Writing My Dancing Life
Tuesday, April 20, 2004
  Spring Bounty

As I write today a bird sings in the blooming crabapple tree just outside. Spring can feel so astonishing even though I’ve seen 50 of them already. Just as there are many things taking place in the natural world, many of the dancing seeds I’ve planted are sprouting now.

We began a series yesterday through Philadelphia Dance Projects (www.philadanceprojects.org) of technique/repertory classes for area professionals. I’ll give these dancers as much of the Decoy material to chew on as we can reasonably bite off. There’s such a clarity of purpose when the task is this direct. Warm up is an ongoing orientation, exploratory improvs are a way to experience movement principles in isolation. The trajectory is neatly laid out. I really love working this way!

As I have more review-writing under my belt I get to compare my own writing with that of seasoned pros. Meriam Seidel wrote a review for the Philadelphia Inquirer of the same Tania Isaac Dance Project show that I wrote about this week (on www.danceinsider.com) and I can see her ease in providing a very clear sense of overall context. Same with Gus Solomons Jr. in writing about Deborah Hay in Dance Magazine. He really paints the picture of her entire process, something I value knowing too. Why would I not have the instinct to put it all in the review?

The weighting of a review - how much space to give various ways of looking from the purely descriptive to the contextual to the truly critical - is a tricky business. In writing I often feel like someone with an armload of fresh produce. The imagery of the work is bounteous and I want to be sure not to skip the fact that peaches are included. But then, people do know what an armload of fresh produce is like and maybe it’s more important to describe where the bounty came from in the first place…

My little girls’ dancing class in my home studio had an open showing for parents and friends. They were very proud of knowing all the forms we had developed together. This group was heavy on the animal imagery and very inventive in making stories. Often most important to them though was their role relative to each other: if one was a dolphin, another wanted to be the baby and another the sister. With that clear, then they could go ahead and dance!

Next week I head up to Bennington College to do another 50 Moves Remix. This time it will be a lecture/performance where I look forward to blurring the boundaries between the two. I’ll start off Tracing Lineage by saying whose images are contained in the individual moves. And I have an idea now of attempting to relate to the material with the idea of “outer, inner and secret” - the clear outer form and perhaps the most direct connections it links to, then the emotional resonances and then a deepest layer of motivation and interest which may be secret even to me. Why do we choose what we choose? Relative to these three levels, it occurs to me to be verbally communicative and then less, becoming fragmented in speech, just doing the “thisness” of whatever it is.

There are many further ideas for this blog too. A number of EDDC connected people are interested in collecting written pictures of that place, coming to understand what it was through writing…perhaps that’s its own blog!

Anyway, all this is to say that the dancing horizon is very rich while life marches on, full as ever of illness, strife and political struggle, birth, tenderness and immeasurable bliss.  
Thursday, April 08, 2004
  50 Moves #6 - Judson Remix

There’s this moment in the making of work where pieces have been floating about, uncertain of their relation to each other, kind of gratingly ‘out there’ and then because the time is right, the instincts are good, the little idea gets listened, to, they line up next to each other, ka-chunk, and there you have it, a meaty resolution. And as with some life events where you just don’t know what their real impact is or why they unfolded the way they did until years later, it can take a while but then you see there’s a bigger design, a reason why you chose the way you did, what the choice was connected to and why you were satisfied by it.

50 Moves starts with the move called slides. The 6 year old girls I’ve been teaching love to slide. It’s effortless. Slides take you sailing around a room, spongy knees, springy feet, blowing hair. The end of Glacial Decoy is slides too. Funny tipped forward or backward slides. So slides go from the most basic childhood dancing to sophisticated theater. Like eggs. Hard boiled or fancy soufflé. My slides I connect with all these things - childhood, rhythmical sliding in square dances my father taught (“well you’re all goin’ wrong go back the other way, circle on back and re sashay”). That’s the first move I dance. In the piece, it’s Move 10 in the list of 50. Proust’s Madeleine had no more associations than my slide.

And now the end of the piece is a plié. One plié. How many times have you dancers plié’d? Tens of thousands? Millions? It’s the most basic function of leg joints – all folding. And now as I do one plié I tell the story on tape about the Zen monk pursued by tigers and destined to be eaten in short order, yet tasting and savoring the lusciousness of one red berry. After finding this ending, suddenly the piece itself is bracketed by references to my father, who died two years back. I told him the monk story a few weeks before his death and he said ‘yes that’s me plucking that berry’. He did indeed. So the placement of ‘material’ becomes a key to revealing its meaning, even to the person who made it.

50 Moves is my “phoenix” dance. From the ashes of deaths and endings I rise with little to lose. The agenda is stripped down. I think I am showing what the Philadelphia Inquirer called the “sheer joy of movement”. What I really want to do in making this dance is to make a condition where I am able to inhabit realms of emotion and movement exploration, empowered through the unique condition of having not only my own focus but the attention and interest of an audience.

I had gotten tired of having a dance be a series of sections and wanted to have it all be present from the outset. If I know that the audience sees everything I have up my sleeve in the first 2 minutes, then I am free to play it out as I choose with no holds barred.
So the basic form is that I have isolated 50 movements for my top 50 list, meaning they stick with me, they have associations I like, they are interesting to riff on or play off, they recur whether I ask them to or not like a stray cat who follows you home, or a boomerang you may try to throw away but really it belongs to you….

Is it the movement that matters? I often told my students it’s not what you do its how you do it. And here now is slow and luxuriant or factual and workmanlike or playful and raunchy or… That seems to be the point. That it’s all there, available at any moment, all using the same language. Like Rashomon, the story told three ways in the eyes of three beholders. Think of sentences where the change in inflection, placing emphasis on one or another word changes the meaning entirely.

For Judson, I had x’d anything I felt iffy about. I was warmed up, not tired, not overly ambitious either. Had the right costume. Teeth brushed. The I Ching had implied earlier in the day that there were obstacles to be met and one shouldn’t have too much expectation. OK. That makes for adaptability.

I had envisioned the shadow play parts of the piece taking place under the archway. It’s monumental space. I didn’t know until I got in the space for tech whether the shadows would read clearly with the ornamental carving that’s up there or whether it would be a wash. But there wasn’t time to experiment. I had figured that if it didn’t work I’d solve it somehow. But it did work. Not only that, the altar end of the space, raised like a little stage, provided a perfect place to fashion the shadow images, to play with near and far making the shadows big and small, and to play at alternating making shadows and silhouettes.

Judith Dunn, a heroine to many and partly the genesis for the 50 Moves concept, used to have us “dance the space”. Now, 30 years later, I still dance a new space. You feel which parts of the space are the spots where you choose for dancing given movements in given facings. This sensitivity I trace to what she engendered.

I love the feeling of theater lights. I love the concentration of a performing space. The laser focus, so luxurious compared to a daily life with a variety of disconnected demands. For that isolated moment I take my time. It’s a moment dedicated to whatever has been discovered – like the moment of walking in with the finished soufflé. It’s a moment to rediscover and to discover on the spot. In performance I remember being aware of some of the people watching – dancers whose work I have so much enjoyed myself and knowing that they would really SEE what I chose to do. That gives a permission to tease out a moment, and emboldens you to be as rich as you can be. I take my time falling, seeing it amplified like the faces sliding down off Mount Rushmore, I take my time repeating Lucinda Childs’ pivoting walk again and again and again and again until I’m ready to go on.

I think when people see my dancing they see the person behind the dancing – a person who has been around, who likes unpredictable choices and
who revels in physicality.

My first ever boyfriend Henry was at the show and he sent a note afterward which mentioned how he felt the audience leaning in to focus on what I was doing. I felt it too. It’s a peculiar intimacy. Both anonymous in that it’s wordless, and completely exposing. I so appreciate that about performing. It’s a curious conversation because of its one-sidedness. Unlike Deborah Hay whose performance practice seems to be ongoing, daily, I really “get it up” just for an audience and have much more of an in-spurts and cerebral rehearsing mode. So it’s not the tree falling in the forest issue. Without the audience, for me, the falling doesn’t happen. A shadow of it, yes. But the fullblooded thick moment, no.
 
a running account by Lisa Kraus of performances seen, dance work in progress, experiences teaching and reflections on history

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