the syntax of female will

“[U]sage becomes incantatory when all metaphors are suppressed. Here language is built, not written.” -Robert Smithson

What happens when language is a responsive environment for choreography? Putting dance in conversation with language—as with any outside element—has many creative benefits. It destabilizes and constrains the creative process, both of which can be productive.  Watching a dancer grapple with language illuminates the nature of the dancer as well as the nature of the movement involved. Language can hold emotional content that may be otherwise hard to access through pure movement. Similarly, engagement with language can open the door to performance states that might otherwise be out of reach for a performer through movement alone.

Like the body, language is a malleable medium.  For me, choreographic thinking is interchangeable with poetic thinking. Abstraction can allow us to see anew. Methods like deconstruction, juxtaposition and distillation are all at play. Amidst these rational operations, I try to respond intuitively to language, as with movement.

Tonight, as part of YBCA:You, HMD will perform ridetherhythm, a linguistic and stylistic smash-up that places Anne Carson’s version of Antigone (Antigonick) in conversation with Carol, the character of the housewife suffering from multiple chemical sensitivity syndrome in Todd Haynes’ movie Safe. The tone of ridetherhythm is urgent, austere and dense.  This tone arises in part from my response to the distinctive aesthetic of Carson’s Antigonick.  Carson’s text features both a lack of punctuation and an unusual amount of white space on the page: what Judith Butler has described as “the syntax of grief and rage….a halting and then a rushing of words.”  The distillation of text and the liberal use of white space on the page together achieve a heightened sense of time, which was a primary inspiration for my composition of the movement in space.

ridetherhythm features a mixed cast of actors and dancers, including Megan Brian, director of Public Programs and Education for SFMOMA, as a mad linguistic scientist commenting on the action.  Carson’s post-modern text contains many levels of commentary and references Hegel, Brecht, Becket and Woolf.  Megan’s presence creates an audience within the piece—a texture of self-consciousness amidst the many strata of commentary already present in the text.

Against a formal gestural landscape, ridetherhythm is a linguistic and stylistic smash-up that places Anne Carson’s version of Antigone (Antigonick) in conversation with Carol, the character of the housewife suffering from multiple chemical sensitivity syndrome in Todd Haynes’ movie Safe—two iconic women who resist sinister environmental forces and renounce family for the sake of a vision.  I chose to put these sources in conversation because of the richness of the stylistic juxtaposition and their thematic similarity.  Both texts contain feminist themes about the ambiguity of female agency. In both Safe and Antigonick, an isolated woman chooses to go her own way—to renounce family for a vision.  Both Antigone and Carol resist sinister environmental forces, whether those forces be patriarchy, toxics, or their own false consciousness.  In both stories, the female protagonist ends up in complete isolation and (at least in the case of Antigone) destruction.

In considering the characters of Antigone and Carol, I’m reminded of Adrienne Rich’s description of a bee in a jar as a metaphor for her own life in her Arts of the Possible: “It is looking for what it needs, just as I am, and, like me, it has gotten trapped in a place where it cannot fulfill its own life.”  I continue to be interested in the cultural problem of female agency.  In that same essay, Adrienne Rich writes that “to locate myself in my body” is the best place to begin her search for her place within society.  Indeed, in ridetherhythm, as in many of my dances, I continue to put the body in conversation with language, as a way of locating my voice.


YBCA:You Presents Word/Play with Hope Mohr Dance and Megan Brian
Dec 19, 2013 6:30 pm
Grand Lobby
December’s YBCA:You-hosted YBCA:ConVerge features an evening of wordplay with Hope Mohr Dance, Megan Brian, and San Francisco writer and comic Joe Veix. Double meanings make for witty amusement and miscommunication, whether spoken, written, texted, or sung. As words fall differently on different ears, this evening of art and words mines the effort, surprise, and failure of communication. At 6 PM, YBCA:You will offer a free 30-minute Art Savvy tour. At 6:30 PM we’ll reveal the YBCA:You lounge and Hope Mohr Dance performs in the lobby followed by Words on Word/Play, a conversation with Megan Brian. ConVerge will feature free drinks and Bi-Rite catering for all to celebrate the winter season and the end of 2013.