A week ago I performed at a Movement Research work in progress showing with my friend Mindy. Mindy had signed up ages ago, knowing that when the time came she would want to show work. I traveled up from Virginia to stay with her and we made a little something the day before the showing. We talked about the piece in a bookstore near Prince St, and on the subway; we rehearsed in the park, during a few stolen minutes of time at her old dance studio, and on the roof.
The showing had a talkback afterwards, led by Alex Escalante, which I thought was the most productive part of the evening. Talking about work with your audience is important. Not necessarily answering all their questions, or heeding everything they have to day, but engaging each other in a dialogue.
Taking notes during the talkback I asked myself, ‘Why do I think a one to one relationship between elements in a piece is less interesting than a juxtaposed or abstract relationship between elements?’ I’ve realized by viewing dance over the years and hearing audience members speak, that a lot of the time a one to one relationship between at least two elements helps an audience member feel that they “get the piece” and therefore enjoy it more. But for me, I’m often more bored with that relationship. What I mean when I say a ‘one to one’ relationship is, for example, when the piece is centered around the concept of “struggle” and the movements are a physical struggle and the music portrays the story of a struggle or is rhythmically harsh or otherwise evokes struggle, and the facial expressions are pained … and so on. I suppose I am less interested when there is less complexity to weed through as a viewer, and this is one reason that I prefer work that is more abstract and juxtaposed. A few months ago I gave my friend Meg feedback on a piece she was working on, and the most pressing thing I could think of to say about her piece was the phrase, “benefits from complexity.” It seemed to me that her piece had a lot going on, but for the piece that it was, it benefitted from its complexity. And being a piece about the natural world around us, I saw that as fitting. The natural world certainly benefits from complexity. That’s what keeps life healthy and diverse. And so I suppose that when I watch dance I am looking for work that benefits from its own complexity, however that may present itself. Which perhaps is just another way of saying I like developed work. But perhaps it is a more specific way of asking for this. And I still love that phrase: benefits from complexity.
On the subway ride home from the showing, Mindy and Peter and I had an interesting conversation about “bad art.” What causes me to label something “bad” art? Surely bad art is a stepping stone to good art, and therefore valid and important? Or at least it is important to distinguish bad from good, so that we can have categories at all? But what if there is no bad category? What if there is only personal and societal aesthetics, and that what is “bad” is simply an aesthetic that those with power dislike? I’m not sure how I feel about labeling something bad art, although I do think I am very internally judgmental when I watch dance.
But what about when I can tell I don’t necessarily dislike the aesthetic, but that I feel a revulsion to what is happening onstage? By this I mean a magnetic pull to go away from what is happening onstage, a very visceral sensation that often causes me to close my eyes while watching dance. Is this magnetic revulsion a borrowed sense of embarrassment for the performers that I think are enacting “bad” work? I don’t think so. I think it is more than that. I think that I feel this revulsion and desire to go in the opposite direction when the work is inauthentic or undeveloped… however I find it difficult to use ‘authentic’ or ‘inauthentic’ as adjectives about anything other than something I was a part of creating. And so what am I feeling when I feel the need to look away from art, and how is that different from an accepted set of aesthetics, which are (often? always?) societally influenced (e.g. ballet is beautiful because it is upright and away from ‘earth,’ which signifies dirty…more on this in a different post, maybe)?
When Mindy, Peter and I were discussing this our discussion centered around a piece we had just seen that many audience members really loved, were impressed by, and thought was very connected and authentic. Mindy thought it was boring, and Peter and I both expressed the desire to look away, and to not partake.
I am finding that for once in my life I might be more eloquent speaking rather than writing. Who would have thought writing about dance conceptually would be so hard? And that I would prefer to do this kind of thinking with a friend, out loud?