What does it mean to have a radical body?

By Hope Mohr

Program Note for the 2017 Bridge Project, “Radical Movements: Gender and Politics in Performance.” Comments welcome: hopemohr@gmail.com

 

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"Definition is both the problem and the lifeboat in the storm." -Ariel Goldberg

 

the dancing body the horizontal body

 

Can part of the body be radical if other parts are not?

Can you transmit your radical body to someone else?

 

the body in transition the joyful body

 

“What does not belong in this world is the only thing worth making.” - Paul Chan

 

The radical body is unfinished.

 

Churning. Spinning. Dreaming.

 

From the Latin radicalis "of or having roots."

U.S. youth slang use is from 1983, from 1970s surfer slang meaning "at the limits of control."

 

 Reversing. Re-orienting.

 

Just because something is new doesn't mean it's radical. 

Just because you have radical aesthetics doesn't mean you have radical politics. And vice versa.

 

 the outraged bodies in public assembly

 

Radical movement can come from the left or the right.
                                                        

If there is no unified we, what does that mean for movement building?

 

 the exhausted body the homeless body

 

Sometimes I need you to imagine what I’m capable of being. 

 

“We are most ourselves when we are not ourselves.” -Hilton Als

 

 Improvising. Shaking shit up.

 

Radical is context-dependent.

What is radical to me might be ordinary to you.

 

 the body that acts before the mind is ready

the body that insists on pleasure

 

Is my body radical if I think it is?

Does radical need an audience to be radical?

 

the ambiguous body

 

“What are the categories through which one sees?” –Judith Butler

Abstraction can feel radical if you’re expecting narrative.

 

the body that refuses to go numb

the body that is not a market niche

 

Radical bodies leave potential in their wake.

 

the aging body

 

Radical movement forces us to ask: what next?

 

the body that is not afraid


 

 


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Special thanks to the artists and changemakers on the Radical Movements program and the HMD Advisory Board. 

 

 

 

 

 

Comments introducing In the Steps of Trisha Brown at YBCA

Comments introducing In the Steps of Trisha Brown

In April 2017, I was invited to introduce screenings of the film In the Steps of Trisha Brown at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Below is a transcript of my comments.
-Hope Mohr

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Hi, my name is Hope Mohr. I’m the Artistic Director of Hope Mohr Dance here in SF. I’m going to speak for a few minutes to provide a frame for your viewing in the form of some personal reflections on entering the world of Trisha Brown.  

The film In the Steps of Trisha Brown chronicles the transmission of Trisha’s Glacial Decoy to the Paris Opera Ballet. This screening is very timely given Trisha’s recent passing. Her death, like that of Merce Cunningham and Pina Bausch, raises anew questions about the meaning of legacy in the dance world, questions about the process and the limits of passing knowledge from body to body.

Trisha made Glacial Decoy in 1979, as part of a group of works that she characterized by “s” words: Silky, sensuous, slippery, sequential. (Her most famous work, Set/Reset, was made right after Glacial Decoy.) This is a different cluster of work than Trisha’s later Valiant series, which valued athleticism, and included pieces like Newark and Astral Convertible.

I danced with the Trisha Brown Dance Company from 2000 to 2005. I learned parts of Glacial Decoy when I auditioned and I learned and performed the piece in 2004,and 2005. I learned it from Diane Madden, the current co-artistic director, and received additional glosses on the material over the years from Lisa Kraus and Shelley Senter.

Prior to my entering the world of Trisha Brown or rather it entering me, I had trained almost exclusively in ballet and at the Merce Cunningham studio, both resolutely vertical realms of muscle and will. The first time I took a class at TBDC, I had to leave halfway through because I was so frustrated. The class began with half an hour of laying on the floor, releasing muscular tension. I wasn’t used to equating dance with such little effort. But soon I went back—my curiosity had been provoked. And so began a long investigation into the question of how to achieve the right balance of control and release. How to engage just enough to have clarity and support, but not so much as to over-effort.

Just 6 months ago, Hope Mohr Dance’s Bridge Project, in association with YBCA, presented a project here called Ten Artists Respond to Locus.  Locus was a dance that Trisha made in 1975; you’ll hear Lisa Kraus refer to it in the film. The Locus project here commissioned 10 Bay Area artists from different disciplines to learn Trisha’s Locus and respond to it by making new work. As part of that process, Diane Madden led both a public weekend workshop and a two-week private workshop for the commissioned artists. 

For the non-dancer artists in the Locus project—people from music, visual art, and poetry—there were the expected challenges of jumping into a body-based process. Trisha’s work has roots in the so-called pedestrian body and in a democratic body, meaning that, in her words, “any body part is fair game”---all parts of the body must be available to initiate movement. However, Trisha's vocabulary is not simple. Even for artists from sophisticated dance backgrounds, embodying Trisha’s movement was a challenge. Greg Dawson was one of the Locus project’s commissioned artists. Greg, Artistic Director of Dawson Dance, is an accomplished choreographer with a ballet background, a former Lines Ballet dancer. He said, of learning Locus, that it was: “Different and uncomfortable: the complication for myself was comprehending the intent of the locomotion, where each passage transitioned to the other.”  Indeed, in the film, you will see the Paris Opera dancers—some of the best dancers in the world—looking awkward and flummoxed as they wrestle with initiation and sequencing in the body.

So what is so elusive about Trisha’s movement?

First,

1. Dance as action not shape
Trisha, like others involved in the Judson Church cohort in NYC in the mid 1960s, (re)conceived of dance as a series of ACTIONS not shapes: the arms must toss or fling, not mimic a predetermined port a bras.

Sidebar--Interestingly, despite Trisha’s focus on generating movement based on improvisation, tasks, and games, the culture of the company over the years has become increasingly devoted to reconstructing movement off video—a visual, not somatic source. You’ll see these twin focii in the film: the pursuit of real-time physicality on the one hand, and the meticulous reconstruction of the past on the other. TBDC is a company where the desired physicality is anchored in one revered body. This is an interesting contrast with many other contemporary companies, where movement is democratically sourced among many bodies or the movement comes from a score that is open to dancer interpretation. The task in reconstructing repertory for current TBDC dancers is to pay allegiance to the specificity of the choreography, while also resurrecting and embodying the original question behind the action—for example, what happens when you throw your arm one way and your pelvis in the other? On the interesting tension between the authority of sensation and video archives, see the Critical Correspondence Interview with (now former) TBDC dancer Neal Beasley. 

A second challenge for classically trained dancers engaging with Trisha’s movement is:

2. Distal Initiation

How to initiate movement from the edges of the body—the fingers, toes, knees, elbows—distal points, rather than proximal—

In ballet, movement is usually initiated in the core, and organizes back, defaults back, to midline. Whereas in Trisha Brown's movement, the goal is, in the words of Shelley Senter, to go "out into space" to enter the movement. To let your edges spill you out into space.

In the film you are about to see,  Lisa Kraus summons the image of a hurricane to rouse the dancers out of their tendency to produce a tidy sequence of shapes. You can see this same abandon in archival footage of Trisha.

3. Authentic weight

The third major challenge in embodying Trisha’s work, coming from a classically trained background, is accessing authentic weight in the body. Not holding your weight up out of the floor, nor bracing yourself against gravity, but yielding weight, “finding the down.” Not just in the pelvis, but in the hands, the head, every bone.

4. Falling

Another way of saying all this is that to do Trisha’s work, you need to know how to fall. Not how to perform a fall, but how to really fall. Ballet dancers train to be “on their leg.” To do Trisha’s work, you have to train to be off your leg, how to free up your weight so it is not fixed, but constantly available to spill in any direction.  In her essay about teaching Glacial Decoy published in CQ, Lisa Kraus writes that “It’s not like executing something; it is more like getting on a roller coaster and going for a great ride.” (Lisa Kraus, "Decoy Among the Swans," Contact Quarterly, Volumne 29, Number 2, Summer/Fall 2004). 

5. Bones

A final way of understanding the paradigm shift presented to the POB dancers is to speak in terms of dancing from the bones, not the muscles. Trisha Brown technique, if there is one, prizes skeletal initiation over muscular effort. This approach has the potential to fundamentally change a dancer’s approach to everything. 

This is a profound shift of awareness, which for me took years. The POB dancers had only two weeks to learn the dance---certainly not enough time to alter one’s habitual response to gravity.

Indeed, in an essay for Contact Quarterly, Lisa Kraus acknowledged the impossibility of her task, and said: “the mind shift of welcoming a hybrid may be what’s called for in a situation like this where time is limited….the underlying aspiration…must not be to make the dancers just like [Trisha Brown dancers].” (Lisa Kraus, "Decoy Among the Swans," Contact Quarterly, Volumne 29, Number 2, Summer/Fall 2004). 

What makes Trisha’s work so strong is its combination of physical release, rooted in somatics, and compositional rigor, rooted in visual art. Trisha would create phrase material, rooted in somatic experience, not in the visual. The company does not use mirrors. But after she made the phrase material, she would shift into the world of visual art to compose it into form. And so, to dance her dances, you have to be able not only to fall, but to fall into extremely specific shapes. You have to learn balance freedom with constraint.

With that, I invite you to enjoy the film. I’ll be around afterwards if anyone wants to talk.

Resources/Further reading:

Lisa Kraus, Beauty and Genius-In the Steps of Trisha Brown, thINKingdance.net

Lisa Kraus, Posts from Paris: How We Teach Trisha's Dance, thINKingdance.net

 

 

 

Questions about artmaking and motherhood

Questions from Hope Mohr for Laura Elaine Ellis and Julia Adam in preparation for a Pre-Show Panel for S.E.A.M. (Support and Elevate Artist Mothers), Saturday September 30 at Dance Mission Theater.

Context
How old are your children?

How long had you been making dances when you had children?

Interruption  
Interruption is part of parenting. Deep focus is important for creative flow.

As an artist parent, what strategies have you developed to deal with interruption?

How do you manage your time to safeguard the kind of attention that artmaking requires?

Has your personal or choreographic relationship to fragmentation changed since having kids?  

“The fragment is the whole” –Brenda Hillman

Rhythm  
How do you make time for your art? (e.g., Do you use grant money to pay for childcare? Rely on a partner or family member? Work when kids are asleep?)

Did parenthood change the rhythm of your art practice? You could think about this question in terms of logistics or in terms of how you work in the studio.

Boundary
Some artists aim to blur the line between art and life; other artists need to keep daily life out of the studio.

How has parenting challenged your ability or desire to quarantine parts of your life/self from other parts of your life/self?  

Has parenting affected the divide between your public/private self?

Juice
How have the emotional highs and lows of parenting affected your art?

Equality
How does context impact how you present your artist parent identity?

Have you experienced bias against you as an artist parent?

Do you ever feel the need to avoid talking about your kids in professional situations?

Is there something inherently queer about pregnancy itself, insofar as it profoundly alters one’s “normal” state, and occasions a radical intimacy with—and radical alienation from—one’s body? How can an experience so profoundly strange and wild and transformative also symbolize or enact the ultimate conformity? -Maggie Nelson, The Argonauts

Closing
Is there anything else you’d like to share about how has motherhood affected you and your work?

 

Come see the panel and the performances of S.E.A.M. (Support and Elevate Artist Mothers), a new collective making featuring the work of Tanya Bello, Kristen Daley, Amy Foley and Yayoi Kambara.  Fri-Sat, Sep 29-30, 8p & Sun, Oct 1, 7p, at Dance Mission Theater. 

 

Precarious

Precarious, a movement poem inspired by the Klockar's Blacksmith Shop in San Francisco, premieres June 1-3 at CounterPulseBelow is the text score for the dance. 

 

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Originally

Originally

originally originally originally
originally originally originally
originally originally originally
 

a lost object

a lost building

a lost river

a lost sensation

a lost eye

a lost alphabet

a lost quality of light

a lost tool

the last industrial blacksmith shop in San Francisco 

 

originally originally this originally was going to be about or based on or inspired by or of a place or a space other than an idea a real place with a real address, which is 443 Folsom

Ghost stories are stories of places that progress has discarded
a lost building a lost machine
Ghost stories always end unresolved
pieces of the past return to disrupt order
the door will not close

who is here who is not here who is here who is not here

 

how do you keep talking to a place that is no longer there?

 

what I have been trying to remember could appear anywhere anytime

 

 

It’s all junk, Tony says, loosely gesturing around the shop,
I’m tired. I’m going to Colma.
Do you get that joke? He asks me.
Colma? I say.
You know, the city
full of dead people south of here.
I own this crap, he says, pointing at the anvils, the parts for machines that no longer exist,
the old Victrola covered in blankets.
 

Tony would ask us what the fuck we were doing there and I would tell him we were improvising and he would say bullshit in Italian
 

the day after the election we learned that Tony’s grandson was turning the place into a pot dispensary or cannabis start-up and Tracy the painter upstairs was going to be evicted and Tony the blacksmith downstairs was going to retire he said I’m tired

 

littered, cluttered, hundreds of rusty tools,
even in bright morning the whole place is grey, smelling of rats
2 big trip hammers
3 or 4 post vices
a medium sized anvil and a big anvil it’s gotta be close to 400 pounds

he’s got 3 different forges a coal forge and 2 gas forges
hundreds of hammers
tongs hung under his work table
2 12 ft lengths of 3/8 inch round stock
piles of discarded bits - not a useful amount of material

 

Klockar’s had a dirt floor
and when we laid down

 

some memorials are vertical, hard materials

 


some are holes in the ground open to the sky

 

 

like any lost place—
the pile of discarded bits
the heat signatures under the dirt
the weight of the tool in the hand—
our time there is not on any map
real places never are

To pass through a portal,
lay down in the dirt

 

The forge has gone quiet.

 

The door will not close.

 

 

--

 

-H.M. May 2017

Thank you to the cast of Precarious, blacksmith Tony Rossellini and painter Tracy Taylor Grubbs.

Text credits: Laszlo Krasznahorkai ("How do you keep talking to a place that is no longer there?); Herman Melville ("It is not down on any map; true places never are.")

Photo by Margo Moritz

 

 

choreographic confessions

I am emerging

I am mid-career

this is the last dance I will ever make

there are too many people in the room

I can’t do this alone

I need to be alone

I know too much

I don’t know enough

there is no dancing left in me

still

moving I think in a way I can't think any other way

I should do something else

I should be making money

I need to attract people with money to come see my work

there is too much time in this creative process

there is not enough time

there is a dancer in the room whom I will never work with again

do painters dream about shades of pigment?

the dancers

carry fragments of my psyche

I need their opinions

I reject their opinions without explanation

no one in the room understands what the work is about, least of all me, until years later 

that was it

a string of mis-starts and discarded ideas

where it began is irrelevant

beginnings are crucial

the fragment the whole the beautiful etcetera

saturated

desire is embarrassing

(a famous director says)

embarrassment might mean I'm doing something right

it might also mean the work is bad

anything can be made interesting once you deconstruct it

some movements are inherently boring

clichés can be avoided if inserted into the right frame

the joy in flow

the joy in stillness

slow down the dance needs more space

people who come to rehearsal say the work has no logic

yes that

thing needs to be interrupted

and that

other thing needs to last forever

the material has become too fixed too quickly

too shape-based too legible

but that one moment--

it is not legible enough

 

 

 

 

-H.M. May 2017

Photo by Margo Moritz

From Movement to Sound: Composer Cheryl Leonard responds to Trisha Brown

Cheryl Leonard performing Asterisms at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Photo by Margo Moritz.

Cheryl Leonard performing Asterisms at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Photo by Margo Moritz.

Below musician Cheryl Leonard reflects on her process of creating an instrument and a new piece of music, Asterisms, in response to Trisha Brown's Locus as part of Hope Mohr Dance's 2016 Bridge Project, "Ten Artists Respond to Locus."

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I began by defining the space within which I would work, and I knew this would take the form of a large musical instrument/sculpture that my "Locus"-inspired composition would be played upon. Trisha's use of a 3-tiered cube interested me but was a bit too square for my tastes, which have been tempered by years of studying circular and spiraling movements in aikido. I wanted to use a spherical space, but that posed too many logistical difficulties so I went with a cylinder.

In order to explore performing with no "front" to my stage setup, I decided to build a 360-degree instrument I could sit inside and play, a little like the tabla tarang (in Indian classical music, a set of tuned drums arranged in arc around the performer), but completely encircling me. I also toyed with the idea of breaking free from this space at some point during my piece and either playing the outside of the instrument or leaving it behind completely and striking out into the audience, suddenly exploding and expanding my conception of the space. These ideas didn't make it into the first version of my piece "Asterisms," mainly because of time constraints, but I'd still like to explore them in future iterations.

As for what exactly my instrument would be comprised of, I wanted to continue using natural materials, both because that's my preferred instrumentation these days, and as a nod to John Cage's piece "Child of Tree," in which the performers play plant materials as instruments and improvise within a randomly-generated time-based framework. I performed this piece once back in the mid-90s at a John Cage Festival at the Fort Mason Center in San Francisco. Not only was Cage an important contemporary of Trisha Brown, but his work has had a huge influence on my musical development. Incidentally, "Child of Tree" and "Locus" were both composed in 1975.

DD, a musical instrument built by Cheryl Leonard for her composition Asterisms. Photo by Cheryl Leonard.

DD, a musical instrument built by Cheryl Leonard for her composition Asterisms. Photo by Cheryl Leonard.

I chose to have three strata in my instrument: dirt, tree branches, and autumn leaves. The base of the instrument is a donut-shaped container, 5-feet in overall diameter, which is made out of cardboard, lined with plastic, and filled with potting soil. Experimentation revealed that cactus mix is the best sounding potting soil, so that's what I employed. This inadvertently created another connection to "Child of Tree," as amplified cactus is one of the instruments specifically called for in Cage's score. Mounted into the dirt donut base are four tree branches, each approximately 4' tall, and positioned equidistant from each other. Red, yellow, orange, and brown autumn leaves from a variety of trees are attached to the ends of twigs on each branch. In the spirit of haiku, I thought it would be fun to include a seasonal reference in my piece. Thus the leaves are required to be autumn leaves. The instrument is named DD, which is both an abbreviation for "dirt donut," and a reference to "didi," the Nepali word for older sister. DD is amplified via hydrophones buried in the potting soil and contact microphones taped onto each of the four tree branches. Two open-air microphones are used to pick up the sounds of bowing additional loose leaves.

Although I have studied music made through aleatoric processes, especially many of Cage's compositions, I have never really used a randomized system to generate or organize my own music. I admit, I'm rather attached to my aesthetic sense governing my compositional process, and so I'm reluctant to leave too much up to chance. However, I am intrigued by the idea that a randomized structural system can be a vehicle for innovation, a concept that fueled Trisha's creation of "Locus" and many of her other works. Beyond just incorporating a random organizational structure, "Locus's" structure specifies where to move in space, something which is not often addressed directly in music. I was interested to see what new directions (please excuse the unavoidable pun!) a random, spatially-based external structure might push me in.

Like Trisha did for "Locus," I began my compositional process by translating a few sentences of text into locations in space. Instead of a 3-dimensional cube I chose to work with 2-dimensional compass directions, a navigational system I am very comfortable with from extensive experience hiking and climbing. I wanted the text to connect to my instrument and also to the concept of artistic lineage, so I chose the first two sentences from Shel Silverstein's book The Giving Tree. They read:

"Once there was a tree and she loved a little boy. And every day the boy would come and he would gather her leaves and make them into crowns and play king of the forest."

Generating the score for Cheryl Leonard's Asterisms.

Generating the score for Cheryl Leonard's Asterisms.

I mapped each letter of the alphabet to one of eight compass directions: north, northeast, east, southeast, south, southwest, west, northwest. I considered dividing the compass into 26 bearings and mapping each letter to one of those bearings, but that seemed unnecessarily complex and very difficult to realize in live performance. Therefore each of the eight compass directions corresponds to more than one letter. I wrote out my sequence of spatial directions as text abbreviations (N, NE, S, etc.), but soon realized this would be impossible to interpret quickly on stage. A more intuitive way of notating the compass directions was needed. I toyed with a few possibilities and landed on the notion of working with one word at a time, mapping its points onto a circle, and then drawing vectors between them. I was delighted to discover that the resulting diagrams resembled a star chart full of mini-constellations. This is how my piece got its title, "Asterisms" (an asterism is a pattern of stars recognized in the Earth's night sky). I also color-coded the score based on the number of vectors in each individual word/asterism as a way to quickly locate simple or more complex patterns.

Cheryl Leonard's final score for Asterisms.

Cheryl Leonard's final score for Asterisms.

Because the spatialization of sounds is central to both the instrument and my composition, a quadraphonic sound system is used for "Asterisms" and each microphone on DD is mapped to an octant in the performance space. The four hydrophones in the dirt are located at N, S, E, W. The four contact mics on tree branches are at NE, SE, SW, NW. The two open-air condenser microphones are at E and W. Given this setup, it is possible to play grand gestures that literally move the sound around the entire venue, to generate smaller localized voices, or to sample the myriad other options which lie between these two extremes of scale.

I knew I wanted to play the three strata (dirt, branches, leaves) one after another, from bottom to top, to parallel the idea of lineages growing, branching out, and blossoming, and also in reference to the fact that Trisha used the same sequence of numbered points three times in "Locus." But how exactly I would translate my star-chart score into music remained to be determined.

Drawing on concepts from physical exercises in our workshop while experimenting with how to interpret a page full of mysterious diagrams, I brainstormed techniques for playing DD. I took rounded granite stones and, in large sweeping motions, literally traced the vectors of each asterism around the whole instrument. I played with smaller motions of tilting, tipping, stacking, un-stacking, redirecting, and rotating stones in the dirt. On the tree branches I bowed limbs and twigs with a child-sized violin bow, and wove and pulled string through the branches like a giant game of cat's cradle. Again, the asterisms could be interpreted with large-scale movements which spanned all the branches encircling me, by using more modest motions like rotating the bow around a single branch, or even on a microscopic scale by subtly shifting the direction and amount of pressure placed on the bow while leaving it essentially in the same spot. With leaves, I tried brushing, shaking, swishing against, and bowing them, both using ones attached to the branches and free leaves that I played while moving them around in front of the open air mics. As I explored these diverse techniques I considered how movement qualities such as lengthening, redirecting, inhaling and exhaling, the pull of gravity, counterthrust to gravity, and equilibrium might affect the sounds I was generating.

From my favorite DD sound discoveries I assembled a loose plan for my improvisational composition and created a tape part that I could play on top of live. The tape part is entirely comprised of recordings me playing DD (plus some extra autumn leaves) and all the sounds are interpretations of asterisms from the score. Given more arms I would have loved to have played all the sounds live but, being limited to only two upper limbs, a tape part was necessary to generate a compelling density of sound.

The piece begins with the first 10 or so asterisms played in order using rocks in the dirt. After this I largely abandoned the sequence of asterisms and gave myself license to jump around freely between them while progressing through a lexicon of playing techniques and journeying from dirt to branches to leaves. Throughout the piece I continued to use the asterisms to generate shapes for my musical gestures and tried to express each one as a sonic phrase. Still playing with scale, some phrases stretched out leisurely over time, while others were fleeting. Sometimes I really struggled to unearth some kind of musicality while remaining true to the dictates of the asterism. Although this could be quite frustrating, it did succeed in forcing me to seek out new approaches and techniques, and I have the asterisms to thank for a few precious eureka moments (including the strings-woven-through-branches cat's cradle section). The piece ends with a return to the formal sequence and original sounds, as the last four asterisms ("king of the forest") are played in the dirt. For me, this return to the roots, as it were, is an acknowledgement of and wink at my artistic forebears.

In this first version of "Asterisms" I have only begun to scratch the surface. I am certain DD contains more unique voices just waiting to be unleashed, and that those little star-patterns can lead me to a lot of other sonic worlds. I'm looking forward to realizing a much longer version of "Asterisms" in the future and exploring some more unforeseen possibilities.

DD. Photo by Cheryl Leonard.

DD. Photo by Cheryl Leonard.

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Cheryl E. Leonard is a composer, performer, and instrument builder whose works investigate sounds, structures, and objects from the natural world. Her projects reveal and highlight unique sounds and often feature amplified natural-object instruments and field recordings from remote locales. Leonard has received grants from the National Science Foundation’s Antarctic Artists and Writers Program, American Music Center, American Composers Forum, ASCAP, Meet the Composer, and the Eric Stokes Fund. Her commissions include works for Kronos Quartet, and Illuminated Corridor. She has been awarded residencies at Djerassi, the Arctic Circle, Oberpfälzer Künstlerhaus, Villa Montalvo, the Paul Dresher Ensemble Studio, and Engine 27.   

 

 

Gerald Casel on Responding to Trisha Brown's Locus

Gerald Casel was one of ten artists commissioned to respond to Trisha Brown’s Locus as part of HMD’s 2016 Bridge Project, “Ten Artists Respond to Locus.”

Gerald Casel and Suzette Sagisi in Casel's Taglish. Photo by Margo Moritz. 

Gerald Casel and Suzette Sagisi in Casel's Taglish.

Photo by Margo Moritz. 

 

My response to Locus.

The two weeks with Diane Madden learning Trisha Brown’s Locus were incredibly illuminating, reminding me of my lineage and connection to Brown’s work. I have known Diane since the 90s, living in New York and taking classes at Susan Klein and Barbara Mahler’s school in TriBeCa, but most notably when we both were working with The Scottish Ballet in Glasgow. Along with Stanford Makishi, she was reconstructing Trisha’s For MG: The Movie while I was assisting Stephen Petronio with a new dance set to Radiohead called Ride The Beast. It was thrilling to watch the same dancers attune their highly technical skills within and beyond the realms of their classical training.

I recall the way those classical ballet dancers walked and ran. This primal yet revelatory act contained physical traits that conveyed histories of training, philosophies of verticality in the spine, where the gaze began and traveled, and the use of weight and negotiation with gravity. More closely, it represented the multi-layered strata of culture and power that were invoked within the very act of moving through space with velocity and force. As I looked even closer, and through Brown’s extraordinary choreography, I saw gender, sexual orientation, age and experience, ability, class, citizenship status, access and privilege, race, aesthetics, and of course, the opposites or the absence of the very thing it aimed to conceal.

Through dance, I look at power closely especially when there are assumptions embedded within notions of identity that perpetuate misunderstandings or (mis)readings of the body. This came up when the ten artists, selected by Hope Mohr and guest curators, started to learn about Trisha’s work through movement workshops and discussions. I noticed that all of us were coming from very different places and trying to get someplace where we can speak about our experience with Locus with a modicum of certitude about ourselves, our histories and lineages, and ultimately about our identity as we learned about and created a context for this seminal dance within our work. Diane would often begin our sessions by sensing the space with walking and with simple exercises that addressed our relationship to gravity. Speaking for myself, I arrived with assumptions about Brown and noticed that I placed the meaning of Locus within a very complex stew of postmodernist philosophy. I began to feel conflict as I unraveled what this meant, since in effect and through the years, I have embodied movement affinities and adopted compositional vocabularies that inextricably link me to Brown.

I danced with Stephen Petronio from 1991-1998 and 2001-2005. Petronio danced with Brown for seven; he was the first male dancer in her company. When I joined Petronio, I learned and performed Middlesex GorgeSimulacrum Reels, and Full Half Wrong Plus Laytext Complete, a reimagined version of The Rite of Spring, pulled apart from a collaboration with Michael Clark. During this time, I also saw the company perform Surrender II, a duet with Jeremy Nelson and Petronio and Petronio’s solo, #3, a dance that effectively conjured multiple famous personae that forced him to stand stationary downstage, front and center. Similar to Locus and through a rigorous structure, he was able to find expressivity and freedom inside imposed restrictions.

These formative years created a foundation of my understanding of choreography and the power it can have as a force of rebellion. In a way, Trisha Brown, by way of the Judson Dance Theater – a group that revolutionized the way dance was being created and perceived during the late 1960s and into the 1970s – has a lot to do with this instinct to rebel. They were reclaiming the body from the way it had been treated by ballet and modern dance to represent itself and nothing more. By extension, Brown’s investigations inside the cube in Locus, were reaffirming the body as complete – just as it is – without subscribing to narrative, meaning, or metaphor. Through her work, Brown wanted to learn more about herself and how the choices she made within a structure formulated the ultimate freedom of expression. By imposing spatial constraints, Brown found a way to rebel against her own proclivities and habits. These constraints also enabled her to articulate a movement vocabulary that was formally pure and suggested the infinite possibilities for generating dancemaking.

Formal constraints have the capacity to invigorate creativity, however, they do not function equally for all bodies. More precisely, there is no such thing as pure movement for dancers of color. In my view, it is difficult to separate structural and systemic power from race. Among other intersectional factors (such as age, gender, class, etc.), dancing by brown and black bodies is read differently than dancing by white bodies.

One of the assumptions that postmodern formalism arouses is that any body has the potential to be read as neutral – that there is such a thing as a universally unmarked body. As a dancer and choreographer of color, my body cannot be perceived as pure. My brown body cannot be read the same way as a white body, particularly in a white cube. This conflicted state rose to the surface during the workshops conducted around our learning the methodology of Locus. How was I to respond to this work without commenting on this tension that I felt? How could I highlight the differences my body represented rather than ignoring or erasing them?

In recent days, I have been reflecting on the hierarchical structures that are present in the dance studio and on performance spaces and how choreography can be viewed as a colonizing force. I turn to colonization as a way to map the invisible power structures inherent within dance. Looking at a laboring/performing body is a way to understand how these powers lead to a re-inscription of assumptions, or worse, an egregious erasure of the body’s power to represent culture and identity. One of the faulty assumptions I had about postmodern dance is that it appoints essentially ambiguous conventions about the body – that the body is always free from narrative or metaphor. As I began to develop my response to Locus, I wanted to underscore that which was unambiguous. I wanted to highlight my ‘brown-ness’, the cultural markers that identify me as Filipino, and my queerness. So, with my collaborators, I turned to these elements as the source to generate this piece, Taglish.

Taglish is slang for Tagalog and English collided together. Growing up as a naturalized immigrant with both languages, I was able to communicate fluidly with fellow Filipinos and new American friends. This translates clearly through the body as maneuverability between embodied aesthetic states. As dancers, my partner (Suzette Sagisi) and I are able to slide in and out of dance forms and switch between the vernacular and the highly codified. In this response to Locus, I wanted to convey that we carried multiple dancing traditions within our bodies. To honor our lineage beyond concert dance, we both agreed that we identified with dancing that came from our experiences outside of the studio: from hip-hop culture, club and house dancing, to the voguing balls in Harlem and the piers in New York City, where queens flocked in the late 80s and early 90s to express their rebellion of gender and hetero-normativity.

Suzette and I wanted to represent these dance forms that provided us historical context and meaning. Another thing we shared was our vague knowledge of traditional Filipino folk dances: Binasuan (the candle dance) and Tinikling (the bamboo dance).  As Filipino-Americans, could we appropriate traditional Filipino folk dances since we never grew up performing them? Could we collide these dance forms together to reflect the complexities contained within our dancing bodies and the way our brown bodies immediately projected ‘otherness’ within a postmodern performance gaze? These questions formed the basis of my response to Locus.

My longtime musical collaborator, Tim Russell, created a soundscape that provided a backdrop of sonic energies that allowed us to surreptitiously traverse one dance form and physical state to another. He layered rhythms of the Tinikling, with non-melodies, and sounds with silence and text – even borrowing from Alvin Lucier’s well-known sound art piece, I Am Sitting In A Room. We also turned to Jessica Hagedorn’s Dogeaters, a novel that depicted Filipino life in the 1950s and was a testament to the Filipino’s attitudes and attempts to become more Westernized. Although fictional, the book also takes a jab at the (1970s) Marcos regime especially at the way the First Lady discusses her shoe collection – referring to Imelda Marcos’ lavish collection of designer shoes. In the book was a quote from President William McKinley’s famous “Address to a Delegation of Methodist Churchmen”, where he openly talks about his opinions on how the fate of the Philippines should be determined by America’s interests. He says, “[T]here was nothing left for us to do but to take them all, and to educate the Filipinos, and uplift and civilize and Christianize them.” We used this speech and layered it onto the sound score to illustrate the fact that here were two Filipino-American dancers performing a response to this American masterwork of postmodern dance.

In Taglish, we blended postmodern dance, hip-hop, house, voguing, historical text, and traditional Filipino folk dances to represent the intersectional elements present in our dancing bodies. It was curious to notice similarities between Trisha Brown’s clear, geometric forms and that of voguing’s adherence to geometric planes. The demarcated lines in the voguer’s arms and torso seem to connote a two-dimensional etching of the body in space to disidentify with gender norms – to ultimately seek freedom within (self)-imposed constraints.

Inside the structured improvisations of the piece, my partner and I often played with switching our performance of gender, namely in the Binasuan, where the female’s arms accented up while the male’s arms were forced and accented downward. It was also apparent that the lines between gender were very fluid and porous, especially in the voguing sections. However, the sections performed repeatedly inside the cube, signified the inconsequential nature of gender. These negotiations were difficult to execute but necessary to include.

In conclusion, I turn to one of the reviews that came out of this experience, from Allan Ulrich who writes, “What binds Gerald Casel’s 'Taglish' to Brown remains a mystery, but the choreographer and Suzette Sagisi provided some of the fleetest dancing of the evening. Casel notes that the piece represents tensions between Filipino and American culture, but his finely crafted mirror duet was satisfying in itself.” His writing misses the mark altogether, even glossing over the tension between Filipino and American culture. He instead focuses on what he deems legible and worthy of affirming: the mirror duet. The fact that he is mystified by my response is not a surprise, however, the fact that his white, male gaze cannot register any of the elements that portrayed voguing embodied in my whirling effeminate gestures, the traditional Filipino folk dance, and the blending of vernacular and postmodern dance underscores his incapacity to include other forms of dance beyond his narrow definition. Ulrich’s response sheds a light on the invisibility of colored people’s culture to mainstream dance criticism that privilege Western and Eurocentric dance forms and unfortunately perpetuates the mechanisms of coloniality. In dance criticism, words, like actions, have power. When critics use (or do not use) words to describe culture beyond white space, they basically ignore and in effect, erase, the culture they think they describe.

                                                                                                         --Gerald Casel

Suzette Sagisi in Gerald Casel's Taglish. Photo by Margo Moritz. 

Suzette Sagisi in Gerald Casel's Taglish. Photo by Margo Moritz. 

Program Notes for Taglish
Concept and direction: Gerald Casel
Choreography and performance: Gerald Casel and Suzette Sagisi
Live sound design: Tim Russell
Choreographic assistant: Arletta Anderson
Historical Text: President William McKinley (1899)


Taglish (Tagalog/English) brings together Filipino and American
elements in one space to represent what our bodies have been exposed
to as dancers. Contending with the tensions between lineage,
appropriation, ‘bi-culturality’, and representation, the dance asks
whether it is possible to present the body adorned by and
simultaneously devoid of its culture and history through performance.” -Gerald Casel

 

GERALD CASEL is artistic director of GERALDCASELDANCE and assistant professor at University of California, Santa Cruz. He received a BFA from The Juilliard School and an MFA from the UW-Milwaukee. Casel was awarded a ‘Bessie’ (New York Dance &
Performance Award) for his dancing in the companies of Michael Clark,
Stanley Love, Lar Lubovitch, and Stephen Petronio. He has been on faculty
at CSU Long Beach, Palucca Hochschule für Tanz Dresden, and NYU where
he received the David Payne-Carter Award for Teaching Excellence. Casel is a
Resident Artist at ODC, a Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Fellow, and
participated in CHIME at 10 in the Bay Area in 2014. www.geraldcasel.com

Peiling Kao on per[mute]ing

Following are the reflections and questions of dancer and choreographer Peiling Kao, one of ten artists commissioned to respond to Trisha Brown’s Locus by creating new work as part of HMD’s 2016 Bridge Project, “Ten Artists Respond to Locus.” Kao, commissioned by Dohee Lee, created per[mute]ing, which she performed October 14 and 15 at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

Photo by Margo Moritz of Peiling Kao in per[mute]ing.

Photo by Margo Moritz of Peiling Kao in per[mute]ing.

--------

What does it mean to be an Asian dancer trained in Eurocentric dance forms and living in the U.S.? Why is (are) lineage(s) important to dance artists? How do dancers and choreographers relate to lineage differently? What frames an audience’s interpretations of my movement?

I entered Hope Mohr Dance’s 2016 Bridge Project: “Ten Artists Response to Locus” with the admiration of Trisha Brown’s legacy and the intention to learn the entire original Locus. As a professional dancer for over 20 years, I value training, just like athletes practice everyday to keep their bodies in shape. Besides that, I must keep exposing myself to what is contemporary to discover what I need for my current creative practice. Training makes me versatile and I like it. So before I came to the two-week workshop, I planned to create my response after I inhabited Locus, or at least to get a solid grasp of Trisha Brown’s technique. However, the two-week workshop with Diane was not what I expected. Even though we had physical training every day, Diane had bigger goals that required her to pay equal attention to 10 artists in the room from different disciplines. Given these constraints, it was not possible for Diane to teach us the complete dance in the detail that I had expected. I understood and respected what had she needed to do—to share and to explore with all of us. But as a result, during the workshop, my intentions for my response to Locus shifted.

There are rules and physical discipline, or training, within each dance lineage. I think it is important to have specific approaches to training for the purpose of unifying and codifying a movement language. Through these specific physical disciplines, dancers’ movements can make them recognizable as a Graham dancer, Cunningham dancer, or Trisha Brown dancer. I have trained for years intensively in Taiwan in ballet, Graham, Limon, Cunningham, improvisation, Tai-Chi, and Taiwanese/Chinese dance. I deeply connect to these techniques in my body. I appreciate my wide-ranging movement training, which has become my own hybrid physical language. As a dancer, I am grateful for a variety of dance tools, which allow me to be versatile and to have choices.  But as a choreographer, my range of training can be frustrating. With my diverse sources, how can I create movement that is original? Is it possible that I carry so many lineages that I have a hard time finding my authenticity? If lineage is important to dancers, is it as important to choreographers?

During the workshop, I was dealing with my dancer’s mind: just teach me Locus, please! Frustration and impatience hit me and made me question whether I positioned myself as a dancer or choreographer in the project. There were source materials I cared about as a dancer, but not as a choreographer, and vice versa. For example: as a dancer, I cared about the details in the Locus phrasing: what initiates the movement, how to go from point A to point B, what is the quality of the movement.

But these questions were not necessarily important to me as a choreographer tasked with creating a response to the dance. As a choreographer, I found that it was valuable to hear about the historical context of the dance and the personal stories from the time that Trisha created Locus. As a choreographer, I liked to observe Diane, the way she talked, the way she moved and the way she described the quality of the movement. I thought to myself, “She is ‘so Trisha Brown.’” Diane reminded me of the way another teacher from my past, Shelley Senter, talked. Even though Diane and Shelley are very different people, their shared training with Trisha Brown still came through. Sometimes, I was irritated during the workshop and didn’t want to follow Dianne’s directions; at these times, my choreographer’s mind was stronger than my dancer’s mind. I noticed that once I let go of wanting to learn Locus solo as a dancer, I was set free. Having let go of my dancer identity, I felt less frustration. I became careless in a good way: I could simply be there in the workshop without any intention. The workshop with Diane made me realize that I give myself more permission to be in a place of unknowing as a choreographer than as a dancer, at least in the context of relating to a set piece of choreography as opposed to improvisation.

After the workshop in San Francisco, I went back to ‘paradise’, my new home in Hawai’i (where I just moved from the Bay Area). I decided to use Trisha’s sequence of numbers from the Locus score as a tool to create my response. I knew if I tried to address a specific subject through my work, I would get too brainy in the beginning of creative process and I would fail. So I chose to simply follow the task of using Trisha’s sequence of numbers. The first few days in the studio were pretty productive, and then I got heady and tried to edit the choreography every time I started rehearsing. I got stuck at the three-minute mark for a while and hated everything. This self-doubting, over-critical eye and judgment always happen when I look at myself in rehearsal footage with a dancer’s eye. I hated looking at myself and disliked every movement I did.

In the second week in the studio, things totally changed. I started to have fun creating and dealing with numbers even though I made less than 8 minutes of movement in 25 hours of studio time. The piece was not even finished one week before the show opened. But I believed the ending of the piece would come to me when I arrived at the performance space. And it did. Reflecting on this experience, I now realize it is a privilege and a joy to create and to perform my own work, but only when my dancer and choreographer minds work well together.

The title of my piece per[mute]ing describes my creative process. Like Trisha Brown, I made movement variations to ‘indicate’, ‘touch’ or ‘go through’ the points in the imaginary cube. I repeated the Locus number sequence two-and-a-half times. Towards the end of the creative process, I found myself ignoring and skipping the “27” position (indicating the center of the cube) a lot; in doing this, I was unconsciously taking out the “self” position. per[mute]ing also relates to bigger issues of dance training and lineage. In making the piece, I incorporated the movement from all the dance forms I've encountered, adopted, rejected, and absorbed living in this Taiwanese dancing body. The dance lineages that I carry in my body via years of movement training have shaped my identity as a mover and choreographer.

I was honored and grateful to receive a lot of positive feedback after performing per[mute]ing in Ten Artists Respond to Locus. Critic Allan Ulrich said that it had “a curious serenity.” Critic David Moreno wrote:

Kao dismantled [Locus] into something soulful, breaking down sharp lines and gestures into fluid presence. She danced without the 4×4 confinement suggesting something much bigger, freer, and authentically her own. Kao’s dancing is always a pleasure to behold, always deeply genuine. 

It has long been interesting to me that no one seems have a problem seeing me as an Asian dancer when I do Eurocentric dance forms. Ironically, when I did Taiwanese/Chinese movement in per[mute]ing, viewers started seeking cultural meanings. An audience asked me if I was “trying to empower my Asian identity.” But I have never thought of empowering my Taiwanese identity by using Taiwanese movement in my work. The audience’s feedback led me to several questions: How do people assume and perceive the separation between Western and Eastern dance forms? Why do I need to do anything to “empower” my Taiwanese identity? Why does the doing of Taiwanese movement or speaking Taiwanese suddenly allow people to see me as Taiwanese?  From my perspective I am already a Taiwanese, and nothing can change that. There is no need for empowerment.

In conclusion, there are conceptual and cultural questions that arose through this project for me. I am interested in continuing the ongoing conversation with choreographers who carry dance lineages. I am curious about what lineage means and does to the choreographers. As a Taiwanese artist who chose to move to the U.S. in my mid-30’s, I might have different experiences from people who are American-born Asian or Asians who have involuntarily immigrated to the U.S. Despite my cultural background, what I ended up expressing in per[mute]ing (from an unconscious/creative place, not with any explicit/political purpose) was simply in my dancing body and the movement. When I entered the space, audiences saw my training; they saw my lineages, they saw who I am. per[mute]ing was abstract. What people felt I wanted to say had less to do with my intentions and more to do with their own interpretations.

                                                                                             --Peiling Kao

Photo by Margo Moritz of Peiling Kao and Tracy Taylor Grubbs in per[mute]ing.

Photo by Margo Moritz of Peiling Kao and Tracy Taylor Grubbs in per[mute]ing.

Postscript

Peiling's above reflections led to the interesting below exchange between us (Hope Mohr and Peiling Kao):

HM: Your words remind me that often whiteness is not perceived because it is the assumed “neutral." As soon as you stop dancing whiteness, somehow you are seen, and/or seen differently.

PK: Yes. What do you mean by dancing whiteness?  It leads to the another question: What is the purpose when many dance companies try to be inclusive about dancers' races? It may look diverse when showing work on stage with people/dancers of color. But if the dancers training background are basically Eurocentric, or the dance movement is still Eurocentric technique, is that still whiteness?

HM: Laila Lalami's article on whiteness helps me articulate what I mean by dancing whiteness. She writes:

"White" is seen as a default, the absence of race..."White" is a category that has afforded [whites] an evasion from race, rather than an opportunity to confront it.

Perhaps dancing whiteness means dancing under the presumption of abstraction?

Photo by Cheryl Leonard of Grubbs and Kao in rehearsal for per[mute]ing.

Photo by Cheryl Leonard of Grubbs and Kao in rehearsal for per[mute]ing.

 

Program Notes for per[mute]ing (premiere)

Commissioned Artist: Peiling Kao
Curated by: Dohee Lee
Performers: Peiling Kao (dance) and Tracy Taylor Grubbs (visual art)

“The dance lineages that I carry in my (visually Asian) body via years of
(hybrid) movement training have shaped my identity as a mover and
choreographer. Even as I value these diverse movement vocabularies in
my practice, I delve into the assumed/perceived separations of Eastern
and Western dance through this response to Locus.” - Peiling Kao

per[mute]ing was made possible by Dean’s Travel Fund, University of
Hawai’i at Manoa, and the Lo Man-fei Dance Fund, Cloud Gate Culture
and Arts Foundation, Taiwan.

per[mute]ing featured a painting by commissioned artist Tracy Taylor
Grubbs: Lineage (Ink Scroll)

“Working with Trisha’s Brown’s combination of structure and play,
this scroll painting was created using six specific gestures and one of
three different brushes: a mop found on the street, a brush taped to a
long stick and a set of rags tied to one foot.” –Tracy Taylor Grubbs

---

 

 

 

 

 

Locus Poem

Frances Richard wrote and performed the following poem as part of HMD's 2016 Bridge Project, "Ten Artists Respond to Locus, a multidisiplinary exchange inspired by dance pioneer Trisha Brown. In the performance, Richard marked the graphic symbol "<<>>" with a simple hand gesture, a quotation from Brown's Accumulation (1971). 

Frances Richard's program notes for Locus Poem:

"Locus Poem considers several kinds of 'placedness,' including a) being
subject to gravity, like absolutely everything in the universe; b) belonging
to a lineage or parentage—or not; c) questions about differences
between saying words out loud, writing words down, making gestures
with the body, and notating gestures on paper; d) questions about
thinking and moving inside categorical systems, and how such systems
are simultaneously orderly, constraining, mysterious, imperfect, secretly
outrageous, necessary. Most of the poem comes from notes I took in
2016 Bridge Project workshops with Diane Madden, Associate Artistic
Director of the Trisha Brown Company.”  

Photo by Margo Moritz of Frances Richard reading her "Locus Poem." 

Photo by Margo Moritz of Frances Richard reading her "Locus Poem." 

 

 --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

LOCUS POEM

 

A body is always shown in fragmentation ( so ) ( we )
seek out liquidations (  you see a sound
interlocking with its own shape in the air >>>> emanata: speed or stress lines
emphasizing valence >>>>  )

a ground-math, invented
entity to help you. Map the

spiral cross-touching while resisting
the reference-body.

“We are fools in language, yes—”
We need everyone to be a person.

 

 

If I disintegrate the letters in a printed page will you
receive it in particles cathected, stray in private
flesh, a borrowed impress foisted <<>> loss projected as
disintegration—no—because the blowing letters

unadhesived from their selves, their tissue words mute honey
phrases drip, smear into yours, get heady, crystalize.
Toss and regather. Leave it alone <<>> take
the backward step. Meaning don’t  

do much, just touch
the floor, the air, your bones, flesh, mind, and

others. Like, the place is there exactly
when you need to fit in it, to measure

placedness. And otherwise
it flashes, drops.                

            

 

Let’s practice our
politics of the lack of

—is it knowledge <<>> drawing-trace, or the weight of
keeping wanting

to over-cross? Because she is not
a piece of paper. Counterforce

to gravity is desire—will—momentum—
centrifugal

 

 

spin.

( So ) go ahead and lean on space

( it ) keeps ( us ) from flying off the planetary
surface, keeps our organs organized, affects every
object, creature, event constantly ( gravity
qua god, the given

mother << very available >> << a lineage
of speed or stress lines ) emphasizing >> valence.

You be time and I’ll be
space—no—take

the opposite.

 

 

( So ) challenge is extended

repetition like being
one unstatic place. Take agency over each orifice, resisting. Though obviously everyone
needs parents—that is, combinations
geometric, viscous, sweet, preservative, medicinal and

collectively secreted from each orifice like honey. Right now

a honey of gravity is dripping

              ( so ) The penultimate word is  
             the ground. The ultimate word  
             suspends above the head.
             Space-between is the gut.

                        ( Are you saying gravity secretes from the
                         gut of the planet—yes—are you saying
                         repetition is the mother, is a
                         valence challenge—yes—are you 

                          tossed, regathered, flashing, private, smeared
                          in language? Yes. )         

                   

           ∨

 

“It’s really kind of fun” she said, “to barely fall <<>> falling
requires you to connect, which is what I like

about a vocabulary motivated <<>> via falling”

through a little liquid zone, a shaped speed
or stress, invented
entity to help you organize. Qua secret mother written on the air who doesn’t
see my body, secret

body practicing its lack qua
piece of paper. Maybe now you’re wondering

what << qua >> is? In the condition of, deriving from a feminine
root meaning who. And ( so )

the shame of questions
is there exactly when you need to fit in it, and then it
flashes, drops.
Show me again

<<>> how my body appears <<>> falling <<>> I never

learned

 

 

( So ) think right now <<>> whose work
makes your mind possible.

 

Kept

 

that part of my safety-shape. The
inter-given, weight of the phrase

qua semiotic of the nervous line, an empty
drip of molten space that makes

the pelvis possible <<>> in the condition of
the spiral possible

 

I just was thinking about this all my life.   

           

 

( So ) see her moving

 

emanata in an over-remote
micro-past, saying viscous, thinking
ground-math, mapping secret
counterforce—fool practice >>>>

 

<<<< tongue of the muscle to lick the

                                                            numbered air.

 

 

 --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

Thanks
especially to  

Brian Conley
Tracy Taylor Grubbs
Emily Hoffman
Peiling Kao
Hope Mohr
Bhumi Patel
Megan Wright
and
Diane Madden

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Larry Arrington program notes from "Ten Artists Respond to Locus"

Larry Arrington in quarter. Photo by Margo Moritz. 

Larry Arrington in quarter. Photo by Margo Moritz. 

Following are program notes for quarter, a work by Larry Arrington in collaboration with Oscar Tidd commissioned for HMD's 2016 Bridge Project, Ten Artists Respond to Locus.  Produced in association with Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. 

--

A great deal of the work I did on this project was thinking. This is an imperfect map (as if there were any other kind) of some of that thinking. I entered this project hoping to fold it into my own consuming project/work/thought/feelings of looking at western history (and in this context Euro­centric art lineages) as folk/cultural forms. In this work, I wanted to look at Trisha Brown, contemporary western dance, and classical western dance as a series of interconnected folk dances situated within very specific cultural and material contexts and supported by intersecting and overlapping ideologies. I do this not solely as critique, but as a general and personally necessary set of questions that force my own relationship to history into the same cultural/anthropological questions that western thinking often imposes on other forms. This took me on a myriad of experiments, but I kept being drawn back to:

1. The very simple formal constraint of Locus:­ the bordering of space/ the map. This being drawn back to the map was also greatly informed by the crisis of border/map/territory that is an ongoing social and economic cataclysm on the surface of this planet. We gather at YBCA, in a rapidly gentrifying city, in a space built on sacred Ohlone land. We gather in a nation founded through theft/exploitation. Also…. water.

2. The dancer/laborer Diane Madden has danced in Trisha Brown’s work longer than I have been alive. I was so inspired by her beautiful leadership and her spirit as a dancer. Having Diane introduce Trisha Brown’s work put a welcome spin and complication on a western approach to expertise. It has been my experience that much has been made of Judson in letters. The mediation of academia in performance can have a certain coldness of work removed from the worker. My exposure to the monolith of the Judson canon has been frustratingly void of body, heart, context, time, and relationship. Having the dancer, Diane, centered as the expert made my heart full. So in this way I was finally able to situate Judson in the very situatedness that I love about dance: how it is something that is passed from body to body.

3. The horse.

4. The circle and the square

Stealing/Authorship-­Legacy/Lineage.
The geometries of music.
Shape note singing ­ Idumea, Ivey Memorial Singing
The reproducing structure ­ In The Upper Room Dance IX, Philip Glass

Lastly, thank you for your attention. It is sincerely appreciated and respected.

Xo, Larry

Larry Arrington in quarter. Photo by Margo Moritz. 

Larry Arrington in quarter. Photo by Margo Moritz. 

On Trisha and Time

by Emily Hoffman

Dancer Sarah Chenoweth performs Trisha Brown's Locus Solo (1975) as part of HMD's 2016 Bridge Project, Ten Artists Respond to Locus. Photo by Margo Moritz. 

Dancer Sarah Chenoweth performs Trisha Brown's Locus Solo (1975) as part of HMD's 2016 Bridge Project, Ten Artists Respond to Locus. Photo by Margo Moritz. 

The most pronounced difference to my eye between Trisha Brown's movement and modern or balletic forms of movement is timing, or, more specifically, the more subtle variations in timing that are allowed or produced by the availability of the body to its own weight and to gravity. I first noticed this phenomenon in X when we were teenagers and it took me a long time—until now, really—to realize what was producing it, but I did for many years find different ways of describing to myself what it looked like. I noticed it most clearly, of course, when she was dancing in unison with other people who didn’t share this same quality. Say there was a simple drop and lift of the arm—from horizontal, to vertical, to horizontal again. You’d see the arms start to come down, and it would seem X was somehow behind the count. You could feel the unit of time and see how the other arms were going to make it back, and X’s arm seemed leisurely by comparison, unconcerned. Then a surprising thing would happen. The count would arrive and suddenly there her arm was, floating into horizontal, more subtly on it than anyone else’s. But she hadn’t sped up—that was the magic of it. I used to say it was like her blood was made of time, that’s how dexterous she was with it; it seemed she could move time, making it expand or contract. The even arcs of the other arms seemed crass by comparison. It occurs to me now that what I was seeing was the subtle, organic ease and variation that comes from the play between a release into weight and a more muscular resistance to gravity. I suppose you could also call this phrasing, in another kind of dancing, and a dancer can have a gift with time separate from this particular released weight that I’m referring to. It’s what they call musicality, I think, in ballet. But perhaps it amounts to the same thing. How the dancer relates to control and release in her own body, a relation to momentum, to gravity, and to resistance. Choreography will always specify a point A and a point B, and even if these points become closer and closer together, there will always be some distance between them that the dancer must traverse in her own manner. I have a weakness for projecting aesthetics into the realm of the ethical, but it’s hard for me not to feel that something about the character of the dancer is revealed in exactly this, the body’s native relation to the structure it occupies. Whether it rushes to fulfill the structure, whether it adorns it, whether it holds itself in reserve. Why is it always that reserve and abandon seem to go hand in hand? I’m always drawn to describe Farrell’s dancing with this kind of paradox. Precisely to the extent that she gives herself to the movement her SELF is revealed to be a separate entity, out of reach. This is absolutely different from a coy restraint. By contrast, it is the absolute absorption of the dancer in the execution of the dance that gives the dancer back to herself. I see this as a kind of grace in effort, otherwise known as devotion.

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Emily Hoffman is the Director of Affinity Project, one of ten artists commissioned to create new work in response to Trisha Brown's Locus (1975), as part of Hope Mohr Dance's 2016 Bridge Project, Ten Artists Respond to Locus, produced in association with Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.  This post is one in a series that will feature ephemera from the Locus Bridge Project. 

Affinity Project performing Color grid with talking (after Locus), part of "Ten Artists Respond to Locus." Featured performers (L to R): Nora el Samahy, Atossa Babaoff, Bea Basso.  Photo by Margo Moritz. 

Affinity Project performing Color grid with talking (after Locus), part of "Ten Artists Respond to Locus." Featured performers (L to R): Nora el Samahy, Atossa Babaoff, Bea Basso.  Photo by Margo Moritz. 

DISCOTROPIC and white critical response

by Megan Wright

niv Acosta bills his work DISCOTROPIC as an exploration into science fiction, disco, astrophysics, and the black American experience. Acosta, a Brooklyn-based trans and queer director of black and Dominican descent, has set up a world that derails the structurally racist consumption of black bodies. It’s a pop-cultural critical intervention that rearranges the roles of critics, artists, and audiences in discourse on performance. Neon-lit in the cavernous basement of the Westbeth Artists Community in Lower Manhattan, DISCOTROPIC’s warmth and artificial forestry were a planet away from the January night outside. 

Acosta was inspired in part by Diahann Carroll's role in the 1978 Star Wars holiday special. It's a bizarre cameo: Carroll, the only character of color in the special, appears as a holographic projection named Mermeia, generated to satisfy the erotic fantasies of Chewbacca's (equally hirsute) father. During DISCOTROPIC, Ashley Brockington recites Mermeia's monologue in a haughty purr, crawling above the audience with a silver cape trailing behind her: "we are excited, aren't we? I'll tell you a secret: I find you — adorable."

Justin Allen in DISCOTROPIC. Photo by Maria Baranova.

Despite heavy use of projections in DISCOTROPIC, particularly during Justin Allen's exploratory opening solo, it's flesh-and-blood bodies that Acosta pushes us to encounter and confront. The performers execute a durational twerking score in a series of cells along one wall of the room. A sharp switch from neon to blacklight reveals large white eyes painted on the performers' backsides that float and shake in the dark, suddenly pinning observer as observed. Acosta is imposing a switch in audience/performer structure that recalls Gayatri Spivak’s words in The Post-Colonial Critic: “the holders of hegemonic discourse should de-hegemonize their position and themselves learn how to occupy the subject position of the other.”

The twerking continues for twenty minutes, moving steadily through and above the audience, just out of sync with a thumping beat. I'm reminded of Adrian Piper's notes on her own 1970s disco works, Aretha Franklin Catalysis and Some Reflective Surfaces I:

To succeed in dancing to disco music, and to perform the full spectrum of figures and gestures that are part of that, is to express one's sexuality, one's separateness, one's inner unity with one's own body; and in a sexually repressive, WASP-dominated culture, this is to express defiance. I think this explains why certain kinds of people become so uncomfortable around blacks and gays on the dance floor who can really strut their stuff... At the same time as you express defiance and self-containedness through disco dancing, you also open yourself to a wide range of responses from others, most of which are misinterpretations: for example, you're being seductive. you want to be picked up, and so on. As though your own pride and pleasure in your physical experiences weren't enough. 

For Acosta, pride and pleasure in physical experience, particularly that shared with his three cast members, is enough. He, Brockington, Allen, and Monstah Black pace through a series of unison motions on a platform stage, organized in a neat box, and cue each other to shift between motions with a soft hiss. (Piper talks about "the political unity that can be achieved through self-consciously unifying one's self-presentation as a dance object with other such objects that are equally self-conscious.") They sing a mesmeric and melismatic version of "We Travel the Spaceways" off the Afrofuturist musician Sun Ra's 1962 album When Sun Comes Out from atop a spiral staircase. Each pulls in and out of the group for solo verses, backed always by the others and by Dion Tygapaw on electric bass. They end the work with an improvised copying score in which leadership transfers seamlessly from performer to performer.

 

L to R: Acosta, Allen and Brockington in DISCOTROPIC. Photo by Maria Baranova.

DISCOTROPIC is a ritualistic piece that offers precious few handholds to the audience throughout the evening. Is this a show or a meditative practice? What non-hierarchical and verdant planet are we on? Acosta deliberately presents his work as being on the edge between performance and visual art. Like Ralph Lemon, he wants to be critically situated beyond the dance field.

Acosta is rarely reviewed by white-centric mainstream publications. This failure of attention does not bode well for the evolution or continued relevance of these publications. In an interview with Vice Magazine's Creators Project, Acosta states: “I wanted to think about people who don’t get the amount of visibility that they deserve... DISCOTROPIC thinks about how that applies to the current climate of racial representation now.” This nowness is the work's most compelling element.

Kate Mattingly's recent trenchant article on BAYWATCH addresses the widespread failure of predominantly white mainstream outlets to give consideration to work like Acosta's — work whose lineage and inheritance is derived from a nonwhite canon. This work develops in alternative spaces and is often created and performed by queer and trans people of color. It prioritizes process and ritual over "the pretty, the linear, and the familiar." Mattingly notes:

Studying dance criticism in the 20th and 21st centuries in the United States I notice a tendency to sublimate experiences that are variable and esoteric to words that are accessible and clear. What happens when our experiences are not legible, when a performance highlights the obscurity, vulnerability, and uncertainty that pervade life? What happens when an artist emphasizes the systemic exclusions of people of color from comforts and opportunities?

What happens with white critical response to work that emphasizes the lived experience of people of color, I think, is what Mattingly sees in Allan Ulrich's scoffing review in the San Francisco Chronicle of Filipino-American choreographer Gerald Casel's Splinters in our Ankles: "an unwillingness to engage an artist’s work on its own terms." The terms Acosta sets forth in DISCOTROPIC are Afrofuturist, fantastic, and celebratory. Casel’s terms are anti-colonial, deeply personal, and wry. Both deserve more of what Rebecca Solnit (as quoted by Mattingly) calls counter-criticism that “seeks to expand the work of art, by connecting it, opening up its meanings, inviting in the possibilities." I freely acknowledge that, as a white person who performs and writes about mostly “linear and familiar” dances, I'm not the best person to craft cogent counter-criticism for DISCOTROPIC. But I can encourage you to see the work for yourself. 

Adrian Piper's 1982 writing Notes on Funk II describes what she'd learned in performing her disco works:

I had always assumed that any meaningful political work I did had to involve utilizing the advantages of my middle-class education and aesthetic acculturation as resources 'for the benefit of' the disadvantaged community from which I came... this view now seems to me to be laden with patronizing, elitist assumptions about who has what of value to offer to whom. The funk idiom of black working-class culture is an unbelievably rich and enriching art form… that has invaluable gifts to offer that audience, and not just the other way around.

During DISCOTROPIC, the performers gather up a wide, runway-length strip of black paper. Working together, they bundle it delicately into a huge nest and lift it above their heads. Then they slowly process through the audience. 2015 was a year of photograph after photograph after news clip after body-cam video of black and trans bodies being invaded, violated, and killed. After such a year, Acosta's engineering of an alternative and multi-faceted site of possibility where an audience stood back in deference to this procession was, as Piper says, an invaluable gift. 

The cast of DISCOTROPIC and projection of 1974 Afrofuturist science-fiction film Space Is The Place featuring Sun Ra and his Arkestra. Photo by Maria Baranova.

 

NOTES/REFERENCES

Diahann Carroll as Mermeia in the 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special (start video at 2:20)

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, The Post-Colonial Critic: Interviews, Strategies, Dialogues (Routledge, 1990)

bell hooks, “Representation of Whiteness in the Black Imagination,” Black Looks: Race and Representation (South End Press, 1992)

Mayfield Brooks, "IWB = Improvising While Black", Contact Quarterly, Winter/Spring 2016.

Shelton Lindsay, "Dance Artist niv Acosta Creates a Space of His Own", Vice Magazine, February 27, 2015. 

Kate Mattingly, “fresh festival: critical focus,” BAYWATCH, January 22, 2016. 

Adrian Piper, “Notes on Funk II,” Out of Order, Out of Sight: Selected Writings in Meta-Art 1968-1992 (MIT Press, 1996)

 

 

 

Review: Alessandro Sciarroni at TBA Festival/PICA

Alessandro Sciarroni
FOLKS-s
Will you still love me tomorrow?

Time Based Art Festival
Portland Institute of Contemporary Art
September 11, 2015

FOLK-s began with the house lights on and the stage dark. Although I could barely see the outline of the circle of dancers on the stage, I could clearly hear them. They were stomping and slapping out a short looping rhythm.  That rhythmic phrase, with small variations and occasional pauses, would repeat relentlessly for over two hours in a test of both audience and dancer stamina.

Feminist Movement: Deborah Hay, Artistic Survival, Aesthetic Freedom, and Feminist Organizational Principles

Deborah Hay has liberated contemporary dance on many levels, from her early days in New York to her international influence today. Not in the least from within the design of how she chooses to disseminate her choreography. In my opinion, her multiple inventions and innovations for transmitting her aesthetic through community building are in line with the women’s rights movement and the principles that guide a feminist organization.