Thursday, May 27, 2010

"Making a decision is an act of violence."

In her chapter on Violence in "A Director Prepares: seven essays on art and theater", Ann Bogart explains the painful and necessary act of making choices. Parts of which are available here:

Exhibit A

This came to mind sharply recently when I went to see a dance performance and wrote a criticism of the show. I'm still debating whether to include the review in this blog and it was not printed in the local newspaper, but I did show it to one of the choreographers (henceforth known as "Exhibit A"). The way I wrote of Exhibit A's work, apparently offended her, and the surprise at that realization led me to questioning what I value in dance and what the disconnect between our views might be.

One comment I made about this Exhibit A's piece was,
"I found the movement invention interesting, but I sometimes felt the transitions were unmotivated and unclear. "

Exhibit A was surprised at the criticism given that I liked the piece. My criticism, which I frequently have with dance, is that movement choices are arbitrary or appear so to the audience. When I discussed Exhibit A's work with her, I began to understand the dissonance I had felt watching the piece. The process of inquiry seemed to be missing from the choreography. Although Exhibit A thought she had made choices, really she had chosen one choice out of one. She did not inquire about further possibilities. Her choices were arbitrary. For me then, her work lacked the "violence", the tension that draws one in, the feeling that every moment is worthy of attention.
The choreographer wants me to pay attention to and care about something that they have not paid attention to...expletive, expletive, grumble.
One part of Exhibit A's piece I had questioned was a repeated motif of walking to a new section of the stage and then "doing something" (gestural movement). The dance consisted of a pattern (walk, do something, walk, do something). I asked Exhibit A "why?" (apparently a confrontational question!) She stated that she liked pedestrian movement. During our conversation I didn't say (but I'm saying now), "There are many movements I like. They do not always make it into my pieces." There were many movements in her piece that I liked in and of themselves, but in the context of a piece with a powerful motivating inspiration, unmotivated walking seemed a questionable choice, which I came to believe was actually a lack of choice altogether.

Unfortunately, Exhibit A is the norm, not the exception. What I've realized is that artists often think that they can simply allow inspiration to strike, and they don't like to evaluate their work. In addition, they tend to become attached to their ideas. Instead of using a process to choreograph, they accept the first answer they stumble across. As an audience member, I can only forget the process when it is clearly in place and respected by the choreographer. Like a good novel or good scientific article, good choreography can be evaluated using the Intellectual Standards of Critical Thinking. Many of us use these standards without consciously thinking of it, but in some, because it has never become transparent, they skip steps and then those skills atrophy through under-use. Because no decisions have been made and the piece has not been held up to inquiry, the best choices exist in the ether where none of us get to enjoy them.

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