For the past two weeks the ex.e.r.ce group (for so my program at CCN Montpellier is called) has been working with choreographer and CCN director Mathilde Monnier to mine the video documentation of dance legend Merce Cunningham for material that can be personally relevant to our work. We began by directly copying phrase material from video, a current favorite method of appropriation among some contemporary choreographers. It was thrilling to see both our failures – owing to our largely soft-body technique backgrounds and sketchy familiarity, for all but one, with the American modern dance tradition – and our successes – owing to our two weeks of Cunningham training with Foofwa d’Imobilité, diffusion of culture, and our brave spirits. I gave myself the assignment of learning all of the material danced by Lisa Fox in the 1978 piece Fractions I, a collaboration for video with Charles Atlas. I was interested in identifying how a single dancer interprets choreography made both specifically for her and for a group of her piers, and in how this interpretation adds variety to an often mythologized and monolithic understanding of the world of Cunningham. I also found Fox’s sullen understatement and delicate athleticism really compelling. She reminds me a bit of my friend Anna Whaley. Below is one of the solos that I learned – it begins with a shot of the now superfamous Karole Armitage as a bendy young thing in a pink uni.
After working on direct appropriation, we have continued by analyzing the presence of the source video in staging the appropriated material, examining our own confrontations and critiques of the Cunningham body, etc. The fruits of this research will be performed at the CCN Montpellier on Thursday, December 3rd. If you’re in the neighborhood, do drop by.
Exploration of archival material is certainly a hot topic in choreography and the arts in general. While the future keeps getting smaller (mark your calendars for 2012), the past keeps getting bigger, so in terms of numbers there’s just a whole lot more to explore behind us than in front. Add to this a recent rekindling of enthusiasm for the appropriation art of the 1960s and 70s – I personally couldn’t get enough of Sherrie Levine and Louise Lawler at the recent Pictures Generation exhibit curated by Doug Eklund at the Met this past summer.
If you’re curious about how restoration and adaptation of material from historical or external sources is playing out in current choreographic practice, check out “Studies Project: Reconstructions and Re-Imaginations,” a panel conversation moderated by Randy Martin and hosted by Movement Research at PS 122. A variety of perspectives on adaptations ranging from traditional transmission of repertory to extra-legal appropriation of copyrighted material will be present. Richard Move will be there, hopefully dressed in Martha Graham style, comme ça:
My friend Deborah Black will be present to discuss her adaptations of solo scores by Deborah Hay. Lori Bellilove, artistic director of The Isadora Duncan Dance Company, will discuss her restorations of a repertory with a marked dearth of archival material, while Levi Gonzalez will provide perspective on appropriation from film and video as a contemporary choreographic practice. Pat Catterson, DD Dorvillier, Stacy Spence, and Jodi Sperling will also be on the panel.
Monday, November 23, 2009
150 1st Avenue at E 9th Street
New York, NY
7pm – 9pm