Sunday, January 17, 2010

Drafting Dances

I'm currently working on dances inspired by the art of Georgia O'Keefe for 100Flowers, a dance concert featuring the work of Brenda Siegel and myself at the Stone Church in Brattleboro VT on Jan 30 and 31.

Brenda and I had discussed the idea for this concert almost a year ago, so I began toying with the idea last year and thus have had a lot of time to play with my pieces.

I've been thinking a great deal lately about the way that some artists (O'Keefe is a good example) come back to the same idea again and again and try to access that idea in different ways. This is something I wrote about in my review of Candice Salyers' work, "You are Welcome Here" (see below). I've noticed that following the work of one choreographer (or artist of any medium) over time and seeing the recurrence of various themes or motives, and the increasing depth at which an artist explores those motives is extremely satisfying for me as an audience member. I think that in other art forms, where the art is set down in a solid way and exists in the context of the stream of work that's been created it is easier to see---consider O'Keefe and her flowers, or her abstract landscapes, or her skyscrapers (not to mention the recurrence of methods of abstraction, color, shape etc.). However, choreographers do not exist separate from their past works either, and they are subject to the same obsessions.

I am a case in point. I began working on one of my Georgia O'Keefe pieces (based on her Jack in the Pulpit abstractions) last year. I performed the solo (Jack-in (and out of)-the-Pulpit) at Open Marley Night at Experimental Movement Concepts (Baltimore). The piece at that time was a merging of the shapes I saw in the flower painting and the emotional feeling I got from the painting tossed together with my own emotional garbage of that time. This is not the type of work I normally do, and I was uncomfortable with it. I felt it was too literal, too emotional and not cohesive or well-crafted.

Months later, I began to re-work the piece and decided that I wanted to use this literal and emotional movement and re-interpret it against very different music in order to show that the same solo with changes only in tempo, music and facing was not the same piece at all. The piece was performed in progress at Keene State College in November and fell flat completely. Juxtaposing the vastly different moods created a feeling of disconnect amongst people in the audience and I was still not comfortable with the piece, which somehow felt both too personal and untrue.

However, by this time, while I still felt the "emotional garbage" attached to the piece was somehow making it difficult to turn into real "art", I was also obsessed (like really obsessed) with the puzzle of how to use this movement and create different effects. The movement material for the piece is not (I don't think) extremely inventive, and it is often literal---however, I'm convinced that much of the "meaning" we attribute to dance has more to do with the context in which we present the movement than with the movement itself.

The Jack-in-the-pulpit Series by Georgia O'Keefe includes six paintings. In my initial choreography, I had only looked at two. I began to realize, that O'Keefe had looked at the flower and chosen to interpret six different elements of that flower. I decided to turn my piece into a suite, a series, and interpret multiple perspectives of the emotional, shape-oriented and constructive elements of the original piece.

At the first Official Alumni Dance Concert at Keene State (Dec. 1, 2009), I presented two parts of my Jack-in-the-Pulpit Series. Part II: Jack-in (and out of)-the-Pulpit is a duet in which the original solo is presented by one dancer, while the other dancer sits and takes notes while observing the soloist and smoking a cigar (a la Freud). The first solo is extra emotional, slow and with very literal, music. The soloist does not seem to notice the other dancer. At the end of the first solo, there is an interaction (in silence) where the second dancer drops the notebook and pen and comes up to the first dancer, hands her the cigar (which the first dancer views with disgust and confusion) and then repeats the solo in a new facing at double time and with very different music (still with literal lyrics). The first soloist views this in confusion and disbelief, and the second soloist is clearly performing for the benefit of the first.

Part III: the jack-in-the-pulpit is a broken flower is a solo, performed in silence in an intimate proximity to the audience. In this section, there are piles of novels stacked in towers in a row, and the dancer is partially obscured by the books as she performs the same movement material and interacts with the books. She also reads text from the books out loud.

I have not yet finished and presented Part I: Jack-in-the-Pulpit Abstraction, but the piece will be a group piece and (using the same movement material) will present the abstract shapes and images from the paintings without the emotional subtext. On January 30 and 31, the parts will be performed in order as one piece.

My hope is that the repeated viewing (in a short enough time to see the connections clearly) will add interest to the work for the audience. It has been interesting (obsessing also) to me that the re-visiting of the material started out on a meta-level for this piece (perform, revise, perform) and has become so consuming as to drive the piece itself. Interpret; re-interpret.

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