A Critical Departure

Bojana Cvejić posits that the improvising dancing that Burrows and Ritsema do in their piece WDSQ is significantly different than dance improvisation. She writes that their performance is the result of a  “critical departure from dance improvisation” (Cvejić, 2015, p.160). I take the term critical departure to mean that Cvejić considers the methods and models used by Burrows and Ritsema when creating their performance are the results of a research and rehearsal process that was heading in a different direction than dance improvisation. As I have not seen the piece, I can only assess how Burrows’ and Ritsema’s dancing relates to dance improvisation by what Cvejić has written about their performance.

I would propose that Burrows and Ritsema do not achieve a critical departure from dance improvisation as a whole. Rather, it could be said that they create their performance using dance improvisation. It could be that I have misunderstood Cvejić. The critical departure that they have created might be from their own habits. Such an interpretation could be read in the following quotation:

…in WDSQ we encounter an exemplar of a creation by problem that operates in several registers: the object of an Idea of movement, the form of which seems impossible; a procedure constraining a process by conditions and rules for questioning movement, which results in the invention of a new syntax…(Cvejić, 2015, p. 159)

The use of conditions and rules to expand a dancer’s movement vocabulary, syntax, movement possibilities is a standard idea of one use of dance improvisation. Most practitioners of dance improvisation would attest to this thought.

Earlier in the chapter Exhausting Improvisation: Stutterances, Cvejić discusses a movement process Burrows and Ritsema engage in to problematize their movements. She writes that “…they issue it and abort its development at the same time” (Cvejić, 2015, p. 153). Such a process sounds very similar to Chaos of Intention. Chaos of Intention is part of Re:Wire Dancing States, a body of improvisational work initiated by choreographer Nina Martin and is continued to be developed in conjunction with her colleagues of the Lower Left Performance Collective. (Full disclosure, I am a member of the Lower Left Performance Collective).

Chaos of Intention (CoInt) could be described in a similar manner as the method of problematizing movement Cvejić writes about. CoInt requires that the dancer change, modify, or transform his movement as soon as he recognizes it as familiar in some way. By constantly tracking the movements he creates (issues) and changing them so that they do not progress (develop) as they normally would, the improvising dancer is able to expand his movement potential. A goal of CoInt could be described as attempting “…to move and yet not produce a cognizable movement” (Cvejić, 2015, p. 149).

“Improvisation in WDSQ begins exactly by dismantling the function of the body as the source or point of origin of movement” (Cvejić, 2015, p. 141). This quotation relates Cvejić’s thoughts about Burrows and Ritsema’s improvising to Forsythe’s practice of improvisation. His methodology results from “extending and amplifying knowledge from and individual authoring body” (Cvejić, 2015, p. 141). Cvejić proposes that Burrows and Ritsema’s improvising is different because it does not make use of the dancer’s body for inspiration, but dismantles that relationship and makes use of other sources.

The use of external sources for movement inspiration and origination is also part of the Re:Wire Dance States methodology. There are several binaries that an improvising dancer can make use of as an external “source or point of origin of movement” (Cvejić, 2015, p. 141). Big/Small and Near/Far are two such binaries.

Big/Small relates to several variables. It can relate to the range of movements through space that the dancers creates. These movements through space can be big, small or somewhere in between. Big/Small can also refer to the amount of time that an action occurs. The movement of an arm can take a big or small amount of time. Near/Far can be used to relate to the space that the dancer is in. Using this score, the improvising dancer creates and notices the distance between different objects, points, people in space. He can then change his location in space to alter these relationships, making them nearer or farther than before.

It could be argued that these two binaries make use of the body as a point of reference for movement (Near/Far) or make use of the body to move through space and time (Big/Small) and therefore do not fully remove the body as the “…source or point of origin of movement” (Cvejić, 2015, p. 141). I would however argue that they dismantle it to an extent by pulling the dancer’s awareness out of his immediate corporeal somatic experience.

In light of the similarities to extant improvisational methods, the procedures that Burrows and Ritsema use to create their dance performance WDSQ are not a “critical departure from dance improvisation” (Cvejić, 2015, p.160). Their procedures are related and comparable to a whole host of improvisational theories and practices already in use.

Presence vs. Awareness

What is it?
There are many workshops that deal with presence.  Practicing it, creating different kinds of presence.
But there is only one kind of presence – either you are in the room or you are not.  It’s digital,a binary.  Either the food is in your belly or it is not.  Either the whisky is in your glass or it is not.  Either you’re pregnant or you’re not.
If we are to look at the etymology of the word (and a little part of me dies when I do this), we see that presence comes from Latin praesentia – “a being before”.  The origins of the word have nothing to do with awareness.  Before…in front of…location…place…space…either you are before someone or not.
Does this mean that practicing presence is an exercise in punctuality?  You are either in the studio or not.  Punctuality is something that many dancers could practice.  Oh, the irony…we of time based art have a hard time showing up at the correct time.
What people really mean when they say presence is awareness.  When people say that someone is not very present, they mean that someone’s awareness is on something other than what they themselves are focused on.  Differing awarenesses.
Seeing dancers who are not very “present” on stage… well, that’s impossible.  If they weren’t present, you couldn’t see them.  They appear “not present” because their awareness is elsewhere.  Frequently inexperienced dancers seem “not present”.  Their awareness is probably taken up by nervousness, or anticipation of messing up the choreography.  Their awareness is of the moment they are in, but their awareness of that moment is of a different variable than what the viewer is aware of.  The nervous dancer is aware of his or her panic about the upcoming moments, getting that lift right, or freaked out in an open improvisation because s/he is “stuck” center stage in a ball facing the floor.  It seemed like a brilliant choice 2 minutes ago…what do I do now?
The “unpresent” dancers, though, have not disappeared.  They are just focused on something else than the viewer is.
Injuries can also come from lack of “presence”.  This, though, is a result of a difference in awareness.  Imagine a contact jam.  Person X is very present in (or aware of) his sensations – the weight on his torso, the sweat of his partner, the exertion of his muscles etc.  He is so caught up in his sensory perceptions, that his awareness doesn’t see the heel headed towards his face.
Heel meets face.  Ouch.  If he really weren’t present, then he would have not been hit.  If his awareness were outwards, he might have been able to avoid the incoming heel.  His awareness could have changed his presence to another location and avoided the calcaneal(is that a word?) collision.
presence, awareness, presence, awareness…
By conflating the two terms, and I would say that people favor presence, giving it greater value, we are favoring the mind over the body.
Maybe this is a Cartesian remnant, a vestigial thought held over from the Enlightenment – I think therefore I am – favoring the mind over the body.

Somatic – Compositional

Now – Future
Need – Want
Have to React – Want to React
Body – Space
Kinesphere – Spatial
Sensing Self –Sensing Space
Reaction to Self – Reaction to Other
For Self – For Other
Solo – Group
Self – Other
I – We
Compensating – Creating
Reacting to Change – Creating Change
Following – Leading
Habitual – Non-habitual
Unconscious – Conscious
Automatic – Forced
Exothermic – Endothermic
Anatomical – Cerebral
Poetic – Formulaic
Inner – Outer
Process – Product
Observational – Generative
Subject – Object
Instinctual – Cognitive
Fast – Slow
Evolving – Abrupt

a list of binaries generated during my third semester of my MA SODA at the HZT in Berlin

Tour vs. Make

Hot off the mental press, coming at you live. As I ponder more and more of late about what to do in life, what path to follow or forge, all due to grad school and the birth of my first child, I think now about a binary of touring vs. making work. Is it even a binary? All these thoughts could be because I am just lazy and don’t want to do the work of getting my work out there. Writing grants, making packets, sending them out, schmoozing with presenters is a lot of work. Work that scares me. Maybe scares me is the wrong word.

I see other artists who tour and get presented and looking at their work, I don’t understand why they were presented, why the director of theater X gave them a 6 month residency. Must be in the documentation the artist presented, or maybe the kind of work s/he does is more easily marketable. Could be that my work is just not interesting. Don’t get bitter, don’t get bitter, don’t get bitter.

And grad school, context, context, context. Shit in on context smell, a different context helps make food. So maybe I need to rewrite all my performance blurbs so the context is sexier. And then write the grants, make the packets, and hound the presenters. But for whom am I making the work? Because I work in a time based medium that can be viewed as performative, does that mean the work is made for other people? How many painters make work for themselves, and have studios full of canvasses not meant for general consumption?

And now a child! What a wonderful bundle of joy and confusion. Her laughter, smiles and cries make everything, all my frustrations disappear. But then they come back. Provide, provide, provide…that is what a parent, a father is supposed to do. Hack away at performing, etc to make money to provide. But then touring could conflict with schooling. School is still a couple years off yet.

So, do I finish this schooling, get my MA then jump out of the artistic realm into the academic realm to get health insurance, income to provide? Just as much chance of getting a big grant. Both require applications and schmoozing.

Maybe this is all justification for laziness. Artistic high road and all that. Even now all these thoughts/emotions I don’t want to bother to craft into a polished blog post. But isn’t this more just for me as a place to vent?

No one reads this anyways…