Context

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Merely

In several journal articles that I have read, I sense the white male privilege and how it seeps through, even when the article is written by a well educated female, who hopefully has enough education to get beyond or out from under (pun not intended) the white male privilege.

In “Foucault’s Turn from Phenomenology: Implications for Dance Studies, Sally Ness writes “Dance, or any embodied movement oriented practice, is not what Foucault studied.”  It is good to use thoughts and models from different disciplines to interrogate and problematize one’s own practice.  But then later in the conclusion, Ness writes – The field [dance studies] has acquired its fair share of cross-disciplinary prestige that any alignment with Foucault’s work inevitably carries.  So only by quoting a dead white guy who knew little to nothing about dance can the embodied(female!??!) practice of dance enter the theoretical (male?!?!) world of intellectual discourse.
In an article about Merleau-Ponty and Laban, by Maureen Connolly and Anna Lathrop, Connolly is described as having a “commitment to phenomenology and movement education that is unashamedly (emphasis mine) bodily based.”
Why does she need to bring shame into it?  Is she ashamed of her body?  Does Alvin Noë have to write that he is unashamedly cerebral? No, because he is of the power structure, white, male, and cerebral.  I feel that by connecting shame to being body based, Connolly is still operating under a value system that devalues the body and favors the mind.
In Playing with Performance: The Element of the Game in Experimental Dance and Theater by Karen Clemente, she quotes Michael Kirby about post-modern dance – “…Dance is not used to convey messages or make statements.  The dancers are merely themselves.”
Oh, how I hate that word merely.  Yes, it can mean purely,without admixture.  But it has the word mere in it, which for me has a negative connotation, a mere child.  That the dancers in Kirby’s quote are no better than their bodies.  That without a code, to bring Barthes into, the subject is dis-intellectualized, all we have is the body and therefore, not of much value.  I doubt Kirby or Clemente would say that they disvalue the body, but I think there is a vestigial bias, left over from Descartes or wherever.  Similar to how people who improvise and value it as a means of art creation say just improvise or that improvisation is not a piece.  That there is technical dance and then there’s CI.  Which makes me think of CI dancers in Germany who don’t call themselves dancers because they haven’t gotten a certification in dance.  Which then leads to CI being even more marginalized in their own minds and end up even more noodly and less rigorous/less technical.
We are all suffering under biases that we have not consciously accepted or created.  Sometimes, though, it seems like there are intellectual/critical theory tropes that people invoke because that is what we are supposed to do. I remember a thread on Facebook about a performance by Isabel Schad at Counterpulse last year. In it she is naked and there is a sound score with a male voice. Everyone was up in arms because the male/voice/intellect was controlling the female/body, or so they thought.
“How could Isabel and her collaborator make such piece?!?  Don’t they know how that piece is read?”
The groovy liberals of the SF dance scene, I thought, would value the female/body equally, if not more, than the word/mind.  And that they would not think that there are multiple readings and intentions.  Isabel and her collaborator weren’t thinking about gender when making the piece. But maybe they, too, are unaware of what vestigial cognitive biases remain.

Authorizing Brilliance

As you are the author of your own experience, please frame this piece as you see fit. I urge you to authorize a frame that makes this experience the most brilliant cutting edge piece that you have ever seen in order to maximize your time/experience/cost ratio. This piece is so brilliant, in fact, that every piece you see afterwards will pale in comparison and will be seen as a mere reference to this current piece.

If however, you are not able to create such a frame, then are you really the author of your own experience? What would need to change in your reception of this piece to facilitate your authorship of a brilliant piece? Are the elements present inadequate, or is your skill as an author of your experience inadequate? Wherein lies the responsibility? Is it a 50/50 relationship?

If you are not able to create a brilliant piece with the elements I am presenting to you, can we really say that the audience is the author?

CI is like Champagne

Only bubbly white wine
that comes from the region of 
Champagne, France 
is given the name 
champagne.

Contact Improvisation, some people maintain, is more than just a physical practice. It is a political movement, a way of life, a way to interact with our fellow humans and the world. Some might even go as far as to say CI is a social modality that can change the world.

Contact Improvisation was not created in a vacuum. It arose in the United States during a time of great flux and change. It was a time of great social and political upheaval. Therefore, the environment in which CI arose is inherent in the form.

If CI is a political/social/gender/economic etc. movement then to truly understand CI one has to come from the same soil that birthed CI.

Are, then, only denizens of the United States of America fully capable of understanding CI and manifesting true corporeal self-determination in the moment?

(it could also be that all the concomitant -isms that people attribute to the physical form of CI have nothing to with it, that it is purely the physical practice and form. Yes, CI can be a tool for creating those -isms, but it is not those -isms. A hammer can be used to build a house, but it is not a house.)

Theater vs. Gallery or What vs. Where

If a dance piece is different in a theater than in a gallery, white box vs. black box, how would it change in a movie theater?
in an elementary school theater?
a high school theater?
a college theater?
the art gallery next to the black box theater at the college?
at a theater at a university, a university without a dance major?
in the theater of a university?
in the theater of a PAC 10 university?
in the foyer of that theater?
in the bathroom off the foyer of the theater of the PAC 10 university that doesn’t have a dance major?
in a bus stop near that university?
the bathroom at that bus stop?
the bus that just left the bus stop?
the bathroom on that bus?
the Wendy’s that bus stops at 3 hours later?
in the parking lot of the gas station?
next to pump number 3?
next to pump number 7 that Henry in a red and green plaid shirt is using to fill his Toyota Tundra’s tank?

OK, forget all that.  Let’s go back to a traditional performance space.

A sprung bamboo floor on a 15×10 meter rectangle of concrete with radiant heating.  The concrete is 20 cm thick.  Surrounding the dance floor is gravel.  This floor is in a room that has 5 other such floors and each one is surrounded similarly by gravel.  This room has windows on the north and south sides and has an arched roof. The walls are white; the gravel grey; the ceiling silver.  The east and west sides have brown sliding door 4 meters long and 2 meters tall.  Each door has a cement landing and benches.

Maybe this isn’t a traditional performance space, but my dream studio.

OK, back to this piece…hmm…how about this – We, in the performance world, shall never make a new piece ever again, but agree upon 1 piece that we will all repeat in different contexts.  Never again will we have to worry about what we will do.  The only question is where we will do it.

P.S.
There are an infinite number of contexts (as there are pieces).
I’d rather make the pieces than the contexts.

European English

Due to whatever reasons (that I do not wish to go into), English is the dominant language of communication within the arts in Europe.  Maybe this is only true for dance and performance.  I have more exposure to that world than the worlds of painting, sculpture, etc. (I do not want to say visual art as dance, too, is a visual art).

The English used in the dance art world is slowly evolving to become another dialect.  It is neither the bastard English of the United States or the proper Queen’s English of the United Kingdom.  It is becoming its own thing developed by the collective use of non-native speakers and ex-pats.

I became aware, or perhaps more aware, of European English after seeing a performance at HAU 3 in Berlin this past May.  The piece was Pulling Strings by Eva Meyer-Keller.  It is quite an intricate piece, a feat of organization.  Quotidian objects are raised, lowered, and activated, sometimes to comical effects.  My favorite moment was the spinning push-broom.  But I digress.

What caught my mind(eye) was the title – Pulling Strings.  Yes, that is literally what she and her collaborator did.  They pulled strings to activate the objects.  But the phrase pulling strings has a nefarious, manipulative aspect to it.  The phrase conjures up back room political machinations.  I did not see how the piece connected to such an idea.  The description on her website gave no indication that the piece was related to the manipulative meaning of the phrase.  As far as I could tell, Keller was not dealing with that meaning of the phrase, just the literal one.

The use of the phrase pulling strings, in a way, has become pure meaning, a literal phrase.  Does this mean, then, that people who do know that meaning or use of the phrase are saddled with extra context, context or meaning that has nothing to do with the piece?

Another student, who is French, in the SODA program did a piece in which she used several phrases with the word white and several kinds of animals – white rabbit, white horse.  I can’t think of other ones at the moment.  She was unaware of the white rabbit of Alice in Wonderland or in the Jefferson Airplane song(also the same rabbit), White Rabbit.  Whenever I hear the phrase white horse I think of that great song by Laid Back, White Horse.  They’re Danish, by the way.

My larger question is when a language is used by a non-native speaker how aware of the idioms and cultural context of that language should s/he be?  Can the artist ignore all that and use the language as a context-free tool for expression?  I would think that in a scene that is obsessed with context and dramaturgy, artists would have a greater concern for the use of language.

Or has all context been removed from English in continental Europe?

I.E.P.

Something I wrote on the subway today about improvised performance, especially in relation to my project as part of my third semester studies at SODA – 

Improvised Ensemble Performance intentionally has such a limited palette in relation to props, music, set etc. as each of those elements and the unnamed ones are all ways that we can distract ourselves from our existence.  Think of cell phones, portable music and video sources on planes, trains and automobiles.  We use those forms to pull us away from ourselves, intentionally or not. But consciously using the limited (yet infinite!) palette of shape, space and time, we are drawing our own attention to the barest form of our existence. We will not distract you, the audience, from your experience with sound, set, drama, overt story, magic, the space of appearance etc.  We invite you, maybe challenge you, to experience what is happening before you.