The point of movement scores/improvising and subsequent discussion is to compel students to make specific aesthetic choices and then to gain consciousness both of the particular choices they have made and the reasons why they (or someone else) might make a similar or different choice.”

The original text below:

The point of compositional prompts and subsequent discussion is to compel students to make specific aesthetic choices and then to gain consciousness both of the particular choices they have made and the reasons why they (or someone else) might make a similar or different choice.” (205)

Larry Lavender Predock-Linnell & Jennifer Predock-Linnell (2001) From Improvisation to Choreography: The critical bridge, Research in Dance Education, 2:2, 195-209




Stein Composition

Stein Compostion_edited-1.jpg


 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!

Choreo vs. Impro

Choreography is knowing the other’s response to your actions.

Improvisation is not knowing the other’s response to your actions

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

3 of the Roses Framing Statement

Repetition as a theme for investigation presented itself to me during the Erasmus Intensive.  Kirsi Monni, head of the Helsinki program, during her presentation said that there is no repetition in Trio A.  At the end of her talk I said that there is a lot of repetition in Trio A and showed several examples.  Maybe I was being pedantic.  One man’s pedanticalness is another man’s accuracy.  Yes, Trio A could be said to have no repetition as there are no long sections of movement that repeat, but if the time frame that one uses to examine all of the choreography of Trio A is short, several instances of repetition do appear.  The arm swings in the beginning, the toe taps, the ear flaps.  These repetitions are just within the kinesphere of the performer.  If we look at other performance elements we see a lot of repetition.  The performer is always the same person.  The costume never changes.  The performer repeatedly does not look at the audience.  One of the performance instructions for Trio A is to keep the same speed throughout the piece – if you start slow, stay slow; start fast, stay fast.  In other words, repeat the velocity.  Keeping vocally silent is another form of repetition in Trio A.  How many ways of repeating exist in Trio A?  How many ways of repeating exist in any choreography or performance?

One hallmark of contemporary dance could be said to be the continual search for the new.  The new way to move, the new sounds, the new taboo to break, the new way to engage the audience, to frustrate, to excite, or aggravate them.

I am sure that we have all heard “Oh, that’s been done” in relation to a performance.  But if that, whatever that is, has been done, then Gertrude Stein is wrong.  A rose is not a rose.  But if a rose is a rose is a rose does mean that there is no such thing as repetition because the context is changing then nothing has ever been done before and we can stop worrying about newness.  Or maybe something similar has been done.  And for some folks that similarity is too close for comfort.  Enough change has not been instilled into the second rose to be different enough to be something new.

The human body can sense a 1% drop in water levels triggering a thirst response.  Maybe in art there is a similar response.  The change from one rose to the next needs to be greater than 1% to be registered.  Or maybe 10%.  I read once that humans can detect temperature change in a space only after the initial temperature drops 10%.  How to measure this percentage necessary between roses I do not know.

Taking a very wide “zoom lens of attention” to performance in general, we could say that 90+% of performance is a repetition of something else.  We sit here, performers there and we watch.  Humans on one side of a box watching humans on the other side of the box.  Zoom in and change the lights, change the framing statement, change the performers etc. and each piece is wildly different.

Emperor Penguins, the ones that stand with eggs on their feet all winter while their mates eat and then switch roles.  To me they all look alike.  I can’t tell them apart.  They are just repetitions of each other.  But penguins can certainly tell each other apart.  Maybe if I took more time, trained my eye and zoomed my lens of attention in, I could see beyond the repetition and see the variety.  Maybe Stein should have said a penguin is a penguin is a penguin is a penguin…

Coming back to my research.  Some of you saw the piece I presented during the Erasmus presentation – a repetition of a spiral initiated by my right foot.  Using that initiation repeatedly and by changing the physical context around that repetition I was able to craft my trajectory through space.  The physical context I changed by altering where on my body(hands, pelvis, shoulders, quads etc) I increased or decreased pressure into the floor; how large or small I made the angle between my legs; how tight or open I made the spiral by varying when in the spiral my upper body followed the initiation of my lower body.  All these elements within the repetition led to change.

Recently, I have been more interested in repetition within the body’s kinesphere than in repetitive actions that relate to the space or repetitive actions that are used to create a physical remainder.  Examples of those kinds of work are Bruce Nauman’s Square Dance or Richard Long’s A Line Made by Walking (1967).  One of the second years repeated Nauman’s Walking in an Exaggerated Manner around the Perimeter of a Square in December.  If traveling through space does happen during my kinespheric repetition, that is fine, but not the goal.  One ah ha! moment I had about physical repetition and looking back on it now, seems quite obvious, is the relationship to time.  Repetition of an action is not time dependent.  The repetitions can happen rapidly and evenly spaced in time or the time between actions could be quite long and the action happen only twice.

I have also been investigating repetition in relation to words by using Context Free Grammar language generators to create texts.  From what I understand they generate a type of Mad Libs that are then filled with vocabularies of a certain genre.  One such generator for physics I came across is snarxiv and is described as “a random high-energy the­ory paper gen­er­a­tor incor­po­rat­ing all the lat­est trends, entropic rea­son­ing, and excit­ing mod­uli spaces.”  Another text generator I came across,  is The Postmodernism Generator.

Could I create a sensible piece of writing using “senseless” repetition?  I selected chunks of text from the Postmodernism Generator at random, hitting refresh to generate more texts and created a “Frankenstein” text.  With a little word substitution here and some rewriting there, I tried to breathe life into this text.  I repeated words throughout the text hoping that their repetition would create enough of a through-line to create meaning. While I do not think that if looked at with a wide zoom lens the Frankenstein text I created has meaning, there are some interesting nuggets in it.  It is possible that the whole text is coherent and I do not have the ability to understand it.

These nuggets, if they already existed in the texts of Lacan, Eco, Lyotard, or Derrida, are now available to me without their original context, thus allowing me to craft my own meaning out of them.  The original context is not interfering with my perception of them.

In my attempts at repetition I invariably created change.  This change, to draw a geographic metaphor, can be catastrophic or gradual.  Gradual change in geology is just as it sounds, gradual.  The Himalayan mountains grow about 5 mm a year. For us 5mm is nothing but for a bacterium that 5mm might as well be the Himalayas.  The opposite view of gradual change or gradualism is catastrophism – sudden, huge events that radically altered the face of the earth, creating mountains and valleys in moments.  From a human perspective, the recent events in Fukushima, Japan were huge and devastating.  For the Earth, a mere hiccup.

A similar idea in evolutionary biology is phyletic gradualism(slow, gradual but continuous change) versus punctuated equilibrium (rapid change with longer moments of stability).  An example of rapid change in evolution in species is the Cambrian explosion.  This “rapid” change lasted 70-80 million years.  An incomprehensible time frame for humans, but only 2% of the age of the Earth.

The change created by my repetitions can be viewed as gradual or catastrophic.  While holding a static pose, I might fall slowly due to my hands and feet sliding out from under me because of increased perspiration.  I might have fallen abruptly due to muscle fatigue.  The distal and proximal initiations might have changed abruptly or evolved slowly.

Two artists whose work resonates with me are Sol LeWitt and Agnes Martin, artists whose work involves a lot of repetition.  I first encountered LeWitt’s work several years ago when Kelly suggested that I look at a piece of his called Variations of Incomplete Open Cubes.  When I looked at it I saw something very similar to a sculptural project I was working on.  I was trying to figure out all the possible variations of the minimum number of lines needed to indicate a cube.  I was working at the time with 16 gauge two inch square steel tubing.  The pictures I saw of LeWitt’s piece were just what I had been drawing.  I first saw Martin’s work at the Dia:Beacon in Beacon, NY in 2006.

In reading about them I came across some words about and by LeWitt and Martin.  I will share just a few here with you.  I find that these words are a distillation of how I tend to look at or make work.  Jannis Kounellis said of LeWitt “His fundamental square, I believe, has as its target the iconographic excesses…”  Agnes Martin in her poem The Untroubled Mind writes – “…this is a return to classicism/Classicism is not about people/and this work is not about the world…Classicists are people that look out with their back to the world…it’s as unsubjective as possible…The classic is cool/a classical period/it is cool because it is impersonal/the detached and impersonal”

The works I presented to you I consider to be works in progress.  I do not have a definite answer why.  I feel that I know what tools or processes I have created – the physical scores, the texts – and am confident that they can take me some where.  I just do not know where yet.  Each of these tools has as its generative source a form repetition – the first, repetition of thought; the second, repetition of intention; the third, repetition of process.  What I do know is that I am interested in repetition as a means to target iconographic excesses and to create work that is not about the world, trying to make something as unsubjective as possible and through the repetition wash away past experience. 

To repeat Lisa repeating Ric repeating Deborah Hay –

What I am really trying to do is just be here in my body, in this costume, doing this movement and not have what you think this movement is from your past experience interfere with your seeing now.


click here to see 3 of the Roses, my final presentation for the second semester of my MA SODA program.

Performance Nutrition

What humanity needs to ingest to survive evolves very slowly.  As our ancestors before us, we are still eating proteins, sugars, fats, vitamins, antioxidants, etc to survive.  Humanity’s needs in the arts evolve slowly, too.  Witness the fact that Greek tragedies and Shakespeare’s plays are still produced. Song of love and loss are recorded still.  Instead of using harps, musicians now use laptops and keyboards.

What evolves faster in terms of performance ingestion is the tools used to create the fodder for consumption.  New ways of moving, making sound, lighting the performance space, modes of covering and leaving the performing form uncovered evolve faster than what is done with those tools.

Inevitably these new tools are used to in performances that return to the basic needs of the audience.  After a deplorably short time, the exploration of the new tools is dropped and their use is co-opted by the need to explore the human condition, to create theater.

In other words, the tools and aesthetics change, but we come back to the same logics again and again and again.

Just as the nutritive needs of human will basically remain static so, too, will the performative needs of humanity.  It, therefore, behooves us to investigate the tools themselves and not their use in relation to humanity and the human condition.  Only in this way can we expect the arts to evolve