Art Making, Artistic Process, Arts Leadership, Hiking the Horizontal

Artists without Edges

I’m recalling from memory an incident that happened over the summer. I was at a gathering of artists, curators, and presenters and an artist was asked about a recent quote, which referred to her work as “white girl art.”

The artist answered that she didn’t want to be put in any box, and certainly not that one. Of course she didn’t, no one wants to be put in a box because once you are in one, it is hard to get out. Artists know that if categorized in one way, it will be hard to get observers, presenters, critics and curators to see them in any other light. And so the denial begins. It is sad to watch, and sad to be in that circumstance.

I know all of this from experience. I have been at various times in the Jewish box, the modern dance box, the post-modern box, the female box, the middle aged female box and soon to be the old-female-white-girl box. If people could hold all these ideas at the same time, it wouldn’t be so bad, because I am all those things. What is detrimental to us all is when a label is applied as a single definition, which makes truth too simplistic.

Personally I love structure and structured thinking and I don’t mind the box imagery although as you can tell I hate the “you can only be in one” mentality that seems to accompany it. I don’t mind it because I know when the Jewish box knocks up against the postmodern box knocks up against the urban rural boxes…well great things can happen at those porous borders.

However, since I am at a new stage in my life, I would like to leave you with this: How about a group called Artists without Edges? No countries, no disciplines, no organizations, no boundaries, no edges. And then we can begin to redefine ourselves and be seen with the multiplicity.

Art Making, Artistic Process, Hiking the Horizontal, Teaching

Harvesting Intuition

I have been trying to harvest my own intuition.  I think of intuition as our knowledge…just really, really fast.  Before you can do this, you have to realize you are having an experience.   This might be something as conscious as moving improvisationally,  problem solving in rehearsal, or veering of the plan while teaching.  If I take the time to discover WHY I did what I did I can usually uncover some new tool, or concept or a particular variation that is worthy of note.

Recently, working with the wonderful dance program at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia we were engaged in just such a practice.  Students and faculty had gathered for a workshop.  I admire teachers who are willing to learn again in public, especially among their students, and on that day there were several present. I had just directed the whole group in a process  that included making some movement material that they could repeat. I asked them to pair up and then interview each other by asking,  “WHY did you do that” at certain key points in the phrase.  Usually this leads to naming a series of excellent choreographic practices that can become catalysts for future rehearsals.  They may begin the process with “I don’t know why I did that,” but if pursued by their interviewer with something like …”well lets say you did know what would you call it” and then all kinds of connections are made.  There was enthusiasm and great joy in the room as everyone realized how much knowledge was being excavated.

MANCC Photo by Chris Cameron

Performers from left to right: Ted Johnson, Alli Ross, Keith Thompson, Marjani Forte, Tamara Pullman & George Hirsch. Photo courtesy of Chris Cameron of MANCC

Later I was approached by one of the teachers, Rob Kitsos who said to me “I hate that word WHY.” He went on to explain, that for him, the word meant he had to justify himself and his work.  He was tired of having to explain it to funders, or critics or even well meaning friends.

I had a moment of real comprehension.  Of course he hated it. It made him defensive and I believe that once we are defensive we cannot learn, or rather we cannot discover.    I responded with a newly articulated thought, taking place in that moment between us: I use WHY to lead to deeper inquiry and find it akin to that of wonder and awe.  I don’t think of the word as generating a justification.  Why did I do that comes with a tone of voice and a world view that suggest I did something magical and maybe I could figure out what it is.  Not that I had done something that needed to be justified.

How does the same word do such different things to us, and have such different outcomes?  I am so grateful to Rob Kitsos for the question he put to me that day. Because now I understand that there is a big difference between justification and wonderment and I intend to live with the latter.

Oh, and I think I am going to try it the next time I am asked to justify the need, the desire, the essence of art.  I will turn the why into wondering and turn the questioner into a co-researcher, harvesting their intuition too.

Art Making, Creative Aging, Hiking the Horizontal

An Older Body Getting Older Remembers

This essay is an excerpt from the upcoming paperback edition of my book of essays, Hiking the Horizontal

As I advance through my sixties, people are curious about my experience now that I am reaching the age of many of the older dancers with whom I’ve worked over the course of my career. I am curious too.

Sometimes I step off a curb and I think I am leaping again.

Sometimes when I picture my back curving it feels like I am dancing at summer camp.

Occasionally, if I put on the right shoes (for some reason mostly the plastic jellies), I can walk at a certain pace and put pressure on the ground in a certain way, and I really believe I can do all those steps and figures and phrases I used to do.

Or if I am in rehearsal and see an opportunity in front of me, a way for one dancer to touch another or a move that could happen between them, I am shocked—when I insert myself to demonstrate—that I can’t actually do it.

In fact I am astonished.

I think this must be what a phantom limb is like. The feeling is more real that reality. I am not sad or confused. I try to savor the experience. And who knows, maybe I did it after all.