Violet

 There are known knowns; there are things we know that we know.

There are known unknowns; that is to say, there are things that we now know we don’t know.

But there are also unknown unknowns – there are things we do not know we don’t know.

– Donald Rumsfeld

 I am curious what unknown Meg Stuart/Damaged Goods is venturing into with Violet that I saw at HAU 2 on October 30, 2013.  The program states that “Stuart once again ventures into the unknown.”  I would agree that she “has banished the socio-emotional issues that have coloured her previous pieces in order too concentrate on the kinetic and the abstract.”(from the program)  The other pieces I have seen by her, Replacement and Do Animals Cry, dealt a lot with social and emotional issues as far as I could tell.

Is Violet a venture into the unknown in terms of logic, tool, or aesthetic?  To concentrate on the kinetic and the abstract is not venturing into the unknown.  That realm of inquiry has been and continues to be heavily investigated.  Maybe the unknown refers to not knowing the results of a predetermined process.  As someone who also makes performance work, I am curious to know what the known knowns and the known unknowns are in this piece.  In other words, what was set(predetermined) and what was not(determined in the moment).  I am guessing that the upstage line of five dancers was known; that they would undergo solo states work was known; that the diagonal of  dancers from downstage right to upstage center stage was known; that the V shape of dancers was known; that the rolling clump of bodies was known.

I do not have an issue with elements, phrases, locations, etc. being predetermined in a piece.  But if the first sentence in the explicative text in the program talks about venturing into the unknown, I want that unknown to be defined.  Are the kinespheric processes unknown?  Are the spatial configurations that will arise unknown?  Is the sound unknown?  Or are they using known processes to discover something unknown.

However the piece is constructed and whatever the choreographer’s intentions may be, I appreciated the events on stage as they gave me a framework upon which I could lay some of my own questions about performance.  Simply put, I would say that Violet is a quintet of “balls to the wall” solos that are attempting to walk the fine line between ignoring the group and composing spatially with the group.  Watching the performance through that lens, I could think about my work with Lower Left.  The Ensemble Thinking work, as spatially clarifying and enlightening as it is, sometimes robs the dancer of a wild solo body.  The outward focus on the group’s spatial relationships can stultify the individual’s expression.  Violet, as I viewed it, is an inspirational, though not completely successful, step in the direction of co-mingling the wild low-brained body with a conscious and refined spatial awareness.  I say unsuccessful because several times I saw dancer’s “drop out” of their solo body work and shift their location to complete a line or angle in space.  Another point (and this might be a bit nit-picky) but the dancers used their right arms much more than their left arms to initiate and investigate movement.

The music by Brendan Dougherty does “produce a dense wall”.  At its loudest, which is a good chunk of the time, the music I found overwhelmed the dance.  Volume, in my opinion, is sometimes used for instant gravitas.  The dancers’ movement became insignificant beneath the weight of the sound.  At one point, a dancer screamed.  I couldn’t hear her through all the racket.  I could merely see the indication of a scream, a grimacing visage.  Quite an image if you want to use a social-emotional lens, even stronger if you add the lenses of race and gender – a white male making so much noise the scream of a small Asian female cannot be heard.  But we are in the kinetic and abstract so forget that interpretation.  Despite the volume, I enjoyed the music.

The large brown wall in the back looked like it was tacked on.  It was quite large but not large enough to envelope the theater/stage space and create a “space” within.  From where I was sitting I could not see enough of a reflection in it to give me another perspective on the events on stage.  The brown wall did, though, reflect the visible light spectrum nicely.  Everyone likes a rainbow.

In explaining the title Violet, Stuart says that “Violet is the last colour in the spectrum, before ultraviolet, before the unknown, before the imperceptible.”  Violet maybe the last color in the visible light spectrum right before ultraviolet.  But it is not before the unknown.  After ultraviolet rays are x-rays, gamma rays, and finally cosmic rays.  Granted everything after the violet is imperceptible to the human eye and therefore, in a sense, imperceptible.  Though we can sense prolonged exposure to ultraviolet rays after the fact – sunburn.  But is she saying that something known but not perceptible with our five senses is actually unknown.  Is the body the ultimate arbiter of known and unknown?  If so, then why have the loud music and the brown wall?  Let’s enjoy sweaty, spinal, rolling, screaming, walking, falling, running, shaking, flinging bodies for their own sake.

She is right, though.  Violet is a great name for a rock band.  Too bad these guys got it.

Seven Thirty in Tights

Seven Thirty In Tights
April 28th 2013 at Sophiensaele
“Picture the ballroom dance of the future.  Imagine this dance and its consequences are the result of an intense physical dialogue between dancers – an interaction of distinct group decisions in which all react to the impulses of the others and have to find answers in a split second.  Now imagine this dance was a political practice.” – from the program
I saw another piece by Frédéric Gies several years ago and I had the same problem with this one as I did that one.  He adds too many other elements to the stage space that the physical actions lose value or I can’t tell what he values about them.  The last performance had explicitly stated BMC exercises paired with music by Madonna and a large rug like object hanging from the ceiling upstage.  I don’t have or remember the program notes from that piece, so I can’t say what Gies’ goal was in juxtaposing those elements together.
With this piece, he wants us to picture the ballroom dance of the future.  The dance we see is a group tuning score about decision making and reacting to others, i.e. improvising.  By asking us to view a type of event that is very much of the present (group improvisation) as the ballroom dance of the future, is he saying that in the future scored group improvisation will be a rigid codified form of dance.  Looking at another form of group decision making and reacting, the contact improvisation jam, we are well on our way.  Contact Improvisation is all but a codified social dance with defined movements and roles.  But Gies and company were not engaging in contact improvisation, at least not in the normative sense of contact improvisation.  But as they were improvising and coming in and out of contact, the performers in Seven Thirty In Tights could be viewed as engaging in contact improvisation.  After all who determines the tools used in a performance – the doers or the viewers?!!?
For me this piece suffered from a flat ontology.  All elements had equal value.  The physicality didn’t change that much through out the 60 minute plus.  The dancers came in and out of manual contact, dancing alone or facing each other.  There was some change in tempo, initiated mostly by the female all dressed in red.  Well, maybe the elements didn’t have equal value, but I felt that there was so much sensorial noise generated by all the non-dance considerations of the piece, that I couldn’t help but be preoccupied by wondering about the reasons for those elements, thus lowering for the valorization of the corporeal elements.  I tried to enjoy the physical actions of the performers (and there were some well trained people performing whom I have enjoyed watching in other performances) but I couldn’t get past the neon lights, the costumes, the tape on the floor, and the program notes.
The physical practice in the piece was not of the future, so maybe the tights, the lights and the tape indicating the 4th wall are elements from the future.  But colored fluorescent tubes (a possible Flavin reference?), non-proscenium stage spaces and tights are also not of the future.  So is it then the combination of group real time spontaneous composition with the, lighting, costuming, and staging that create the ballroom dance of the future?  Or is it up to us, the viewers who have read the program to picture the dance of the future, inspired by the elements presented? (Representation, once again rears its ugly head!)
Another element of the program statement that lowered the valorization of the corporeal elements of the performance was the directive to imagine the dance as a political practice.  I felt that in order to do that more fully and in the direction that the choreographer intended I should have attended the lecture by Sylvie Tissot that took the day before I attended the performance.  Was this piece a political practice because it was more improvised than choreographed?  Was this piece a political practice because the individuals were able to make their own decisions within a larger set of considerations?  Political because tax dollars are supporting the work?  Who determines the politics – the doers or the viewers?
In summation – I did see some dancing I enjoyed[*], solo body and group, but the staging and sartorial choices were too aesthetically noisy overwhelming the dancing itself.  The program notes were too generic and could be applied to any dance, performance, or sporting event for than matter.  Maybe instead of generic, I should say open.  But for me the program notes/framing/contextualization were way too open.  Isn’t part of the artist’s job to focus our attention?


[*]When the group rotated through space along the perimeter of the performance space delineating the boundary between audience and performers.
When the group came to a long diagonal…Doris Humphrey is right!  
When in a long line the dancers changed location within the line.

Energetic Charge

With an acute sense for the inherent potential contained within ordinary objects and natural materials as well as for the placement of objects within a space, both artists manage to give their arrangements an energetic charge.”

The above quote is from the description of an exhibit currently at the Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin.  I hope to see the exhibit.  I quite like the art in the picture.

What caught my eye in the text is “inherent potential” and “both artists manage”.  I do not dispute that ordinary objects have inherent potential.  Some more than others. (a fully charged capacitor, for example.  Or a tub of water atop a large hill.  ha!)

Funnin’ aside, I understand that phrase and the drama of space – placement of objects.  What I don’t understand is pairing that phrase with “both artists manage to give their arrangements an energetic charge”. 

If the objects have inherent potential, then it should be impossible to not give their arrangements an energetic charge.  Just throw them out there, and boom! you’re done.  The problem lies with the word “managed”.  To me it signals some kind of skill, or ability that imbued the arrangements with energetic charge.  Maybe it’s a translation issue.  Maybe the artists unleashed the potential energy creating a static, yet kinetic, arrangement.

It would be more impressive if the artists had used objects and space that have no potential and managed to create energetic charge.  

But…what spaces have no potential?
What objects have no potential?

Or maybe used objects and spaces of great potential and created arrangements of absolutely no charge.

I’d go see that!

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