The sound switches. Loud intensity and vibration. My body is permeated by the sound and radio waves. While watching the dancer move, I realize that all the cells of my own body are moving, oscillating, with the sound waves.
The dancer runs across the stage, throws herself towards the floor, glides. My body feels the impact of the floor on skin, skidding, sliding, perhaps squeaking.
Darkness and light, spotlights on my sight horizon. The moving horizon line, the white board, shifts my bodily perspective and orientation.
Jennifer Monson premiered her latest evening-length performance Live Dancing Archive at The Kitchen in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood for a two-week run February 14th – 23rd, 2013. The project Live Dancing Archive comprises three components, which consist of three different archival practices: dance, video, and digital archive. The “Program Notes” for the performance states that “Each of these captures how bodies hold, transmit, and convey experiences and understandings of ecological systems as they relate to human movement through the specificities of their medium.”  Monson’s work explores the ability of movement itself as an archival practice; she is interested in the particular capability movement has to archive, record, and store the ecological systems that we experience.
For the two-week run, the video component of the archive was a a video installation which was on view during the day before the evening performances in The Kitchen’s Theater. This part of the work, made by Robin Vachal, a videographer, video installation producer, editor, and teacher, consisted of editing approximately 50 hours of footage Vachal captured during the BIRD BRAIN Osprey Migration from 2002, an “8-week research project in which dancers followed the migration of ospreys along the Atlantic Flyway from Maine to Venezuela.”  Watching the video, the audience experiences the dancers’ improvisation solos, conversations with park rangers at nature centers and preserves, public performances, and public workshops Monson and iLAND held with park patrons.
Another component of Live Dancing Archive is the digital archive which was designed and implemented by Youngjae Josephine Bae, who completed her MA in Library and Information Science, in collaboration with Monson and Vachal. The digital archive consists of video footage, photographs, dancers’ journals, project notes, plans and schedules for performances and workshops, and other ephemera generated from the BIRD BRIAN Osprey Migration. The aim of the digital archive is to “make available to the public as much of this material as possible.”  The program notes encourage the audience to “peruse the archive in your own time as a supplemental experience to your participation in the audience tonight.”  The performance need not “end” once the audience member leaves the theater; she can continue to experience the work through the material which was archived in the movement of the performance.
Live Dancing Archive’s live performance aspect involves the audience as well. The audience’s participation in the live performance is that of the ocean. Monson describes her process of choreographing the movement in the program notes as:
“A significant amount of the dance material was learned from video documentation of four improvised solos on the beach at Ocracoke Island, NC. The dancers were Javier Cardona, Morgan Thorson, Alejandra Martorell, and myself. The camera angle was always moving so deciding how to orient myself in the dancing was a challenge. Eventually I arrived at orienting myself always towards the ocean. The audience is the ocean.” 
The audience gets to experience a journey of the spaces and ecologies that Monson and the other dancers migrated in Monson’s choreography, and it also gets to become part of that environment itself. Monson’s choice to make the ocean the point of orientation and her further choice to allow the audience to occupy that position, creates a complex dynamic of waves and force that oscillate between the performer and the audience. It is also in Monson’s processes of research and choreography that point to the ecological systems along the migratory path. Monson describes her work as dance research; the movement generated during the migration is knowledge-making. I would further argue that the audience’s experience of viewing the video, the digital archive, and the live performance, while also becoming a participatory element of the system created in the theater are all knowledge-making practices which coalesce in a system of bodies and the environments in which they inhabit. Describing this process of knowledge-making, Monson states that
“the knowledge has to do with understanding the relationships between events and systems. When I’m dancing, I’m bringing multiple ways of perceiving information of movement, sensory, imaginative, and analytical registers. I’m processing information of the world and using it to make choices about movement in the world. The multiple systems I am moving and that are moving me help me to understand the complex systems I am perceiving. There is also the phenomenological approach – as I am moving, the world is showing up for me, it’s changed by my moving, and as I move I also show up for the world. The knowledge is about ways of putting things together in multiple modes, holding unstable relationships of meaning and conditions of existence.” 
Phenomenologist Maxine Sheets-Johnstone writes about the primacy of movement in our consciousness of the world. In her book The Primacy of Movement, she states that “We make sense of ourselves in the course of moving.”  However, movement is not only sense-making, but constitutive and generative of the self that is moving. Further, Sheets-Johnstone claims that “In effect, movement forms the I that moves before the I that moves forms movement.”  These two phenomenological statements seem to permeate Monson’s process of research and performance. Her work explores the ways in which ecological systems function and the dancing body’s relationship with and in these systems.
The live performance of Live Dancing Archive was itself a system. This component of the archive also consisted of multiple parts including the movement, live sound, and live stage and lighting design changes and manipulations. The sound, composed and performed by Jeff Kolar, an audio artist based in Chicago, is “generated live through field experiments in the AM/FM, Shortwave, Citizens, and Unlicensed radio spectrums. The instrument arrangement of handmade radio transmitters and receivers respond directly to external weather phenomena, wireless technology systems, and human activity.”  After the performance I attended, Kolar explained that there were more “ghosts” being picked up by the receivers that night than had usually been happening for the other performances. The fluctuations occurring in the systems of the electromagnetic spectrum and the Hertzian space surrounding and emanating from the instruments, the electronic objects of the audience members, and the other technologies that exist in and around the space of The Kitchen directly impacted the sound performance and thus the entire ecology of the live performance.
The live manipulation of the lighting and stage, performed and designed by Joe Levasseur, who has received two Bessie awards for his design work, was a continual shifting of the ecology of the theater space. The minimal stage props and lighting, reminiscent of Isamu Noguchi’s stage designs for Martha Graham, seemed to create the boundaries of space and time. The stage prop, a long wooden board on wheels, serves as the “horizon line” that can move and shift. At times, Monson herself moved the horizon line, thus changing the orientation of the horizon and its relationship to the audience, the ocean. The lighting was able to move around the stage as well and was manipulable by Monson and Levasseur. The turning on and off of the light, sometimes a single light that was moved around the stage, seemed to control the limits of the perceptual experience of the work. Our perception is always bounded; we cannot see the backs of our heads, our eyes even work through an amalgamation of small focal points, congealed in our brains – we don’t see the world as a clear image; our perception of the world is a complex system composed of interweaving aspects that need to work together to form a coherent experience of the world.
Phenomenology, the philosophical study of our experiencing of the world’s phenomena, understands our bodies as the entities that world the world. The world is mediating through our perceptual experience of it and the world appears for us through our engagement with it. Monson’s work takes this phenomenological understanding of the world seriously in her research processes and the performances that result from them. Much of the research process involves improvisational movement in the places along the migratory route Monson was following. In Ann Cooper Albright’s article “Situated Dancing: Notes from Three Decades in Contact with Phenomenology,” she describes the transition from considering the aesthetics of dance to the phenomenology “because phenomenology focuses attention on the circumstances of this active “becoming.”  Though Albright is discussing more specifically Contact Improvisation, she incorporates the notion of embodied research, an important aspect of Monson’s work. Albright describes embodied research as a process that “requires that one engages seriously with the ambiguity that results from trying to conceptualize bodily experience that can be quite elusive. It requires patience with the partiality of physical knowing as well as a curiosity about how theoretical paradigms will shift in the midst of that bodily experience.”  This situated-ness of research also can be placed in a feminist tradition stemming from feminist epistemology and the notion of situated knowledge explored by Donna Haraway in her essay “Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective.” Monson’s method of phenomenological epistemology of ecology speaks well to feminist conversations about science and the generation of scientific knowledge.
In thinking about what this means for an archive and the processes of archival practices, Live Dancing Archive speaks to the ways in which archives have to be generated; they do not simply exist in the world. They are always subject to the particular bodies controlling their collection, documentation, storage, and availability. The interesting aspect of Monson’s work for conversations about the archive is the tension of the usual goal of the archive — infinite storage for an infinite amount of time — and the ephemerality of movement. Can we ever say that an archive is a permanent collection of materials that simply narrate history? Archives are subject to the circumstances of the world — floods, unemployment, politics, fires — and any notion that we can make a truly permanent archive is contingent on the resources available and ideologies of the day. Monson’s Live Dancing Archive made me think critically about these aspects of making and transmitting history. Her movement, some of which I was able to glean from the video installation, is able to capture the singularity of the movement in its original form, though changed, made into something different in its repetition. Her attention to the specificities of place and the ecological systems constituting it along with bodily and movement singularities, creates a complex of environmental knowledge and history within the performance and the dancing body.
Live Dancing Archive is featured in the upcoming 2013 Dance Improvisation Festival organized by Columbia College Chicago’s Dance Center and curated by Lisa Gonzales with support from Links Hall, taking place June 3-8, 2013. Monson’s Live Dancing Archive will be performed Thursday, June 6, 2013 at 8PM. Be sure to visit the Dance Improvisation Festival’s website for tickets, information, and schedule of other workshops. http://www.colum.edu/Dance_Center/performances/2013improvfest/
Live Dancing Archive Collaborators:
Jennifer Monson: Choreography
Robin Vachal: Video Installation
Jeff Kolar: Composer
Joe Levasseur: Lighting
Susan Becker: Costumes
Betsy Brandt: Dramaturge
Davison Scandrett: Production Manager
Youngjae Josephine Bae: Digital Archive
Tatyana Tenenbaum: Dresser
 Jennifer Monson, “Program Notes,” in Jennifer Monson/iLAND Live Dancing Archive (New York: The Kitchen, 2013), 4.
 Ibid., 5.
 Ibid., 5.
 Ibid., 4-5.
 Ibid., 4.
 Personal Interview with Monson, 4.16.2013.
 Maxine Sheets-Johnstone, The Primacy of Movement, expanded second edition (Amsterdam and Philadelphia: Johns Benjamins Publishing Company, 2011), 117.
 Ibid., 119.
 Monson, “Program Notes,” 4.
 Ann Cooper Albright, “Situated Dancing: Notes from Three Decades in Contact with Phenomenology,” Dance Research Journal, vol. 43, no. 2 (Winter 2011), 9.
 Ibid., 14.
“Courage is the great enabling virtue that allows one to realize other virtues like love and hope and faith. To have courage is to be willing to look unflinchingly at catastrophic circumstances and muster the will to overcome the fear, never to fully erase and eliminate the fear but overcome the fear, so that fear does not have the last word or so that fear does not push one into conformity, complacency or cowardice. ”- Cornel West
I don’t know how to be courageous. I don’t think that I am now but I know, at least I feel, that I must be in order to make it through this moment. Recent months have seen us, as Americans, wrestling with the baseline hatred and oppression that we had so naively believed we had moved beyond, a desire we know now to be a desperate fantasy. I believe Cornel West to be true when he tells us that courage will lead us to other virtues, other strengths that might enable us to not only make it through our time but to imagine a real alternative, a utopian dream no farther than our beds. What I mean to describe here is not a kind of free imagination but, as Žižek has described, “a matter of the innermost urgency”, an imagined alternative to a situation whose solution is so far outside the coordinates of the possible that one is forced to imagine an alternative space.
There is a courage to performance, as there is a courage to poetry and criticism, to those forms whose goals, from the outset, are a freshly imagined future. Not just the courage of those taking to embodied action but a courage to witness those acts. A willingness to be changed by something, to allow oneself to feel what John Martin calls muscular sympathy. A kind of sixth sense that gives the viewer access to the work through the performers body. Not simply the courage of the stage but the courage of the street and bar. The courage to stand beside one another, to allow oneself to feel responsible for each other, for ourselves. Too often the heady dialogues surrounding the production of aesthetic experience call to mind a kind of aimless drifting identity. An abstract subject, tethered to nothing and no one, submerged in the machinic realities of our time but this is not true for all of us. For those of us operating from a place of difference, whose lives are not simply shaped but are out right controlled by social and economic oppression, there are other ways of being. New ways to gather, to love, to share. New economies. Strategies of resistance. Alternatives simultaneously imagined and enacted between sweaty down beats on crowded dance floors in rooms that are forced to accommodate us as we are.
I wish that I could tell you how to be courageous, that I had some great strategy for us, but I don’t know. All I have is a feeling of urgency, a sensation that drives me towards hope, towards an alternative. I can tell you that the work will be courageous and that with it so will we. I can tell you now that we will be in this together, as a community, as a collective. We who feel strongly, we will be the ones to make a practice of resistance. To turn ourselves towards a tumultuous present of catastrophic circumstances, where revolution and change are palpable events, the tyranny of unaccountable elites runs rampant, and the violence of our city howls just beyond our walls. We will be the ones to turn towards this moment, our moment, to face our oppressors courageously for each other.
“Who will fight the bear? No one? Then the bear has won.” - Bas Jan Ader
This week: San Francisco checks in with dance legend Anna Halprin!!!
Anna Halprin (b. 1920) is a pioneering dancer and choreographer of the post-modern dance movement. She founded the San Francisco Dancer’s Workshop in 1955 as a center for movement training, artistic experimentation, and public participatory events open to the local community. Halprin has created 150 full-length dance theater works and is the recipient of numerous awards including the 1997 Samuel H. Scripps Award for Lifetime Achievement in Modern Dance from the American Dance Festival. Her students include Meredith Monk, Trisha Brown, Yvonne Rainer, Simone Forti, Ruth Emmerson, Sally Gross, and many others.
Live Benefit Auction Event: March 9, 6-8:30 pm
Robert Rauschenberg Project Space
455 West 19th St, New York
Printed Matter, Inc, the New York-based non-profit organization committed to the dissemination and appreciation of publications made by artists, will host a Benefit Auction and Selling Exhibition at the Rauschenberg Foundation Project Space to help mitigate damage caused by Hurricane Sandy.
As a result of the storm, Printed Matter experienced six feet of flooding to its basement storage and lost upwards of 9,000 books, hundreds of artworks and equipment. Printed Matter’s Archive, which has been collected since the organization’s founding in 1976 and serves as an important record of its history and the field of artists books as a whole, was also severely damaged. Moreover, the damage sustained by Sandy has made it clear that Printed Matter needs to undertake an urgent capacity-building effort to establish a durable foundation for its mission and services into the future.
This is the first fundraising initiative of this scale to be undertaken by the organization in many years, and will feature more than 120 works generously donated from artists and supporters of Printed Matter.
The Sandy Relief Benefit for Printed Matter will be held at the Rauschenberg Project Space in Chelsea and will run from February 28 through March 9th. The Benefit has two components: a selling exhibition of rare historical publications and other donated works and an Auction of donated artworks.
A special preview and reception will be held February 28th, 6-8 pm, to mark the unveiling of all 120 works and to thank the participating artists and donors. The opening will feature a solo performance by cellist Julia Kent (Antony and the Johnsons), followed by a shared DJ set from Lizzi Bougatsos (Gang Gang Dance) & Kyp Malone (TV on the Radio). The event is free and open to the public.
All works will then be available for viewing at the Rauschenberg Project Space March 1 – March 9, gallery hours.
All Selling Exhibition works may be purchased during this period and Auction works will be available for bidding online. Bids can be made at www.paddle8.com/auctions/printedmatter.
A live Benefit Auction Event will take place March 9, 6-8:30 pm with approximately 20 selected works to be auctioned in a live format. Bidding on these works will commence at 7pm sharp, while silent bids can be made on all other Auction works. Note, highest online bids will be transferred to the room. For absentee bidding of works, please contact Keith Gray (Printed Matter) at 212 925 0325 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The evening will feature a performance by Alex Waterman on solo cello with electronics. Admission is $150 and tickets may be pre-purchased here. There will be only limited capacity.
Highlighted auction works include an oversize ektacolor photograph from Richard Prince, a woven canvas piece from Tauba Auerbach, an acrylic and newsprint work from Rirkrit Tiravanija, a large-scale Canopy painting from Fredrik Værslev, a rare dye transfer print from Zoe Leonard, a light box by Alfredo Jaar, a book painting by Paul Chan, a carbon on paper work from Frances Stark, a seven-panel plexi-work with spraypainted newsprint from Kerstin Brätsch, a C-print from Hans Haacke, a firefly drawing from Philippe Parreno, a mixed-media NASA wall-piece from Tom Sachs, a unique print from Rachel Harrison, a vintage xerox poem from Carl Andre, an encyclopedia set of hand-made books from Josh Smith, a photograph from Klara Liden, a table-top sculpture from Carol Bove, Ed Ruscha’s Rooftops Portfolio, as well as original works on canvas and linen by Cecily Brown, Cheyney Thompson, Dan Colen, Adam McEwen, RH Quaytman, and many others.
These Auction works can be previewed at: www.paddle8.com/auctions/printedmatter
In addition to auction works, a vitrine-based exhibition of rare books, artworks and ephemera are available for viewing and purchase. This material includes some truly remarkable items from the personal collection of Robert Rauschenberg, donated by theRobert Rauschenberg Foundation in memory of the late Printed Matter Board Member, bookseller and publisher, John McWhinnie. Among the works available are books and artworks from Marcel Duchamp, Willem de Kooning, Alfred Steiglitz,Joseph Beuys, Brigid Berlin (Polk), as well as a Claes Oldenburg sculpture, a rare William Burroughs manuscript, and the Anthology Film Archive Portfolio (1982). Additional artists’ books have been generously donated by the Sol LeWitt Estate. Works include pristine copies of Autobiography (1980), Four Basic Kinds of Straight Lines (1969), Incomplete Open Cubes (1974), and others. Three Star Books have kindly donated a deluxe set of their Maurizio Cattelan book edition. These works can be viewed and purchased at the space. For inquiries about available works please contact Printed Matter’s Associate Director Max Schumann at 212 925 0325 or email@example.com.
Co-chairs Ethan Wagner & Thea Westreich Wagner and Phil Aarons & Shelley Fox Aarons have guided the event, and Thea Westreich Art Advisory Services has generously lent its expertise and assisted in the production of the auction.
In anticipation of the event Printed Matter Executive Director James Jenkin said:
“Not only are we hopeful that this event will help us to put Sandy firmly behind us, it is incredibly special for us. To have so many artists and friends associated with our organization over its 36 years come forward and support us in this effort has been truly humbling.“
Auction includes work by:
Michele Abeles, Ricci Albenda, Carl Andre, Cory Arcangel, Assume Vivid Astro Focus, Tauba Auerbach, Trisha Baga, John Baldessari, Sebastian Black, Mark Borthwick, Carol Bove, Kerstin Brätsch, Sascha Braunig, Olaf Breuning, Cecily Brown, Sophie Calle, Robin Cameron, Sean Joseph Patrick Carney, Nathan Carter, Paul Chan, Dan Colen, David Kennedy Cutler, Liz Deschenes, Mark Dion, Shannon Ebner, Edie Fake, Matias Faldbakken, Dan Graham, Robert Greene, Hans Haacke, Marc Handelman, Rachel Harrison, Jesse Hlebo, Carsten Höller, David Horvitz, Marc Hundley, Alfredo Jaar, Chris Johanson, Terence Koh, Joseph Kosuth, Louise Lawler, Pierre Le Hors, Leigh Ledare, Zoe Leonard, Sam Lewitt, Klara Liden, Peter Liversidge, Charles Long, Mary Lum, Noah Lyon, McDermott & McGough, Adam McEwen, Ryan McNamara, Christian Marclay, Ari Marcopoulos, Gordon Matta-Clark, Wes Mills, Jonathan Monk, Rick Myers, Laurel Nakadate, Olaf Nicolai, Adam O’Reilly, Philippe Parreno, Jack Pierson, Richard Prince, RH Quaytman, Eileen Quinlan, Sara Greenberger Rafferty, Ed Ruscha, Tom Sachs, David Sandlin, Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Cindy Sherman, Josh Smith, Keith Smith, Buzz Spector, Frances Stark, Emily Sundblad, Andrew Sutherland, Peter Sutherland, Sarah Sze, Panayiotis Terzis, Cheyney Thompson, Rirkrit Tiravanija, Nicola Tyson, Penelope Umbrico, Fredrik Værslev, Visitor, Danh Vo, Dan Walsh and Ofer Wolberger.
Full Radius Dance, a physically-integrated dance company based in Atlanta, premiered its work Touch in January 2013. The piece was inspired by executive director and choreographer Douglas Scott’s decision to retire from professional performance, causing him to feel depression, which he realized was the result of no longer having physical contact everyday in the studio. He began to ask himself why touch, the physical act of making contact, was so important to him. What does it mean to touch and be touched? What does it do physiologically to the body? What does touch mean in gaining understanding of one’s own body and the bodies of others?
Touch, in its multiple parts involved dancers of varying bodies and abilities. As a physically-integrated dance company, Full Radius’ dancers are both abled and disabled, some use wheelchairs in their everyday lives. Scott first became engaged in this practice through a workshop offered at the Atlanta Civic Center where he realized that all bodies do not move the same way that his does and that there was opportunity to explore the “limits of physicality” with various bodies.  He now teaches classes and workshops at the Shepherd Center, a hospital and rehabilitation center located in Atlanta that specializes in medical treatment, research, and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord and brain injuries.
The theater is dark and quiet. A rustling begins to grow louder. Shapes of bodies start to come into focus in the dark as they move across the stage. It sounds as if someone is sliding across the floor. Music begins. Light, pouring in from stage right, begins to grow brighter, illuminating the mass of bodies arranged organismically stage left.
When the lights are finally up, I see three of the dancers seated on the ground, two of which were in wheelchairs in the previous piece. This piece, titled There Is No Such Thing As Mistakes and choreographed by Lori Teague, explores “the situations we find ourselves in and the situations we put ourselves in.” The dancers in this piece arrange themselves almost as if they are part of one body, one organism, with interrelated parts; the mass of bodies on the stage writhes and moves together. As the dance progresses, the breath of each dancer becomes more audible, another rhythmic element to the accompanying music. Teague explained that her interest in this piece was reaction time; how does the body respond in the moment of contact or confrontation? While watching the piece, a growing sense of physicality presents itself. While watching the bodies roll across the stage, one of the dancers gets up and staggers toward another dancer, using the other’s body for stability, resting her weight on his shoulders, my body began to move itself. I noticed my feet were responding to these movements; during tense moments, my leg would extend outwards toward the stage; during moments of relative calm, I was able to relax my feet to the ground. This aesthetic experience not only registered in my eyes, but my muscles registered the movements of the dancers.
In this aesthetic experience, my body phenomenologically responds. This response, though potentially activated through mirror neurons, may lead to particular perceptions of the body that carry with them particular associative meanings. If my body can “feel” the weight of the other’s body on me for support, or if my body can “feel” the need to rest upon another, does this experience open possibilities of bodily awareness?
Does this awareness carry forward after I leave the theater? Edward Warburton, a dance theorist writes about what happens when we observe another’s movement. He describes it as “observing others’ actions involves both a covert simulation of the very same action—a process crucial in imitative motor learning—and a modulation of resonant action systems that seem to be important in superior perceptual abilities” . Interestingly, during the section the “Science of Touch,” Scott is on stage with the dancers and describes some of the physiological mechanisms of touch, including that of mirror neurons. In some way, the attention to mirror neurons allows for an empathic response to even the viewing of someone being touched.
In watching dance, the viewer’s visual experience coalesces with a visceral experience, but is opticality necessarily primary in the “viewing” of dance? If the dancer’s body does not reach out and make contact with my skin, is it possible for me to still feel her body? In the dance, can I begin to “know” the dancer’s body as it moves across the stage, at times making contact with other bodies? Erin Manning, a cultural theorist and political philosopher who writes on tango as a cultural practice, writes that “movement can be felt before it actualizes.”  In order to view a dance as dance, a piece that uses bodily movement as material, the viewer has to come to the performance with an understanding of her own sense of bodily movement. For the philosopher Maxine Sheets-Johnstone, movement is the primary vehicle for sense-making and knowledge-making of our world. In her book The Primacy of Movement, Maxine Sheets-Johnstone writes:
“In making kinetic sense of ourselves, we progressively attain complex conceptual understandings having to do with containment, with consequential relationships, with weight, with effort, and with myriad other bodily-anchored happenings and phenomena that in turn anchor our sense of the world and its happenings and phenomena.” 
Other bodies are included in this world’s happenings and phenomena.
During the final piece of the performance, the featured piece titled Touch, there were moments when dancers in chairs would balance their weight on an edge of one wheel over dancers lying underneath the chair. Hands reached out to grasp each other, distributing the weight through the arm muscles, from one shoulder to the next. Watching the performance, I was sitting in anticipation of a sudden shift in gravity, a moment of almost catastrophe. Reflecting on the piece now, I ask myself, how am I supposed to see these bodies that were moving before me?
In the case of Full Radius Dance, which presents the viewer with bodies that she does not typically see in a dance performance, what does the viewer and the viewer’s body learn? I leave the theater and the reverberations of rhythm remain. What do these vibrations unhinge within my body? Are they making new connections with any of the mixed-up material that was disturbed by the vibrations? Making sense of the dancers’ movements and bodies requires me to make sense of my own – this is a reciprocal movement. The question remains whether the origin of this movement and knowledge exists in myself or in the dancer’s body that I watch roll across the floor.
– Meredith Kooi; meredith [dot] kooi [at] gmail [dot] com
 Personal conversation with Douglas Scott
 Edward C. Warburton, “Of Meanings and Movements: Re-Languaging Embodiment in Dance Phenomenology and Cognition,” Dance Research Journal, vol. 43, no. 2 (Winter 2011), 72.
 Erin Manning, Relationscapes: Movement, Art, Philosophy (Cambridge, MA and London: The MIT Press, 2009), 6.
 Maxine Sheets-Johnstone, The Primacy of Movement, 2nd Ed (Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company, 2011), 118.
DANCE informa. danceinforma.com. Photos by AMN photography. http://www.danceinforma.com/USA_magazine/2013/01/20/full-radius-dance-premieres-three-contemporary-works/
This post initiates what I hope will be a series of posts made in response to the question: “What can be done with dance?”. The question is taken from the book, “How to Do Things with Dance: Performing Change in Postwar America” by Rebekah J Kowal. In the book Kowal suggests that the political potential of choreography to enact real societal change exists as much on the street as it does on the stage. I won’t go into too much detail about the book, as I will be posting an interview with Kowal shortly, but I would like to linger a little while on this question of doing. Following Kowal’s lead I would like to consider the potential of dance as extending beyond the “power of embodied action”. Let us take for granted, just for now, this particular kind of power in bringing about experiential or social change in order to consider other aspects of dance. Like poetry, dance is a way of making graspable what might otherwise elude us. It is a way of capturing the wordless sensations that arise in the body at any given moment.
While I may be inclined, from time to time, to believe that what constitutes the world is nothing more than a series of words, names really, I am also quick to point to the pleasure of unknowable sensations or passions. This is what dance does. It gives us access and makes available that which we feel but do not know. Choreography, in this vein, is a way of working with newly acquired bodily knowledge. In this way, dance is perhaps more grounded than poetry, in that what is being expressed is rooted in the architecture of the body. This of course only leads us to more questions: What is the relationship between the architecture of the body and the space in which it moves? and in the context of my initial inquiry, how might dance help us re-imagine this relationship?
Very often, when speaking about performance, we speak of the space of the event. That rather fluid relationship between the invisible boundaries of the performance arena and the bodies that occupy it. This is the basis for many conversations concerning theater, dance, and other body-based performance practices. Conceptions of space, as they attempt to describe a kind of container, allow for the conceptualizing of bodily volumes. They allow us to speak of the mobility of bodies as it pertains to the environment in which they move. While there is certainly a value in thinking of the relationship between the body and space as one of volume to container, it is also problematic in that it most often privileges an unrealistic idealized body.
Space as it exists conceptually promotes an occupation of itself by a certain kind of body. A body that is best represented by the athletic body. While this may not be the image of interest for most performers the image of the idealized body has a particularly strong hold socially and is continually circulated through the design and conceptualization of space. Day to day routines are policed by the proportions of the spaces in which they take place. Door frames, floor tiles, counter tops, the boundaries of our movements are dictated by standardized measurements. Proportions that are more often than not disproportionate to the bodies that they contains. So internalized are these dimensions that they are manifested non-consciously in the very way that we imagine space around us. To overcome these biases and to allow for other or differently abled bodies is to reconceptualize the relationship of the body to space.
The dancing body is not immune to these prejudices but dance as a practice of acquiring new insight, new knowledge, allows us to use the body to think around our internalized prejudices. The dancing body, for example, does not occupy space so much as facilitates a collaboration between space and the body, it pushes itself against the space that envelops it and in turn that space pushes itself against the body. The body leans against the wall and the wall leans away. Weight is distributed, balanced and shared. The dance is made in collaboration with its environment. It is in this spirit of collaboration, that we begin to find the seedlings of a new way of identifying the performance space. With this dynamic relationship in mind the dancer imagines space as the limbs of another dancer, the back of a chair, the side of the body, an immobile leg, a sleeping hand. The imagination then elaborates and the process of choreography itself becomes about finding ways to express two sets of information, the choreographers and the dancers, and in so doing the hierarchy of values that determine the acceptability of bodies has begun to disintegrate in the wake of collaboration. We have used dance as a practice and a metaphor to circumvent internalized prejudices and to imagine new ways of being in space. I am reminded here of Cornel West’s description of Percy Shelly’s poet.
“He is talking about all human beings who decide to muster their imagination and empathy to conceive of a better world, given the social misery and suffering of this world.”
Perhaps, this is what we can do with dance.
- Anthony Romero