Summer Making 2019

My summer research turned out to be two months of rehearsals digging into how I view different ways of making and different dance aesthetics. I will continue and finalize an iteration of this research next semester.

In May and June, I met with fellow, almost 2nd year, amazing, talented dance grads Alessandra, Davianna, Laura, and Emily for four hours a week in addition to two hours a week of solo research. Alessandra was a wondrous resource as dramaturg and Davianna, Laura and Emily were important and vocal collaborators in the process as well. Using making methods and ideas surrounding emergence and improvisation, we explored the complicated definitions of control, specifically surrounding societal conduct and power structures affecting women.

I began this process with some ideas I found in Paulo Friere’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed detailing the education of oppressive societies to fight against their oppression. Although the stakes are much greater in Friere’s books, I found that some of the words he used to subdivide the last chapter define complicated and layered societal formulas that happen in the everyday.

The first four phrases were ways groups of people elicit power and the next four are their counters describing ways people can come together to liberate themselves from their oppression. We began by defining these words within our bodies through improvisation and the use of space:

  • Conquest
    Divide and Rule
    Manipulation
    Invasion
  • Unity for Liberation
    Organization
    Cooperation
    Cultureal Synthesis

The concepts of separate/divide and together/away kept resurfacing physically. The ideas of bodies in unison and then not, bodies high, middle and low as a power structure, three against one, and bodies intercepting or inhibiting another’s movement came to the surface. The ideas of women empowerment, control, and social structures were apparent as these themes were explored further.

The questions that remain are: How do I unite improvisation and codified movement in a way that doesn’t seem forced and goes along with my personal aesthetic? What am I trying to say and how much of that do I want the audience to actually glean?

Below is an example of what I consider codified movement. A phrase or sentence of movement designed to be completed somewhat the same each time.

Below is an improvisatory exploration involving the parameters of finding moments where the other person is completely supporting your weight and you theirs as you move together and then away.

Below is an improvisation where Emily and I are trying to force Davianna to one corner as she is trying to get to the opposite corner.

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Tilt World’s final iteration…for now

Drawing Glitter
KJ, Tara & Keith

My final “Tilt Brush” outwarding for the semester was an installation/performance during ACCAD’s open house on April 5th in the Motion Lab. In comparison to the previous iteration, this work was an immersive experience. The audience/participants entered a circle of projection screens as they completed tasks written on cards thrown around the space or tasks they had decided for themselves. Cardboard boxes, feather boas, pool noodles, and random small balls littered the space. KJ Dye performed as safety and instigator of movement. Thanks KJ! I’m so grateful!

I wore the VR headset in the black space of Google’s Tilt Brush and except for the occasional cardboard box obstacle or feather boa adornment I was in my own world, a world absent from the world of the audience-participants. I was immersed in my own world. People came in, sat on blankets or “played” in the space while KJ and I completed our score.

The technology stopped working at the beginning. A tower had been created out of cardboard boxes and was possibly obstructing the view of one of the cameras making it difficult for us to complete part of the score that began on the floor. The house I was to build, the tracing of bodies and the reflection of looking at the house from a transported place had to be skipped over. We completed this iteration with the standing portion of the score.

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KJ crawling through a box and Tara wearing a boa. Keith is a spectator.

Documentation was also on the fritz, schedules had been mixed up and although Oded filmed the event, his video was corrupted. I do feel like I have negative technology energy. Technology often breaks or doesn’t work at moments when I am around. However, even though it didn’t work perfectly, I’m not sure it mattered. From my perspective, my world was cutting out, but from everyone else’s perspective (from what I have gathered so far from people’s explanations of what happened) they didn’t notice. It was swirling, surrounding colors in a space where the audience became performers. They watched me navigate blindly through a messy environment with KJ keeping me safe and directing my movement in alternate routes. There was a push and pull to KJ and my relationship. Do I allow her to draw for me or do I draw residually? When she stops me, do I let her? Ideas of permission and control came up for me. One of the most unexpected things is that I have no reflection of what the audience was doing while I was in VR. Normally when you are performing you can remember, this person did this or went there. But in this, I only remember the brief time I took the headset off and hugged my babies because it wasn’t working. That moment is particularly magical for me because it is the only moment I knew what the space looked like and when I took my headset off the first thing I saw were my two girls.

Reflecting back to the beginning of this project, I was planning on short iterations of three different projects. The other two fell away as I became enamored with objects in space and the theory of absence/presence introduced in Dr. Nadine George-Graves Performing Bodies class. In Leder’s “The Absent Body” the idea of yourself as nullpoint played right into the idea of yourself in VR. Sensation at the forefront, other theorists exploring perception (Merleau-Ponty), subjection, and the “zero point of orientation” (Husserl) informed my interest in these two worlds.

Finally the use of task to empower the participant in a way that the performer is empowered. Through Freire’s ideas of liberation pedagogy and praxis, I found a connection between Freire’s definition of praxis and what is happening in participant environments. Freire’s definition of praxis, “reflection and action upon the world to transform it,” can be applied to these environments at the smallest level. There is not revolt or revolution after an event with audience participation but something is different. And from my perspective, I was different. I was calm during the performance. I was a performer for myself. KJ protected me and the audience’s world left traces that were beautiful, creative, and a reminder that they were there too.

Click here or here to view two of 12 traces created during the semester of rehearsals I had inside of Google’s Tilt Brush. During these rehearsals, I was researching how to create an improvisational score that I would paint live.  These are traces 11 and 10. (These links are best viewed and interacted with on a touch screen, like your phone or tablet, you can swipe around to see different angles and zoom in and out. They will only work on computers with enough computing power.)

Photos from Tilt World Sandbox

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, a Sandbox is something Norah uses in her Research Studio class that allows room for change and brainstorming of a group. In the following photos by Dan Shellenbarger (thank you!!) he documented some experiments in my sandbox in February. This project, titled “Tilt World” is an exploration of how an embodied mover informs physical painting in VR using Google’s Tilt Brush while an audience creates an outside environment using found objects.

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Photos and Drawing by Dan Shellenbarger (you’re awesome!)

“a little awkward”

On Monday I showed where I was in my project Tilt World which is investigating a body in a virtual world (Google’s Tilt Brush) and objects and bodies in the physical world.

Tilt-World-Documentation

This iteration of the work included three performers. At the beginning of the work, I wore a red face mask and was painting a red house in the virtual environment with Tilt Brush’s wand in front of a wall of cardboard boxes.

Later, a dancer in a VR headset was traced by myself. I removed the face mask while she built her own virtual environment to move inside of and then I took the wand again to add to the environment that only she could see. Only the person in the headset can see the painted world.

All the while, a third performer was tasked with building and deconstructing environments with cardboard boxes, pool noodles, boas and small toys.

This iteration stemmed from my “Sandbox session” in my research class (a Sandbox could be seen as a rehearsal or improvisational physicalization of some ideas).

More clearly, the roles were:

  • Constructer/deconstructer of objects in space
  • Move as paint, interrupt/disrupt and echo
  • Virtual builder/painter wearing the VR headset

I received three really interesting moments of feedback from this iteration.

1. The audience participation that I have talked about for a while was non-existent in this version. This is so weird because I didn’t realize I deleted this but I feel exactly as Oliver Herring said in his book TASK.

“The first TASK was small and a little awkward. Initially, I approached TASK as a performance. It seemed like the most simple and uncomplicated way to think about it. Although I don’t think of TASK as a perforamnce anymore, the structure of the inaugural TASK was the same as it still is.” – Oliver Herring’s TASK

So, I have another idea for the second iteration to incorporate the audience from the beginning in perhaps a TASK-like way.

2. During my Sandbox there was a role of care that was included that wasn’t in this role. This is true, but perhaps the builder also needs to be tasked with moving around the person in virtual reality so there is something to protect them from?

3. I needed to be clear what I wanted people to get out of this whole thing. I don’t know the answer to this yet. I think I replied with I wanted each person to feel like they built a world but are watching other worlds built in an alternate reality? I’m not sure that is true but I think this comment links to the idea of roles or tasks. And if so, the audience needs to have one.

 

Split wide open

With my perceptions split wide open (with the floodgates of information that is downloading into my brain) including Queer Theory, Gender Theory, Philosophers Husserl, Butler, Foucault, Kristeva, all bodies and their labels, “The Explicit Body,” Daphne Brooks’ “Bodies in Dissent,” Drew Leder’s “The Absent Body,” readings on the complicated reality of empathy, perception and archive (and that’s just a few, mostly from my Performing Bodies Theory course lead by Dr. Nadine George-Graves), I am wondering where my ideas begin and if I even have any. Everything has been done. Things I don’t want to do, things I wish I thought of and things that I don’t even understand. It’s been done. I’ve heard this before, but now with my brain so full, it feels overflowingly evident.

This past week I taught my first full improvisation class and was evaluated by the chair of the dance department. I spoke and some of my thoughts landed in my discussion/theory course and I lead my “sandbox” which is part of my Interdisciplinary Research Studio class. Teaching, leading and talking out of my mouth (as opposed to my body)…higher stakes, yes…and done. I say higher stakes, but I’m not in the real world with these stakes. I’m in a safe little bubble where there are quite a few people that care about movement, embodiment, and dance in the way I do. It is also quite obvious they care about teaching and are very knowledgable in this field.

However, I do question the nervousness I feel when presenting in this environment. I have presented during two open works-in-progress showings this year and both have been in the middle of experiments with unknown destinations and/or purpose.

“Self-doubt can be an ally. This is because it serves as an indicator of aspiration. It reflects love, love of something we dream of doing, and desire, desire to do it. If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends), “Am I really a writer? Am I really an artist?” chances are you are. The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.” Stephen Pressfield, The War of Art

I’m going to try to hold strong to the idea that right now is about experiments and possibly failed ones. It’s about my education, my self-exploration and not about what others think of me. Self-doubt is my ally.

The stakes got a little higher this semester

We are now beginning week 5 and I have no idea where the time went. I have read the entire Emergent Strategies book by Adrienne Marie Brown and I’ve learned Emergent Strategies can be placed on your entire life. Change the lens, change the world. We’ll see.

I’ve been working on creating something using Tilt Brush in VR and so far I realize I like to create houses and known environments. I find the disembodiment disorienting and exciting. You have no hands or legs, only a mind, vision, and sound if you wanted it inside Tilt Brush land.  I hopefully will get a chance to try out an improvisational score I’ve built this week. It’s based on the sensations I’ve felt inside the system so far and some brief interactions with some other dancers. Click here and here to see some things I’ve created so far to glean inspiration.

I have a lot more agency this semester. If I have assignments I have to decide how I want to do them and learn from my mistakes. I guess it’s good I decided last semester I was ready to begin failing. All of my classes ask me to present/teach material at some point. I have my MFA required paper in my Theory course (Performing Bodies with Dr. Nadine George-Graves) where I have to create my own topic and defend it. My Research Studio course is basically created by me to build a project (Tilt Brush) using the scope of Emergent Strategies, the resources of ACCAD and the others in the class. This week I’m teaching a class for my fellow graduate students. Thank goodness for my technique class, although it’s hard in a different way.

It’s all hard, it’s all good and I’ve finally got my engine revved up. Now if only we could stop having -6-degree weather and snow days.

 

It’s about trusting the process, coloring the lines and angling your approach

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My youngest daughter’s drawing (3 years old), but how I felt most of the semester.

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.