Sunday, May 14, 2017

in response to William Lü's latest experiment on dance/language

And here's my response:
Movement is a state (and condition) of existence, and there are as many languages from movement as there are those made with vocals. (e.g. English   ) Just as with everything else, people all over the world have evolved various ways of moving and yes, also dancing: kinds of walking, bowing/greeting, not/touching, working etc. all depending on social norms, desires, and other conditions of life. Dance can exaggerate and/or complement these movements in such wonderful ways.

The next thing I am thinking of is how with the growth of European (post) modernism there have been schools like Laban Movement Analysis where an attempt was made to understand movement beyond a single language or single vocabularies. Anna Halprin, Elaine Summers and her work Kinetic Awareness®, Mary O'Donnell and her work Release, and other somatic movement approaches, Judson Dance Theater, the Six Viewpoints, but also writings of Wilhelm Reich (especially his article "The Expressive Language of that which is Alive") are all good examples. I would also think of Eurythmy and the amazing ways of how condensation and dilation of aura/ energy are made by the costumes and movements through space, very codified in specific relation to sound & vocal languages.

Fortunately there are many more such theories and thoughts about movement & dance all over the planet, sometimes with very explicit theories explaining every single movement, sometimes remaining centered in ongoing practice & vocabulary with all the philosophy and theory literally embodied and danced ...

Thursday, April 13, 2017

contemporary realities - Trisha Brown's "Set & Reset" - postmodern challenge & promise

(re-written after the recent passing of Trisha Brown)

recently I once again reviewed Trisha Brown's classic Set & Reset Version 1 on VHS video in its epoch-making one-take recording from 1985 by James Byrne, with the original cast: Trisha Brown, Diane Madden, Irene Hultman, Eva Karczag, Stephen Petronio, Vicky Schick, Randy Warshaw

it was a great joy how after 20 years of seeing this video again & again, this time I could finally follow all the various developments of the rather simple basic composition:
the dancers perform variations on 3 basic phrases,
which are continually modulated in ever new and exciting variations and interactions.

in musical terms, the dance resembles the Baroque form of the Fuga =
a theme is interpreted polyphonically, always with the same start, but different continuations. 

that's all, really ...
but in this realization alone there are up to 7 individual dancers, 7 such voices,
also interacting spatially with each other, and the results are wonderful, brilliant, complex, exploring swinging free-flow momentum and daring excitement.  

(see here the re-work of the Budapest School of Dance facilitated by Eva Karczag and Vicky Shick from 2009 with 8 dancers, among them prize-winning choreographer Adrienn Hód and dancer Emese Cuhorka)

1994 ...

I remember very well how as a young dance student at the Rotterdamse Dansacademie (now codarts) in 1994. I was very drawn to this piece, entirely fascinated - but not yet able to understand the movements well enough so that I could also follow them more specifically in their complex polykinetic development.

the complexity and variations went beyond the more mono-linear dance-vocabularies and practices that I had been trained to understand, even while I had started to independently study the Kinetic Awareness® work of Elaine Summers. I was confronted with entirely new languages, that originated from a different, deeper and wider understanding of the human bodymind and its possible movements.

this difficulty went so far that when I first saw work of Trisha Brown in Amsterdam 1992, I nearly fell asleep like babies do, because my brain needed off-time to rewire from the newly received kinesthetic information ... but when I got up from my seat, I could physically feel that my body had gotten a new understanding of movement, much like after a good dance-class.

ever since then I have kept re-visiting and reviewing this dance-recording, like a very very good book, and it has become one of the "Bibles" of my life, a true classic: offering a balance of simplicity and complexity, and an example that invites to be followed -
in fact, I've always had to be very careful not to merely imitate movements from the dance language of this piece and related work, although sometimes some of the moves just "pop-up" right in the middle of an improvisation ... (essentially creating a new tradition)
I believe it is no accident that for some time Trisha Brown collaborated and studied Kinetic Awareness® with Elaine Summers: both had been deeply involved with the collective later known as Judson Dance Theater, both created dance-works in public space, and I wonder how much Elaine's Fantastic Gardens with its use of film-projection-as-environment, helped to inspire Brown's use of film-projectors in her solo Homemade, 1966 -

she also had danced in Summers' early version of Energy Changes, called From the Still Point performed as a duet with Summers at Loeb Student Center, NYU 1971

there had been ongoing exchanges between both professionals, such as when Pearl Bowser, associate artist at Summers' Experimental Intermedia Foundation, filmed the performance of Brown's Planes at the Whitney Museum to be made into an intermedia-installation (see video), etc.

Linearity, con-formity ...
watching Trisha Brown instruct two dancers of her then-company in Michael Blackwood's documentary Making Dances from 1980, I do notice how Brown's ability to articulate her body is much more complex in its simultaneous multi-directionality than that of both dancers, who are trying to absorb the free-flow calligraphy, spontaneously thrown out by her into time and space.

it must also be mentioned that not much longer after this documentary Trisha Brown at one point did chose to return back to the traditional confines -with the capitalist-elitist financial rewards- of more traditional 'Western' proscenium theaters, and the expectations of a more traditional European/-American socio-economic elite.

what for many is new, amazing, revolutionary - especially for those of us who remain more stuck in repeating incremental variations of ever less deeply understood traditional dance languages (which in return often as not are made into 'new' disposable toss-fodder for the dance-industrial-complex) - is how Browns' work manages to bring a wider range of complexity of possible human movement together with such old-fashioned linearity, but still re-creating much of the liveliness that created this movement in the first place, evoking a specific kind of human character/state that these movements suggest.

Trisha Brown actually did what back then she said in Blackwood's documentary she so despised: she did turn around and did make a step back, took the most willing people of an audience by the hand, and crossed the line with them, again, ... offered something a bit more understandable, which still had some force of the exciting promise of multiplicity and complexity of organic, spiritual life in it.

as a result, today even the Paris Opera Ballet can find a way to come closer to an interpretation of Brown's choreography. see video here

others ...

peers, like Elaine Summers, who chose to continue the exploration of entirely new settings and new situations altogether, without looking back, paid dearly in every respect -economically and personally- for forging ahead and not taking the time to revert & effectively take others by the hand.

some of them are now admitted into the halls of classicism:

  • Merce Cunningham simply managed to continue long enough and kept toying with European-American classical Ballet vocabulary long enough to have the rest of the world catch up with him in time for economic support.
  • after a long while, Anna Halprin is now enjoying more and more some similar respect, and can look back on the collaboration with her architect-hustband Lawrence Halprin for visual representations of her work. 
  • Pina Bausch could find an entry via the languages and codes of German theater/drama and eventually became almost a household name, complete with a saccharine movie by Wim Wenders that emphasizes conventionally acceptable beauty, with what has become more widely acceptable of her once revolutionary work.

(on the change from revolting new to beautifully classic, suggestion to read the beginning of Gertrude Stein's Composition as Explanation, written 1926)

ecological, economical, cultural niches
as a con-sequence, it is useful to understand the necessity of both directions:
those of us who forge ahead, and those of us who actually form less radical hybrids with more traditionally accepted forms of expression. either one serves a purpose in the development of research and translation.

in a post-modern continuum, where there is no longer a single line directing one way forward or backward, any such developments become recognizable as ongoing processes of changing codes/vocabularies/practices/languages.

it is through languages such as those created by Trisha Brown, that we can become more ready to understand and appreciate her contemporaries (e.g. Summers, Halprin, but also Mary Overlie, Mary O'Donnell-Fulkerson, Pauline de Groot, Katherine Dunham, Germaine Acogny, Tatsumi Hijikata ... - insert here the name of any pioneer, both "Western" and less- or entirely non-"Western" ... 

all of these pioneers, and all of us who are affected by them, create an important ecotope for understanding human movement & eventually the human condition. whether & how much we understand and support each other in these differences, remains a crucial question in these times, where the filters of what will "sell" all too often only allow for the most stereotypical and least understanding forms of dance for a wider audience, and where because of inequality a wider audience most often does not get a choice of acquiring more adequate means for appreciating such physically moving contemporary realities.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

dreaming econonomics

a very inspiring and much needed quote by Marie Curie, found on the blog of Andrew Wass :

Humanity also needs dreamers, for whom the disinterested development of an enterprise is so captivating that it becomes impossible for them to devote their care to their own material profit. Without doubt, these dreamers do not deserve wealth, because they do not desire it. Even so, a well-organized society should assure to such workers the efficient means of accomplishing their task, in a life freed from material care and freely consecrated to research.
to see the post and more inspiration from his blog

community dance - evolving perspectives: intersectional, intercultural, communal

this article inspired the organizers for the coming International Day of Dance in Rotterdam to open up all levels of organisation and enable all participants to share in the responsiblity. tomorrow will see the first meeting for questions of scheduling, production, PR, and exchange in general ... (includes a very useful scale of participation)
*I don't vouch for the assumption about therapy that is put forward in the ladder: therapy is innately for self-empowerment on a personal level. Whether the approach and outcome are adequate in an intercultural situation is crucial, but I find the assumption of therapy as the lowest  (hierarchical!) end of the ladder, to be falsely generalizing a status quo and shut down any possible & much needed improvement.

I remember very well the un-ease I felt after leaving the Zwaanshals-area in Rotterdam back in 2004, as artists-in-residence. we came and were adopted as the 'village-excentrics', had some nice and inspiring interactions, but now it was time to move on. what about the people who I left behind?

now in 2017, it is more clear than ever that if I am working in a local situation, I need to be aware of, and get involved with the people who are a part of it, and they with me. this article was very inspiring

artists are sense-workers, communication workers, just like dreamers of any kind. following from this understanding must be an acceptance that just like every individual being, art/science that has an innate value beyond any immediate "use", actual or perceived.