From on stage, back stage and the theater seats, the Performing Arts blog illuminates the intersecting worlds of dance, theater, and music.
On Dance and Time Look Who’s Looking Now: Perceiving and Measuring Time is the second part of a series on watching dance. Discussions are divided into sections on the body, space, time, and action/energy. The series aims to give audiences the tools to discuss the elements of dance performance and dig deeper into the philosophical […]
On Dance and Time
Look Who’s Looking Now: Perceiving and Measuring Time is the second part of a series on watching dance. Discussions are divided into sections on the body, space, time, and action/energy. The series aims to give audiences the tools to discuss the elements of dance performance and dig deeper into the philosophical meaning behind the works. Feel free to add to the discussion and share your own insights in the comment section below.
- indefinite, unlimited duration in which things are considered as happening in the past, present, or future; every moment there has ever been or ever will be
- the period between two events or during which something exists, happens, or acts; measured or measurable interval; any period in the history of man [sic] or of the universe
Time can be measured or immeasurable; represented by a metered rhythm, the duration of an event, or the sequential order of a sequence of events. It can be concrete or abstract, real or perceived. It can be all of these at once.
Human movement takes time. It has natural rhythms in both broad and narrow measurements. In a broad sense, we alternate activity and rest; in narrow terms, there is a rhythm to our breath and heartbeat. The sun and moon move in rhythms that dictate the flow of seasons and seconds. Music is described in time signatures — 4/4, 2/4, 3/4 — which communicate cycles of rhythm. Time can be measured by a clock in seconds, minutes, and hours. A sequence of events involves relationships like before, after, and at once; slower than, faster than, and so on. In dance, time can be measured by the length of music, the duration of a phrase (the amount of time it takes to execute a particular movement), or the amount of time it takes an artist to convey a particular message. It is often said that when we are captivated by what we see, time feels like it goes by faster; if we are bored or uninterested, a few minutes can feel like eternity.
Choreographers work with time in a variety of ways, whether they intentionally consider philosophical aspects of time, address time as a peripheral subject of their work, or work closely and technically with a score’s time signature and duration in the process of choreographing. Discussing a dance work’s timing may be about when a performance occurred, the length of time of the performance, the rhythm of the music or movement, or how the work altered the viewer’s perception of time.
In Trisha Brown’s Man Walking Down the Side of a Building, the performance is the length of time it takes the performer to walk down the side of the building. Rhythm is inherent in the act of walking, which can be sped up if we’re in a hurry or slowed down in caution. A person’s stride and the rhythm of her gait can depend on her height, weight, and leg length, among other factors.
During this performance, the dancer walked vertically down the 110-foot facade of the Walker, held by a harness and ropes, beginning at the roof and ending on the ground. At the Walker, Brown’s work took the performer three and a half minutes to perform. The duration varies depending on several factors, including the performer, the person controlling the tension of the rope, the building, and weather conditions. Every performance has layers of time in it. In this site-specific work, timing reflects the interaction of many factors, and a viewer’s sense of timing reflects factors beyond that. For example, there is a timing to the performer’s stride, which affects the timing and length of the piece. Further, the nature of the piece involves an element of danger, which creates tension, thus affecting the viewer’s sense of timing in the piece. To the performer and the live audience, the stress of the performance can make time feel like it moves slower than a clock would indicate it does. Watching the video, we can see a running clock indicating how much time has gone by and how much is left. For viewers of the video, the clock’s reminder of this consistent rhythm of the flow of time may serve to contrast, and thereby highlight, the effect of emotion on our perception of time’s rhythm.
Just as a dangerous work can affect our perception of time, our subject experience of time can affect how we perceive a work. Choreographer Bill T. Jones played with the subjectivity of time in his most recent Walker commission, Story/Time, an evening-length work comprised of a series of 70, one-minute stories.
Based on John Cage’s work, Indeterminacy, Jones wrote short stories that he performed in a randomly chosen order. The timing and pace of Jones’s storytelling changes depending on the amount of information he tries to get in to a single minute. Sometimes he has so much information to relate in one minute that he speaks so quickly as to cause confusion, while other times he draws out five words to fill an entire minute. As an exercise examining the perception of time, before every performance, he asks people to raise their hands after they believe 60 seconds have gone by.
Sound also affects our sense of timing, whether it’s music, text, silence, or ambient sound. The juxtaposition of movement and sound can prove symbiotic or conflicting. The relationship between the two can make us aware of time or forgetful of it; and the result can be unique to every audience member. For example, slow movement or stillness without accompanying music can reveal the variability in the sense of time. Eiko & Koma’s 2008 gallery installation Naked demonstrated this:
Eiko & Koma deliberately create works that address our perception of time. Their work approaches time in both broad and narrow, abstract and concrete ways. The use of slow and calculated movements combined with the engulfing set designs create environments free from the markers that indicate time. In his 2011 contributing essay to their retrospective catalogue, Eiko & Koma: Times Is Not Even, Space Is Not Empty, Walker Senior Curator for Performing Arts Philip Bither wrote:
Central to the experience of an Eiko & Koma work is an almost visceral sense of time’s elasticity. Their intensely focused performances – simultaneously ancient and modern, shamanistic and deeply organic, intimate and existential, gorgeous and grueling – unfold at a pace that seems to challenge linear perceptions of time itself.
The quietness of Naked can make us feel as though time is standing still, while the anticipation or the possibility of movement makes minutes go by without noticing. In a broader sense, the environment of Naked provided a sense of timelessness, free from any signs of past or future, with lighting designed to vaguely indicate the time of day. The lack of narrative gives way to the feeling that we are glimpsing into a brief moment that has been stretched out, played in slow motion over hours. Thus, the tension between stillness and anticipation, combined with the tension between the feeling of eternity and the feeling of a fleeting moment engage us, as viewers, revealing nuances and intricacies that further toy with our perception of time.
The relationship between music and movement varies from era to era and artist to artist. Many modern and contemporary choreographers stress the independence of dance from music: the idea is that while the two pair well, dance is not simply a physical illustration of music. Choreographer Merce Cunningham and composer John Cage provide an example of movement and music functioning independently of one another. Cunningham described their early collaborative explorations as creating work in which the music “was not dependent upon the dance nor the dance dependent upon the music, but which were separate identities which could, in a sense, coexist… the common denominator between the two arts was time.”
Cunningham & Cage’s working process relied heavily on chance. Cunningham’s phrases or sections would be given a numeric value and then he would throw a dice to determine the order in which sections were performed. Chance operations were also used to decide which costumes would be worn, which music would be played, and which lighting design would be used during a performance. Any connections or similarities that happened between Cunningham’s movement and Cage’s music happened because both were taking place in time, at the same time. While their collaborations were the result of chance and circumstance, many choreographers are more calculated in the relationship to music.
The work and methods of Cunningham and Cage heavily influenced the work of the Judson Dance Theater. Lucinda Childs hails from this theater, and her work, Dance, represents the opposite end of the spectrum as that of Cunningham and Cage. In Dance, Childs deliberately works with the timing and structure of the music to create the movement. In 2011, Lucinda Childs and Philip Glass remounted their collaboration with Sol LeWitt at the Walker. The music was created first, followed by the choreography, and both were then used in LeWitt’s projection.
In an interview with Bither, Childs discusses her creative process and the relationship between music and movement:
Childs: …first of all, I was very much influenced by Philip’s music and how he arrives at variation by reworking the same theme. Rather than going from theme A to theme B, he takes theme A apart and reintroduces it always in a different way. I found that very much exciting. And that’s very much what happens in the choreography and the dancing and the phrasing… It seemed to me that to just illustrate the music in and of itself in terms of the sequences and configurations was not so interesting to illustrate literally, in that sense. Or to ignore it was also, for me, not so interesting; to make a collage where what we were doing had nothing to do with what his structure is. But, in this work, especially in the first dance, we come in and out of his structure in such a way that, for me, creates a tension along with the music.
As Childs noted, her choreography does not mimic the music, but it does reinforce the structure and themes that Glass presents in his music. The timing of the movement is closely related to the timing of the music and the repeating patterns of the visual, musical, and choreographic elements create layers through which Childs reiterates the leitmotif introduced by Glass, without being redundant.
The examples above demonstrate the various ways in which our perception of time can influence and be influenced by our understanding of dance. The timing of a piece can take on a myriad of meanings; the timing of the movement, in relation to the music, the timing an individual step or series of steps, the length of time of a work, or the self-imposed constriction of time that an artist may place on herself. The level of our engagement with a piece can have a positive, negative, or even neutral effect on our perception of time. As viewers, understanding how we view and relate to time can aid in how we analyze and ultimately enjoy a piece. Articulating that information moves the conversation about dance beyond the point of “I liked it” or “I didn’t like it” and aids in our understanding of what it is we look for in a piece. The notion of time and our awareness of it functions as another element of dance and performance that we can discuss, deconstruct, and peel away in order to better critique the work presented as well as achieve a better understanding of ourselves and what we find fulfilling as observers.
On Thursday, the 10th installment of Momentum: New Dance Works premieres at the Southern Theater. Since 2001, the Walker and the Southern have been co-presenting cutting-edge work by local, emerging choreographers. This year’s line up includes SuperGroup + Rachel Jendrzejewski/ Leslie O’Neill (July 11-13) and Pramila Vasudevan/ Jennifer Arave (July 18-20). In preparation for the […]
On Thursday, the 10th installment of Momentum: New Dance Works premieres at the Southern Theater. Since 2001, the Walker and the Southern have been co-presenting cutting-edge work by local, emerging choreographers. This year’s line up includes SuperGroup + Rachel Jendrzejewski/ Leslie O’Neill (July 11-13) and Pramila Vasudevan/ Jennifer Arave (July 18-20). In preparation for the upcoming performances, local dancer, educator, and commentator Justin Jones sat down with this year’s artists in TALK DANCE to discuss their processes, challenges, hopes, and expectations. To shake things up, Jones ventured from his typical question and answer format and had the choreographers interview each other.
Check out the full interview here.
Jennifer Arave, Canon
Emerging out of a culture of increasingly formalized music and music performance, the punk rock era rejected virtuosity in favor of uninhibited expression. Despite its ultra-modern, progressive philosophies, punk rock was male dominated. In Canon, Jennifer Arave studied gestures from punk rock music videos to generate movement and presents the male-driven experience through a feminist lens.
In this piece, [generating movement is] relatively easy, because I’m taking YouTube videos of punk shows in the 80s and basically stealing the movement and then recontextualizing that movement into a narrative of some sort… We projected video on the wall and basically copy it as much as we could, physically. Sometimes, they’re in the middle of a move and you have to figure out what foot they’re pushing off of or what they’re doing once they’re in the air and we get as much as we can and then we improv with it. So, it’s kind of like what stays is what’s left when things slough away.
SuperGroup + Rachel Jendrzejewski, it’s [all] highly personal
For their newest work, it’s (all) highly personal, trio Erin Search-Wells, Jeffrey Wells, and Sam Johnson team up with playwright Rachel Jendrzejewski to examine the daily events that unnoticeably change and transform us, juxtaposed with our conflicting desire to experience both ritual and risk. When asked by Arave where the line is between a work being a collaboration vs. when people are working collaboratively under the helm of a director, SuperGrouper Sam Johnson explained:
This discussion of collaboration is obviously really interesting to SuperGroup. With each of our processes, we sit down and we ask ourselves how we want to work and work with each other and that changes a lot. So, just because we’ve worked a number of times collaboratively, we don’t have a way that we’ve always worked. There are times when one of us will come forward and say, “What is this? Or, “What are we doing?” Or with those [questions] that kind of stop the process.
Pramila Vasudevan, F6
Part of any artist’s process is recognizing and negotiating the space in which their work will be performed. Whether it’s a site-specific work or a traditional theater arrangement, utilizing the space creatively can add depth and meaning to a work, engaging audiences in exciting new ways. Unlike her Momentum colleagues, and many of her broader choreographic colleagues, Pramila Vasudevan has never created work for a theater. Having presented pieces mostly outdoors and in galleries, the conventional theater dynamic presented Vasudevan with new challenges and opportunities during the creation of F6 and in keeping with her experimental roots, she breaks the fourth wall and reverses the audience and the dancers.
For me, the very first encounter was, “how do I contend with the constraints of the space? And how do I find my voice inside of this space? And how do I also challenge myself?” I’ve never really worked in a traditional dance setting, ever. So, it’s kind of a great challenge, and because of the formality, the physicality of it was so hard to contend with, especially because of the space and the set… It’s not highly conceptual like other pieces in the way that I’ve rendered them in the past. It’s really about the physicality – the smell of it, the sound of it.
Leslie O’Neill, Fortress
For Leslie O’Neill, the creation of Fortress came through her and her dancer’s exploration of the body and memory. O’Neill considers the layered emotions and experiences of children, which can fluctuate on a moment’s notice, without warning. During the piece, the dancers negotiate the parameters of their relationship while simultaneously discovering their individual identity.
I’m trying to portray in the body the way that I see and remember a childlike brain working. So, I’m thinking of the scattered attention and the intense focus one moment and then indifference the next. I’m thinking of the mind like a place that holds many pockets and crevices and… pain and pleasure and all those things that are being stored up constantly. Trying to get at that in the body through movement, so it’s ending up looking like the way you see a child running, limbs akimbo and all that, but then also stops where time seems to expand or shorten.
This year’s participating choreographers come from diverse backgrounds and employ a variety of techniques and processes that enable each of them to create truly unique works. Momentum runs July 11-13 (SuperGroup/O’Neill) and July 18-20 (Vasudevan/Arave) at the Southern Theater.
Dance and the Body Look Who’s Looking Now: How We Watch, What We Think, and Why It Matters is a four-part series on watching dance. Discussions are divided into sections on the body, space, time, and action/energy. The series aims to give audiences the tools to discuss the elements of dance performance and dig deeper […]
Dance and the Body
Look Who’s Looking Now: How We Watch, What We Think, and Why It Matters is a four-part series on watching dance. Discussions are divided into sections on the body, space, time, and action/energy. The series aims to give audiences the tools to discuss the elements of dance performance and dig deeper into the philosophical meaning behind the works. Feel free to add to the discussion and share your own insights in the comment section below.
Understanding dance performance begins with simply describing what we observe. Certain terms help us communicate these observations. For example, we can use terms that describe parts of the body, like head, face, shoulders, arms, legs, torso, and feet. We can describe how bodies in motion create shapes and divide space. We might describe the symmetry or asymmetry of the arrangement of bodies on stage, or we might describe rounded or angular motifs in the positions of the dancers (Cunningham). We might describe the dance techniques employed in the performance. Some techniques are muscular (Streb), while others require dancers to move from their bones and organs (BodyCartography Project); some techniques use breath at the center of movement (Eiko & Koma); and some techniques use all these elements. Beginning with simple descriptions of what we see, we can begin to think about how a dance performance makes us feel and what it means to us. Reflecting further on the cultural context of a performance, we can begin to consider what it might mean to its choreographers and dancers, and what its broader cultural impact might be.
The body is the instrument of dance. We – as audiences – watch how the body moves or doesn’t move. We observe shape, movement, and technique; body size, gender, race, age, and more. We make these observations and others through visual cues whose cultural histories predate the present performance. What is communicated through dance performance depends both on the dancers’ bodies and the audiences’ cultures of perception. That is, our bodies, as viewers, are part of the meaning.
Imagine a performance involving black dancers and white audience members. In the United States, this occurs in and communicates an ongoing negotiation of power dynamics and cultural conversations. The same can be said of a performance involving a woman dancing for an audience of men. In these examples, the significance of the dance has to do in equal part with the dancers and the audience members: race and gender are part of ever-changing cultures of racism and heteronormativity. These are only two examples of ways in which visual cues interact with audience culture to affect a performance’s meaning, message, and impact, in the field of dance and beyond. Many dancers and choreographers, aware of the complexity of visual cues, create work with such negotiations in mind.
Choreographer Bill T. Jones creates art with his audience in mind. He observes that the audience that sees his work is mostly white, and he admits that this awareness informs his choreographic choices. Jones addresses issues of interest for his audiences, challenging what he perceives to be the social and cultural assumptions viewers bring to a performance. In discussing his 2012 work Story/Time, Jones asks audiences to “watch [ourselves] watching.” He explains, “I’m always aware that I am a subjective consciousness, trying to observe something and trying to relate to it. It makes me very self-conscious, but it also makes me feel like I am participating in the world of ideas.”
An opportunity arises to “watch [ourselves] watching” during a section of Story/Time. The same story is repeated three times, each time accompanied by a different choreographic representation – first by a black woman dancing abstractly, alone on the couch, then by the cast, narratively performing the story as it is told, and finally repeated again by the cast with their backs to audience and with their real names inserted into the story. The repetition and variation emphasizes how bodies and culture can influence the perceived meaning of a story. During the piece, Jones retells a story centering on relationships, struggle, and violence and the sequence of events that unfolds. The original version of the story is as follows:
A woman is sitting alone on the couch, distraught, because she can’t pay her mortgage. The father and daughter enter and try to comfort the mother. Then, the landlord [sic] comes in with his goons, demanding the money. The mother says, “have mercy, we don’t have the money. Please, please give us more time.” The landlord says, “I don’t care, I gave you another month already. This is not a fucking charity.” He tells his lackeys, “take the furniture.” The father screams, “But you can’t do this!” the landlord says, “not only can I do this, but I’m going to take her, as well.” The mother shouts, “no, no, no, no!” as the landlord seizes the daughter and begins ravishing her. The father tries to intervene, fails, and has a heart attack. The landlord, full of himself, walks away. The son enters the scene, witnessing the carnage. The mother tells him, “The landlord is the cause of all the troubles.” The son, full of fury, takes his revenge.
The story itself is an example of using the body as a weapon for control, reinforcing dynamics of sexism and classism.
After watching each segment, some questions to consider are: What is conveyed when it is performed by a black woman? How did the impact of the story change when the dancers pantomimed the events? How did the bodies of the people portraying each character influence your feelings about it? What do you think that means? What about when the dancers’ real names are used and they are portraying themselves? How do Jones’s presence on stage and his narration impact the overall presentation? Does the impact change when the dancers have their backs to the audience?
In all three iterations, the bodies performing on stage influence the significance of the piece and affect how it is perceived by the audience. In what way might the meaning change in relation to the cultural background of the viewer? Taken together, these considerations inspire unique interpretations that arise equally from the bodies of the performers and the bodies of the audience members.
Connotations of the body vary from community to community. In times of war, the body is often used as a weapon and as a tool of control. In the 20th century, the Democratic Republic of Congo was fraught with political and military coups, political corruption, poverty, civil wars, and human rights violations. In a 2010 performance, Congolese artist Faustin Linyekula (lin-yay-coo-la) reflected on the significance of the body during political upheaval and instability:
So, you have a body. The ultimate territory you could occupy. And you know what? History could be understood through the lens of the evolutions of forms of violence against the body. Not only the history of my country, which has been particularly violent against the body, but any people, any country, can be understood through that angle. The evolution of forms of violence against the body. So, maybe a dancer is a fortune or a curse.
As Linyekula describes, violence against the body is not restricted to select countries or cultures. Violence against the body is a common phenomenon among all human cultures, and it has evolved over time. Rape, slavery, and mutilation are examples of extreme brutality, but violence also takes on more subtle and nuanced forms through systemic racism, sexism, classism, and religionism, to name a few. Dance and performance remind us of the embodied human experience in their portrayal of relationships, emotion, struggle, perseverance, elegance, and beauty. Live performance not only invites embodied empathy for characters and actors, but invites us to see the impact of our own interactions with other people. As audience members, we experience ourselves as embodied participants in an embodied story.
The methods that performers use to get us to challenge our own notions of the body vary greatly, but they all contribute valuable information and experiences to the ongoing dialogue around the body and the cultural habits that it bears.
Deborah Hay hails from the Judson Dance Theater, a dance collective whose philosophy centered on dismantling the conventions and theatricality that often accompanied dance performance and utilized every day movement as the predominant vocabulary. They organized informal performances in unconventional places, without elaborate lighting or costuming, in an effort to convey their true selves.
For her original performance of O’ Beautiful, Deborah Hay hired a costume designer to design a “post-apocalyptic looking costume… it did not feel appropriate to me, at all, in that it strongly influenced my dancing and really got in the way for me. I felt quite limited by the cuteness of the costume.” During one rehearsal in the Texas heat, Hay rehearsed the piece in the nude.
I’m in the studio one day and it’s so hot, I just take off all my clothes and I start performing O’ Beautiful and that was the costume. And what I experienced performing that piece without any clothes on was so phenomenal that [nudity] had to be the costume.
Hay no longer performs the piece live, renamed Beauty, but performs A Lecture on the Performance of Beauty in which she discusses the evolution of the piece while projecting two performances of it (one in the post-apocalyptic costume and the other in the nude) side by side.
Hay’s change of opinion in how to (un)dress for the piece was a response to her daily experiences (climate control). The banality of those circumstances, however, does not change the cultural significance of a woman in her 60s performing in the nude. How differently would the performance have been perceived if she were in her 20s or 30s? If she were black? If she were male? How does showing the side by side performance change the viewer’s perception? Seeing the performances side by side, we become increasingly aware of the differences that costuming has on the body and the impact costuming has on our interpretation. Since Hay no longer performs the work live, in costume or in the nude, the audience watches a video of her dancing, while she gives a lecture, live, about the work. Her academic presentation and intellectualization of the piece further de-sexualizes the performance.
Though Hay found comfort in her nudity, not every dancer or company agrees that the uncostumed self is the “true self.” In the tradition of the Harlem vogue balls, one’s true self was her or his attitude.
This realness, what is interesting, is that it includes all the artificial means that you may need to use… While realness, to be real, you may use a lot of makeup, a lot of fake bra, a lot of costumes, a lot of accessories that’s going to make you be real. So this is this interesting situation where being real is not getting rid of all the cultural elements and all the artifices, but being real is using everything you may use, from hormones to costumes to heels to fake dick to pass as what you want to pass as. – François Chaignaud
To the members of Judson Theater, their bodies “true forms” were revealed by ridding performance of traditional theatrical elements like costumes, hairstyles, and stage makeup. Dancers in Harlem’s vogue balls took an opposite approach, utilizing all available technology for altering bodies to represent their “true selves” so that the images and persona that they presented to the world matched their inner ideas of their bodies. In both cases, the notion of “realness” has the body at its center – perhaps because we, as a society, place the body at the center, taking social and cultural cues from what we see, who we see, and how we see.
Whether making physical or philosophical observations about the dancing body, perception and understanding are undeniably influenced by the culture in which we live. Analysis of the performing body requires contextualizing the work based on the background of the choreographer, the cast performing, and the demographics of the viewers. Each participant brings with her a body of unique experiences and varied perspectives that together effect the overall reception, meaning, and impact of a work. Dance is more meaningful for viewers who bring this awareness to a performance.
Most of us can say that at one point in our lives, we didn’t fit in. But how did we know that we didn’t fit in? Kyle Abraham knew because people told him so: My dad, he was a big basketball coach, and he sent me one summer to a basketball camp – which was […]
Most of us can say that at one point in our lives, we didn’t fit in. But how did we know that we didn’t fit in? Kyle Abraham knew because people told him so:
My dad, he was a big basketball coach, and he sent me one summer to a basketball camp – which was probably one of the worst experiences of my life. I didn’t know that I didn’t fit in, but I was told on several occasions how much I did not fit in. I think there’s something about that in the story of Pinocchio, where I don’t really think he’s aware that people see him as different, he just thinks that he is this boy, he thinks he’s like everybody else. But then people tell him otherwise. And then he goes on this quest; he wants to be famous and do all these things and he does all these shows with the puppeteer. So, for me, I found all these really interesting parallels between that and my experience growing up in an urban community in Pittsburgh where it seems like if you put this kind of Hip Hop bravado on, you’ll be more accepted, or you won’t be called out as different. So that’s really what the show is referencing in relation to the story of Pinocchio. The soundtrack gives you this more industrial vibe, so, for me, it was thinking, “how can I make this story relate?” And, for me, it became less about this cobbler, or craftsman, making this wooden puppet, but more – maybe it’s happening in a factory, maybe it’s more industrial. Maybe you’re turning someone into a robot. Really devoid of feelings and emotion and just this false sense of celebrated masculinity.
Contributing to the ever-evolving dialogue on heteronormativity, in Hip Hop, sports, and beyond, Abraham’s newest work Live! The Realest MC infuses dance and storytelling in a journey of self-discovery. Questioning constructs around masculinity and identity, Abraham, like Pinocchio, only began searching for himself after others informed him that he was different. In both stories, though, it seems less about finding yourself, and more about understanding yourself while searching for others like you.
For some, sports and masculinity are synonymous. In football this past season, there seemed to be as many articles about homosexuality and players’ controversial (and also awesome) statements about marriage equality as there was coverage of the games. For Abraham, basketball became a place where his masculinity was questioned, where his “difference” was called out.
Speaking of heteronormativity and sports, remember Dennis Rodman? In the early 90s, Rodman challenged gender perceptions in the NBA, regularly painting his nails, dying his hair, and wearing women’s clothing. His public appearances garnered a lot of positive and negative attention, but no matter what the response, it got people talking. Twenty years later, that dialogue has evolved, hopefully progressing.
And since we’re talking about Dennis Rodman, Hip Hop, and gender roles/heteronormativity, here’s this little bit of awesome for you.
Join the dialogue, check out Live! The Realest MC this weekend, March 14-16.
A SpeakEasy is an informal audience discussion facilitated by a Walker Art Center tour guide and a local performer or choreographer. Today’s edition highlights themes shared during a conversation on Saturday, February 2, about Back to Back Theatre‘s Ganesh Versus the Third Reich. This SpeakEasy was led by tour guide Mary Dew and local arts […]
A SpeakEasy is an informal audience discussion facilitated by a Walker Art Center tour guide and a local performer or choreographer. Today’s edition highlights themes shared during a conversation on Saturday, February 2, about Back to Back Theatre‘s Ganesh Versus the Third Reich. This SpeakEasy was led by tour guide Mary Dew and local arts and culture guru from Salon Saloon, Andy Sturdevant.
A symbol designates our most powerful feelings, beliefs, and commitments. How can a single image symbolize totally opposed world-views? For a millennia the swastika was a symbol of auspiciousness in Indian religions, but it most recently symbolized murderous hatred. Once we are aware of this, what do we see when we see the swastika? Can it be both? Can it be anything but both? A symbol has a reference, it has significance, and these change over time. The swastika has gone through several evolutions in meaning before its appropriations by the Nazis. In addition to its meaning in Indian religions, the swastika represents the octopus that created the world in native Panamanian culture, and has been found on numerous artifacts from Africa, to ancient Greece, and in European antiquity. Does the association with Nazi Germany atrophy the swastika’s development as a symbol in Western culture?
In Saturday’s SpeakEasy, audience members discussed whether a symbol could be retrieved from the cruelty it once inspired. The play was powerful enough that the audience was willing to humor the idea that the swastika could be a positive image. The discussion showed this in two ways: an analysis of power and a conversation about the use of images in print and media. The play expanded what the audience was willing to think about, and they talked about it several ways. They talked about the ability of a symbol to change: can it ever change? Or does significance accumulate? Can it be relieved of any of its past usage, or forever be burdened by all of its appropriations? These questions were the theoretical starting points for the audience and included playful imaginings of whether an ad campaign could adopt the image of the swastika without international backlash. While the speculation was far-reaching, ultimately audience members felt that symbols are so powerful that we cannot predict how they will transform in the future (while as the play demonstrated, symbols are transformed all the time).
A SpeakEasy is an informal audience discussion facilitated by a Walker Art Center tour guide and a local performer or choreographer. Today’s edition highlights themes shared during a conversation on Saturday, January 26, about (M)imosa/Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at the Judson Church, by Cécilia Bengolea, François Chaignaud, Marlene Monteiro Freitas, and Trajal Harrell. […]
A SpeakEasy is an informal audience discussion facilitated by a Walker Art Center tour guide and a local performer or choreographer. Today’s edition highlights themes shared during a conversation on Saturday, January 26, about (M)imosa/Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at the Judson Church, by Cécilia Bengolea, François Chaignaud, Marlene Monteiro Freitas, and Trajal Harrell. This SpeakEasy was led by tour guide Skye Stauffer and local arts and culture guru from Salon Saloon, Andy Sturdevant.
Inspired by the 1990 documentary Paris is Burning, which follows the vogue dance scene in Harlem in the 1980s, (M)imosa investigates the hypothetical question of what contemporary dance would look like today if vogue had the same influence as the Judson Dance Theater on the evolution of the art form. Utilizing elements of time, space, persona, the four artists address the question of “what is real” while trying to convince the audience that each of them is “the real Mimosa.” The element of “real” is the dominant theme, explored through song, dance, story-telling, and costuming, challenging audiences perception of gender, sexuality, and what it means to be comfortable in your own skin. After the show, audience members gathered in the Balcony Bar to discuss what they saw. Here are some key topics:
The house never went dark, except during a few sections. Performers were in audience, talking to people, to each other, drinking tea, eating. The audience quieted when Freitas took the stage, topless. Even as she began dancing, the lights stayed up and the other performers remained on the sides or in the audience, giving the performance a rehearsal quality, making the viewers aware that they were watching a very intimate scene of artistic and personal exploration. As the audience watched the performance, the performers watched each other, moving seamlessly between being viewers and performers. As an act was happening on stage, there was often something just as captivating happening in the audience, forcing the audience to choose what to look at and where to look. Costumes and props scattered throughout the audience brought on interactions between the artists and viewers that turned several audience members into performers themselves.
What is male? What is female?
From the very beginning, gender lines were blurred. Freitas performed topless for the majority of the show – wearing purple lingerie for one section then doing a Prince impersonation shortly after, Bengolea performed a section wearing a strap on penis then later performed in a red dress, Chaignaud seamlessly shifted between elaborate drag costumes to street clothes, while Harrell wore khakis and a sweater the entire show. The obscured gender lines were less about sexuality and orientation than they were about identity and self-actualization.
Will the real Mimosa please stand up?
In the beginning, each performer introduced themselves as “Mimosa.” In subsequent pieces they explained what made them “Mimosa” and how they came to identify with that word. At the end, they each made their case for why they are the “real Mimosa.” So who is the real Mimosa? In the film Paris is Burning, being “real” meant to inhabit a persona so fully that you could walk down the street and no one would question whether or not that’s the “real” you. In (M)imosa, the performers committed to each character, each persona, so that the audience couldn’t tell when they were in character or not. Their use of costumes, makeup, prosthetic, and so on, did not mask their true selves, but enhanced it. The performers utilized all that culture has to offer to highlight that there is not a singular definition of what is real. People have many faces, persona, attitudes, ideas and, like Mimosa, they change, evolve, and grow.
“What would have happened in 1963, if someone from the voguing dance tradition had come downtown from Harlem to Greenwich Village to perform alongside the early postmoderns?” This is the question at the center of (M)imosa/ Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at the Judson Church, in which choreographers/authors/collaborators Trajal Harrell, Cécilia Bengolea, François Chaignaud, […]
“What would have happened in 1963, if someone from the voguing dance tradition had come downtown from Harlem to Greenwich Village to perform alongside the early postmoderns?”
This is the question at the center of (M)imosa/ Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at the Judson Church, in which choreographers/authors/collaborators Trajal Harrell, Cécilia Bengolea, François Chaignaud, and Marlene Monteiro Freitas explore their own identities and what it means to be “real.” This work is part of Harrell’s larger series of seven (presented in sizes XS-XL, Jr., and made-to-measure) investigating the ways in which the vogue scene of Harlem and the postmodernism that developed in the Judson Church intertwine and is being performed during the third weekend of the Walker’s Out There 25, January 24th-26th.
In December, the Walker hosted one of Judson Dance Theater’s founders, Deborah Hay, for what would have been the collective’s 50th anniversary. The theories and practices developed by Hay and her contemporaries have had a lasting and profound impact on the trajectory of contemporary dance ever since the movement began. In (M)imosa and the Twenty Looks series, Harrell, Bengolea, Chaignaud, and Freitas explore the hypothetical space where voguing and postmodern intersect.
What interests me is historical impossibilities and how, through performance, we can rethink history. And we can, in a way, participate in a sort of historical invention, in a certain type of way. So, what’s interesting is these two histories haven’t shared the same value in terms of how they’ve been brought to contemporary dance and the contemporary art world. It’s only now that people have begun to see voguing in a certain type of way, and yet, it had some fundamental, important, theoretical things to bring to the table, that’s what I think is important., but, of course, so did early post-modern dance. And, of course, those things have been absorbed, and continue to be absorbed, into contemporary dance. (Harrell, in interview with Justin Jones 12:20)
The central issue that Twenty Looks, the vogue balls, and the Judson Church similarly explore is the concept of reality/realness and draws inspiration from the 1990 documentary Paris is Burning, by Jennie Livingston. In the Judson school of thought, “realness” meant to strip dance and performance of all theatricality – costumes, lighting, staging, even technical training. But in voguing, “realness” meant to immerse oneself into their desired reality so fully that the performer’s original self was unidentifiable. Choreographer/author François Chaignaud explains:
This realness, what is interesting, is that it includes all the artificial means that you may need to use. It’s this realness, Trajal was always opposing it to the authenticity of the Judson Church that was trying to get rid of all the theatrical tricks. While realness, to be real, you may use a lot of makeup, a lot of fake bra, a lot of costumes, a lot of accessories that’s going to make you be real. So this is this interesting situation where being real is not getting rid of all the cultural elements and all the artifices, but being real is using everything you may use, from hormones to costumes to heels to fake dick to pass as what you want to pass as. (Interview with Jones 27:45)
(M)imosa/ Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at the Judson Church runs January 24th-26th.
In the third weekend of Out There 25, choreographers/authors Trajal Harrell, Cécilia Bengolea, François Chaignaud, and Marlene Monteiro Freitas, bring their work (M)imosa to the Walker. It is the medium version of Harrell’s series of seven (sized XS-XL, Jr., and made-to-measure) titled Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at the Judson Church. The series is […]
In the third weekend of Out There 25, choreographers/authors Trajal Harrell, Cécilia Bengolea, François Chaignaud, and Marlene Monteiro Freitas, bring their work (M)imosa to the Walker. It is the medium version of Harrell’s series of seven (sized XS-XL, Jr., and made-to-measure) titled Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at the Judson Church. The series is based on Paris is Burning, a documentary film on voguing. In preparation for their visit to the Walker, we asked Harrell to take part in our 8-Ball series, in which artists answer questions about some of life’s most (and possibly least) pressing issues:
What global issue most excites or angers you?
What’s one of your guilty pleasures?
How do you like to unwind/relax?
Whom would you like to spend three hours in an elevator with?
What is your favorite euphemism?
If you could have any job/career, what would you choose?
Foundation officer of foundation with a billion-dollar endowment
What’s your favorite comfort food?
Fried fish and collard greens
When did you realize you wanted to be an artist?
(M)imosa/ Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at the Judson Church runs January 24-26, 2013.
The other night, I was telling my husband about this show that he will be going to see next weekend, and after we chatted about it for a while, he seemed unsure and said, “Is it going to be old?” I responded, “Maybe, I don’t know.” I didn’t think much of this conversation until I was […]
The other night, I was telling my husband about this show that he will be going to see next weekend, and after we chatted about it for a while, he seemed unsure and said, “Is it going to be old?” I responded, “Maybe, I don’t know.” I didn’t think much of this conversation until I was watching the video Dancers Discuss Working with Deborah Hay. In it, dancer/choreographers Miguel Gutierrez, Michelle Boulé, and Luke George describe their experiences working with and learning from Hay. The content of my conversation with my husband seemed insignificant until, at different points in the interview, both Gutierrez and Boulé used the qualifier, “for a person of her age.” Rude! Right?
Well, maybe. In dance, when people retire at 30, it’s important to note that choreographing and performing at 70 is rare. It is rude, however, when age suddenly equates irrelevance. But you should know: Deborah Hay is not irrelevant. Her age, much like her work (and its success), is a testament to her philosophies and practices and only adds to the list of reasons she is more relevant than ever. Deborah Hay, along with the members of Judson Dance Theater, changed how dance is made, taught, learned, and created. She has continued to explore new ways of creation, of thinking, of understanding, and in this interview with her dancers, it is clear that she continues to have a very real and relevant influence on how artists of a younger generation approach their work. It goes beyond the notion that to understand where art is today, we must understand where it has come from. It’s about seeing how a person that has been working/growing/experimenting for 50+ years continues to influence and impact the trajectory of the field of dance.
Even in just her process and approach to creation, dancers are faced with new (or old) methods of exploration. From Hay’s influence, artists create and express contemporary ideas in a new (or old) way. The process of fusing old and new/ young, is what keeps the form moving forward. They’re not reinventing the wheel, just mobilizing in different directions. Dancer/choreographer Miguel Gutierrez makes this point in his very simple and succinct reflection on working with Hay:
Once you’ve been in her world, it’s really hard to get out. Suddenly, you think, “how could you think of dance in any other way?”
Earlier in the video, Gutierrez refers to Hay as “this genius rug-puller.” Not only is that notion reinforced in the stories that these three dancers tell about working with Hay, but it’s apparent because I feel like I had the rug pulled out from under me regarding my own (inaccurately) preconceived notions about what Hay Days might be like. So, yeah, that’s pretty genius.
Hay Days: A Deborah Hay Celebration will feature a lecture and two different performances December 5-8, 2012.
On Saturday, the Walker will present its 40th installment of Choreographers’ Evening. To celebrate this milestone, co-curators Aparna Ramaswamy and Patrick Scully chose works that represented the Twin Cities dance community through the ages. The show will feature works by CE’s founder and first curator, Judith Brin Ingber, along with Blake Nellis, Emily King and […]
On Saturday, the Walker will present its 40th installment of Choreographers’ Evening. To celebrate this milestone, co-curators Aparna Ramaswamy and Patrick Scully chose works that represented the Twin Cities dance community through the ages. The show will feature works by CE’s founder and first curator, Judith Brin Ingber, along with Blake Nellis, Emily King and Ryan Underbakke, Joanne Spencer, Rosy Simas, Third Coast Collective, Michael Engel, Luke Olson-Elm, Christ UP Dance Crew, and Voice of Culture.
For the occasion, Justin Jones departed from his typical interview format for TALK DANCE and had the curators each send in a haiku about CE and each of the choreographers send in a one- to two-minute description of their work. The resulting compilation highlights the diversity within the selected group and runs the gamut from funky to descriptive to creative to bizarre.
It starts with Ramaswamy’s haiku:
Past present future
Rhythm melody word thought
Inspired we move
From Ramaswamy’s haiku, we catch up with Blake Nellis. His soundbite is a highlight of the podcast as he shares the story behind his piece, Burger King Rescue, over the sounds of Brian Evans beat-boxing. At the end of the story, Evans breaks into Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition.” Based on the works I’ve seen by Nellis, this clip is a perfect representation of the storytelling, music, funk, and fun that he regularly infuses into his work.
Next, we move into an interview with Christ UP, in which they convey their enthusiasm for performing and for the Walker, followed by Emily King’s description of the piece she made with Ryan Underbakke, Start Select. Her voice melds well with the beeps and bloops of the 8-bit soundtrack that accompanies her, and the sweetness in her voice highlights the fond memories of video gaming that acted as the inspiration for their piece.
Similar in its nostalgic quality, Joanne Spencer describes her hiatus from dance and her subsequent transition from dancer to mother to government worker to choreographer. She guides us through the journey surrounding the circumstances that took her from one to the other (to the other, to the other) and ultimately led to the creation of her piece.
Centered in the podcast is the voice of Judith Brin Ingber, who founded and curated Choreographers’ Evening (then called Young Choreographers’ Evening) in 1971. For the event’s 40th anniversary, she is resetting her work I Never Saw Another Butterfly, originally performed for CE’s inaugural season, on local powerhouse Megan McClellan. Her audio description discusses CE’s origins and her work, and it clearly conveys her pride in the institution that Choreographers’ Evening has become.
The episode goes on with Luke Olson-Elm’s submission of an interview with composer Walter Carlos. Listening to it made me curious to see how (or if) this clip relates to Olson-Elm’s piece.
After Kenna-Camara Cottman (Voice of Culture) sings us her bio and Michael Engel explains the origin of his piece Desiderata Update #1, we get to co-curator Patrick Scully’s haiku:
Two score and heaven
Years of dance at Walker
Step roll slide fall fly
The podcast concludes with Rosy Simas discussing her beautifully titled piece, I want it to be raining and the window to be open, followed by a group conversation between the members of Third Coast Collective, offering a peek into their creative process.
This year’s group of artists represents a sliver of the diverse and rich local dance community and gives a glimpse into the past. Jones’ compilation of sound bites reflects the differences and similarities within this group of people–their styles, inspirations, and approaches to dance making and community building.
In preparation for its 40th year, the Walker compiled and archived information on years past of Choreographers’ Evening, including programs, photos, rehearsal notes, press releases, reviews, and more, all posted in chronological order on the Walker’s tumblr site. Choreographers’ Evening: 40th Anniversary will be performed on Saturday, November 24.