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.
Saturday night I attended “TICKTOCK” a work-in-progress showing of Syren Modern Dance and The Ohio State University’s Center for Cosmology and AstroParticle Physics (CCAPP) Visiting Fellow, Dr. Paul Sutter. The collaboration was sponsored by The STEAM Factory which is an Ohio State space fostering research relationships in a STEAM (Science, Technology, Education, Art and Math) custom. I was super excited to see the space and get to know what actually happens there. This is the first time there was an event of this kind open to the public (so I still don’t know what actually happens there) and it was engaging and the audience’s reaction was palpable.
The performance was inside a demonstration illustrating how Syren generally works choreographically, how the company sought out Dr. Sutter for his expertise in physics and how their collaboration unfolded. That’s a lot of hows…
Sutter is an avid speaker and has the radio show, Space Radio.* WCBE 90.5 hosted the event as a fundraiser. The first segment of the work they showed featured his speaking and walking around the performance area Morgan Freeman style in the “Through the Wormhole series” as the dancers narrated his words, “The faster you move in space, the slower you move in time.” Sutter varied this sentence repeatedly and the dancers organized in different ways demonstrating/acting out through movement what he was saying. He also told stories and the dancers gathered around his storytelling self before blasting off as characters traveling through space, illustrating different continuums, alluding to time-travel and multidimensional worlds. At one point the dancers even lift him up in a half-sitting position and float him across the space. All to illustrate different moments of time. If you haven’t surmised, the piece Syren and Dr. Sutter are creating together is about time.
They showed multiple sections. One section was created from physics action words that Kate St. Amand, co-director of Syren and choreographer for TICKTOCK, asked Sutter to come up with, such as rotation (which as discussed is about traveling less through time and more through space). Let’s just remember my affinity toward aboutness for a second. And we’re back.
The audience was given multiple opportunities to ask questions. At one point the dancers improvised the answers that Sutter was giving about questions such as, “Is there such a thing as a parallel universe? and “Is the discovery of time travel considered inevitable?” The dancers mirrored each other through space as Sutter described perpendicular multiple dimensions as a possibility more than parallel universes. This reminded me of Marvel’s The Flash. Sutter responded to the latter question explaining that time travel at this moment is considered impossible, but no one actually knows why. The ten year old next to me even asked a few completely succinct and thoughtful questions throughout the evening about the speed of light. The audience was energized and felt engaged and heard, you could feel it.
*He also hosted a segment this week with the Syren Modern Dance’s co-directors Kate St. Amand and Lynn Peterson.
Synchronous Objects examines William Forsythe’s “One Flat Thing” in ways I’ve never seen quantified. It’s an interface designed to visually represent connections through movements, improvisations and choreography. It’s as if the “making of” part of a movie was integrated with the performance in three different camera views. It allows the viewer to both decide what they want to hear and/or see and at the same time focus there attention on specific carves, arcs, weight, etc. through space.
You can also click through the creation process of the interface on the website, further deepening your understanding of the creation process. At the beginning of this web-experience the question, “What else might physical thinking look like?” pops up.
Wayne McGregor did a Ted Talk, “A Choreographer’s creative process in real time.” I was immersed in the familiar way the dancers were asked to perform newly synthesized movements and relationships. I immediately recognized the familiar assignments and the state of the dancers as they instantly synthesized physical thought. As the dancers moved from jittery (first learning and applying) to a little more integrated in the body only 5-minutes later, I thought, look at all the ways we can think with our bodies and how they move. Amazing.
I think this might be a running post as I continue to add examples of physical thought…
Light and shadow is resonating with me. What you see and what you don’t see. There are parts hidden, always; Andre Zachary mentioned this Monday. During our portrait study we shared details about people in the class that were chosen or curated creating a lens the audience would see through. Each person’s world is curated by themselves. Facebook and Instagram profiles are curated to project a certain persona. The news is curated. I curate my children’s world as much as I can. I curate my work, my blog, my fashion (if you can call it that), my food. Choices are the curation of life. Ideas of protection, mediation, filtering and triangulation come up for me when thinking about a curated life, either the life you curate for yourself or the life someone else’s perspective has curated of your life.
My intermedia lab group ended up creating our Portrait Project with me at the center. There were ideas of interviews, auditions, interrogations and being put in situations where I was told my truths were being questioned. The social experiment of it was interesting to me. My team mates were to ask questions of me that I didn’t know before hand so I would have to really think about the answer and upon answering the question they would say, “Interesting,” in a way akin to an interrogation. The fascinating part was even though I knew they meant no ill will and we had set the project up like this I questioned my answers. Which is absurd because there was no reason the truth of the answers could be questioned.
The conceptual and social commentary in our Viewings spark some particular feelings right now. Jerome Bel’s “Veronique,” Antonia Baehr’s “LAUGH”, Amara Tabor Smith’s “House/Full” and Michelle Ellsworth’s “The Rehearsal Artist,” along with Andre Zachary’s examples of process in Monday’s class and our subsequent discussions of mapping/notation with him in Laban today. These all create a web of discourse linking the viewer to the artist in different ways. I’m interested in the word “affect” right now as well and I think there is something of that in here. Zachary links his dancers through his new dissection of language through process. Ellsworth, Bel and Baehr are linking the audience, performer and artist by prompting the viewer to question what is happening and why it’s happening. Smith is linking her work with different areas of Oakland giving it a sense of place and mapping automatically linking it to people watching but also the communities in those places.
Process can be concept. Process is full of context. Process can be performance. The behind the scenes is often more interesting to me than the performance, but in these works they have weaved process into the performance. The process is happening as it unfolds, the audience is processing and will continue to process after. The artists are saying something. Speaking out is resonating with me right now and these choreographers did that in a way that speaks on many levels, in many different contexts and cross culturally. What are you going to say and what makes this the moment you are going to say it? These choreographers are speaking out, sometimes more subtly than others, but even if you don’t get it immediately, you can feel it.