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Metadance

So of course there are a metric shit ton of things that I am missing while not living in New York and I’m pissed as hell about it. One of the things that I would definitely be seeing if I were there is “Metadance,” a new work by friends Deborah Black and Sasha Welsh. These two ladies are some of the hardest workers I know in the NYC contemporary dance world. Deborah produces her own work and performs adaptations of Deborah Hay scores, and is additionally an excellent performer in work by Peter Sciscioli and Karl Cronin, as well as a super director (she really pulled through for me as an assistant director on “Hares on the Mountain,” a piece I made for Tisch students for the LaMama Moves! Festival). Sasha is the director of experimental dance company Victory to Others. She also curates an incredible performance salon at her apartment under the moniker Ulla’s House; the relaxed environment makes it a great place to perform and watch, and I’ve liked everything I’ve seen there. I was privileged enough to sit in on a little showing of the work at its very beginning in July (I think it was maybe their second rehearsal together). While it would probably be nearly unrecognizable as the same work at this point, I did get a peek into the seeds of their process which is itself a super interesting study in reinvention and the daily work of creation. There are two opportunities to see the work coming up, and I suggest you take one or both:

AUNTS at RPPP in Bushwick – 59 Jefferson Street, #301, Friday, December 4th, 8pm – admission is a contribution to the open bar

Crossing Boundaries at Dixon Place in the Lower East Side – 161A Christie Street, Tuesday, December 8th, 7pm – $15/$12 (tickets may be purchased at the door or here: Buy Tickets: Crossing Boundaries)

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Chez Jean

A few weekends ago, my friend Boris Hennion (also an ex.e.r.ce) took me to his friend Jean’s new restaurant in Saint Hippolyte du Fort, an old silk mill town in the mountains north of Montpellier. Jean is working to establish a progressive boarding school. In addition to his tireless work to set up the school from an administrative and human resources angle, he is renovating a gorgeous old building nestled between the mountains; among the more impressive features is a pool that he made himself. How is that possible? The premises are in various states of decrepitude and repair at this point, as I prefer all things, especially when photographing. To raise funds for the school, Jean has hired a superbly talented and fresh-mouthed chef, Yugo, and has set up a restaurant, Villa Figaret. Though I didn’t really experience the town, I did drive through it and I think I can say that Villa Figaret is the best dining experience in Saint Hippolyte, so if you are ever that way make a point of stopping in. I spent the weekend basically reliving my former life as a cater waiter in exchange for great food, plentiful if cheap wine, and some exceptional company.

I got a bit teary eyed when I saw this bell. Doesn't this look exactly like New England?

In the restaurant there was an exhibit of photographs from former Soviet bloc nations. Also many pumpkins.

Jean's parents owned a restaurant supplies factory, and therefore the restaurant has tons of nifty things, like this quasi-alchemical salad dresser

Re Re Re Re

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

Body, YES!

So in the past two years shit’s gone down. Things have seriously happened and it’s great, I mean for me personally it’s been a real whirlwind of stuff just happening, personal life- and personal reflection-wise. A big part of this has had something to do with the coming together of my body and my thinking and churning over aesthetics, sort of this intercourse of my flesh and blood with personal and cultural histories, macro and micro cultures, economics, preferences, etc. It’s really great!

A big part of this was finishing a pretty absurdly rigorous program of physical education at the Tisch School of the Arts, a really wonderful opportunity to just be in the body all day, sometimes thirteen hours at a time just sitting there with the body while it stretched and strained and flopped. Really you have to look at these ballet classes to really believe what we were doing it was outrageous! Summer of 2007 and pretty much through the end of that year I was really psyched, really happy to be with the body, really thinking a lot about effort and relaxation and the emotional and intellectual connections to the body. I was having a great time. I think I must have gotten tired though, I was in three repertory pieces, other student work, class and rehearsals everyday, and trying to make my own work and money and to have time to just sit and read sometimes besides. So I was exhausted and meanwhile really getting into some very different artistic work, some new kinds of dance like Beth Gill and Charlotte Vanden Eynde and Kurt Vandendriessche and Trajal Harrell, but also performance and video work. I read the memoirs of Karen Finley (which are a TREAT let me tell you and as cheap as $3.38 plus shipping on Amazon.com). And though of course I had known for years that there was a lot of dance that wasn’t dancing, and while I was mostly really excited about all the other stuff happening in these performances, still I was really absorbing the point that I didn’t have to move if I didn’t want to. I should also tell you that meanwhile I was figure modeling, which also hurt my body like hell but introduced me to classical Academic painting and this whole new way of thinking about the commodification of the body. So I made this solo, “Study for Seven Activities,” which you may or may not have seen:

It takes some patience to watch so maybe you’d like to do so later and that’s fine, but you should keep reading because what’s coming up next is something of a dramatic turn.

With all this thinking I started to conflate the virtuosic dancing body with the body itself and started getting into some tough, really necessary but really difficult territory of discrediting the body as an instrument of expression or anything else. To do so I think made a lot of sense personal history wise. My dance training had come ready made with the notion that any body could dance, that the dancing body was not restricted by size or shape or training, and for that I was really lucky. So from that there was already this idea that dance art came from somewhere else, separate from or in addition to the physical body. Then there was Unitarian Universalism, which started exposing me to Eastern thought at a very young age, so add to the mix this idea of a spirit that is above and ultimately wishes to transcend and abandon the physical, and add as well the liberal politics I was soaking up. Some really shit stuff has been done to people with bodies and because of their bodies: human trafficking, slavery, teasing, fat phobic discrimination, commodification of all kinds within the realm of visual culture and image obsession, etc. So all of this got me to this point where the body didn’t really matter, it was the mind that mattered or something else, but not the body. So I didn’t move that much for a while, really only when I had to for other people, some really great choreographers working in movement.

Well at some point I got dumped and spent a few months having beer and ice cream for dinner, not every night but maybe something like 30% or 35% of nights, and I started to feel a little chunky to I decided to start going to the gym. I went to New York Sports Club on their two week trial membership (they still have it, such a good deal!). I had always had a lot of judgements about gyms for many of the reasons referred to above, but if it could help me feel a little sexy then why not, and it did and much more. Gyms are kind of gross, there were indeed some body dysmorphic people there (one bigorexic guy was actually sucking on a lollipop for energy while lifting huge-o weights, it was such a delight to see), and many people do have the sort of typical New Yorker no-intellectual-interaction blinders on as a result of the architecture and planning of the room – all the machines are facing the same way, there are TV screens on each machine, etc. But there were also some very sweet people there, people who looked around and smiled at me, people who just want to get in shape or recover from an injury, people charmingly befuddled by the machines, etc. Gyms are also really funny; the unity of body and machine and the nature of these machines that are so ergonomic (the TVs, the little fans that blow on your face while you run, the messages on the display) make the whole image kind of sci-fi. I kept thinking about Gattaca. 

During those two weeks I not only resurrected my killer pecs but felt all the things they tell you you’re supposed to feel with regular exercise: happier, healthier, more rested, more energized, and with a more positive and nourishing feeling toward food and nutrition. I also got back in touch with music – Remy Ma, my favorite heinously violent rapper, makes for an excellent work out, while Devendra Banhart gives a great cool down. 

After my two week membership ran out I visited my friend and fellow dancer Megan Flynn for a private Pilates session. I had taken mat classes before, mostly from Kathy Grant, a New York legend of sorts who was a student of Joe Pilates himself. While this provided an excellent base, studying with Megan was like entering the next dimension. Megan’s teaching practice is fed by a real curiosity and hunger for information, and she has developed a very clear method of imparting information and a philosophy for regarding the body that is, in my opinion, exceptionally sound. She’s also a complete hardass (in the best of ways) when it comes to the subtleties and finer points – she would NOT let me work in poor alignment or release my Kegel muscles. This wasn’t just physical exercise, this was brain exercise, demanding the kind of wild blend of mathematical logical thinking and sensory association that learning a language requires. At one moment I nearly cried, perhaps from frustration or from contact with some untouched/unrecognized part of myself (the core body stores A LOT of shit). From her keen observations I learned more in one hour about the idiosyncracies of how I use my core than I think I ever had. 

Megan is a fantastic resource and a total sweetheart. You can learn more about her teaching and performing by visiting her website. You can also contact her directly at meganflynn@mac.com. If you’re in a financial place to do so and have wanted to study Pilates, I give her my highest recommendation – private study with an exceptional teacher like Megan is the best way to learn the technique. She’s also a fantastic resource of information on how you can study Pilates and other body techniques at a range of cost and commitment.

These days, my body practice includes regular study of Ashtanga yoga and Feldenkrais (with legend of the form Claude Espinassier), as well as daily bike rides. It’s all a bit softer than the gym, which has its drawbacks but also it’s definite advantages – I am really excited by the connections I am making between body and imagination in these slower practices, and I can feel myself developing a more personal mental map of my body.

I am having a bit of trouble finding a note to end this post on, I think largely because the reality of what I am writing about is not tied up neatly – these things are in no way finished. I guess I’m just glad to be doing things with my body and thinking about them.

So apparently Sadler’s Wells is doing this dance competition via internet in a sort of So You Think You Can Dance / viral video trend vein. The winner gets 2000 pounds and a trip to London to perform at Sadler’s Wells, which is no joke. You can click here to view all of the videos and vote for your fave. Voting closes November 13th.

Now far be it from me to suggest that you vote for immensely talented and super sweet New Yorker Julian Barnett. I will merely provide the information you need in order to consider doing so.

And embed his video:

Actually close be it from me to do so, it’s precisely the reason I’m blogging about the contest in the first place. Vote for Julian! 2000 pounds is approximately 3,273.499 US dollars, which is pretty sweet.

Projections

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.

Tour of Nîmes

 

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Crocodile chained to a palm tree = Nîmes, which is where the Roman legions that fought for Julius Caesar in the Nile settled after they served for 15 years. It is also where I went for the day on the recommendation of a friend who had studied in Montpellier some years ago. I planned the trip around a performance by some New Yorkers, which you can read more about here . This trip was in part for my Mom, who wanted to see nice pictures, but of course my camera batteries ran out half way through the adventure. I tried the best I could.

The fame of Nîmes rests on all the old things it has, which are older than most other old things because they are Roman. The first I saw was the Arènes, which was big.

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Next was the Maison Carrée, some sort of temple that has this beautiful color gradient, perhaps because of exposure to the sun or uneven cleaning? It was beautiful.

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This was about where my camera ran out, which is a shame because the most beautiful stuff was next: the Temple of Diana (no historical connection to Diana), which is filled with pigeons and carved graffiti both Roman and contemporary, and looks like it might have been sawed in half along a diagonal; a beautiful network of pathways leading up the hill; at the highest point in Nîmes, the Tour Magne, which looks something like a bombed out conch shell; and, on the way down, some little waterfall fountains to walk underneath. Regarding the last, those from southeastern CT might think of a smaller version of the waterfalls at the old Mystic Falls mini golf course and batting cages. 

At the temple of Diana I noticed somebody walking out of a darkened hallway zipping up his fly, and my first thought was “Christ these people will piss anywhere.” At that point I realized that I’d seen more public urination in the South of France than anywhere else I’d ever been, even New York. I don’t know if this generalization has any foundation but regardless it endears me to this place all the more.