Dance Class Study
I went along to Julia’s Movement Class last Tuesday to draw, write and respond to it. It was a really pleasant experience. I took part in some of the warm ups and certain phrases, but could tag out to write notes or do a quick sketch if something popped into my head. No panic attacks ensued - huzzah!
Combining the physical with the cerebral was a lovely stretching of the brain and body simultaneously. I think the biggest benefit that I got from the class was listening to how Julia spoke about movement and the body.
Articulation was a key word and links in strongly to how I’m beginning to read dance:
As a conversation with bodies in space
This approach filters through in the language used around dance and in the methodology in creating movement based works.
We were encouraged to articulate our spines - stretching, arching and loosening them
A ‘phrase’ was a term used for a series of movements
The to and fro between bodies that shared a centre of gravity - creating a sense of both tension and togetherness - in the warm ups.
In Julia’s teaching, she would consult with the class and encourage a back and forth - altering the height of kicks or number of counts to better suit the collective
Contemporary dance/movement practice shares an aesthetic with my own practice that I haven’t put into words before. It’s pared back; the moves are sparse and uncluttered, props - if any - are minimal. There is an honesty of movement taking place and the drama doesn’t feel laboured.
That’s part of why I enjoy watching contemporary dance - it’s simple, meditative and elegant and allows you to appreciate the simplicity of the body without the dramatic ‘frills’ provided by intense costumes in the ballet etc. (Not that I dislike ballet - I’m a sucker for playing fancy, sipping wine and appreciating tutus and stage makeup; as long as I don’t have to pay for the ticket #sugardaddiesapplywithin)
Contemporary dance also has elements of the absurd and grotesque in it - there are glimpses of reality that flicker through - from frantic balloon patting to piling atop one another or grimacing while trying to haul oneself across a floor.
It’s not about beauty or being an object of desire and perfection. Some dancers engage the gaze of the audience straight on; offering a challenge or an argument. Works by (one of my heroes) Val Smith such as fuck me fuck you and Gay Shame Parade (Gutter Matters) introduce a strong sense of confrontation and discomfort for the viewer.
Fuck me fuck you - http://valvalvalsmithsmithsmith.blogspot.co.nz/p/fuck-me-fuck-you.html
Gutter Matters - http://valvalvalsmithsmithsmith.blogspot.co.nz/p/gutter-matters.html
I think also that dance, or any body-centred practice, has a strong element of feminism to it. I kept noticing how Julia would encourage us to stretch out, take a wide stance and big steps - to take up more space. There was also a lot of spinning involved - our hands became blades with which to cut the air around us, our legs whipped out and our knees snapped up at speed. There was a particular series of movements that took me back to my old Kung Fu lessons on delivering spinning kicks across the room (that’s right - don’t mess with me).
As women we are constantly taught to take up less space. To make room, to apologise for taking up more room than is deemed suitable. Allowing ourselves to unapologetically take up space and be the centre of our own universe is scandalous. It goes against the ingrained teachings of the patriarchy - we are taught from the outset to centre ourselves on the needs of others, never our own.
Here’s a light hearted but somewhat depressing blog on the matter of how men take up public space: Men Taking up Too Much Room on the Train - http://mentakingup2muchspaceonthetrain.tumblr.com/
And before the not-all-men-parade shows up ranting about “but testicles!” - I KNOW and I also know plenty of men who can sit without splaying their legs obnoxiously.
A super useful text on the women and the body in society - actually the first book on feminism, the body and society that I devoured in its entirety - is Unbearable Weight by Susan Bordo.
(It is problematic in that it’s all from a white, heterosexual woman’s perspective; but as an introductory, jargon-less book on body politics and feminism it’s great starter - to any younger women reading this post: let me know if you want to borrow my copy!)
Building on ideas about the body in public space, on Wednesday this week, Julia and I went on a drawing excursion around the central city. We took a series of photos, using our bodies as alternative lines and interjections in civic space.
Using VALIE EXPORT’s Body Configurations (1972-76) as a springboard, we produced a series of movements that re-read and subverted functional civic architecture (mostly newly installed as part of the rebuild).
VALIE EXPORT’s Body Configurations (1976) explored the private body as a public/civic citizen versus the expected roles and fitting in with the conformist culture of her native Austria.
“The failed conformity with the architectural structures, the geometric lines applied to the photographs, and the figure’s uneasy gymnastics emphasise the tension between the individual and the ideological and social forces that shape urban reality, registering the psychological effects of the but and natural environments.”
Another work that I realise was humming in the back of my head with this excursion was Fiona Connor’s as part of Scape 7. Her quiet installation Common Co-op Coop across the road from C1 Espresso explored the sculptural qualities of functional architecture and how they are used to create space and specific environments.
(At the time I found the work really cold and boring. I feel better about it now; but I would have liked to see it in a more activated space as opposed to an essentially deserted vacant lot. That’s the problems with installing art in public space, though - she probably had next to no choice of site.)
Julia and I had great conversations as the drawing developed. We meandered around the CBD, choosing objects quite intuitively.
At first, I had wanted to use sites of contention - the ill-conceived Convention Centre, the Cathedral, the empty site of the Majestic church etc. But it seemed a tad laboured with a narrow focus. It felt a bit like it’d be read as looking back and lamenting loss, whereas I want to look forward and create conversations - not eulogies. Making work in Christchurch is always going to be within a post-eq context - that’s unavoidable - this piece is more about how we can move forward together and examine where we’re at currently.
Fences, signs, bike racks, benches, hand rails - all presented sites ripe for interacting with. As objects they present a laden story of power, space and purpose. They are subtle methods of demarcating public space and the expected modes of operating within them. There were a lot of failed attempts at contorting ourselves to fit our chosen civic frameworks! From the physical impossibility of curving my spine around the brick ledge around a public drinking fountain to the incongruity between hard stone and prone form. Our playful, absurd actions disrupted existing spaces and presented new, abstracted readings of place and purpose.
On a formal level, it also allowed for casting fresh eyes over familiar spaces. I also noticed some parallels between the body shapes and the surrounds - yellow no parking lines lending and tram tracks in parallel with Julia’s facedown form. Yellow ‘danger’ tape sagging and swaying in the wind. Small armies of road cones, protecting work-in-progress upheavals in the pavement. The bodily proportions of gaps in bike racks…
In a city like Chch, where many changes are fast tracked and the public has not been a part of the process, an engagement and challenge of the status quo is essential. Fortunately, there have been enough voices to back the people and question the decisions made by CERA etc. Small but key victories such as the retention of the Town Hall and the use of The Commons for community activities are to be celebrated.
I’m not saying that our oddball poses - satisfying as they were - are going to change the city. They are more of a doodle, a teasing out of an idea in a visual sense for an alternative approach to where we live and how we incorporate ourselves in to it.
So this is it! This is the end of my research residency! I’m kind of sad to be losing the solid time allocated to research and making that this has afforded me.
I’d like to extend a HUGE thanks to Julia for her time, effort and support in this whole process. She’s provided a sounding board, a support structure, a spare body with which to make drawings and experiments, an in into a new and exciting community a fountain of knowledge in regards to the history of dance and has verified the importance of onomatopoeia as a communication method *purr purr*
The writing, thinking, moving and drawing has allowed me to create connections that I otherwise wouldn’t have made and got me thinking in new terminology. It’s also got me thinking about new works and possibilities.
I’ll be doing my research presentation on Tuesday evening at Sawtooth Studios from 7.30pm. Entry is by koha and there will be wine and nibbles.
Facebook event link: http://www.facebook.com/events/1501526586840396/
So if you’re in town, do please join us. I will be talking and mixing it up with performative and experiential elements and would love to have a variety of voices for discussions.
Thanks so much for having me!
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