R A N D O M W R I T I N G
I’m asked for advice on how to use stillness in choreography. As if there are right and wrong ways of working in art? As if making a dance is a collective endeavor? As if experienced artists know something younger ones should learn? As if dance is yet another competitive market? I’m for individual vision. For listening only to inner friends and demons; for daring to offer the steps they demand. As for stillness, it’s like silence. It doesn’t exist.
* * *
Apologia pro motu in vita sua
Modern Dance has no place in American life. As colonists we build forts, grab land, kill Indians. As pioneers we trek, we plant, we grow families. We industrialize, we technologize. We have bombs to build, wars to wage, gadgets to invent to outwit our enemies. We have plastic to mold to give us cancer that we be challenged to conjure its cure. There is no time for “frivolity.” The aesthetic life requires sensitivity of feeling based on listening, seeing, touching. Sensitivity of feeling demands a slow pace and an open mind. Success in our American world demands suppressing these delicacies. Breakneck competition is the way to achievement and to prosperity. We work hard, then celebrate with spectacle: melodramas, blockbusters, porno flics, arousing easy emotions to orgasmic peak as reward for preternatural vitality. So a few forests fall, a few species disappear. Who needs trees, we have benches made from bottle caps. Who needs cheetahs, we have robots to clean our homes. Soon our organs and limbs will be synthetic, our brains computers. Soon we will live on Mars in artificial environments, won’t we be proud, and our programmed sentiments will infuse us with numbed acceptance. Modern dance is retrograde. It sees the complex body/mind as a temple to be dwelt in, lived from, revered. It says that any possible spiritual progress must emerge from an unembarrassed physical being. Thus we dancers are un-Christian. We are not afraid of the flesh. We are interested in its sexual potential and its urges toward pleasure and ecstasy as well as in its capacity for discipline and rigor. We aim to integrate all human vital energies, transforming even the lowest and meanest into radiant beauty and meaning. How have we fallen so far off track? Modern dance is also elitist and we know now that elites are reprobate. Dedication to excellence makes for cliques and thus militates against homogenized democracy. We should be ashamed. But ashamed of what? That we constitute an insult to the psychic infrastructure of our society, even to our so-called culture, already thoroughly commodified? Or that we are so cowardly that we accept our marginal status and rest on localized laurels, dancers dancing for other dancers forever? Like scientists we investigate, we hypothesize and test our guesses, but we don’t produce results helpful in upgrading weaponry or increasing computer power. We are useless. Our dances are no more than provisional proposals of ideal or hazardous relational configurations. Reluctantly we rely on western expertise to make our lives manageable, though our practice requires nothing but human presence. We play like serious children as the machine age gyrates toward self-inflicted cataclysm. We try to resist being dragged into the vortex of responsibility as defined by property and money. Or we accede and enter the fray in order to find space to move and the wherewithal to pay one another to dance, compromising our ideals in order to demonstrate them, polluting the millennially evolved stratosphere by flying here and there to show our steps. Modern Dance isn’t even a burr under the saddle of Marlboro Man’s imperious ride into an atomic sunset. Modern Dance is mostly women and men-in-touch-with-the-feminine. The over-muscled American male has beaten the American anima down to near silence, transforming our life-giving earth into a grave. And we are dancing on it.
Excerpt from Dunn's collected writings, Dancer Out of Sight, available at Amazon.com
* * *
Response to Even Now These Images are Eroding, a dance by Dana Florin-Weiss and Hannah Verrill presented at Wiseacres on November 29, 2015.
As we enter Cathy Weis’s lovely loft studio at 537 Broadway, two young women are working the niche-like indentation in the redbrick wall. One is tall and lanky, the other short and compact. They face the wall, their bodies loose and informal, their attire trim, neither dance wear nor street wear. One throws up an arm, touches the brick with her fingers, the other swipes the arm away, or throws her own arm up, making for a moment of loose-limbed unison. One or both drop onto their heels, fall out onto one hand, away from the wall, in our direction, looking out at us with what I take to be an intentionally ambiguous expression. There are quite a few basic moves, with variations, which they repeat and repeat (this bit goes on during audience entrance and beyond, a good twenty minutes at least), but the moves and brief poses do not appear to have a fixed order. The attitude of the actions is mildly friendly, mildly annoyed, as if each is sometimes bothered by the other, sometimes glad she’s there. Along the wall, their bodies sometime overlap and sometimes separate slightly. Is this an image of two women as one, two as two, somewhere between? One frequent gesture is, facing the wall, bending all the way over, legs straight, head near floor, to throw a hand up between the legs toward us landing it on crotch and butt. Sometimes two hands overlapping. Sometimes the hand of one dancer overlapped by the hand of the other. Because the action is slapdash, the sexual suggestion, though present, is mitigated, all positions and moves equalized in import by a look of, “We’re doing these things for no reason; we know we are women, and sexual beings, but don’t count on us to conform to your idea of what that means and how we should therefore behave.”
Once away from the wall, they stand side-by-side, shoulder-to- shoulder, a few feet out from the back white wall. They are facing us on the diagonal. (It’s important to note that the audience seating is oriented toward what would normally be the upstage left corner of the square space. This untypical arrangement of audience un-squares the room and brings the studio to life in a fresh way, especially for those of us who have been attending Cathy’s Sunday Salons consistently. Thus they are facing us directly across the diagonal of the space.) They sway slowly side to side, keeping the shoulder-contact. The image is sweet, two friends enjoying each other’s touch and sense of motion. But they don’t let the feeling grow. Still swaying, gradually they screw their faces into grimaces, nipping the suggestion of affection in the bud. Continuing the sway, they repeat the plain-to-grimacing faces. The replay further formalizes the action and whiplashes or response. They are facing us, looking right at us, their gazes and demeanors emphasizing that they are not being sincere. The structure and the way they embody it says, “We are acting as well as dancing, we are not aloof, hiding in a dance bubble you look in on. We are right here with you. We know your expectations and are not about to give in to them.”
Even Now is made up of discrete sections. The dancers go from one bit to the next the way one goes in the morning from opening the curtains to making the bed, simply and directly, without pretending that the two activities are kinetically or otherwise related. In the next section, leaving the shoulder-to-shoulder moment, they run around after each other, giving weight with their hands against the wall as they go along it a few steps, then push out into the space, circling back to the wall. Around and around they go. Again we have many repetitions of the same figure, but loosely, so that, if not annoyed by sameness, one enjoys the slight variations in each circling, and the subtle differences in how each performer handles the task. Do the minor variations in tempo mean anything? Are they chasing each other? Is one trying to outlast the other? Is their desire to be near each other in a rut?
Perhaps this is a moment to attempt to generalize about the two performers. The taller woman is slightly more confident and authoritative in her demeanor and in her kinetic attack. She becomes thereby, if only by a hair’s breadth, and despite their making all the same moves, the leader of the two. She’s the more assertive friend, perhaps, or the big sister. Or maybe she’s the lover, and the shorter, marginally less forceful woman is her beloved, looking up to her?
Suddenly they run and sit down right up against the audience members who are seated on the floor. Each draws a mustache on the other. Are they questioning their gender? Then quickly they go to stand at the back of the audience, becoming part of us, shedding for a second their roles as performers. They rush to another sit-down at the other end of audience. I cannot see them. Abruptly up, they dash out into the space and drop, seemingly onto each other, into a close entanglement. Just as they hit the floor they thrust their arms forward and up over the shoulders of the other, making a strikingly contradictory image of an embrace with swords sticking out from it. This precipitous pose of physical nearness, combined with the rigid tension of the dagger arms, subverts sentimentality, foreclosing any hint that the dance is attempting with naïve sincerity to narrate a true-life relationship of conventional feeling. The image is multivalent, and brilliantly terse.
The next and last section has them walking back and forth on parallel paths from stage center to the upstage left corner. Again, because we are seated on the diagonal, as they head for the corner, they are walking directly away form us. They always face the corner, walking forward toward it, backward away from it, with a hard, fast, robotic strut. On each pass forward, they remove, one at a time, in the same order, their three pieces of clothing, shirt, pants, and black underpants. On the way back they recover them from the floor and put them back on, barely breaking stride. I did not count, but I’d say they made at least twenty passes, many more than necessary to see the moves, one always going one way as the other goes the other way---thus, always out of sync. The suggestion of sexuality and intimacy in previous bits here is most pronounced, but now implicates the audience as well. On the one hand, the two of them are exposing their bodies to us. On the other hand, we never see their vulnerable fronts. And the moves are routinized, depersonalized, almost mechanical, qualities that adamantly undercut the erotic aspect. Finally they make a last little fast-walking circle putting on as last item their shirts, and exit through the upstage door.
On their return, the applause is hearty. Oddly, however, instead of bowing, they begin to clap back at us, as if they are not comfortable accepting our thanks.
As one who favors dancey dancing, is impatient with abundant repetition, and cringes at duets that attempt beyond movement to depict inner aspects of human relationships, I had much to overcome, or to let go of, to allow Even Now to cross my thresholds of resistance. This dance had not a single jump, but its delicate mix of formal values and amorous intimations swept me off my feet.
* * *