mnartists.blog: From mnartists.org, this is where the conversation about the arts and culture hits home, right here in Minnesota.
Reviewing the Reviewer: The Conclusion of our Conversation Between Artist Paula Mann and Critic Lightsey Darst
Editor’s note: In February 2012, mnartists.org’s dance critic, Lightsey Darst, reviewed Far Afield, a then-new dance performance by Penelope Freeh and Paula Mann with Steve Paul and Time Track Productions staged in late January at Red Eye Theater in Minneapolis. A short time after the review was published, Paula Mann wrote to Lightsey in response; [...]
Editor’s note: In February 2012, mnartists.org’s dance critic, Lightsey Darst, reviewed Far Afield, a then-new dance performance by Penelope Freeh and Paula Mann with Steve Paul and Time Track Productions staged in late January at Red Eye Theater in Minneapolis.
A short time after the review was published, Paula Mann wrote to Lightsey in response; Lightsey wrote her back, and asked if she’d like to embark on an experiment, a conversation about the work, between the reviewer and reviewed, undertaken for publication here. And so began a fascinating, weeks-long exchange between the two — on art and dance and the balancing act of bringing critical judgment to bear on both; on audience perception and creative intentions, and the mettle-testing value of flopping in public. We’re publishing their back-and-forth in two installments.
Find the second half of their exchange below.
Related links and information: Lightsey Darst’s column on local dance last week reflected on a new collaborative, multimedia dance work by Time Track Productions, Here and After, featuring choreography by Paula Mann and media imagery by Steve Paul, with original music by Michelle Kinney (Jelloslave). The work was performed at TEK BOX in Minneapolis September 27 through 30, 2012. You can read the review of this new work, Here and After, on mnartists.org now.
From: Paula Mann
To: Lightsey Darst
Subject: Where’s a forum for artists to talk about what they’re attempting to create?
First of all, just want to say that I think this conversation is immensely valuable to me as an individual artist and hopefully to others in the community. In fact, it has taken me a while to respond because there is just so much I want to say. There really isn’t a forum for artists to state what they were attempting to create. After working with young artists for over 20 years, I’m going to venture the following generalization: Most dance artists are extreme perfectionists. And, of course, we are all trained that way, and there are real-world reasons for this; the same thing applies to creation of a work. Initially, I live in the world of ideas while creating; it’s an exciting place where anything is possible and perfect. Then, you actually have to make the work, with whatever limitations are present — be they money, time, or energy. I’ve never had a piece turn out exactly the same way as I imagined it (‘O, The Humanity’ was supposed to have 20 extra people in it, etc.), and because I value the imagination as a real source for my work, there is always an uncomfortable gap between what I wished to create and what was actually created. I would like to get better at this (big sigh).
Now, on to the question of reviewing dance for public education and/or consumption: I hate to admit that I was around back then, but in the 1980s and 90s we all read reviews, and they seemed to have an impact on our careers. A good review could mean more audience, money at the box office, getting noticed by a presenter and, it could add to your artistic persona. At least, that was the game we all seemed to be playing. One person’s opinion (educated or not) had some power then.
Who reads reviews now? I can’t be sure. I know I do. It’s difficult to get my students at the university to read reviews, unless it’s required in the syllabus. Is there just too much information to consume and not enough file space left in our brains? And getting back to your question about the real effects of technology, I’m going to step out on a proverbial limb here and say we (as humans) might have just reached a state of total brain-fry. Or maybe we will soon. Jump cut to me as a teacher, trying to help people create choreography, which requires some inward reflection. To heighten creativity, research has shown that we need to cultivate a more diffused consciousness at times, contrary to the minuscule focus necessary to watch and respond to and on our techno-devices. Simply put, we need to let our minds wander more, silence.
But the question of the purpose of reviewing and recording an event persists. How much weight does an opinion in print have? I know artists who never read reviews. More power to them, but I can’t seem to manage that, and…. I’m curious. Now, with the potential for many more voices to enter the conversation through online blogs or tweeting out short statements, I think it’s a good time to reevaluate the [critical] process.
So, a review could be a starting point for a discussion (among many diverse voices) — about the work itself and about making the work and the overall effect and place dance/movement/performance has in our society. If an audience knows more about the artist and the process used to create a work, how will it affect the audience’s experience?
A small anecdote: In 2005, Steve and I made a piece called The Train Wreck Is Proceeding Nicely — a mess of a piece to be sure, but it was so much fun to try. I think I was at my most creative, really taking risks by doing things I did not know how to do well — and I take full responsibility for that. I did try to edit the work when I realized how much information I was trying to impart, but I ran out of time and, quite frankly, perspective. Camille [LeFevre] (writing then for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune) absolutely hated it, as it did not live up our last piece; I think your review of that show, Lightsey, was mixed (which is always OK). And after watching it, Philip Bither [performing arts curator for Walker Art Center] has not come to see any of my work since.
Ah, the harsh realities of our world. You might say, “So what, you kept working?” — and so I did, but am I working a little bit safer and thinking about audience reaction more [after that experience]? I learned a valuable personal lesson then, and I won’t go into detail, but I’ll say this: If you’ve never had a public flop, you really ought to try it — it tests your mettle.
1) About movement: I’ve looked at the role of movement vocabulary from a multitude of perspectives, and I’ve experimented a lot, too. I was trained in choreography at NYU by modernists and post–modernists. There, I saw these methodologies intertwine. Movement was developed to deliver the emotional content of the piece and sometimes the movement was just there, its reason for being not always apparent. I’ve always been able to create movement through how I move. In 2000, I stripped out all extraneous movement except what was driven and devised by character. But lately I’ve been revisiting the question of movement: What is it for? How does it function in a piece? Certainly, there’s a specific movement vocabulary — but it’s also about structure, ideas, and the movement all woven together into a whole. Your question remains: How can I, as choreographer, help the audience perceive, know, and understand what is important about that vocabulary?
2) Even though I love technology, or the images that it produces, there is always a non-technology impetus [for my work]. That said — yeah, I admit to sometimes being overwhelmed by the collaboration [between media and disciplines]; and in O, the Humanity, Robert and I were working a long time before media entered the picture. In fact, we didn’t add the media [to the work] until much later. And by saying that you weren’t sure “if I knew it or the piece knew it,” I think that might translate into: I could use more clarity; that is, to be very sure of what I was saying or say it better.
3) Yes and no. And I have no idea if the sci-fi wanderings of my imagination (or Hollywood screen writers) will really come to pass. I do wonder where we are headed as I walk down the street, and everyone I pass seems preoccupied with some device. I guess, I’d rather be occupied by the musings of my own mind, but there it is: What a difference a generation can make. Even if I’m smart enough to control the craziness of my own technology, I can’t separate myself from the rest of the world, or observations of how we, as a people, might be changing. And besides, I’m curious to see how it all turns out. About not buying the premise of the work: Well, that is the most difficult of all concerns, because the premise is my life, and the reason for that is probably my own choreographic blind spot. Now, if I could only figure out what that reason is…?
4) I probably reacted too strongly to the word “bourgeois,” which means, as I understand it, to be part of the elite. I’m a white, middle-aged, low-income artist who often wonders why she didn’t make smarter financial choices when she was younger. I consider myself a part of the 99%, and I’d like to see real change happen, socially and economically. But everything seems driven by commodity now, even art. How are we being controlled by what we think we should buy, or the art we think we should make? A student recently asked me to play ‘Words with Friends’ with him. I had to ask, “What kind of device do I need? An iPhone? Sorry, I have only a regular cell phone. iPhones are too expensive and seem like a waste of time.: Student looks at me and blinks, not knowing how to answer. For sure, I’m an alien creature (a.k.a. old).
I did kind of sense you were talking about the characters as being bourgeois, but since we use media as a way to deliver images, primarily, we are making a statement about technology simply by using it. And to use it, to be driven crazy by it, you have to be able to buy it.
Let’s keep talking,
From: Lightsey Darst
To: Paula Mann
RE: A new paradigm for reviewing?
I pulled this line out of your letter, because I find it really compelling: “There really isn’t a forum for artists to state what they were attempting to create.”
Someone’s bound to object that the program notes are exactly that forum, but we know it isn’t true. What you’re doing in this exchange, how you’re thinking about what you put into the work and how it turned out, we don’t get to see that at all. But why not? It’s fascinating and it’s instructive. Even being “on the inside” I’m not always sure how things work, what’s pivotal for an artist’s career and how that affects the artist’s development, etc. How could we know more about this?
Your email hints at a way: We can alter the reviewing paradigm to include just this sort of exchange we’re embarked on as a regular part of the discussion around dance… except, that it’s possible no one will read it. Because, as you point out, who reads reviews now? Well, I’m not sure. I can say that when I post my articles on Facebook (more technology, I know how you love that), the articles that get the most response are invariably the personal ones — articles that go in-depth with my or someone else’s experience, that pursue the intimate side of art.
Articles, in short, like this one …
And, to make a possibly over-neat bridge (I think I’ve revealed my weakness for the smooth transition) to the topic of technology, perhaps the saving grace of all this technology might be its capacity for intimacy. Here are all these new spaces, and, yes, they tend to drive us into shallow and commodified communications; but they also allow us (if we’re persistent and clever) a lot of freedom. Hmmm: How does that relate to what you’re saying about using the technology to critique it?
A deeper idea’s coming out for me as I reread your emails: Criticism can be helpful. You’re clearly constantly looking for ways to improve your work, and it sounds as if you’d like to use public and critical perception and feedback for that purpose. It sounds obvious, but I hardly hear anybody say anything like that. Choreographers and artists don’t seem to want to admit that they could use help, and reviewers (this one included) would rather not assume such a presumptuous role. And it seems to me that we usually treat a performance as a thing in itself — accomplished, complete — rather than as part of an artist’s ongoing development.
I’m wondering how this feels from your side: Is there a prohibition on commenting on your own work this way, in public, on revealing your side of it?
Yours in dance,
From: Paula Mann
To: Lightsey Darst
Subject: Power to the people
Our final exchange and I still have so much to say (and not much time)!
Here goes: I think it’s interesting that most people don’t have the opportunity to understand the process of making art, an insider’s view, so to speak. What actually happens when creating something from nothing? I’ve been fascinated by this process, in myself and others, for some time. (I’m researching where ideas come from: intersections of brain science and creativity.)
In my mind, generally speaking, a piece has unending potential to evolve. One could work on a piece throughout a lifetime and never finish, the work being a constant reflection of your consciousness at that time. (I think there was a movie with Phillip Seymour Hoffman that took on this topic.) This wouldn’t work, for practical reasons, but sometimes I like to fantasize about what kind of art would be created if the limitations of money and time were out of the picture. But limitations can sometimes produce a heightened awareness and great results: You know you’re working against time, and you absolutely have to make something happen. I’ve spent many years awake in the middle of the night, thinking through my rehearsal for the next day.
I’m glad you feel that making this (process-oriented) information available to the public would be helpful. I don’t think this kind of response can completely covered by a talk-back with the audience or in program notes, but maybe in another format…Likewise, I think it is important for artists to get a glimpse of their work through another’s eyes. And, yes, I would like my work to get better, but one has to ask: Better for whom? For what audience? I know the marketplace, and thinking about that doesn’t make me feel more creative. I think we all want people to like our work; if you truthfully don’t care, I would like to award you with some kind of Detached Creator award. So, I care, but as I get older, I do care less. I fully understand that all opinions (no matter how educated) are subjective; each person registers experiences differently, through their own unique perspective.
Finally, as to effect of technology in our personal lives… this is way too complicated for me to take up in the space I have left here. But I agree with you about the potential change in intimacy level allowed through social media. I’m truly excited that people (assuming they have access) around the world can voice their support and cumulative political power to change our world (to start a revolution, for instance).
Growing up near Detroit in the 1960s, I heard this phrase constantly: Power to the people. Sounds a bit outdated, but I think it’s happening now. People are taking their power back. The awareness of the creative spark that exists in each of us is fundamental to understanding this innate power.
Thanks for a great exchange — I hope we can do something like this again in the future!
Below are some scenes from the 2005 performance noted above, The Train Wreck is Proceeding Nicely:
Reviewing the Reviewer: A Conversation Between Choreographer Paula Mann and Dance Critic Lightsey Darst
Editor’s note: In February 2012, mnartists.org’s dance critic, Lightsey Darst, reviewed Far Afield, a then-new dance performance by Penelope Freeh and Paula Mann with Steve Paul and Time Track Productions staged in late January at Red Eye Theater in Minneapolis. Here is an excerpt of Darst’s critique of the show for mnartists.org, about Mann’s dance [...]
Editor’s note: In February 2012, mnartists.org’s dance critic, Lightsey Darst, reviewed Far Afield, a then-new dance performance by Penelope Freeh and Paula Mann with Steve Paul and Time Track Productions staged in late January at Red Eye Theater in Minneapolis.
Here is an excerpt of Darst’s critique of the show for mnartists.org, about Mann’s dance work, in particular:
Paula Mann’s O The Humanity …[is] a very busy duet with a noisy collage score and an ensemble of highly reflective young women, moving screens for Steve Paul’s video collage, new order caryatids. It’s clever and allusive, and the central couple goes crazy in the comfort of what I take to be their suburban avant-bourgeois media cave, like everyone you know. . . Or, wait a minute: who are these people? They told us our devices would make us mad, but it hasn’t happened to anyone I know: everyone I know is going crazy the good old-fashioned way — work, love, grief… But even if I don’t buy the plot, I still believe the crazy because Mann dances it. Mann can be a slow burn; it takes a while to notice how wickedly fast she is. But with her eyes made up like she’s been crying all week, and the mania flaming out from her bones, she’s a bonfire now. The question is: what moves her?
A short time after the review was published, Paula Mann wrote to Lightsey in response to the piece; then, Lightsey wrote her back, and asked if she’d like to embark on an experiment, a conversation about the work, between the reviewer and reviewed, undertaken for publication here. And so began a fascinating, weeks-long exchange between the two — on art and dance and the balancing act of bringing critical judgment to bear on both; on audience perception and creative intentions, and the mettle-testing value of flopping in public. We’ll publish their back-and-forth in two installments. The first of these is below; look for the second early next week.
On a related note: Lightsey Darst has a piece just this week on the mnartists.org homepage, reflecting on a new collaborative, multimedia dance work by Time Track Productions, Here and After, featuring choreography by Paula Mann and media imagery by Steve Paul, with original music by Michelle Kinney (Jelloslave). The work was performed at TEK BOX in Minneapolis September 27 through 30, 2012. You can read the review of this new work, Here and After, on mnartists.org now.
From: Paula Mann
To: Lightsey Darst
Subject: Your mnartists.org review of ‘Far Afield’
First of all, I want to thank you for reviewing our concert ‘Far Afield’ on Saturday night! In the tradition of Doris Humphrey (she wrote back to the famous critic, John Martin responding to his reviews of her work), I thought I would send you my thoughts on your review. I realize this is not often done in our small little dance-world bubble, but it seemed a good idea to try it. I have respect for both your writing and thinking process about dance and performance. I have tried to keep my distance from reviewers, so as not to influence and confuse the issue of friendship/nepotism. Caroline [Palmer] and Linda [Shapiro] are friendly acquaintances of mine, but I knew them both before they began reviewing publicly. The most thoughtful review I ever received was from the Jack Anderson when we performed at Dance Theater Workshop in New York in 2009; I did not know him personally at all (his review is still online).
I want to thank you for your compliments [in the recent review, “Dancing it True”] about my own dancing. I’m 53, and I know I don’t have many more years left as a performer, so it is nice to hear. Dancing and performing (translating my own ideas into movement for my own body) is truly my love. Choreography is hard work, but dancing is filled with ease for me after all these years.
I think the problems you had with the work (speaking only for myself and not for Penny [Freeh]) are the problems many have had [with our dances] over the years. Strangely though, for this show I heard less of the “too busy, too noisy” comment from the audience, than I normally do. I am sorry you felt that way, as we were really striving to achieve a very difficult balance with movement, media and sound all playing together. The main thing, for me, is the creation of a work that looks like nothing else, something that that no one else could achieve, that is uniquely ours. Also, the addition of media allows us to develop a broader audience for our work; more men and non-dancers came up [after the show] and talked to me, and I appreciate this.
I was a little sad that you didn’t seem to notice the movement vocabulary in the duet, as I put special attention to making that particular vocabulary speak to the intention of the relationship we were portraying. I see many companies in our community that hire the same dancers (all wonderful, of course), and basically allow the dancers to create/inform the movement; but they don’t shine a light on specific movement, don’t use the tools of craft to change the qualities, and therefore affect the overall meaning, of the work. And so, the actual movement of these very fine companies all looks alike for me. I realize this kind of attention to the movement that is actually created and performed is not everyone’s interest. But it is mine. Perhaps the media [accompanying the dance] was just too overwhelming for this to come solidly through?
The plot (that was not bought by you) is this: What are the circuitous emotional journeys that occur in a long-term relationship over many years (at least over ten years)? Steve [Paul] and I have been together 20 years, and this is the first time I have ever tried to get enough distance from our relationship to inspire a piece. Perhaps this is an age thing; if you have never experienced the falling in and out of love that happens in long-term relationships, then [this storyline] might not translate to your own personal experience. Robert and I have been working together since 2003; I realize his skills don’t always come into focus if you are looking at the virtuosic, technical side of dance only, but many others commented on how connected we were as we danced together. The whole middle section (moving through the screens) was structured improvisation, and there are not many people who can partner and perform improv like that.
The comment that confused me most was [what you said] about going crazy over the onslaught of media or the old-fashioned way, grief, love etc. Again, perhaps this is a media problem with our work, but I see this happening constantly. Media coverage of everything in our world creates it’s own presence in our brain, and if we don’t take steps to counteract it on a personal level, our brains (evolutionarily speaking) will become mushy and filled with the only the highly superficial — no more deep thinking. I teach, so I see this happening in the classroom. Last semester, I had a class that was so distracted, I thought I should start tweeting them the class information they needed so they might pay more attention.
On a last and personal note, Steve and I are not dirt poor, but we certainly are not bourgeois. We have been working artists for 25 years.
Thank you, with regard and respect,
Time Track Productions
From: Lightsey Darst
To: Paula Mann
Subject: RE: Your mnartists.org review of ‘Far Afield’
Thanks for responding! You know, when I was first writing dance criticism, it bothered me how rarely anyone responded to anything. I thought of my writing as a communication, but it just fell in a black hole, for all I knew. I’ve gotten used to that now—so, it’s good to be reminded that people are out there.
Reading your email, I find myself thinking back over the experience of watching the piece and then winnowing down my reactions and thoughts to the (ouch) single paragraph I wrote about what must have taken you months, if not longer, to create. That must sound self-flagellating, but maybe I’m feeling less self-flagellating than genre-flagellating—I mean, this convention of the review, the thesis statement or general unity of the paragraph, the single point of view, etc.
To be more concrete: I did notice Robert’s dancing. I remember watching the two of you on stage and wondering whether you met each other the same time I met both of you, in your modern dance class at the U in whatever year that was—2001?—and thinking how your dance partnership had lasted and grown, how Robert was really moving with you, really accompanying you. But when I came to write the review, that note about Robert fell out because of the bridge I made between one paragraph and another, and because I felt I really wanted to write about your dancing. So, let’s see: I opted to leave him out rather than make the writing awkward and pay him what I felt would come off as a backhanded compliment.
The result is that, in what I suppose is an official record of the event, he doesn’t exist. What do we do with that? I’m really not interested in being a “critic of record” — though I suppose sometimes I am the only critic covering an event, and so we could discuss whether or not I can choose to give up that documentary responsibility…
What’s more interesting to me is changing what criticism means in the world, broadening its scope and practice. I like that your note is basically another review of the work. I mean, it includes things that don’t go in official reviews—intention, audience reaction, the pronoun “I”—but I find it worth reading, it tells me more about the event, I learn something, I have thoughts and questions afterwards—which isn’t true of a lot of official reviews. I’d like to see more writing like this. Wouldn’t it be great if a show generated a lot of different views—from audience members, critics, and participants alike?
Now, I’m just being naive (or self-undermining: I get paid to do this, after all). But maybe a shift in how reviews are viewed is possible. Question 1: If a review were more clearly seen as the compressed thought of one person, one time, would that alter the feeling of being mis-reviewed? Question 2: How can reviewers encourage that sort of reading?
I see I’m doing exactly the same thing I did in the review—skipping lots of stuff to focus in depth on one thing. So, to the other stuff:
1. Movement vocabulary. I perceived it—sort of. Maybe not. I can still see one move in my head, and you have characteristic movement, I know that. But unless these things come out strongly in images, they become very hard to render on the page. . .
2. Plot. A-ha: I knew there was something about long-term relationships in there! (That’s actually what I meant by “going crazy the good old-fashioned way.”) Or, I should clarify, I knew that there was a non-technological impetus behind the work. But (awkward) I wasn’t sure you knew it. Or, that the piece knew it.
3. Does technology make us crazy? I’m not convinced. But you are. Now what? I mean, if I don’t buy the premise for a work I’m reviewing, as occasionally happens, then—?
4. Oh nuts, I didn’t mean that you were bourgeois! That’s terrible (wince, wince). I meant the characters you were portraying must be, since they have enough technology to drive themselves crazy … but now that I put it that way, it occurs to me that all my students are soaking in technology—big TVs with a gazillion channels, cell phones, tanks with sound systems—even as they’re in school to escape minimum wage jobs…
Let’s keep talking.
See below for a video of the work Lightsey and Paula are discussing, as recorded during the performance in late January 2012:
Check back soon: You can read the second installment in this two-part exchange here, next week.
1. On the videotapes: So much of this work still looks so contemporary. For a relative newcomer to the scene (I started watching dance here in 2003), it’s surprising to see that work from the 1980s is not so very dated. People with longer perspectives have been telling me this for a while, but seeing [...]
1. On the videotapes: So much of this work still looks so contemporary. For a relative newcomer to the scene (I started watching dance here in 2003), it’s surprising to see that work from the 1980s is not so very dated. People with longer perspectives have been telling me this for a while, but seeing the evidence makes it real. Because of the nature of dance, it’s possible for artists to go in circles, reinventing the wheel. It’s good to be reminded of what’s been done, in a concrete way. That doesn’t happen a lot.
2. On the live writing: I usually feel an obligation to the performance I am discussing, but in this case I felt it more strongly—probably because I couldn’t take time to ruminate, because I had to get it right, convey it, at that moment. It’s salutary for a writer to think like a dancer—now, this moment. (I am also a dancer, but I mean, to think like a dancer while writing.) It makes me wonder what dancers experience when, for example, making dance films, when suddenly they have the luxury of time and editing.
3. On the performance: I’m remembering now how good everything looked and sounded—the bright white lights, the retro sounds, the clean space, the colors. Laurie was backed up by great design and tech here. I’ve lost the program but I know a nod is due to Elliott Durko Lynch. Also to the space itself (Shawn McConneloug and Robert Rosen’s Studio 206). . . performing in non-theater spaces is nothing new, but it’s always somehow exciting when dance takes over new territory.
4. On dance as installation: Well, this thought demands more space. You’ll have to follow me over to mnartists.org, where a little think-piece on Eiko and Koma’s recent installation at the Walker will be going up before long.
10:19 pm: Some last thoughts And just like that it’s over. Not the place for the usual reflection on the ephemerality of dance. . . more the fleeting nature of contact. I’ve got to go now. 10:16 pm: On the walls & around Pictures of performers on that flying chair ride at the fair, accordions [...]
10:19 pm: Some last thoughts
And just like that it’s over.
Not the place for the usual reflection on the ephemerality of dance. . . more the fleeting nature of contact.
I’ve got to go now.
10:16 pm: On the walls & around
Pictures of performers on that flying chair ride at the fair, accordions in their hands, legs out, oh so happy. (I see a lot of happy in Laurie’s work.)
Video: three performers on chairs, tapping, clapping, stamping, getting out of control. Laurie tends to work with the same performers over and over—Judith Howard, Tom Carlson. They have strong presence; they can hold a still silence.
You start to wonder: what does twenty, thirty years of work add up to? What can you say is accomplished? Does it makes sense to even think about it that way? Dance doesn’t work like some arts—the videotapes are finished the way a painting never is. I think, more, the sense I’m getting is of the amount of life summoned, concentrated. Laurie has made more life.
10:06 pm: Post show reception
“And this piece is called The Reception,” someone cleverly says to the woman next to me. Wine’s out. Time to get happy.
But I’m going to go look at more of the installation.
10:00 pm: 5 dancers & a DJ
They have an individual intelligence & dilemma. Opera & they move in chunky visually clear shapes, like paper dolls. Cut-outs. People you might be when you grow up.
This movement has a planetary rightness.
Now they’re singing. . .
This has the feel of a public presentation—we should be learning not to drink & drive from this.
Isolated solos of pleasure. Yes, this is pleasurable. (Important to notice every so often—how are you doing?)
Has something happened to them or is it about to?
Maybe they’re at a political rally. They have to keep believing what they’re saying.
Break time—they’re chatting with each other, one is lecturing the DJ (who stares off into space). Everyone has done wrong.
I keep looking at Susan Scalf (in the green suit)—there’s a perfect cookie cutter exactness to her movements, down to the way she holds her hands, all her fingers together like a doll.
This is making me smile. Some dances have this quality where I’m already wishing for instant replay.
Same phrase but on their backs now—so we get the bird’s eye view.
Perfect. . .
And then, after the applause, we get the backstage—lights on, dancers talking, carrying things out in the hall. The real world. (“real” with great big air quotes)
9:42 pm: Laurie in the space
(why do I want to start with her clothes?)
Movement inside & outside rules.
She makes a vase-like shape—Isadora.
(That little green scarf is so sly.) (She knows it.)
Surprised by what she did.
Backwards “executing” like a skater. Making a pass.
Gestural. Moment of uncertainty. Explaining it to us (but we don’t speak that language).
(I can hear myself type. Remind me of how bothered I always am by photography in the theater.)
Her shadows converge behind her.
Looking for what’s next.
9:34 pm: Live performance about to start. . .
Someone just called me out.
30 minutes is so not enough to check out this retrospective. The color alone could occupy you that long.
Watching Elliott sweep is hypnotic. Is he part of the performance?
Complex tape lines on the floor, like a basketball court.
9:31 pm: Videos(2)
Fantastically slinky slo-mo movement to some raucous music, brass and drums. The costumes! Rufflicious skirts, lime green, chartreuse, harlot red, black petticoat. Laurie has a thing for woman-according-to-thrift-store. Movement is all over—from holding still, pedestrian gestures to wild thrashing.
Split screen: one of the performers, one of the videocamera held by one of the performers. Ah, I saw this in real life. The soprano in her kelly green dress. Mysterious tableau. Where did they come from. I’m getting a feeling of ghosts. What’s in the theater when no one’s there.
9:23 pm: Spectators
Who’s here: dance-crowd regulars of the avant stripe—Justin Jones, Sally Rousse. People in tweeds, black, brown, conservative clothes. Dressed for the blizzard. Overwhelmingly white (surprise surprise, it’s Minnesota).
Someone’s reading over my shoulder. (Denies it.)
There’s a girl documenting things with her iPhone. Is she, like me, part of the program? Can’t tell.
People for the most part ignore me. I think they think I’m a little rude, with my laptop and all.
People congregating around videos, chatting in little groups. God this is the kind of thing it’s hard to come to alone—your aloneness becomes so public. You are the performance, performing your isolation.
9:17 pm: These videotapes (1)
We’ve been given the instruction to walk around and look at the various video stations scattered about the space. Here goes. . .
Some dreamers cavorting in an arch. Dressed for Logan’s Run, bright colors. Only one of us gets to listen to the sound and it’s not me. Green green grass. But something un-Utopian about the movement—blocky, heavy planes shifting into place. It’s summer in an off-kilter world.
Split-screen. Can’t tell what’s happening. Black and white. Static. Newscast. What the.
People skating with fireworks on their heads—a man carrrying a giant fish that spouts sparks. I feel like I’m witnessing the ritual celebrating of some Scandinavian village, centuries old, caught on tape for the first time. “Loring Park tonight” the TV news headline reads.
9:08 pm: A note about this “live” thing
So this is unusual for me. Normally I take the notes in the dark, no one sees the notes, I go home and think about things, I present a finish opinion, everything is all smoothed off (in much the same way as the usual presentation of ego is all smoothed off); however
that’s not the case here.
People stalking around the space finding things or people to inspect. Crouched in a corner, I’m not clearly one thing or the other. No one knows whether to look at me or not.
A work in progress.
8:57 pm: What they wore to the detonation
Start with the costumes: that boxy green check suit with the blue suede pumps. maroon suit with wide-leg pants. black suit, man-cut, worn by a woman, narrow tie. blue mini-dress with big white collar, blue tights, white go-go boots. check suit, wide lapel polyester shirt.
Costumes flattened in frames on the wall, looking a little trapped (especially trapped because they are the costumes of characters): the black suit Laurie wore to play Anthony—who is perpetually beginning the tango, cigarette in mouth—Camels pack at the ready; a fiesta outfit for Mania (which I’ve never seen).
Time to visit the bits and pieces. . .
8:44 pm: LVW: before the show
So here I am, “backstage” at Laurie Van Wieren’s retrospective. A lot of talented people are swarming about (some in perfect LVW retro outfits) & last minute this & thats are being prepped—
(Laurie does air-traffic controller hands at me and says “blogging”)
12:35 pm: Watch this space: Live-blogging Laurie Van Wieren’s Who Made These Video Tapes?
Tonight starting at 8 pm, I’ll be posting live comments as part of Laurie Van Wieren’s dance installation at the Ivy Building. Come to the show or watch online!