular moment, but I took pleasure in seeing what could be blatantly homoerotic content on a Columbus dance stage. This was not the only potentially homoerotic content in the piece: male-male partnering was throughout, as was female-female partnering. On the surface this could simply be “homo-social” (not necessarily homosexual) demonstrations, but situated in a long history of partnering connoting intimate relations (supported by the lyric content: “But while there’s moonlight and music and love and romance/Let’s face the music and dance,” “If you say run, I’ll run with you/If you say hide, we’ll hide/Because my love for you/Would break my heart in two,” Peggie Lee talking about falling “head over heels in love, with the most wonderful boy in the world;” the lyrics provided a setting in which romance/sexuality could easily be at the surface of any reading), I simply offer that if one were to look for homoerotic demonstrations in the work, there was a plethora of choreographic content from which to construct such a reading.

In a lovely gesture of reflexivity, the dance was performed on an exposed stage space: no wings, no cyc, lighting instruments clearly exposed, ladders and scaffolding providing “set” pieces. Another recurring lyrical theme throughout the soundscore was “dance” (“Let’s Face the Music and Dance,” “Let’s Dance,” “Is That All There Is?  . . . If that’s all there is friends, let’s keep dancing”). The exposure of the stage space seemed to be a further acknowledgement that it’s “just dance,” an exposure of the reality of the situation, a spectacle without illusionism, perhaps inviting the viewer to consider the spectacular in the mundane, or perhaps offering an endorsement of the particularly spectacular quality of the “mundane” activity of dance. This reflexive frame was a successful lens through which to give attention to the activity of dancing itself, without necessarily looking for meaning beyond the dance, without speculating as to the mystery of theatricality, and to find simple pleasure in the energy and unique virtuosity of this particular ensemble of dancers.

Ming-Lung Yang presented a new work entitled No Trace. It was one of the most elegant group pieces I have seen in quite a while. My initial experience with the performance, I must confess, had mostly to do with the costumes. I work as an assistant to Mary Yaw McMullen, the costume designer/director for the department, and thus I have spent a significant investment of time, energy, and attention in these costumes. The basic forms for the women were grey chiffon kimonos, accented with colorful fabrics. From the first entrance of a female dancer (I believe this was Amanda Byers), when she spread her arms and the floor length sleeves trailed in the air, I started to cry. My sense of pleasure can be incredibly simple: sometimes chiffon carried on the air is all it takes.

But beneath the costumes was the dance. Thoughts that linger with me are an almost unthinkable precision, an attention to personal/individual detail that created a flawless support for a macro composition that was somehow equal parts simple and complex, a fluid interplay between weightiness and lightness, and a recurring sensation of “How did we get here?” The movement, transitions, and partnering were of such an expertly crafted and cleanly practiced nature that I constantly found myself witnessing arrivals with no clear sense of how the dancers came to be in such positions/formations/configurations. I think this is a mark of truly great craftsmanship.

The most rewarding aspects of this dance were the seemingly impossible fluidity and ease of the partnering and delicate subversion of a gendered logic within the movement vocabulary. The partnering was some of the most weightless partnering I have ever witnessed. The ease with which one body’s weight merged into the support of another was almost imperceptible (contributing to that sense of “How did we get here?”). On a kinesthetic level, this was one of the brightest gems of this piece. Second was the subversion of the dance’s own gendered logic. From the onset of the piece, there seemed to be a clearly gendered nature of the movement: the men moved with strength, groundedness, and weight; the women moved quickly, lightly, skimming across the stage (although still with a sense of moving through the earth rather than on top of it?). I thought of the Laban association of the feminine with the light and buoyant, the masculine with the weighted and grounded. And this gendered vocabulary was fairly consistent throughout the first half of the piece. But then I began to recognize the gentle subversions of this explicit binary: the lightness of the men as they danced with one another, the strength and groundedness as the women lifted the men, the implication of a fluidity across these vocabularies, and perhaps, by extension, across genders. The binary was never fully subverted (it was particularly concrete in the toplessness of the men, and the uniform tank-tops on the women; the costumes reinforced a binary that was never dissolved), but these subtle subversions added to the elegance of the work.

I had a one extremely particular experience while watching Ming’s dance. I had the honor of sitting next to David Gordon (of the Judson Dance Theater and the Grand Union) last night at the concert. During a duet performed by Kathryn Vickers and Meredith Hurst, I was struck by the way that Vickers moves, immediately recollecting the way that Abigail Yager (Ming’s wife and technique instructor at OSU, formerly of the Trisha Brown Company) moves, which recalls Trisha Brown and the Judson period. It echoed my experience of dancing Yvonne Rainer’s Trio A, and I took delight in relating Vickers’ movement with my Trio A experience. I suddenly came upon the realization/recollection that David Gordon, next to whom I was seated, danced in the premiere of Trio A in 1966 as part of The Mind is a Muscle, Part 1. I felt like a puddle of myself, in awe of the intersubjective space between Vickers, my association of her movement with my experience of Trio A, my knowledge of Gordon and the decades that his body has known the dance with which I was making this association. It was a rare experience, completely unique, yet deeply enriching my experience of Ming’s dance.

Esther Baker-Tarpaga premiered a new work entitled Down the Road, which also marked the premiere of its newly commissioned musical score (performed live) by Olivier Tarpaga and Michael Wall. This piece offers an intense emotional landscape of personal histories, family, physicality, and community. Last year I had the opportunity to hear Esther give a research presentation in which she discussed her choreography and video dance practices. She said of her choreography that it really emerged from the unique situations of who she was with and where she was at. In this post-modern dance era in which movement is constantly sourced from dancers, I can be extremely skeptical of this description of creative process. Often work that is described as emergent from the particularities of the dancers turns out to be without compositional cohesion, a watered-down stream of disparate movement vocabularies repeated ad nauseam alongside and amidst the phrases generated by other dancers. This was not my experience of Esther’s piece; she offered an exemplary model of the rich possibilities of sourcing individual contributions from a unique cast of dancers crafted into a cohesive compositional form. This piece found a particular (as opposed to the non-particularity that can be a danger to this kind of work) expression crafted very much in between and from these individual offerings.

The piece ran the gamut of movement from stillness to frenzy, fluidity to violence. It was grounded and wide; the partnering was rewarding in its obvious impacts, collisions, yanking, etc. I might range into the realm of interpretation and meaning making (fully acknowledging that this meaning is entirely my own, constructed from the materials provided by the dance/dancers) and say that an arching theme for this piece has to do with pulling together and pulling apart, the (sometimes violent, sometimes tender) tensions of individual identities and cohesive community. I was left with the social/cultural/physical/personal question of how we are to cultivate/maintain a community that acknowledges and speaks its difference, its diversity, while committing to co-existence, collaboration, cohesion (even punctuated by collision). I might suggest that this sense of unity with disparity was reinforced by formal elements within the work: the wedding of live music (produced by two very different musicians) with live dance; the (stunning) costumes that articulated individuality in form while adhering to a narrow, unifying palette of reds, burgundies, and pinks; the weaving of spoken text into movement without a sense of unnecessary interruption. But beyond this particular thematic interpretation, there was exceptional reward in the intensity of the dancers’ energy, the power of the physical expressions, the tension between their strength and abandon. Esther succeeded in the difficult task of creating a richly meaningful dance articulated through powerful dancing, bringing together dynamic disparity into a demonstration of the potential for unity.

Bebe Miller’s new work entitled How to Remember left me without words. Last night I actually asserted that I don’t know how anyone writes about Bebe’s work. It is so constantly shifting, continually transforming and becoming and re-becoming and re-becoming. As soon as I move to take note of what I have perceived it to be, it changes into something else, sometimes something reasonably adjacent, sometimes (more often) into something completely unexpected. This is what I consistently experience as the utter brilliance of Bebe’s choreography, it’s ability to adhere to itself as a composition, iterating its own kind of internal logic, while never exactly assuming or displaying itself as a concrete, recognizable identity. This piece expertly demonstrated this particular brand of brilliance, and it left me stunned.

And so here I find myself, attempting to put words to an experience that I already appreciate as presumable ineffable. I don’t know how to articulate my experience. But, as I hope to elucidate, the retelling of the piece seems to be necessary, an implicit request from the piece itself for a furthered understanding of itself.

One of the profundities of How to Remember is its many points of access. It can be appreciated on so many levels, and offers itself, it seems, on all of these levels. There is energetic, spectacular dancing for the viewer interested primarily in spectacle and entertainment. These dancers are fiercely capable of powerful demonstrations of physical ability and testing the limits of what is doable, thinkable even. There is a level at which it functions didactically, not in a limiting or oppressive way, but in an offering of how the viewer might consider this dance (or all dances; or living, perceiving, remembering in their largest senses). Early in the piece, there is recorded text discussing the Theory of Relativity as a philosophy of cocktail philosophers, simplifying the explanation of the theory as (simply) acknowledging that a person looks differently from the front than from the back, and that one’s perception depends entirely upon one’s situation. This theory seems to permeate the complex situation of looking constructed within the piece: myself looking at the dancers, the dancers looking at one another, the ceaselessly unfolding awareness that these people/bodies are in a constant state of transformation/construction amidst the complex field of intersubjective perception. And it is also just as simple as recognizing that my perception emerges entirely from my situation (both my spatial situation and what is visible to me from that vantage, and my larger situation of history, experience, my own identity, my unique relationship with each of the dancers on the stage, my relationship with the choreographer, my familiarity with the costumes as the costumer’s assistant, etc.). And as I find to be a recurrent quality of Bebe’s work, the situations are constantly reconsidered, recontextualized, and as I perceive those changing contexts, I recognize my implication/participation in the uniqueness of those changing contexts. Dancers move from space to space, partner to partner; particular phrases of movement are repeated again and again, across multiple bodies and various spatial/temporal situations. The recorded text addressing the Theory of Relativity offers the viewer a method for viewing, a particular concern or consideration for an attention to constantly transforming particularities of situation and perception, and the question of what “it” (the dance) is woven throughout this kind of attention.

There were other relevant (and exquisite) texts in the piece (in the program, the text is attributed to Richard P. Feynman and Ain Gordon). I wish I had a transcript of the particular language of these additional recordings; my own paraphrased reconstruction of them will not do justice to their beauty. The ideas I took from these additional texts were a consideration of the nature of the event, and memory. Something occurs (at first this seems as if it is the start of a narrative), and then the event has passed. The event now becomes the recollection of the event, the retelling of it, the reconstruction of it from memory. The event changes over time, particular pieces are lost, the event becomes lost; the place and people originally involved in the occurrence of the event fade from existence, and we are left with a road to take us somewhere else. Again, this text seemed to offer itself as potentially didactic, a way of considering the dance, its performance, and where “what it is” exists between its doing, the seeing of the doing, the memory and subsequent retelling of what was done. [And now I find myself implemented within the scope of the dance. The event is gone, the event of the dancing in the Riffe Center’s Capital Theatre last night; now the event has become a person sitting at a laptop computer in Starbucks, surrounded by a flurry of activity and noise, remembering, recollecting, reconstructing the particularities of my experience of the dance; pieces are lost, the original event becomes lost, and now the event lives in the scurry of fingertips across keyboard keys, pixels and text providing the road to somewhere new.] This notion seemed articulated throughout the choreography, phrases of movement recurring throughout the piece, across various bodies, in new contexts/situations. It became not only a nod to the Theory of Relativity and an opportunity for attention to the nature of perception; the dance became an act of corporeal memory, phrases recalled, changed, no longer as they first occurred, but now dancing spaces for something new.

Which leads to what I found to be perhaps the most intoxicating point of entry/level of appreciation, that which I experienced as a dancer, informed by a significant detail from the program: “Our process includes choreographic contributions from the dancers; their creative energies are an integral part of this piece. The work also contains choreographic references to past Bebe Miller Company repertory. As such it reflects the peculiar and mysterious process of experience and knowledge passing from dancer to dance, over time and generations.” As I watched, I am drawn into a saturating sympathy with the processes of memory, dancers in a studio reaching back and reconstructing the past in/as their own bodies. I am breathless at the physical act of remembering, negotiating the spaces of what has occurred before and what occurs now within this new, unique event/situation/context. I am suspended along the incredible attention to what each thing is, each action, and the spaces between the dancers and their actions. It is a quality of attention to each action as it is NOW, fully within the present, but knowingly constructed to what it was before, as it occurred in/as the past. This sympathy for the practice of memory, the transformative legacy of the event(s), fragments of dances from the past recreated in/as new bodies, practiced (each repetition both a reiteration and an evolution), performed, lost. The event now lives in memory, the retellings of it.

That seems like a perfect conclusion, but I also feel the desire to acknowledge the particular body attitude of the piece, something I can only describe as recognizable as very “Bebe” (a kind of restlessness of position, an energetic fascination with possibilities, asking, “If I am here, where else can I be? Can I get all the way to there from here?” paired with a willingness to exhaust the possibilities of what a thing is or might be), infused with the less familiar, the contributions of this unique community of dancers in this piece. I had a sense of Bebe as danced through each of these dancers, but also these dancers as danced through one another, as understood and composed through Bebe. The layers of hybridity, the sense of corporeal/kinesthetic identities articulated in/as/through multiple bodies was stunning.

And so Dance Downtown becomes an event of memory, of re-telling, a reflection of my experience becoming my experience.

The show runs again tonight. If you have the opportunity to see it, I highly recommend that you do so.

Purple Cuddle and the construction of self

Two ideas have been steeping for the last few weeks. It’s about time to get them down somewhere.

The first is a piece that I am performing next weekend at U·turn Art Space in Cincinnati. I participating in a group show entitled “Breakups R Tough.”

This is the gallery’s description of the show:

“Cincinnati, OH—About now, many of those relationships that were flourishing at Valentine’s Day aren’t looking so good. U·turn Art Space is pleased to announce a group exhibition that generates a wry discourse to deflate the melodrama of failed relationships. The exhibition includes Shawnee Barton, Stephanie Brooks, Alex Da Corte, Craig Damrauer, Erica Eyres, Lynne Harlow, Peter Huttinger, Eric Lebofsky, Joetta Maue, Casey Riordan Millard and Michael J. Morris.

Artists using embroidery, drawing, installation, performance, photography, sculpture and video offer different perspectives on crisis points in the human experience. Not strictly focused on just the ‘breakup’ between romantic partners, Breakups R Tough considers how interpersonal interactions cease or mutate into something more chaotic. Grafted into the dialogue are slanted looks at other stages in the quest for love, companionship and sex, such as propositions, courtship and self-pleasure. The assembled artists will address the topic with humor, wit, sexuality, physical comfort, and suggestions for remodeling our culture’s structure for types of relationships and categories of love and conflict.”

You can read more about the show here as well.

This is the published blurb about my piece:

“During the opening reception of Breakups R Tough, Morris will be creating a performance piece in homage to a 2005 artwork by the Love Art Laboratory, which is comprised of the famed sex artist Annie M. Sprinkle and her wife, artist and activist Elizabeth M. Stephens. LAL is a seven-year long undertaking in which the two women facilitate annual performance-based projects and rituals, including wedding ceremonies. In their first year, 2005’s Red year, Sprinkle and Stephens created the work entitled “Cuddle” in the Femina Potens Gallery. Once a week, during the exhibition the artists would put on cuddle outfits and spend several hours cuddling gallery visitors who had made advance appointments. They invited the participants to take off their shoes and socks and cuddle with them for seven minutes. This piece has been recreated by LAL in multiple locations, both nationally and abroad. After receiving a grant to travel to California and interview Sprinkle and Stephens in December 2009, Michael J. Morris will conceive a version of this piece as a performance in the U.turn exhibition. His piece is intended as a subversion of popular cultural perceptions of interpersonal acquaintance and intimacy, physical promiscuity, and socially authorized physical behaviors, while also serving as a celebration of the body as central to identity and expressions of love in non-traditional forms. For more about the Love Art Laboratory, please visit the website here.”

You can read about and view documentation of LAL’s original piece here.

There are marked differences between Annie and Beth’s (and their dog Bob’s) original piece and my re-created homage to their work. Aspects that immediately spring to mind are the differences between cuddling with a lesbian couple and cuddling with a single gay man, the difference between this piece being staged in an alternative arts space in San Francisco (or Glasgow or Austin, where it has subsequently been restaged) and staging this piece in a gallery in the midwest, in Cincinnati. Another difference is that I am attempting to partially contextualize the piece in Love Art Lab’s current work. As simple an alteration as it may be, I am making a purple bed/space: purple sheets on the bed, purple curtains (hopefully), and maybe even a purple cuddling costume. Love Art Lab is currently in their Purple year, the year of the Third Eye Chakra (Ajna), centered on intuition and wisdom. My hope is that the recontextualization of the piece goes deeper than just a shift in color but also in intention. In the original piece in 2005, the emphasis came out of the Red Year (Root Chakra, Muladhara), Security and Survival. Here cuddling seemed to be a kind of reassurance, a cultivation not only of love (part of the mission of LAL) but also a kind of interpersonal security, the safety offered by holding or being held. I think these aspects can’t help but carry over into my re-creation of the piece, but there is also the potential for a shift in intention to be one of knowledge and knowing. The act of cuddling, this temporal physical engagement being an act of both knowing and being known. As I’ve stated, my interests for the piece are “intended as a subversion of popular cultural perceptions of interpersonal acquaintance and intimacy, physical promiscuity, and socially authorized physical behaviors, while also serving as a celebration of the body as central to identity and expressions of love in non-traditional forms.” These notions harken back to the piece I created last year (and enacted this year in the process of Autumn Quartet), “KNOW(TOUCH)ME(YOU)(MY/YOUR BODY)“. Because my research and current perspective situate the body itself as the site for the perpetual perception, negotiation, and performance of identity, I often find it troubling that our culture privileges visual and verbal modalities for the acquaintance of individuals. We get to know one another predominantly  by what we see of one another and what we say. I am interested in subverting this, privileging the body not only as the site of identity, but a potential site of acquaintance. The Cuddle piece serves this, and I think there is something of this physical “getting to know you” that echoes the knowing intuition of the Purple Year of LAL. I’m also thinking about the extension of the body/self into the environment (this is essential to my understanding of “Sexecology” and “Eco-Sexuality,” ideas that have emerged from LAL and their performance work), and how the construction of this “cuddling space,” the bed and the curtains and the (hopefully) soft lamp light, may also serve as an extension of myself, the implication of myself into the space, and the subsequent implications for inviting gallery patrons into that space. I am also fascinated by the relationship between this work, Love Art Lab, the chakra system (and thus Tantric philosophy out of which it emerged) and my own yoga practice and teaching of yoga. How does my teaching inform this work, and how might it is turn inform my teaching?

I’ll let you know how it goes.

In a seemingly completely unrelated speculation (but of course it is all related), I am thinking about a practice or a course (or book?), something like “Scoring: The Constitution of the Moving Self.” This thinking started while writing my recent paper on the process of reading and dancing Trio A from Labanotated score (see previous post), but has evolved into a constellation of thought, touching on my predicted dissertation research and additional systems of “scoring” that I have explored. I am thinking about the lived “here-and-now” experience of the dance and the dancer as inseparable, that in the moment of dancing, both are mutually defined by one another (or, perhaps more accurately, as one). I am thinking about how dances or movement are generated and created, and how the individual is constituted through those generative processes. Because I think of movement as an extension of self (and a force by which the self is invented in the present here-and-now), I am interested in how scoring systems are used to generate movement and in doing so generate individuals. I am thinking about scoring systems like Labanotation and Motif Description, but also verbal/imagistic scores used to produce movement, as in Butoh (the language used to generate movement are called “Butoh-fu” which literally translates to “Butoh notation”) and Gaga, and the various systems of scoring that I experienced in the Forsythe project here at OSU last year, things like “room writing” or inscribing in space (tracing imagined forms in space), and the production of the wall score for Monster Partitur (line tracings of shadows produced by paper sculptures from skeleton models that emerged from a personal history). I am also thinking of Fluxus scores and scores used in choreographic practices by artists such as Pina Bausch. What comes to mind is the question of “what is a score?” Right now I am thinking of it as a persisting physical, linguistic or conceptual artifact by which movement is produced. The nature of the scoring system determines that nature of the movement and the nature of the method by which it is produced. I am not thinking of scores so much as documentation of what was (a record of movement that existed) as much as I am considering it as a generative source. It is, of course, situated somewhere in between these moments/movements: the means by which the score was generated (this may be a documentation of movement as in Labanotation or an idea, as in Butoh) and the movement that the score then produces.
Central to these ideas are the fact that the movement produced (by the score) is intrinsically unique and definitive of the individual. While the score itself is persistent, the movement it produces is not. It is unique to the individual, as the individual body, emerging from and simultaneously contributing to the identity of the individual.

There is a relationship between scores and the regulatory normalities by which persons are constructed/produced. I’m reading Judith Butler right now, and I am thinking about the pervasive culturally constructed systems by which individuals are regulated and produced. Gender, according to Butler, does not precede the acts by which gender is signified, but is in fact constituted by those acts by which it is perceived to be persistent. I am thinking of the engagement of the individual with the score as an active co-creation/participation in the generative structures by which the individual is produced. By enacting the score, the individual practices agency in the formulation of action and the methods/structures by which they are produced. If identity (and gender) are not that from which performative acts emerge but are in fact constructed through the sequence/repetition of performative acts, what then is the implication of the persistent score in the generation of acts? What is there to analyze in the relationship between the score and repetition?

And so, in a sense, it all relates. “Cuddle,” as formulated and enacted by Annie Sprinkle and Elizabeth Stephens in 2005 now serves as the score by which my own actions are produced. I engaged with the documentation of that work as a score and in doing so select the structure by which my self, my situation, and my contribution to culture and society are produced.

I would love for this to be a course at some point, examining the nature of scores and scoring, how it may reflect, co-create or interrupt the pervasive social “scores” by which we are produced (I love the idea of situating Butler in the context of movement scores/scoring), and exploring various systems of scoring in the conscious production of self. If I apply for jobs at some point, I could imagine this being a course that I would propose to teach.

Those are my thoughts today. I hope to have time to continue to serve these ideas as weeks go by. I hope to continue to read and dance Trio A as a means of constructing myself, and to engage with additional scores in the production of movement/self.

Onto the spring quarter . . .

The Phenomenological Conflation of Dance/Dancer/Author/Reader/Text/Trio A/and Me

Because I have mentioned it at various points during my blogging, I wanted to offer the paper that I wrote at the end of last quarter, currently entitled “The Phenomenological Conflation of Dance/Dancer/Author/Reader/Text/Trio A/and Me.” It is not exactly a paper or article in the most traditional sense: it is intended as a score for a presentation, a lecture and demonstration of the phenomenological hermeneutic research I conducted into the reading and dancing of Trio A from Labanotation score. That being said, it is intended to accompany/be accompanied by my own dancing of Trio A where indicated. However, I still wanted to include the document itself here as part of my ongoing exposition of my creative practice:

“The Phenomenological Conflation of Dance/Dancer/Author/Reader/Text/Trio A/and Me”


Trio A, Labanotation, dance as text, and the validity of phenomenological hermeneutics

I’ve been spinning in a sea of sources . . . and I really need to be writing the paper/presentation itself. I even have some sense of what it is going to be, how it will all shape up, but I feel stuck in the “information gathering” phase.

I’m writing a paper, you see. Another paper. I feel a little exhausted of writing mediocre papers every ten weeks. I think I have written a large paper every quarter that I’ve been in grad school. They are never completely what I want them to be, they never have the time to develop into what I aspire towards as far as quality writing, and I have yet had time to return to any of them because there is always yet another paper to write. I keep telling myself that one day I will have time to revisit some of that work, revise what feels worth revising, seek publication for that which continues to feel relevant. But for now I am forging ahead on yet another relatively mediocre paper. This one is orbiting Trio A: I am looking to consider the dance as text, dancing as a site for knowledge, and the “embodied scholarship” that the program I am in so adamantly advocates but seems to so rarely achieve. I don’t know whether I will achieve anything of consequence in this endeavor, but I felt as if I needed to start trying to make those connections: how can the dancing body by the site of research, the formation of knowledge, the “doing” of history and theory. Trio A became a kind of “case study” for this hazy methodology. More specifically, my process has involved reading/dancing Trio A, choreographed by Yvonne Rainer in 1966, as notated by Melanie Clark and Joukje Kolff in 2003. To be clear, I have learned this dance from Labanotation score. The piece was notated as it was taught by Rainer at the London International Summer School. Already the process has become more complicated. Where/what is “the dance” (the text)? Is it Trio A as choreographed and performed by Rainer in 1966, or as it was taught and notated in 2003? Or is my Trio A, the dance that is formulated in/as my dancing body, as initiated by this score, the site of investigation? Certainly it seems that my terrain is the spaces in between these various related sites, yet my interest is not in a comparative analysis (although it may come to that). My interest in the dance as text becomes further complicated by post-structuralist perspectives that deconstruct the role of “author,” and situate the meaning of the work not in its writing but in its reading, in reading-as-writing, reception as authorship. The shift of these theories/philosophies into the dancing body, my dancing body, makes my research site even more elusive. My (literal) reading of the dance also becomes my demonstration of it, my formation (re-formation? the relationship is not entirely clear) of the dance as it is danced by/as me.

After reading (most of) the dance from score (I am still a few pages away from the ending . . . which I hate; I want to read/know the dance in its entirety, but because of the deadline of the presentation, I feel myself giving in to yet another aspect of mediocrity in this project. The reality, however, is that I don’t technically need to read the entire dance in order to formulate perspectives on the topics about which I’m writing, and the reading of other sources in which to situate my assertions became necessary in the process) I have begun to situate my understanding of this/my experience in additional literature, spanning phenomenology, phenomenological hermeneutics, issues surrounding notation, reconstruction, staging dance works from score, choreological studies, history as a creative/embodied practice (Susan Foster), intertextuality in dance interpretation, essays by Yvonne Rainer, Sally Banes, Pat Catterson, etc. Here is where I continue to find myself, gathering more and more resources in which to situate my own experience, composing a field of texts in which to allow an intertextual understanding to emerge. It may sound compulsive, but I can’t seem to stop myself. I keep making trips to the library, I keep finding new sources, I keep going down to the Dance Notation Bureau Extension Office to survey more theses on issues in notation. I am so keenly aware of borders of my knowledge, where my understanding of these issues stops. I feel a voracious appetite for needing to have more at my fingertips from which to craft this paper. And yet time is running out.

Things I feel like I know I can say:
I think that the reading of Trio A from score can potentially serve as a stylistic training for the dance itself, this particular dance. I am interested in asserting that the way that the movement comes off of the page for me, without bringing anything else to it in the performative/dancerly sense, one is operating in the “style” of Trio A. There is a doing-ness to the dance, the long sequence of actions as a series of tasks, without pause, one giving way to the next, without variation in dynamics or phrasing. It is my experience that in embodying the dance as precisely as possible from the way in which it is written, this in the way of moving that the writing produces. Unlike other dances in which the reader/performer is expected to add to what is offered on the page, flesh it out (what an appropriate idiom) with expression and style and energy. Trio A asks for none of this. The score serves as a sequence of instructions for tasks, and that is the expectation for the dance.

I feel as if there is an education as to the nature of being in its embodiment, something about a pervasive, connective quality that is suffuse throughout . . . in the dance it is the almost meditative quality of the movement, the dynamic without variation, and the manner in which that way quality permeates and relates the 31-page sequence of unrepeated actions. Each moment is distinct, discrete, markedly unrelated to every other action in the dance; that was part of Rainer’s intention. And yet this suffuse, pervasive quality makes connections, addresses an underlying consistency through the body, through time, and space. I also feel as if it offers an education in the egalitarian nature of the body, no part more important than the other, and a similar commentary/perspective of three-dimensional space, no part receiving more attention than another. There is an awareness of “front,” but no addressing of front (in fact, a specific avoidance of addressing “front,” democratizing the space from its previously established theatrical hierarchy).

And that’s what I have. I need to plough through a few more sources, then begin to hammer out this paper. I need to dance the piece again and again and give more attention to how I construct its meaning from the various texts between which I have now situated it. This will be my Sunday afternoon. And likely most of the week to come. I just needed to address this project in a different space.

This week is the last time we will do “Autumn  Quartet.” Very complicated feelings surrounding that. The most prominent are a deep sadness and a kind of relief. But I don’t really have time to unpack that right now. Back to work.

In between places
4 February, 2010, 9:13 am
Filed under: inspiration | Tags: , , , , , ,

Somewhere between here:

and here:

and here:

and here:

Where is that?

Too Many Ideas, Too Little Time

I realize that there is paradox in the very fact that I am taking time to blog about not having enough time to serve all of the ideas spinning around in my life. But I am hoping that by giving them each a little attention, enough attention to put them down in words here, I will be making some space in which to function.

Perhaps the most significant and looming is the paper I am trying to author concerning the Love Art Laboratory, Sexecology, and Ecosexuality. I have compiled a bibliography of potential resources for the paper emerging from fields such as Eco-Feminism and Eco-Feminist Philosophy, Queer Ecology, Embodied Cognition, philosophies of Continuum Consciousness, Tantric Philosophy, and Sex-Positivism. It is my growing project/interest to construct a theoretical foundation for considering the expansion of the boundaries of what we conceive of as the body. I am not attempting to erase or denigrate the body; instead, I am interested in constructing a notion of the implication of the body within the perceived universe/environment. I think this may be a potential implication in the notion of Sexecology/Ecosexuality. From this theoretical foundation, I am interested in exploring the sexualization or eroticism of environment, through the implication of the body in the perceived universe/environment, and the potentially positive effects of implicating sexuality in the environment. Big, nebulous ideas. Need refinement. Not sure when there will be time.

Along with these ideas of expanding the boundaries of the body, I have recently been conceiving of the unity of the body and space. The foundation is the same, that our experience of space is essentially perceptual, perception is an essentially corporeal activity, and while that which is perceived may in fact occur separate from perception, within our experience of it, what it is and how we perceive it are inseparable. Thus, the implication of the corporeality of space. The space that we perceive occurs primarily within the bodily experience of it. An adjacent consideration is the continuum of experience of body/space. We never experience our selves/bodies in a void, but always in space. Similarly, we never experience space removed from our bodily context. The two are never known separate from one another. I am interested in how we might conceive of the body and space as unified. What might it mean to consider a dancing body-space rather than a dancing body in space. Ironically, I think these concerns may be addressed in the work of Rudolf von Laban. Specifically in Labanotation, movement and position is analyzed and described as the continual relationship between body and space. Rarely do you read or write the body without reading or writing where it is spatially. I have always considered it as writing the relationship between body and space, but what if it were to be considered as writing the body-space? How might that change the way we consider movement, bodies, ourselves, our environment, our actions, etc.? I think there are connections here worth exploring.

In the vein of Labanotation and relating to the course I am taking in the History and Theory of Postmodern/Contemporary Dance, I have a renewed interest in reading Yvonne Rainer’s “Trio A” from Labanotation score. I read about half of it last spring in my Intermediate Labanotation Course, and I am really interested in reading/embodying the dance in its entirety. I’m not sure when I will have the time to do such a reading/practice, but I have the interest. It may also be a project that could provide a vehicle for exploring these other ideas, the expanding “centrality” of the body (is that appropriate or ambiguous language?), the unity of body and space, etc. It is a desire. I’m not sure if it is one that can be served right now. But I am passionate about dance history and theory integrating dancing as a methodology and even modality of learning. I think notation provides an ideal implement by which to facilitate that integration. To re-learn/learn “Trio A” while studying Judson and the era of Postmodern dance seems like a dream.

There is also the lingering desire to choreograph a solo based on the “Alignment Annotations” object from Synchronous Objects for One Flat Thing, reproduced. I am interested in writing a Motif Description score of the graphic “object” (which annotates choreographic structures of movement alignments across a seventeen person cast), and from that score, generate movement material for a solo performer. There are all kind of levels and implications to that project. I’m not sure when it will be served. Maybe next quarter in “Current Issues” (which is looking at rigorous emergent creative research).

I am also interested in this notion of “sexual epistemology,” or ways of knowing that emerge from sexuality. I have been interested in exploring the methodologies of the field of sexology and investigating the validity for applying those methodologies to dance practice, be that dance pedagogy, choreographic practice, or even the study of history and theory. This is coming out of a recognition within my own creative practice that sexuality is often omitted or ignored in both dance and academia (especially dance academia). While I can’t be sure, I feel as if this is an effect of an underlying sex-negative perspective, that sex and sexuality are somehow compromising or contaminating rather than constructive or enriching. I’m not sure if this will become a significant research interest, but it is definitely an area of personal and creative interest. I think I am most interested in how human sexual behavior is analyzed, categorized, and discussed in fields such as sexology, and how those lens may be applied to or integrated into dance practices. How might we consider dance, movement, and the body for its sexuality, or how might sexuality reveal aspects of dance/movement/the body that were previously unconsidered? I have absolutely no working knowledge of the ideas I am discussing here, but those are my interests on the subject.

And there are always more. More to read about, more to dance about, more to write and talk and dream about. For now, I am back to work on reading and writing. I have “Autumn Quartet” practice tonight . . . as of now, our plan is to only do this piece four more time, including tonight. That makes me sad. And at the same time, it presents a different energy or urgency to the work. We’ll see how that surfaces.