Archive for the ‘Art in the New World’ Category

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.

Sherrie Levine's "Untitled (President: 4)" (1979)

Louise Lawler's "Pollock and Tureen" (1984)

Louise Lawler's "Pollock and Tureen" (1984)

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:

Richard Move, as Graham, photographed by Josef Astor

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

 PS 122

150 1st Avenue at E 9th Street

New York, NY

7pm – 9pm

Admission: FREE


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As I said in  a previous post (Tour of Nîmes), a performance by New Yorker Jonah Bokaer brought me to the Musée Carré d’Art, the contemporary art museum in Nîmes, for the debut of its current major exhibit, “Projections.” There were many great things to see, not the least of which being the crowd of maybe 250 people who emerged from the nearly deserted town I’d been walking through all day. 

The brochure mentions various meeting points of the dozenish artists presented, including manipulations of time and references to science fiction. What it doesn’t mention is greenery which was an equally present trope. A Chris Cornish video piece, Ballard, is composed of over exposed shots of tropical plants in a greenhouse. Shown on a CRT monitor at chest level, the video is small, with wonderfully oppressive framing by nostalgia and reference to video technology; I sort of feel like it doesn’t want to be there. David Arsham’s drawing series Night Light presents computer generated architectural forms in the midst of overgrown wilderness. The forms are like I-beams or parts of playgrounds. To me they are more playful than “le cataclysme” referred to in the literature – some of the more tropical pieces look like Mayan ruins, if the Mayans had used Erector Sets. Lorent Grasso presents an installation in the largest gallery of various media. A video projection on one side of the room seems to have been captured by a camera mounted on the helmet of a bicyclist. The camera zooms across an open pathway in a dense deciduous forest, somewhere sort of Appalachiany, and intermittently runs into clouds of gnats that zoom around the lens in all directions. The recurring sound of the insects was delicious. This video was paired with one on the opposite wall of a giant levitating moon rock and complemented by large scale enlargements of lithographs depicting antiquated visions of future technology. I found it all very cute, not the kind of cute that one would say in contempt but a nice kind of cute. It was nice that these things were together in such a simple way, it was all very sort of pat which was funny considering that everything individually was so huge and epic. 

The real treat of the evening was Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle’s video Oppenheimer. An actor portraying J. Robert Oppenheimer stands in a shallow pool of water in the middle of – again – a greenhouse full of opulent tropical greenery. The camera work is mostly still shots peppered with some slow pans – this helps the air feel very moist, the whole thing feel very slow and weighted, very hot. Oppie wears a slight half-smile in one shot, looks down at his feet in another. His expression is often quite neutral but he does look at the camera – he has beautiful eyes. Again, the literature was a bit dark in tone for my tastes. There is some reference to this scene as a fantasy of Oppenheimer’s purgatory, and though there is the question of why he is waiting there that brings up thoughts of some dysfunction I mostly find the idea of Oppenheimer with plants quietly funny and beautiful. 

For dessert, the premiere of Jonah Bokaer’s new dance piece Replica. Set against a glowing white styrofoam wall designed by David Arsham and the glowing white Maison Carré in the background, the piece was quite well situated. I first became familiar with an earlier incarnation while watching backstage during a Family Matters performance at Dance Theater Workshop, in which I was performing with David Parker and the Bang Group. It’s nice to see the longer work, which has this sort of creamy smooth approach to time. It’s nice to see the sculpture that emerges as the wall is dismantled by Arsham, and it’s nice to see the dance which looks like sculpture. Jonah of course performed his work beautifully as did Judith Sanchez-Ruiz, whom I’ve always loved watching. She has something of a deer-like quality, not so much in the leapy way that people usually mean when they call a dancer deer-like but in the way she regards the space and holds her head. As many people know I love deer so this is really a treat for me. The duo’s well-considered clarity showed quite beautifully the complex lines of energy in the body vocabulary, particularly in a solo for Judith with a great many lateral torso shifts – she looked like blown glass. Electronic music provided by Arp, lighting design by Bokaer.

Replica will premiere in New York at the New Museum in December. You can get more information about this show and a lot of other things at Jonah Bokaer.

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On my second night in Montpellier I was delighted to find that the experimental guitarist Rhys Chatham would be performing at a local university for the Festival Sonorités, along with many other performers, lecturers, etc. I first encountered Chatham as the vaguely sexy but mostly blurry figure with guitar in hand in an old video of the DTW premiere of Karole Armitage’s “Drastic Classicism.” I’ve always wanted to interact with his work more, and was excited to blog about it tonight. 

However after yesterday’s 30 hours of traveling I had forgotten the date. The performance had been the night before.



Such is life. This afforded me a free night to wander around the area surrounding the local Centre Choregraphique National (CCN), the center where I will be studying for the year. I walked through the old town center, which has of course many restaurants, cafés, meeting places, and a good helping of old world charm, comme ça:


I kind of want to eat it, I love old stone work. 

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