Thursday, September 27, 2007

mildly organized thoughts

I found myself relating very much to the article as a dancer. In contrast to Sarah Rosner, I have spent much of my dance career taking ballet, jazz and classic modern dance techniques. I was very much reminded of ballet, but I was also reminded very much of classic modern dance techniques! Consider a Graham class: it is not enough just to contract and release. One must cup the hands just so, tilt the head just so, as was the case in many of the directions for activities in the reading.

Also, I was reading information on Laban (as many of us were) for Rose Anne at the same time. The specificity in Laban's work could be used to the same end! And consider how much more disciplined dancing bodies could become if we all worked from highly specific notations!

Despite the obvious links to classical technique, I found certain other ideas even more interesting to consider. For example the idea of coercion - that the power structure is being so fully and well imposed because of the fact that it's being slipped in the back door, so to speak. "Small acts of cunning endowed with a great power of diffusion, subtle arrangements, apparently innocent, but profoundly suspicious," (p. 139). It's not being beaten into people, it's "proper" execution is being rewarded. It is being made convenient. I think that these ideas have a very great relationship to the more "open" versions of modern and contemporary dance technique. Even when we are not working from highly stylized and codified techniques, we are still being instructed by a teacher, being ordered into levels, being auditioned for placement and so on. Therefore if we are properly disciplined in WHATEVER is the "proper" kind of "technique" (even if that is merely a general body awareness?), we are being subject to a certain power structure based on WHO decided what is "proper".

Also, Foucault talked about scenarios in which individuals were more fully controlled when their superiors created living arrangements for them to remain grouped together and within the confines of the institution. This is most perfectly exemplified in colleges and universities. It is also exemplefied in the traditional arrangements of dance festivals. You travel to the festival, and you live and work with dancers, in the place where the dancing happens, for as long as you remain at the festival. This can also happen when a company tours - wherever they go, their bookings are together. You are never separated from your fellow dancers. Or the choreographer.

Which brings me to my most troubling point. How does one act as a choreographer and not play into this power dynamic? Regardless of what technique or style one is working in, choreographers tend to want specificity from their dancers. I know I do. But attention to detail is, according to Foucault, one of the greatest arenas for control. In an article I read this summer, Anne Bogart wrote, "Art is violent. To be decisive is Violent. . . . To place a chair at a particular angle on the stage destroys every other possible choice, every other option." Choreographer Stephanie Skura wrote in "The Politics of Method": "Dance is political not only because of its subject matter but because of the way dances are made, how they are structured, and what they show about people relating to each other." She goes on to discuss the manner in which dances are traditionally made: an idea, often even including movement/steps, comes from the choreographer, who then sets it on the dancers. So the dancers are doing her/his idea, and often even her/his steps. She questions, I believe rightly so, how a dance with liberal subject matter and ideas can be made with a conservative use of bodies - how a dance can be "about" not exploiting individuals, when all the dancers line up and move in unison or careful canon in traditionalist spatial design.

There are other ways to think about dance and power relationships, however. As Sarah Rosner pointed out, more and more dancers ARE being asked to be part of the creative process, to improvise, etc. Even the idea in modern dance that anyone who can dance can make dances is infinitely more democratic (in its true sense) than ballet traditionally has been.

There is definitely power that a dancer gains by having a "disciplined" body. The greater a dancers awareness of her own body in space and time is, the greater her own capabilities to make decisions with it are. Even in a class or a traditional choreographic setting can be seen this way. If a dancer has training in multiple forms and styles, is versatile, then she can choose to portray a choreographer or teacher's directions in any of those ways. For example, in any given combination, I have the power to control whether my foot is pointed flexed, winged, sickled, relaxed, or in constant motion. The teacher or choreographer can present me with directions and images, but ultimately, I have enough control over my own body to make a choice about the status of my foot. I can choose to disobey.

This calls to mind Teaching Conference. Rose Anne has been describing the teaching of creative movement to young children as a process of guiding them to their own movement and their own creativity (as opposed to giving them steps). Similarly, I overheard Barbara talking to one of the ballet 3 students, telling her that her goal is to lead the students to the place where they can be asking the questions of technique for themselves, and she doesn't point out the questions, but rather just helps guide them to the answer that works for them. Emily has said similar things to me. Sarah Lawrence, I find, is an interesting institution in that it guides you through self discovery. Yet it is a long standing institution. I'm not sure how I reconcile these ideas yet.

I feel as though I'm starting to ramble, so I'll just say one more thing:

I am frightened by how docile we have become as a people. Granted, we no longer sit "just so" at our desks. But generations of training and docility have effectively bred rebellion and dissention out of us, I fear. (I'm sure this also has to do with the disappointments of past rebellions and revolutions - such as the deaths of JFK, Dr. King, and RFK in such short succession during the '60s). We are so docile that we are apathetic. We don't know how many of our rights are being usurped in this time of war, and we don't care to find out. I think that being part of the internet generation affects our apathy as well. We post a bulletin on facebook or myspace instead of going to a rally. I am sure that books could be written on the correlations between apathy and the under-active, undersocialized bodies of our current age.

I think that's it for now.

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