Counterpulse

First Show of 2017 – How to Write?

Meg Stuart, “An evening of solo works,” January 20th

A good friend pointed out that maybe after 2 years, I don’t have to write about every dance I see anymore. He pushed this point a bit further: “maybe you’ve gotten what you need out of that practice.”

He might be right, but I still strongly believe that this writing practice enables me to participate in the dance community in a way that (I feel) is meaningful, thoughtful, responsive. So do I write only about the dances that inspire or challenge me in some way? Do I write only when asked?

Another thought as I type is to write every week or so either about a dance I’ve seen or something about dance. I’m not sure I can keep up, but it would be a different kind of practice and writing.

As I ease into the possibility of writing more (and less), I offer a brief response to Meg Stuart’s show, “An evening of solo works,” at Counterpulse Jan. 20th. I went with a few friends; they knew more about Stuart’s work. We all agreed that “Blanket Lady” (2012) was the most compelling dance of the five performed. The music, costume, and choreography came together in such an interesting way. I wanted to see the entire piece (maybe I did). That said, what I enjoyed the most about the evening was being in the company of friends, talking dance and resistance.

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December 16th, “future friend/ships”

 

By Keith Hennessy and Jassem Hindi, with lighting designer Dennis Döscher

Last post of 2016 

I arrived at Counterpulse early and picked up the December issue of indance. On the last page was an article penned by Hennessy and Hindi about future friend/ships.  They started with this quote:

“Irony is about the tension of holding incompatible things together because both or all are necessary and true. Irony is about humor and serious play. It is also a rhetorical strategy and a political method.

– Donna Haraway, First test space monkey

In their article, Hennessy and Hindi identify their research practice as “ironical” and aim for the dance to “host otherness.” As hosts, Hennessey and Hindi welcomed us on stage before we took our seats and the lights dimmed. As we walked around the stage, we were asked to look at the photos (“a partial tarot deck”) scattered around and sample food they offered on trays. This opening did resonate with the theme of hospitality that they claim “is the name of [their] game.” Later in the piece, they also invited the audience to view the tarot cards again as Hennessey and Hindi passed them through the audience. It left like we were in someone’s living room (the fabric curtain and costumes added to this effect).Another thread that became clear from the “performance/installation/science fiction salon” was the idea of Arab Futurism. A quick google search didn’t reveal much on this emerging genre (?) in contemporary art.

With all this mind, my response attempts to sort out what all this might mean in the context of what occurred (and what I noticed) on stage. In order to do so, I found myself reading through the performance zine and digging into literature about irony.

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When my friend sat down next to me, I turned to her and said, “this is a dance about language.” Reflecting back, I still think this claim captures this piece as whole for me. It is easy to point out the tangible textual elements of the performance such as the use of spoken word and its written manifesto. This piece is also about making, tinkering, and fashioning. In addition to the text, Hennessy and Hindi “made” sound and props, which seemed to fit with their directive to imagine and transform the future. The future made visible in “future friend/ships” is not yet sorted out – the tarot deck isn’t complete, the drones didn’t really work that well, and the dance movement unrefined. When Hennessy and Hindi danced their bodies moved as if they forgotten how to “dance.” They tried out steps (I noticed grande jeté en tournants and temps levé sauté), arms dangled, and bodies dropped to the floor. This movement suggested a kind of scratching-your-head-thinking, which for me is the work of language, which can be thought as a form of making or even invention. All of this might serve to remind us that making the future requires some forgetting, a forgetting that stretches out and strives for possibility.

The ironic nature of “future friend/ships” eludes me, and I wonder if the logic of irony – its movement of strategic reversal can be danced. Hennessy and Hindi might answer yes. I, however, am still wondering, which seems an appropriate way to conclude 2016.

September 22th, “The Way You Look (at me) Tonight”

Choreographed by Claire Cunningham and Jess Curtis

First a little thank you note:

Thank you for moving to a point to tenderness and offering a moment to reflect on how we come to love (each other). Thank you for offering emotional exchanges about bodies, looking, and feeling. Thank you for trying to speak differently about how seeing and not seeing difference matters.

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The program notes frame the piece as a “social sculpture – a sensory journey for two performers and audience…[that asks] important questions about our habits and practices of perceiving each other and the world.” For the most part, The Way You Look (at me) Tonight stays within this frame. Cunningham and Curtis move their bodies and words to confront the sometimes uncomfortable spaces between the perceptions of others and ourselves. They navigate and narrate their own experiences with disability, age, and sexuality, reminding the audience that how we look at others has consequences and that as Diana Taylor says in her book, Performance, looking can be fraught, even risky (79). 

Cunningham dances with remarkable ease (and strength); her crutches are extensions of her body that move with precision and grace. At one point Curtis lies on the floor while Cunningham walks on him with the full weight of her body. During this sequence, Alva Noë’s pre-recorded voice (the philosopher consultant) voice thinks out loud about what he is seeing. I found this to be an unnecessary interruption. Honestly, I don’t really care what Noë saw or what he thought about what he saw, and felt it contradictory to the participatory frame of the piece.

Perception is not just about the eyes and The Way You Look (at me) Tonight examines that by showing us different ways of looking and sensing each other. I think this dance has the potential for genuine learning. I even modified their “game” of peripheral fluctuation, where you keep people in your peripheral vision without directly looking at them, for one of my classes. It really got us talking about how much we are able to see, and how often we chose to not see. I can envision how this dance could be taught alongside texts that aim to explore cultural difference, rhetorical listening, and the politics of perception.  

90 minutes without an intermission is a lot to ask, but I was still happy to go home thinking about love.   

May 26th, “10th Anniversary Home Season”

Little Seismic Dance Company, Choreography by Katie Faulkner

Sometimes it’s hard to write about a choreographer or a dancer you know.  Other times it’s easy, and this evening one of those times.  I’ve known Faulkner since 2007; we met shortly after I moved to San Francisco.  I was always struck by her generous spirit and playful sense of humor, which were on stunning display Thursday night.

Aptly titled “Deep Field,” a solo performed by Faulkner, was an embodiment of profound reflection about a history of process and a particular field of communication.  The sonic and visual landscape by Michael Trigilio and Heather Stockton respectively amplified the autobiographical nature that Faulkner so clearly danced.  Even without the choreographer’s note, Faulkner’s movements spoke – each gesture, glance, vibration – from the inside out.  It was personal, but relatable – a clarity of telling that I could feel in my bones.

“Coat of Arms” induced small bursts of laughter from the audience – a kind of seismic response.  The subtle gazes and slight gestures performed with such stunning precision created a witty duet that reflected the universal quirk of relationships.

The last piece, “Don’t Worry Baby,” was harder to grasp, harder to feel.  It was more sculptural than the other pieces and as a result it felt different.  While superbly danced the piece for me seemed a little distant or disconnected somehow.

Faulkner closed her choreographers note “with gratitude,” and that is how I felt at the end of the evening.  I left the theater with an overwhelming sense of gratitude for Faulkner’s choreographic vision and courage to put so much of herself on stage. It was an honor that I can’t wait to repeat.

April 19th, “Sarah (the smuggler)”

Choreographed by Sara Shelton Mann in collaboration with Keith Hennessy

What if I don’t get it?

I haven’t seen it yet, but I read a little bit about the background on this piece.  I must admit to some hesitation.  Does it matter if I know the history or Mann’s story? 

After seeing the piece, here are my reflections:

Moving history – Moving self

A beautiful exercise in present-ness

Archive/Study/Repeating Differently

Energy – energetic

Great words

I didn’t get the whole of the piece, but I came away with something. Sometimes dance makers/collaborators make dance for themselves or small “select audiences” (take a look at Hennessy’s interview).  I get that as a process, and yet I don’t get it.  I wonder how many in the audience had seen or worked with Mann before?

March 7th, “Age and Beauty Part 1: Mid-Career Artist/Suicide Note”

Choreographed by Miguel Gutierrez

I didn’t know much about this show going in except for the email from ConterPulse warning me of strong odors during the show, including fingernail polish.  I was kind of disappointed that fingernail polish was the only strong odor.  Gutierrez gave his program notes live in which he mentioned that the piece had 3 titles (note: this is similar what Keith Hennessy did for “Bear/Skin“; a trend I like).  I have to disagree Gutierrez.  I think there is only one title, but it is juicy one especially if you feel like geeking out on his use of a colon and backslash.  He also mentioned some dance theory, which I appreciated because I am a geek about that too. But I think he was right, you didn’t need to know the theory in order to get something out of the performance.

The piece began with two men – one in a women’s pink bathing suit, stocky build – the other a skinny white boy dressed in baggy white workout clothes.  They danced the same movement for about 15 minutes to Silvio Ecomo & Chuckie.  It was oddly superb.  There was nothing to focus on except the juxtaposition between these two different bodies.  It could’ve been longer; I wanted it to be longer.  In fact, this section of the dance is the only part that really stuck with me (yes, even more than when Miguel’s face was in Mickey’s balls).  It might be due to the fact that I found the later part of the piece a little too self-indulgent.  So I choose to stay connected to what resonated.  I appreciated the commitment to that level of technical repetition and how it directed my attention toward the sameness and difference of these two (moving) bodies.  How could it be that a skinny white boy moved “the same” as a chunky latino?  What does this say about bodies and how we see them?  Why don’t we see sameness in difference?  I enjoyed being led to these questions and would be keen for more.