A large group of people (thirty to eighty-four) walk from stage right to stage left, stopping to stand or sit according to a written score, demonstrating another way to think about walking and celebration of pedestrian movement. Jill Johnston wrote of the 1968 version of the piece that she was impressed with the assortment of bodies. “The fat, the skinny, the medium, the slouched and slumped, the straight and tall, the bowlegged and knock-kneed, the awkward, the elegant, the coarse, the delicate, the pregnant, the virginal, the you name it, by implication every postural possibility in the postural spectrum, that’s you and me in all our ordinary everyday who cares postural splendor.”
Two things: First one is news that I’m working with my fellow cohort member Lindsey Griffith to create videos, maintain, and update the unofficially official Instagram and YouTube channel for Towson’s MFA Theatre program. You will notice that not much information has been added to these places just yet, but a blank page is always a great place to start. Stay tuned for some really great updates from Brecht, Gertrude Stein, and the rest of the cohort!
Second thing is a video of site-specific choreography by Aline David. As I continue to think about site in my own work, I’ve noticed that many examples I’ve found have documented performances specifically for video. This one below is no exception as it utilizes jump cuts and helps situate the audience firmly in a viewing area. Although the intent to video tape is clear, it still feels as though I’ve walked in on something a bit more private, almost as though she’s not performing for the audience but for the space itself.
Steve Reich’s “Come Out” was an early tape loop experiment that features the voice of a man (Hamm) beaten by the police in Harlem in 1964. Hamm was abused for hours as police refused to give him medical treatment because he was not visibly bleeding. Hamm had received many bruises and recalls: “I had to, like, open the bruise up and let some of the bruise blood come out to show them.” Steve Reich took those last five words and turned them into a haunting repetition that reflects and obscures the harrows of that abuse. Pitchfork has a very in-depth article expanding on Hamm’s story and the history of the piece during a time of civil rights struggle, a similar struggle we still face today.
This video also features choreography of Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker with help from principal dancer Michele Anne de Mey. Using their arms for momentum while seated on stools, the accumulating movements create tensions between order and disorder through a highly structured dance. A sense of struggle and strength is reflected in the use of breath and sounds created through the tedious movements. De Keersmaeker’s style is based off of Steve Reich’s compositional methods using natural gestures and steps, structural relations to music and tension between two contradictory impulses: formalism and expressionism. She often uses these tensions to create tornado-like patterns of structured chaos as the piece unfolds. About structure De Keersmaeker says: “I’m obsessed by structures. But the most beautiful experience is to see such a construction generating something intangible, elusive- an emotion.”
I watched the OA based on recommendation that I would be interested in the movements within. The basics of this Netflix series is that a young woman (sometimes called the OA, previously blind) returns to her home with the ability to see and other not as clearly defined abilities. She recruits five people to help her with a secret mission whose purpose isn’t revealed for quite some time, everyone relying on good faith and hope that what she says is true. The narrator of the story is quite unreliable and at times it is difficult to tell whose perspective the audience is being given at all, tapping into the truth that most people are very eager to believe what they hear. The show attempts to grapple with many big questions, some of which are analyzed in this great article from The Vulture.
The OA believes the path to freedom, to stop being a prisoner in her own life, is performance of five movements (The Movements) with “perfect feeling”, which must be done with five other people. The movements were given in another realm or dimension, the in between of life and death, that her and the others she was held captive with are constantly pushed into by their captor.
The Movements were designed by choreographer Ryan Heffington, who is well known for his work with Sia and others. I think what the movements do, whether or not they actually heal the sick or transport into another dimension, is they they create this almost wild, charged energy in the space that feels true to the essence of the shared experience. It gives the boys and captives something to hold on to, a shred of hope and humanity. They can touch each other, create a closeness that seems to be missing in each of their lives, through their collective energies and moving their bodies in ways they’ve never moved before. Perhaps more will be explained about exactly how The Movements work in Season 2.
The Movements have received some harsh critique about their inclusion in the show, but creator and star Brit Marling believes that all the response to The Movements “is beautiful and is right and I understand it all because I had that range of response in learning them myself.” She goes on to to say, “It’s one of the most primal, immediate, ancient forms of communication, and I think this woman has this traumatic experience and whether it was all true or part true or metaphor for a deeper truth that is hard to get at with facts, she [introduces] this technology to the boys and it has a profound effect on them and it bonds them and motivates them and liberates them in some way that maybe nothing else could have.” via Hollywood Reporter
Proxemics is a term coined by Edward T. Hall describing the study of the “personal bubble” or the amount of space that people feel necessary to set between themselves and others. Hall felt this study was not only valuable in interpersonal communication but directly connected “the organization of space in [their] houses and buildings, and ultimately the layout of [their] towns”. Hall was especially interested in identifying cultural differences in relation to personal space. He used biometric concepts (smell, touch, temperature, etc) to organize and explore the ways people interacted in space and invented a pictorial and numerical system to note variations in interaction. The video below gives a brief overview of his work in proxemics.
Interestingly, I was first introduced to the concept of proxemics through a book on improvisational choreography titled The Intimate Act of Choreography by Lynne Anne Blom and L. Tarin Chaplin. In the book, Blom and Chaplin cover many ways to consider space including stage space, geometry, environment, floor pattern, personal space, and many others. They write about considering space an active participant within the choreography and also address how choreography can violate dancer’s sense of personal space by forcing other dancers into closer proximity than they would allow outside of the studio.
Hall, Edward T. (1966). The Hidden Dimension. Anchor Books.
When thinking about progression of movement, one of the things I keep going back to is that I have to accumulate energy before I can spend it.
Accumulation is a dance by Trisha Brown based on mathematical systems of accumulation. It was rudimentary investigation of the body’s joints using extend, rotate, and lift to create invented movements. The dance was built on repetitions and addition to a sequence.
I recently tried to create a sequences of gestures using this technique and found it extremely difficult to remember where or how many repetitions I had done. Once Brown had mastery over the form, she added talking to the sequence, even slicing two stories together without preparation, which I couldn’t imagine being able to accomplish. It’s interesting to me how she took basic blocks of movement to challenge perceptions of virtuosity, which so much of the post-modern dance movement was about. I find her process-based approach similar to my own, leading to an everyday dress aesthetic that mirrors the content of the work.
Water Motor is the antithesis of Accumulation with liquid movements based on memory of a childhood event. What I’m most interested in his Brown’s ability to work in two distinctly different styles. I could probably talk forever about this because I’ve been reading Rosenberg’s Trisha Brown: Choreography as Visual Art, which provides a comprehensive account of Brown’s influence in post-modern dance and her ties to the conceptual art world of the 60s.