Context Notes: Fresh Tracks
First Impressions and Enthusiasms:
A Compendium to Fresh Tracks 2014-15
by Jess Barbagallo
An artist’s digital ephemera makes a curious body to sift. We (sort of) thrive in an age where documentation of live performance and in-process experimentation is readily available – awesome, but by no means all-encompassing. In the following notes, I attempt slightly expanded readings of micro-moments in a range of past movement scores generated by this year’s 2014-15 Fresh Tracks Artists. By responding to the sensuous possibilities of pre-branded process-oriented work, I hope to maintain my wonder for dance and encourage a model of playful association in others.
To preview a survey of “early works” by this year’s 2014-15 Fresh Tracks Artists is to see an inspiring pattern of raw trying. Studio floors, folding chairs, disposable props, self-run techs, cameras aimed at ideas for two, six, ten minutes. Sometimes I learn these artists through a Kickstarter video, through the curator who just tapes everything, through the CV feature on the choreographer’s website or through a clarification: The song has been replaced … the tone is different … these samples don’t really share a dialogue of inquiry, but there is an active informational share occurring.
Like when Lindsay Reuter tells me about Good Evening, Strangers: “Yes, the solo you watched [at Judson, bearing the same name], which was composed as a letter to my brother Dan, has grown into a duet in which Dan is present. And the device of the letter is perhaps only vaguely relevant / useful anymore…”
She continues: “In terms of inviting him into the piece — he was always there in the composition as a ghost or memory or projection, and when I was invited for the Fresh Tracks audition, I wanted the audience to see the heft and breadth of our relationship, instead of me portraying it. This becomes a tricky field of representation, because Dan is a person with a developmental disability. He’s on the autism spectrum, which he will proudly tell you in conversation … [but] I do not want Dan assigned as the person with a (dis)ability, since I actually don’t think it is the case.”
In our correspondence, I tell Lindsay I’m writing about movement textures. I observe from her now-discarded draft that she dances like an unusually sensitive game of charades. And this makes sense when she explains the essential role of listening in her collaborative work. Other impressions: elbows up in abstracted spar, the world’s gentlest boxer. The words jogging, squared, butch. While watching A Line Story, performed with Kate Kernochan at Gowanus Arts in the fall of 2013, I’m musing: “What could be fun alone is better together.”
Work-in-progress kernels strike me like x-ray maps of the future.
Niall Jones at The Invisible Dog in the summer of 2014. He steps onto the bumpy white marley and makes his wrist actively limp. Limp wrist becomes long arm becomes extended hip. He reaches the downstage and something I cannot see (he has been partnering all along in this solo, we discover) ignites a deconstruction of his preen. This lightly played hands-over-head, coy beefcake pose stolen from the club or runway gets questioned, rewritten, falters right there on the body. I ask myself, “What is at risk when he dances how he likes to dance?” When he steps into the eager audience at Catch 63 and asks them to lay hands on his body. In that moment, he is very much here. So the participants lead him back to the stage.
The beauty of the phrase “lights up, lights down.” More props.
In studio-exclusive excerpts from Buoys for Escapees, Julie Mayo, clad in black athletic shorts and sleeveless button-up, rails against her life supports and leans into a small clutter of objects onstage: backpack, pink coat, black coat, two chairs not one; she removes her shirt. She clutches an iced coffee like the Holy Grail, explaining with tremendous focus: “These … they … can help with a lot of things.” This devotion buckles Mayo; the caffeinated dance literally puts her on her back. Totally absurd, totally great. And in the next moment, she is rushing to a stereo to play The O’Jays “For the Love of Money,” a manic energy fusing disparate elements into a gut-acceptable logic of nonsense, as she dances the ultimate full-body party dance.
In an interview with Jeanine Durning at the David R. White Studio at New York Live Arts in March 2013, Mayo explains this gelling energy that makes fragments feel of a whole: “There is something driving the work that isn’t visible to the eye … part of my practice is performing so there is this ‘happening, but structured’ element to the work.” In this equation, the x factor or cohering force is Mayo, and a joyful work ethos emerges, destabilizing the stuffy divide between rehearsal preparations and performance readiness. Liveness cannot be rehearsed. But through live practice, you can learn how to listen to a room.
Particularly if you insist on quiet.
Choreographic work that speaks to “off-ness” (see the plastic cup, the limp wrist, the phantom) makes a space where I can situate myself. A self-proclaimed awkward, clumsy mover, I gravitate toward the order of a clear composition. The physical organization of complex emotional states – one working definition of dance – allows me to hold and take what conventional, talky theatre (my habit) rarely can encompass.
For example: the feeling of unease that permeates the work of Same As Sister, a performance collective led by sister duo Hilary Brown and Briana Brown-Tipley. Teasers for Women Times Three (a riff on Vittorio de Sica’s Woman Times Seven featuring seven variations on a theme starring one actress) pulse with intimations of uncanny secrecy, the sound of water and suspenseful motions. One sister’s explosive tip and fall from a chair at the hands of her sister leads to an indefinable shaking and hints at lurking, unpredictable ever present anywhere violence. The juxtaposition of these elements with dream-like music by Beau Mullis (I’m reminded of Ariel Pink the way the sound moves between motifs, becomes blissfully blissed out) and video by Kit Tipley creates a wholly new universe on-stage that revels in a perverse celebration of the ominous.
How does one joyfully investigate the conditions of a nightmare?
Hilary Brown tells me the pair began their extensive research with the following question: “Is it possible to form a dance vocabulary that truly evokes feelings of horror?” Source material ranges from the films of Dario Argento to personal experiences of the horror genre to pictorial depictions of sirens throughout history in order to better understand predator and prey embodiments, and the seductions of terror from multiple vantage points. The emphasis on siren mythology particularly allows me to anticipate a feminist reclamation of the traditionally misogynist horror scene, as S.A.S. explores the terrain of female potential for victim and perpetrator status.
Finally, something entirely different, I might use the word elemental. He Jin Jang’s floor-centric compositions lead her back to the ground again and again, and through time. I watch work from her graduate days at Hollins University. Titles read like gentle philosophical treatises that also read like poems: Of the presence of “us-ness” (nowhere to hide), A practice of being together, Practice of Cost-effectiveness, Ethical Goodbyes (unread) … Fast forward to 2012, back on the blond floor at Judson, Jang shows an excerpt of a then work-in-progress for migrant-self the speed of the door. Fascinated spirals lead her from contemplative knee pose to her back and that return sticks with me. In this first exposure, Jang increases my consciousness regarding the air above my head.
I wonder about a process of return, fussily considering the passage of time between Jang’s Judson iteration of migrant-self … to her Fresh Tracks premiere of the work, both bearing the same title. I am moved by the model she teaches me, gently reconfiguring my understanding of time. Or the purism of practice-as-performance: “This piece is a “diagnostic piece” of which structure and contents shift as time passes by and I age. The version in 2012 will be different from the version 2015 and will be different when I perform this piece when I am 60-years-old (which I am planning on.)”
Sorting through these inquiries, looking for a pattern of investigation among disparate creativities, I have something better than thesis: anticipation. And an enthusiasm, generously supplied by Niall Jones. He writes:
how does subjectivity form the body
and then or before that
how does the body form choreography
and then or before that
how does choreography form the subject
and when do i swap the term subject for object?
wish we could’ve chatted before this correspondence.
i can say more, lots more.