I have completed my first week back. The beginning of my second semester of the three year MFA at Ohio State University. It took me all week to wrap my brain around the new schedule, the rigor, the brain clenching and ear bleeding thought and the work, but I’m back now.
This week I sweated. I moved and cried. I saw Berlin’s performance at the Wex, I spoke about emergent strategies from Adrienne Marie Brown’s “Emergent Strategies.” I spoke about words and writing and agency in dance and begun the look at three new non-precious projects I will begin. I’ve also met a whole new cohort of MFA first-year theater students which is so exciting and different to look into the eyes of a discipline so close yet literally so far, it’s a 20-minute walk to the other side of campus and this week was usually through the 20-degree snow. The MFA audition was also this week which just seems like way too much for our first week back, but we did it. I demonstrated and it was really fun to see and help in some way. 🙂
I’ve confronted my ego and my ideas of empathy and self this week and those ladies are tricky. This quote from Parker Palmer has stuck with me all week since reading it Monday and has seeped into other readings about community, pedagogy, Foucault’s ideas of panopticism and discipline, Hartman’s “Scenes of Subjection” and Fusco’s “Bodies that Were Not Ours,” Washington’s “Medical Apartheid” and Butlers super dense “Bodies that Matter.” I’m not sure I’m quite ready for that last one, but we will get there.
“Power works from the outside in, but authority works from the inside out. We are mistaken when we seek authority outside ourselves, in sources ranging from the subtle skills of group process to that less than subtle method of social control called grading. This view of teaching turns the theater into a cop on the corner, trying to keep things moving amicably and by consent but always having recourse to the coercive power of the law.”
Authority is granted to people who are perceived as authoring their own words, their own actions, their own lives, rather than playing a scripted role at great remove from their own hearts. When teachers depend on the coercive powers of law or technique they have no authority at all.
This semester has resulted in a real community of support. My grad-cohort is awesome and most if not all the preliminary tools I need to make, write, create, put forth work and fail have been introduced to me in our “Foundations in Dance Research” course.
“Laban Systems: Movements, Methods, and Analytical Frameworks” has been a wonderful addition to the writing kind of making. Not only do I have a new treasure chest of descriptive words specifically crafted for movement, but also a new way to look at movement and a toolbox of sprinkles and ingredients to add to my movement-making process. “Aboutness” can be applied to my whole first semester here. Trying to frame and understand specifically what I am interested in is the “aboutness” of my work and my-artist-self.
My body feels strong and smart. I am articulate in my joints and muscles in a way that I haven’t been for a while and it feels amazing. Crystal Perkin’s Afro-Horton technique class was an integral part in this strength and agency as was my Pilates course. I was able to apply Pilates techniques in Crystal’s technique class. The integration of whole body movement in Pilates is something I am still working on but I now have a practice to bring with me for the next two years. Pilates challenged my self-motivation in multiple ways and Crystal’s class was my grounding force throughout the semester. Technique class is my home, I know how to be a dancer and trust the movement and my body, so once I gave into the discipline and physical effort, this class was healing and got me through other more tumultuous moments.
I believe the next two and a half years will result in a confident, strong, maker who can own her place in an academic setting. This department has a professionalism built into it that is transparent but also ingrained. Research is what you make it. Figuring out what specifically interests me is the hardest part. There seems to be a fine line between what I’m interested in and what falls flat. In this academic context, it’s about framing your questions and spending time figuring out your project and writing it down before you actually get to figure anything out. This backwards approach is difficult for me but a skill worth developing. It’s similar to grant writing, but with a different flavor I can’t quite place.
In the moments to come, I’m interested in exploring some new practices of making, perhaps more improvisatory or contact-based processes, perhaps some making with friends/current grads, perhaps some non-mandatory uses of technologies. I’m still working on what I’m interested in, who I’m interested in doing it with and how to get it done in this still new environment but I trust the process. At the end of the day, it’s about coloring inside and outside the lines. It’s about appreciating all approaches and angles but also figuring out where you fit into them, how to best apply them to help you grow and how you want to approach your own angles or angle your own approach.
Our final performance in Intermedia was the culmination of three months of “digital recess” as coined by a former student of Norah’s. It was so exciting to have two willing participants wheeled into our playground like “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride”from Disney’s Magic Kingdom. That’s not a metaphor, they were sat in chairs and wheeled in. The participants/audience were brought into the space to witness, choose and be the performers often in absurd events like what we titled, “Dada Birthday Party” where we sat at a table and sang “Happy Birthday” to the participants in a surprising and upbeat way and then handed them a tiny mallet in front of a tiny cake and waited to see what would happen. The mallet referenced one of our readings by Soke Dinkla who wrote about one of the first Dadaist artists to include audience participation. “Ernst placed an ax next to one of his works to be used by the visitors in case they did not like the object.” (Dinkla, 280) We asked the participants to choose cards that would determine the next scene. The other three scenes were “Motion Capture,” “Hot Air Balloon” and “Box Head” which we yelled out when they chose the card. “Motion Capture,” a station that was from our second study, was a play on words, two people sat facing each other in chairs and one mimicked (captured) the movements (motion) of the person opposite them. “Hot Air Balloon” was giving the audience/performer a bag of unblown balloons and seeing what they would do when sitting on a white cube at the center of the space and “Box Head,” pulled from our first portrait study and had the person put their head on a box while we took a live feed of their face and asked them mundane questions about their life. Each situation was an experiment commenting on or inhabiting expectation and power. Other aspects of the piece included some movement developed from questions answered earlier in the work, saying a memory and throwing an imaginary ball to another person in the space and at times a voice over commentary, by yours truly. The aboutness of the work seemed to be community and absurdity or audience and performer or perhaps reflection and memory.
As I discovered at the end of our last lab study, “Interactivity and Participation,” I’m interested and excited about the awkward moments and the moments that could change each performance. Throwing an audience member into the mix throws a wild card that is performatively exciting and something that my lab group played with the entire semester. In this study we focused on comparing viewed performance and interactivity in the form of stations. Tricking the audience that they might just sit and watch and then ushering them from station to station where they were to complete a similar “Box Head” and “Motion Capture” moment from our final experiment. Our third and final station was an array of “bric-a-brac” which had a sign that said, “Arrange.” This was inspired by our readings from Dinkla about Duchamp’s ready-mades. At the end we performed some movements we captured during the “Motion Capture” station and watched peoples faces float around in bubbles captured from the “Box Head” station. The ideas of being seen and watched were at the forefront of the work.
Our second “Media First” study, came directly out of discovering textures that could be used as projections. Zooming into a moving object or objects, water, leaves blowing, bubbles rising, screens moving or a swing shifting can create a texture when projected into an environment. We gathered textures and then made a study using them. The Motion Lab has screens that can be moved into a circle which made us think of a carousel and I was particularly interested in how we could guide the audience’s gaze around the space.
I found Laurie Anderson’s “O Superman” music video to be even more inspiring after having learned the origin of the projection magic she utilized. Jerome Bel’s “Veronique” Series is an almost poignant solo for a corp de ballet dancer from the Paris Opera. These and others were “Viewings” we watched throughout the semester. The course highlighted an array of artists using not only technology but also other mediums. Our reading from Simon Morely’s “Writing on the Wall” highlighted artists influenced by Duchamps “readymades” that began to experiment with mixed media approaches to panel art in the 1950s. In the text I was interested with the “affichistes” and their ripping down advertisements and using them to create their own art. Intermedia is a course about creating with found objects. Everything we experimented with was already made, we just put it together in different ways. Use what you have to create something new.
The collection of topics, viewings, technologies and the history of media art we’ve explored has allowed me to place the concepts and people we’ve discussed in a way I couldn’t before. I can see how certain artists were influenced and where that landed their trajectory. I’m beginning to understand what interests I have and what kind of art I want to make. I’m beginning to understand my artistic world a little better and that is an important piece in trying to figure out what place I want to have in the puzzle. What’s the puzzle? That’s another question entirely.
Co-teaching grad students Josh Anderson and Gina Hoch-Stall opened their last Contact Improvisation class of the semester to the other students on Monday and it was a wonderful sharing of form, ability and spirit. The open class was an inclusive and attentive culmination to the semester. The warm atmosphere reminded me of the first time I had ever been to a Contact Jam, maybe…the summer of 2002 at American Dance Festival. Jenn Nugent and Paul Matteson were there in The Ark and perhaps David Dorfman. I remember being in awe of them flying through the air and across the space. The uncertainty of what was happening, the importance of each movement and the courage it took to try things out for myself amidst my heros and fellow newbies.
A bunch of years later it feels so different. Finally I am understanding the vibrant investigation of experimentation and how exciting it is when the unexpected happens. I feel like having children and also just being at the end of my 30’s has allowed me to let go of everyone else’s expectations and opinions of me so that I’m finally able to explore and be interested without thinking of others. Sometimes. It’s been a while since I’ve been to a Jam, but yesterday I found myself wanting to play with my new friends in a way that some old friends used to play. Connecticut’s Elm City Dance Collective taught me what I was relishing in last night: trust, play and surprise. I’m excited to find out that even in this still new environment I’m more interested in finding an unexpected conclusion than getting it “right” or indulging in every ounce of sensing what the other person’s weight is doing next. Or maybe I’m just impatient. Or as Josh has decided…”A bulldozer.” Maybe I’m finally ready to begin failing in order to find my edges.
A lovely moment with Emily of spritely play, a sitting discussion with Bita, a bombastic topsy-turvy interlude with Josh, an interruption of KJ and Yildiz’s tender moment and a rolling play with an unknown mover stay with me. Someone in the class described her experience as a hug that will allow her to achieve all her dreams this week. Me too.
This photo is a projection on the white floor of OSU Dance’s 50th Anniversary Concert. It is a Labanotation score.
Dance is about so many things.
Bebe Miller writes in Andrea Olsen’s “Between Brooklyn and Bearnstow: Translating through Dancing” the following notions about dance:
“Is it ever a repetition or is it a spiral cycle.” (Olsen, 32)
I am imaging a spiral cycle of something speeding up in time, or building or decreasing in intensity.
“There is a rise and fall, a breath, and there is a return.” (Olsen, 31)
It could be a repetition or just a movement in general. It could be the beginning or the end.
“I am less interested in technology as something to show. I am interested in what it changes about how we as humans in a community interact with it and because of it and alongside it.” (Olsen, 32)
There is something futurist about this statement. I think it is the ever-changing idea of technology. Is she interested about what changes when we interact with it? How does it change our interaction? Does the presence of technology change our interactions with others, like through Facebook and texting or is it because technology itself is continually changing? And if it’s continually changing than does Miller mean that as it changes and because it changes our interactions and relationships to it and with it are always changing and different? If so, this is also true of our relationship with our community within an environment built around and/or with technology. Or is it all these things?
Dance is what you make it. Dance is questioning interaction. Dance is questioning alignment, movement, orientation, space, time, flow and weight. Dance is thinking. Dance is taking care of those around you. Dance is embodiment and doing.
Olsen, Andrea. 2009. “Between Brooklyn and Bearnstow: Translating through Dancing: An Interview with Bebe Miller” Contact Quarterly Summer/Fall: 28-33.
When I was teaching composition at a magnlet arts high school, the class would often revolve around a set of tasks designed to give the students creative tools to craft “interesting” compositions. When it was time to give feedback, I would always say to the students, “Take what you want and throw the rest away.” If we had showings, other teachers also proscribed to the “Take it or leave it” mentality. Even though I said that, I didn’t really mean it. I think I meant, “I’d like you to at least try to apply a part of my feedback to get a different result. If in the end you don’t like the result, you can always revert back to where you started or somewhere in the middle. In the trying, you might find something new somewhere along the path.”
I still had expectations about their products and as teachers we would often struggle with how much to lead a student to get a “good product.”* If the student was using the tools, testing boundaries and following their instincts I was always happy with their process and often their product was more successful, but not always. When mentoring the creation of a senior project, the students were struggling with figuring out what they instinctually liked, navigating what they thought “good work” looked like and how to make their work “good.” I gave the advice, “Stick to the process and the work will follow.”
I’m now the student and it’s interesting to see the teachers struggle in the same way. How much are they leading me toward their aesthetic or their style of discussion. Am I learning how to survive in the academic world or am I learning how to survive in their specific setting. I’ve decided in this moment that I will try to apply what I wanted my students to do. Try out some options revolving around the feedback given and see where that takes the work. It’s been a long time since I’ve been in a setting where I’ve had to take into account constant feedback. It’s interesting that I am also still wrestling with the notions of “good work.” Stick to the process and the work will follow.
*A good product by definition is something created that is desired or approved of and is therefore all about perception and opinion. Not everyone likes the same things, that is why there are so many options and reasons for creating the art you want to make. Not everyone will like what you make, but someone will…somewhere.
The other day I realized I actually know things. I’ve been perfecting technique and practicing performance for a while, studying from different people along the way that had skills and certifications in Bartenieff, Alexander, Yoga, Feldenkrais, Meditation, Release technique, classical techniques (Horton, Graham, Humphrey, Limon, etc.) and various other forms of techniques that I don’t even know about and yet most of the time no one labeled them for me. You don’t go through a dance class labeling everything you have ever studied and explaining where it came from. You begin lying on the floor feeling your weight into the floor (meditation), perhaps some effort based stretching and abdominal work (yoga and pilates) and as you move through the class you talk about weight, time, space and flow (Laban) and then perhaps some discussions about finding ease and efficiency (Alexander), etc. You don’t necessarily label them as a teacher and I can’t say I knew their lineage and I still can’t say that I do. So as I’m finally realizing I know things, I’m just realizing that here is the place where I label them and understand their history and lineage. Pedestrian walking on stage originated in the Postmodern era. Ok, I knew that one. But, Laban is where you define weight, time, space and flow and dissect them. I just found this out.
Grad School is where it happens, this is where connections are made, this is where you dig into the granules of what has created what you already know.