To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, performance maker Sam Johnson shares his perspective on Saturday night’s performance of Choreographers’ Evening 2017, curated by Megan Mayer.
I’m not sure why I agreed to write this.
After I agreed to it, or really as I agreed to it, I was like, “Shit, now I’m going to feel all this pressure to sound smart. And I don’t know about dance right now, and I have several friends showing work, and why should my opinion get privileged anyway?” My next thought was that it would be okay, I’d just include a little subjectivity disclaimer at the beginning of my review. But then I was like, “No, that’s boring. That’s just a way to not have to stand behind what you write.”
But clearly I got over that.
The truth is that although I read a lot of reviews of dance, I also think they are pretty unnecessary for the performance field, for artists, or for audiences. I think they keep us in a cycle of competition, approval, and a valuing of text/thought legibility that potentially devalues dance as a lived experience. My favorite dance writers reveal their subjectivity over time through their writing so that as I read more and more of what they write I develop my own personal relationship with them. I’m able to react, agree, and argue with their writing like I would with a friend or colleague. But I don’t have time for that, or the desire to embark on a consistent writing practice right now.
So, going into Choreographers’ Evening I decided not to write a review. I decided I would just try to track my thoughts as I sat there. I would write down whatever came into my mind. As the first piece started I went to start writing and realized my pen was out of ink. So I didn’t do that.
Now it’s Sunday night, a day after. I’m going to do my best to write down what was drifting in my head during the show. I’m not going to worry about cohesiveness or relatability. I’m not going to link my thoughts to pieces except where I need to. I’m not writing in chronological order or order of importance. I’m not going to provide evidence or justify my responses. I want to mention that I’ve talked to several people about the show since seeing it, so inevitably my remembering will be altered by that. I’m wondering if these thoughts, if experience, becomes the thing that moves away with me. That it is no longer relational to the dances, but instead these are the things that I have now from that. I’m not sure that is right.
Unison dancing as group formation, as a way to define limits around who is in and who is out.
Dance as environment. Or dance as contributor to environment, as a way to see a setting rather than individuals within the setting. Or maybe it is dance/movement as a signifier of the environment as played out in bodies.
I’m curious about so much culture being visual and how that is affecting dance. I think about how a saturation of images is altering how I see movement and how a saturation of images might be altering how dance is made.
Technique as a way to telegraph virtuosity and a way to slide into a narrative of validation. I’m endlessly reinvigorated by what the body can do, and also I wonder if the story of what the body can do has taken up too much space for me.
Failure and success. How we can succeed at displays of failure.
Gabe’s shoe slides across the floor and pulls up the marley floor covering just for a split second. I think. As soon as it happens I’m not sure it did happen, and then it doesn’t seem to affect anything the whole rest of the night. In Megan’s opening talk it felt like she encouraged us to recognize both our personal contexts and some shared reality of being in space and time together. This marley peeling up, this small tear in the surface, seems like one possible answer of how to acknowledge this.
Whether theory might drown out the live experience of performance. Or more precisely if performance should care about science. Or if valuing dance as a way to know the world means that we can’t know what we will know until we do the thing and embody the results and do the other thing. And if the talking about the idea of the thing feels more fun/interesting/intriguing than the thing itself then could the thing be forgotten and I could just read your paper?
The value of watching others physicalize and retell catharsis. The ways this forms the audience and performers into a group. This kind of synchronicity of emotional response that lets me remove myself from judgment. The desire to become with and through someone else’s enacting.
How much I fucking love to watch bodies.
My awareness of the complications imposed by my white, male gaze.
My thankfulness for the vulnerability of occupying a large, empty space.
My fascination with how people respond to being on stage.
I’ve known Erin for 20 years. I feel the layers of history, nostalgia, and tenderness while I’m laughing. I wonder if I am laughing too loud. I wonder if this is really that funny. I wonder where on earth I got the idea that I should be wondering if something is really that funny.
I have a craving for someone to go all the way up to the upstage corner. I want some distance, some loneliness. It would be a relief if they would turn away from me.
I wonder if Charles is making a reference to Trisha Brown with that costume.
I wonder if flipping Spanish Dance from a vertical line of knees, pelvises, backs, shoulders, breasts, faces, hair, and skulls touching to a horizontal line of sides of bodies touching is a recognition of frontal-ness and our desire for acknowledgement and fame. If this is an intentional individualizing.
I notice a narrative of needing to break from form, to release into bigger/softer/freer. I’m not sure if this is actually in the work or if it just a cultural narrative that I both hold and question, and so am on the look out for it always.
Why do we keep doing this show of little pieces? Cynically I wonder if we like getting all of the opportunities to approve or disapprove. Every seven minutes we get to decide again if the thing is good or bad. And by the time we decide, the thing is almost over and we get to judge again. We get to reframe the experience as being about us, our likes and dislikes, and don’t have to sit with anything long enough to give it it’s own life. Optimistically I wonder if it offers up this myriad of ways that dance can generate meaning, and that we get to both experience these ways in relation to each other and find out what ways resonate the most with us as audience members, and that this broadens and deepens how we might engage with dance in our lives.
Live musicians as visual information less obscured than dancers as sonic information. Noticing how my focus scans for and is drawn towards intention.
Precision, tasks with unknown origins and intentions performed at high stakes, and repetition all really float my boat.
I perk up in my seat when I feel like, what the fuck? When I think I know what is going on and then realize that I have misread an intention, or someone takes me in a different direction. I perk up because it means I get to go back to work, get to reorganize my relationship to sense.
I notice how as soon as a film starts playing in a dance I have an immediate assumption that what is happening on the screen will pull my attention. I notice my bias. I notice that repetition and exhaustion, getting to see something crumble a little, not having to read shifting attention in each moment lets me mediate my focus in a really satisfying way.
Group unison movement gives me such a clear sense of intention from performers, which, when done well, allows my mind to relax into the back of my head and lets me notice my kinesthetic empathy. My body noticing becomes the lead.