Writing My Dancing Life
Friday, July 16, 2004
  Unfinished Business
 
This blog  has been going the way of all things. Toward entropy. Dissolving. Supplanted by other writing in fact. Stored in my hard drive are several half-baked pieces that I had neither the time nor impetus to ready for dissemination. Is this part of the nature of creating when neither a deadline or a paycheck are implicated? 
 
My first real attempt at dance writing, from 1979, never saw the light of day. Concerned with the inner physical shifts I needed to make between performing Trisha Brown’s movement and movement by Steve Paxton learned off a video tape, it died on the vine. See - there’s even a phrase for the phenomenon! Anyway, that piece, which was attempting to describe something very subjective and very subtle would have made an interesting document today.
 
At the various writing classes I’ve partaken of recently there’s usually some mention of how the writers have the responsibility for noting history. NOT completing writing  is a bit like letting history slip through one’s fingers. The recollection of detail will never be so complete as it is in the heat of things. I often bemoan the fact that I don’t write regularly about my children as they grow. Photographs we have in spades but descriptions of the creation, the quip or the shared joy were only occasionally set down.
 
There’s a Buddhist notion about holding on – basically that it’s something we do as humans, attempting to secure territory and identity. Buddhism asks us to go about with a more open hand, knowing that what is now will change, and that lessening our suffering as we go through old age, sickness, death and the other kinds of suffering life abundantly offers has to do with non-attachment. So what is this attachment to the ones that got away?
 
Following the Dance Critics Association Conference in Philadelphia in June I had a flurry of thought and writing concerning the issue of dancers writing criticism and how critical we could actually afford to be. Several people had been egging me on to publish (on Dance Insider) a really negative review of a Philadelphia dance scene fixture. The feeling was that everyone thinks that way (thumbs down) but no one says it. Like the Emperor’s New Clothes. A few people cautioned me about burning bridges. Others eagerly smelled blood. So I wrote about the conflict and didn’t publish anything. Meanwhile Steve Paxton has written me a few helpful letters about guidelines for critics. I’d written to him as an exemplar of someone who can be utterly blunt without seeming to get flak. All this took place under the radar.
 
Then we have some writing started in response to reading Ralph Lemon’s 2004 book “Tree,” an account of the peregrinations and process leading to the cross cultural performance of the same name.  I recommend the book to anyone interested in the inner workings of a compelling contemporary dance artist engaged in a well-funded international quest both personal and aesthetic. That glib sentence doesn’t do justice to the complexities of Lemon’s subject – the interface and interpenetration of cultural forms one on another, the appropriation of forms, the dreamlike mysteries of sexuality and his journeys in loving relationships. I’m fascinated by what’s here, especially as I too have made a good deal of work arising from travel in Asia (“Monkey Meets Yama” in response to Indian travel, “Kabuki Home Movie” about Japan, and “the Grand Tour”  based on Balinese dance and impressions). Still, my writing in response to Tree hasn’t come forth.
 
And while on the subject of “half-baked, dead in the water, died on the vine”, there are two projects I was working on in Holland. One, a collaboration with an interesting Taiwanese student involved work in the studio with chalk and outlining each other. I saw Sasha Waltz use the same idea in her big piece Korper a few years later. And the other, a series of video shoots confining bodies in a box the same proportions as a TV screen so the ultimate effect would be one of dancer-in-the-box, never got edited or completed. Again, lack of deadline and carrot of payday?
 
The view that whatever effort we put out is instructive, that just as an early crop of alfalfa turned under becomes a nitrogen additive for whatever is to grow next, so these flurries of unfinished activity most likely have provided ground for something else to grow, or just offered useful practice. I think of a visual artist leaving a painting lying around their studio over a long period and then picking it up one day to add the finishing strokes. Or maybe not.

 
a running account by Lisa Kraus of performances seen, dance work in progress, experiences teaching and reflections on history

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