I have titled this lecture:
Choreographing the Choreography: a performance installation engaging ordinary objects toward the illumination of (extra)ordinary, extant choreography.
This project is about offering an intimate encounter with my ongoing investigations into the ignition and handling of embodied history in the making and performing of dances. Extending from the premise that the choreographers’ artistic materials, the body and its relationship to space and time, are imbued with extant choreography, I am probing how does the choreographer choreograph the choreography? And further, How might objects illuminate extant choreography, destabilize the operation of habit and demand a more rigorous state of consciousness in performance?
My solo performance of Jamboree for One which you have just witnessed takes as its departure point the way inanimate and ordinary objects can transform into animated companions in the life of an isolated or lonely person. In her book, How to be alone, Sara Maitland says, There is a good deal of anecdotal evidence that doing things alone intensifies the emotional experience; we see and notice more and experience both the environment and physical response to it in a very clear direct way.
Focal in the environment I have set up for Jamboree for One is the single chair – this most anthropomorphic of objects offering company for and a mirror of, the solo performer. Other objects engaged include cushions, homemade instruments and a loaf of white bread. For me this work is set in a strange but partially identifiable landscape inside of which I excursion with express logic. Through the slow unfolding of the choreography I hope that I might draw attention to our perceptions of and responses to the mundane or nothing moments of our day-to-day existence.
While tonight you have witnessed Jamboree for One in a traditional sense from beginning to end, it can also be seen, and I would in fact like it to be seen, take up from any point in its duration. Perhaps you can imagine finding me at a random place in the choreography – sliding like a mermaid, pushing the chair, or feeding the birds with my loaf of white bread…
During the 1950’s the choreographer Doris Humphrey wrote in her book – The Art of Making Dances,
“ The choreographer’s medium is the body, which is an extremely practical and tangible piece of goods, much more so than words, musical notes or paint. It already has a definite shape, and is equipped with a highly complex system of levers, limbs, nerves and muscles, plus a lived-in personality with entrenched ways of its own. I should say that the first mark of the potential choreographer is a knowledge of, or at least a great curiosity about, the body – not just his own, but the heterogeneous mixture of bodies which people his environment.”
I have a great curiosity about the human body, no doubt something that was enlarged during my training as an Alexander Technique teacher. Alexander technique is a technique for psychophysical reeducation and works with changing habitual movement and postural patterns. I am also curious about how to stay curious. Working with objects in my choreographic practice has helped me to stay curious and provided a fresh pallet of movement options.
I have found that ordinary objects used in the context of dance afford movement pathways that would not have otherwise been chosen. These movements lay somewhere between ordinary and dancerly. Sure, I might pick up a loaf of bread in the same way I usually do, but this is less often the case. Mostly I use rules or scored provocations to trick myself into a fresh handling of the object and a handling that includes my whole body, not only my arms or hands. What also keeps my handling of the objects fresh and in fact applies to the whole choreography, is my undoing of my knowing of what I am doing in order that I don’t become too familiar or accomplished.
It’s perhaps quite a strange thing to be aiming to not get too good at something, especially as a performer. My practice is very much influenced by my work with choreographer Deborah Hay who is a key figure from the early 1960’s Judson Dance Theatre movement in New York. In her most recent book, Using the sky, she writes,
“…everyone is consciously and unconsciously choreographed, by culture, gender, locale, politics, race, job, history, and so on. And later…Within the art form we call dance, I experiment with words to disrupt, often violently, conscious and unconscious movement behavior.”
Hay’s choreography is always provided to the dancer as a set of scored instruction along with an overarching performance meditation. Some of these meditations used over the years include:
“What if how you see while you are dancing is a means by which movement arises without looking for it?”
“What if where I am is what I need,” is not an examination of what I need but an examination of the question “what if where I am is what I need?”
“What if less is more is not less?”
I’d like to return now to the chair. This single chair (pointing to chair) as with most chairs, is saturated in a history of postures. We sit on chairs multiple times a day and mostly don’t think twice about them. In her introduction to her book The Chair Alexander technique teacher and professor of architecture Galen Cranz writes,
“We spend much of our waking lives in a chair. In our sedentary culture, we each have a choice of over two dozen seats throughout the routine of a day… We touch chairs not just with our hands but with our whole bodies. Yet despite their intimate place in our lives, we know little about them and their effects on us, physically and mentally. …What is true of the chair is true of all the artifacts we create. We design them; but once built, they shape us.” (Cranz, The Chair , 15.)
This beautifully describes the riches of the chair that I have uncovered in Jamboree for One particularly in terms of its tactile input; its capacity to inform my whole body. In making Jamboree for One I have become intimately acquainted with this chair (point to) – its scale, weight, negative spaces, edges, and surfaces. One choreographic score instruction you have witnessed tonight is to dance the impression of the chair. This is very much engaging with the idea that objects shape and impression our body and mind.
The chair is described as being a highly anthropomorphic object – it has human qualities. In her book Chair, professor in design history Anne Massey writes,
“The chair has a strong anthropomorphic aspect to its structure with legs, arms, back and seat. … it can represent its designer, or its owner, in their absence.”(Massey, Chair , 9.)
She even suggests that the previous sitter leaves an aura that we can sense.(Ibid, 9.) In Jamboree for One, I have experienced the way that the chair, both in its structure and in the absence of the sitter, offer a strong sense of another being to which I can relate or simply be companioned by.
I have long been interested in the degree to which my subconscious penetrates my choreography. Jamboree for One is no exception. I spent three months in hospital last year, one month of which was on full bed rest. I had to be wheeled around in a wheelchair. All the days blended into one long, slow rebuilding. The pushing around of the chair and laying under it as you have just witnessed, in my solo are two examples of the way my hospital stay impressed my body and imagination. I have long been a fan of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo whose work quite explicitly expresses medical trauma. I am also interested in Kahlo’s works for the sense of dialogic self or multiplicity of selves they convey. The work, The Two Frida’s (1939) with which you may be familiar, is of great interest for the way it depicts herself, a second chair and a second self, connected through the holding of hands. Historically artists have used chairs particularly in portraiture to represent identity.(Ibid.,181.) Their use ranges from being quite visible to purposefully hidden and also just the chair with the artist absent – for example in Van Gogh’s Van Gogh’s Chair (1889). Anne Masey writes,
“Artists portraits of their own chairs have been used to represent their character and emotions – how they see themselves, represented through this most anthropomorphic of furniture pieces.” (Ibid.,181.)
One more significant offering of the chair is the way that they, as Austrian artist Hans Schabus well describes,
“position us in a fixed frame, circumscribe distances and generate patterns of encounter, bringing people together, creating intimacy within groups, and influencing our actions, sensations and behavior.” (Austrian artist Hans Schabus in Anne Massey, Chair (London: Reaktion Books, 2011), 205-206.)
On that note, I’d like to hand over to you, sitting in your chairs whilst I sit in mine, and answer any questions you may have about the performance or those things I have briefly discussed tonight.