Things

Things
photo by Keira Heu-Jwyn Chang

Friday, July 20, 2018

Where do we dance

2015:

Dance Studio

It has been hard for me to love your emptiness and square lack of features lately. You are so clean cut, so devoid of clutter or differences or variety. Where ever I move the surfaces are the same. I don’t have anywhere to turn my gaze to. There are no distractions to keep me interested in working. No colors, no objects.
Under my feet you feel flat. There is no topography for my body to adjust to, no forms to adapt to, no textures for my skin to sense. It has been straightforward going from beginning to end. I am offered a distraction free situation to set apart and deep-clean my movement practice. I’m dancing in a laboratory pretending that it reflects or resembles real life. Except it is real life: secluded, sheltered real life.
I am sorry to have resented you that way and for having taken you for granted, dear Dance Studio. For you are here and open for me, you give yourself for me to enter. I don’t always have access, but often I do. Even though I know you are unaccessible and exclusive for many others with much less means, even though you are this clean thing halfway up the air, you have made exception to me and you have welcomed me and you have supported my dancing. You have granted your floor under my feet and my feet have learned many things (but not how to wrap into the embrace of the earth), accomplished many things (but not running up a hill) and failed a few (in all categories).
I return to you time after time, dear Dance Studio. Even after rolling on a beach or burrowing my body under the forest bottom, I come back. I have the option of dancing on the streets but I rarely use it. It is here within you where I experiment, get wild, shake it. On the street and out in the world I walk, I run, I sit and I stand. Further and further into this categorization of movements and bodies — sedate bodies, formalized bodies, socialized bodies and dancing bodies, expressive bodies — we go by each act of separation we commit.
You, dear Studio, have given me asylum from the street and its ruthlessness and sweetness. Under your roof I have been sheltered from rain, cold, sun; but not always (mostly, though) from harassment or aggression.
Bodies brown, black, white, failed, scarred, marked move in the world and that movement is categorized and defined so it can be streamlined into suitable spaces. This categorizing fails us when resources fail (if not before), and it is the individual body that carries the experience and discipline of not fitting into defined spaces. We respond by creating more categories. More categories create more violence against individual bodies. This is how I keep coming back to you, dear Dance Studio: the shelter you give feels precious. But more categories just make more bodies fall outside. Access is not distributed evenly.

***

I wrote and spoke the above letter to Dance Studio during Chrysa Parkinson’s workshop yesterday. (I have edited it a little, mostly the day after the workshop.) Navigating art spaces and a city as an artist is a complicated mess of challenges and privileges. The previous day we (the workshop participants) had walked outside on the streets in Soma of San Francisco in twos, talking of another exercise. We strolled back and forth for the allotted 14 minutes engrossed in telling each other our thoughts. My partner and I were harassed by some men but hardly noticed from working and passed by it without reaction.
Later in discussion Chrysa commented that working creates a boundary. The boundary here was different from the one I had experienced during a residency in the Tenderloin of San Francisco two years earlier. This time the boundary by working made us as women resilient to harassment. The boundary we unknowingly had around us in 2014 was one that seemed to prevent harassment.
(Right now I am not talking about this in order to find what people do or don’t do when they encounter street harassment.) I am interested in thinking about the technologies or architectures inside of and outside of bodies that define whether the presence and movement of bodies is allowed or disciplined in various places. Meanwhile my ideal is a boundary around every conscious being - a boundary that is respected by all others regardless of time and context, and that helps us to treat each other kindly. My ideal are places that are hybrid and open according to need for shelter and creative activities.

In 2014 the main event of THIS IS WHAT I WANT Festival (or TIWIW) took place in the new CounterPulse building 80 Turk Street. CounterPulse is an arts organization that supports cutting edge performing arts, especially dance. It has a history of activism and community building, but moving into Tenderloin was a move by an established arts organization into one of the poorest San Francisco neighborhoods. In recent years the largest social change in the Bay Area has been displacement of low income people, communities of color, mom and pop stores, and small art spaces by affluent people, high end businesses and tech companies. In the spring of 2014 the TIWIW resident artists (of which I was one) were acutely conscious that creative professions are usually the first ones to move into “affordable” neighborhoods and that all those (other) privileged groups often follow.
We found ourselves in the act of possibly creating displacement through the afore mentioned mechanism. Lead by TIWIW artistic director Tessa Wills we wanted to take part in the neighborhood outreach CounterPulse was doing — and it needed to be concrete acts that would shape our creative process. There are some problems in this, as whether it was more gesturing than socially effective, but what remains is that human connection was the foundation we wanted to build. The first we did was to just hang on the street in front of 80 Turk and to talk with people. The building was an old porn theater with paintings of exotic dancers on its window panes and a giant sign that read “Dollhouse”. We all were youngish female-identified artists. Standing in front of the building seemed to create confusion in area residents and the police alike. We had plenty of opportunities to explain who we were and what we were doing: artists working in the recently converted building seeking to connect with the community. Everyone we talked with was friendly and respectful.
In all cases I described in these texts we — female (identified) artists — were working but the boundary it created or that was built around us was different.

***

2018:

For how long should I walk and sit and stand on a street in a strange neighborhood that belongs to people from a very different culture than I am from, for how long should I connect with those people to start to know something about the area, and to belong a little to those people? Is it possible for a bunch of artists from more or less white middle class circumstances to come into a new neighborhood and connect with the local people by doing the same thing we do everywhere else?
How long should I stay outside in a neighborhood and dance on its alleys and in little venues instead of dedicated, empty studio space, before I feel comfortable dancing in the world? Is it possible for anyone to be (fully) comfortable dancing outside in the urban environment as long as there are dedicated, empty studio spaces with selective access? Is my question at all relevant to people from different circumstances?
This reminds me of this: There is a person who has talked to people on the streets of San Francisco for many years with the purpose of documenting their creative projects and entrepreneurship. You can find his photos on Instagram under the name Mission Gold. The work is about the people he encounters. He has connected with this community for years. Yet he himself lives in a very different world. I respect his work based on the little I know about it. What I learn from his work is this: when one goes out into someone else's world the work necessarily always is about the people in that world. Respect and lack of illusions about own place in that world are the basis of the work. Your own process is about you in the "new" reality, but your own process should be private (unless it will help someone maybe.). Your private process should be about you growing. When we make work which is not about and serving someone else that work should happen in your own world. But in my case, what is my own world? The empty studio? What a wonderful and privileged and empty and sad that world is. What other places do I belong to? What questions do those places have to offer? What dances will we dance there?
I'm in the process of finding those places. What and how I can dance in the worlds I belong to are forming.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Brushing with Dance Dramaturgy


I went to a class taught by Keith Hennessy at the 2015 FRESH Festival. Some of the exercises he had set for us posed the question: What is it that you actually do when you arrange a dance for sharing?

We seem to agree on that the kind of analysis of their work I, and many other choreographers, do during the process would be called dramaturgy if done by another person dedicated to the task.
To me it seems that what dramaturgy means in dance becomes defined by how and what you do. Every discussion predictably arrives at it being a wide concept.

Discussing dance dramaturgy seems to be tied to a certain era of European dance. It has a lot to do with resources: who can afford to have a person dedicated to research and discussion in their project. In terms of the projects produced in that time Keith talked about the desire to produce well researched and thematically focused work that eventually seemed to turn every piece more or less the same.

(To me it may look like that after any trend has reigned enough time in Western dance. And how hard are we / am I attached to the Western demand of continuous renewal, reincarnation, rebirth, recreation, renaissance? More of that some other time.)

So, what would dance dramaturgy mean after that time has passed? What now after a while of messier fleshier dance pieces?

Here is what I want, and need as a choreographer and audience: I am still looking for that connection between what should never have been separated because they are not separate, body and mind. Dance dramaturgy is in a pretty unique position to bring it.

Sunday, December 1, 2013