A haiku seemed like/ as good a way as any/ to tell you that I
(haiku by Catesby Taliaferro)
For me, the theater proscenium is not a neutral space for dance.
At the moment, I am more interested in people than I am dancing. I am mesmerized by people dancing, when the person themself* is not hidden. This is what draws me to forms of 'folk' dance both as dancer and as enthnographer. As ethnographer, I cringe at the transplanting of vernacular modalities into western performance structures. It often cancels the human part of the the practice that is most compelling. So here I am, researching modes of human performative transparency and, thereby, the generosity of the dancer as a subject of visual and kinesthetic perception. I find I am more interested in watching folks perform karaoke at a bar than watch most proscenium performances. I can watch karaoke with intrigue for a long time. (RIP Mulligans, the local establishment.)
I think there are some exquisite choreographers and dance makers who reveal the human on stage, presenting the human dancer as an extra-human version of human. Ohad Naharin’s work on Batsheva, and the corresponding method of training, Gaga, is the current working (and trendy) example. I think Naharin’s work is also deeply motivated by sensuality. The contact point of flirtation, sensation, presence, vulnerability, and force. I think I am interested in the other side of that spectrum, humans at their most obvious and genuine. The opposite of cool? The humans I am most in love with are those unafraid to dance like goofballs in public. I have no idea how to put that lack of fear on stage. This work is part of that research. Coming up again and again in this research is also the beautiful black whole of friendship. And in this case, overtly feminine.
This piece, I am realizing, feels somewhat assaulting to the audience, inside a collection of more conventional uses of the proscenium-set-up-as-black-box-theater, which has become a status quo, or norm, in our institutions of dance education. Normal, I believe, is always a construct, a technology of diffused power. The most powerful kind of control is the kind you don’t know is happening to you. So, while I did not set out to make this piece as a direct dialogue with most of the other works it is being premiered with, I am learning there is a dissonance when folding this work inside other work that assumes the black box proscenium. And, in most cases, I feel, the dancer is being presented as an object, rather than performing the subject. This last idea, I am still unravelling.
I spent five plus years in Baltimore’s DIY art scene. I went to a lot of shows that, to be frank, sucked in terms of craftsmanship but were a wild art experience, even if embarrassing or assaulting. Baltimore is a place of the untamed spillage of art cries. To me, craftsmanship is the ability to make something memorable and delicious out of any ingredients, no matter their quality. Choreographic craftsmanship is an (underestimated) professional skill. Music video, musical, theater production. This is valuable. The art part is, for me, in the vision. A vision is the object of sight, something seen by the mind. The ability and manner of seeing or perceiving something that does not yet exist.
I was recently telling another choreographer that I think the good stuff happens when the two become the same. Baltimore’s limited dance scene, is a micro version of the larger national terrain (?): there are either craftsmen of movement and stage or humans compelled to bring a vision to life, who lack much craft at all. I think though, I am learning, when it comes to human movement, I would rather watch the sometimes embarrassing art vomit rather than the satisfiably forgettable craftsmanship. I don’t feel this way about many other forms, so this makes me question my preference.
Also, the cultural status of internet seems to me to parallel the height of Vaudeville in America at the turn of the last century, 1890-1910. The short attention span, and a channel of satire, appropriate, commentary, anonymous freedom, physical humor, virtuosity, and the mundane. So I have been thinking about that too. If I must create in a proscenium, I prefer the messy holler-back world of Vaudeville, than the lingering mimicry of the ballet court's class structure (unless, of course, it's a ballet in an opera house).
Also, my Shakespeare & American Lit professor in high school always reminded us, angsty ambitious teens, "Comedy is harder to pull off than tragedy." A decade(+) later, I am still driven by his words.