Body of Belief
(This is an “appreciation” written as an assignment for Wendy Perron’s ‘Writing on Dance” class currently offered at DTW. The assignment asks for a piece 350 words long and this is over twice that!)
Some things are simple like a circle is simple. The form itself is easy enough to see, but the fact that it’s continuous, without end, with an inside and an outside, makes it a form far more profound than perceived at first glance.
My first glance of Eva Karczag was in a piece by Remy Charlip. She played a crawling game, a trick of rolling balls forward from feet to hands and carefully stepping so as to never touch ground, making the slow forward progress of a woman/animal with senses tuned high. Never had I seen so much made of so little.
Now I better understand how she did it and does it still. She listens, deeply, to what her body feels and knows. She can be with it all at once – the length and strength of her back, the floating elegance of her head, the width of her shoulders and haunches, the feet as if digging into earth. In stillness there’s all this. Add movement and it’s a miracle, the culmination of human developmental process made visible.
Growing up in Australia, the daughter of Hungarians who escaped with her, age 6, on their backs over the nighttime border during the Communist take-over, she learned her parents deep mistrust of authority. A renegade dance artist was spawned, but not before passing through bastions of tradition. Ballet provided an early entry to the art, and soon growing beyond what was on offer in her homeland, she journeyed to Britain where she eventually joined Festival Ballet, dancing in the corps and smuggling jewels back from the Far East in her wigs. This era became a reference point for a facelessness and stiffness Eva never wished to subscribe to again. She began running with the wild ones: with Richard Alston in his first company, Strider, with Russell Dumas in Dance Exchange , and inhaling information coming to light about “release” -- that view of movement from the place of least effort as taught by Mary Fulkerson and Andre Bernard, in obedience to laws of alignment, facilitated by images poetical and spacious. A lifelong devotion to T’ai Chi grew alongside, and devotion to her teacher, Pitt Geddes, who became a spiritual mentor.
Not long after I saw her crawling on balls, she joined the Trisha Brown Company which began our twenty five years as colleagues, performing together at the peak of our young dancing lives, dancing as independent artists in the heady New York of the 80’s and sharing a decade as ex-patriates teaching in the Netherlands at the unorthodox European Dance Development Center. I witnessed Eva grow into the role of dancers’ midwife, unlocking the potential of each body through her combination of touch, openness and provocative encouragement. Her hands, gifted at giving direction, are trained in the methods of F. M. Alexander but hold a power all their own. She shares her library of anatomical images, drawings and photographs collected over decades. She senses who can go further and is manifestly happy when teasing students over boundaries physical or aesthetic. Most recently I taught a class of Eva’s at Bennington College. She had clearly taught them how to go very deep very fast, to dive to the center of an investigation.
Collaboration is essential in Eva’s artistry. Often exploratory, improvising in dialogue, she performs with the artist/ friends with whom her life has been woven: musicians, visual artists, and writers Pauline Oliveros, Annea Lockwood, Richard Kerry, Warren Burt, Chris Crickmay.
She seems to know how to help her friends step over their frontiers too. At the birth of my son she wordlessly helped me find a sumo wrestlers stance, pressing my forehead into hers where laboring was powerfully productive. Is this intuition? Or knowing? Is it her own belief in the body’s wisdom that transmits directly to others?
It is more interesting to me to see Eva just stand than to watch almost anyone else.
It’s not as much what she does as how she does it. With deep knowing, deep feeling and the elegance of a ballerina who prefers to keep it very simple. Simple like a circle.
This letter is a reflection on a guest-artist visit I just made to Bennington College, of which I'm an alum. I lectured on and performed "50 Moves" and then taught a technique/repertory class. Eva is Eva Karczag, fellow veteran of the Trisha Brown Company, the New York downtown scene, the European Dance Development Center and a dear friend. Eva is completing her Masters degree at Bennington this spring.
The quality of the breeze was definitely different on arriving back in Pennsylvania. Vermont just has a corner on the balmy, alive and soft spring breeze. So delicious on the skin! Sitting now in a local Starbucks, wanting to get down some of the thoughts that swept in as I drove south yesterday.
I am really grateful to you, Robbie and the dance faculty for this quick residency. Returning to Bennington always provides such a useful reference point, highlighting where I was, where I am now, how the essential stripped down message of the place – “YOU CAN” – continues to foster the development of really extraordinary people. When there, my task seems to be both to offer to some of those people experiences that can help them along the way, as well as to chew on the really astute perceptions they offer back.
Their feedback suggested about 4 new pieces, or ‘rinses’ on the already embarked-on trajectory:
- the “50 Questions” asked randomly version which brings with it questions of the role of critique for the artist both from self and other, audience comprehension and the artist’s relationship to opacity/transparency, the relationship of one’s own thought process to what actually occurs in a work.
- the movement, absent text, with infinitely more exploration of individual moves, as we did in the morning class. This would also go deeper into what the dancing is in silence.
- the lecture form as a real performance, which some people seemed to think it was. I want to clarify what the shift in and out of “performance” is when my chosen method of delivery can be matter-of-fact in either case.
- a group form which could perhaps follow the score of the solo, building sections of interacting with the moves as the basic language. I’d be interested to provide dancers with a form that also slides on the continuum of set to improvised and leaves different parts of the equation open for them in different sections. You reminded me of the form in your piece “Horizon” with individual phrases and then choice bits from them strung together for shared group movement material. I may do some of this at Swarthmore when teaching rep there next year.
- oh yes, there’s also the more audience interactive version any/all of these.
And then, I woke up thinking of the things I hadn’t shared with the students about Judith Dunn. Although her qualities personally - her rigor and seemingly unshakable conviction in the veracity of her own view and beliefs – had a tremendous impact on her teaching, the substance of what she offered deserves more words than I came up with in your class.
Judy nurtured the sensibilities we’d require to improvise or choreograph well. “Dance a Day” was about the ongoingness of effort and critique, how we shape material and find its appropriate form and perform it with conviction and nuance. It also taught the power of having a community of fellow dance-makers in finding support. Within that there were many ways to play with space and time. We danced “space drawings”, aware of where we laid down the marks of our movement. We did “dancing the room” – creating a physical response to a space’s any feature. Commons theatre is permanently etched in my visual memory with its cantilevered ceiling angles and ventilation grates and honey floor and windows with Mount Anthony vistas because of “dancing it” repeatedly. As it turned out this something that Trisha had us do in the first dance I worked on with her, “Duetude”. In that case we “read the walls”, and created set material responding to what we saw as we proceeded around the perimeter of the space.
I think the nature of interaction between dancers or between dancers and musicians that Judy worked with had a lot to do with jazz, or Black Music, and with her experience with Merce. The Merce part was an easy or even disinterested-seeming co-existence. Being in the same space meant immediately that there was a relationship without DOING anything about it. That’s not unlike Richard Kerry saying you are in a costume, whether you put on your sweats without thinking or create a designed outfit. We were quite aware of other always, and of contrasting or going with their shape, level, direction, rhythm. The quality of “being the wind coming off the other person’s movement” (a Diane Madden quote) wasn’t quite an issue because momentum wasn’t in play to a great degree YET.
All of Judy’s collaboration with Bill Dixon and his musicians produced a host of approaches to playing on, off and around meter, of “hearing the music of the movement”. None of it seemed to have to do with emotion, or texture in a more psychological way. Things that were mime-like, jazzy or gestural she managed to cull out quickly. You just knew what fell within the boundaries of what she found acceptable aesthetically and despite the professed openness of the Judson experiments, it was pretty clear that some things were real no-no’s. The stance was deliberate, ‘abstracted’, a kind of early woman warrior/artist.
Whether composing on the spot (improvising) or for a set choreography, Judy admonished us to be ruthless in perceiving and executing endings, not trailing on after our material had fulfilled itself. She called this indecisiveness letting the work have a ‘tail’.
On that note, I think I’ve written enough.
Great big love to you, my dancing sister,