October 23, 2014

Hope Mohr Dance / Have we come a long way, baby?

The Bridge Project 2014:
Have We Come A Long Way, Baby?

Hope Mohr Dance
in association with Joe Goode Annex

Sep 26, 2014

From the program:
“For its fifth anniversary, HMD's Bridge Project presents Have We Come A Long Way, Baby?, a program that celebrates and explores a West Coast post-modern dance lineage through an intergenerational lineup of female soloists.”

Anna Halprin
The Courtesan and the Crone (1999)

Anna Halprin, one of the most innovative, experimental and influential of dance artists, performed a mime piece; a five minute dance-theater work wearing a Venetian mask that was a gift from her daughter and a floor-length gold cloak that she previously wore to the White House. 94 years old. Fragile. Eager to make contact. To move. To move us. To touch. I felt lucky to share this moment that vastly transcended the actual choreography and yet of course was deeply implicated in its embodied narrative and mimicry, desire and nostalgia, power and loss. Halprin's courtesan was articulate and unabashed. She presented the mask of a younger woman and the body that still remembers her, at least in gestural fragments. Her crone fluctuated between grief – what have I become? – and a calm resolve or affirmation. We applauded. Anna smiled and bowed and exited carefully, each step significant.

Simone Forti
News Animation (1980-current)

An improvisation about water, Syria, cockroaches, a baby... is also an improvisation about Simone Forti, aging, improvisation, politics, and art. A way or reading and re-reading the news, News Animation, since 1980, has modeled a creative process for bridging the many gaps between Forti's (and perhaps y/our) lived experience and the political realities presented and framed as news. White haired and 70 plus, she knows her body, how it can get to the floor and back up without excessive effort, how it feels.

Meandering movement – she reveals an artist looking and finding – but then the mood shifts sharply as she walks directly toward us, speaking, “So we're bombing Syria. And we don't know why. And they tell us it's to protect the homeland. (pause) The homeland.” It's easy to say that of course we should be talking about Syria today and of course we don't know how, especially in public. Forti accepts this ethical challenge gracefully. “We want the borders that we established after WWI to hold.” Is it her age, her quivering gestures, the humbleness of the situation (a small studio theater, an audience of dance people) that help us to see the tragic absurdity in this statement? With her head gently bobbing beyond her control, she gestures, “If I'm the map, Iran is on this side (right thigh), and Saudi Arabia is on this side (left thigh), and Iraq is here (hands form a triangle over her crotch).” I'm reminded of Deena Metzger's late 70s or early 80s efforts to map the world onto the body, a feminist imaginary that recognizes the many resonances between one's body and one's world, between one's perception and one's projection. Considering her own body/mind/self, Metzger asked questions like, where are my borders open and where are they fortified? Where is there starvation or drought? Where are the rivers dammed and where are the war zones?

Forti emerges from a similar era of feminism and an art scene whose political critique of art and society led them to share creative process as “product” (Prioritizing “practice” as Arrington and Hewit might assert). For News Animation, Forti reads a newspaper and takes notes in the form of poetic journaling. In tonight's performance the notes were read live, an exposure of process but also a deepening of the material, revisiting it but from the past, rewinding time to reconsider the now. “Colonialism. I can never remember so I reach for my colon.” Her body grounds and recontextualizes language, perhaps patriarchy and its logic as well. Reading from a notebook, head bowed to the page, white hair vibrating with her shakes, she recounts a dream of power men and their penises and closed sexual circuits that exclude everyone else.

A dance with a white sweater and scarf shifts unexpectedly into a story of fish that know how to organize in solidarity and resistance. Forti is a gentle master. Using the tactics of innocent (or is it subversive) children's theater, she transforms the clothing into a snowy Montana horizon along her body (mountain), and then admits to failing to represent the milky way... Perfect and imperfect, her imagination always in process of both refinement and wilding, an ethical feminist artist researcher child whose failures are gateways to magic.

Lucinda Childs
Carnation (1964)
Performed by Hope Mohr

White chair. Black table. Red leotard. Blue jeans. Her right foot in a blue plastic bag. A kitchen sieve treated as an iconic or holy object. Carefully she constructs sandwiches from green sponges and pre-cut carrots that fit the width of the sponge. Color and form redux: Fluxus tasks, Dada disruptions, Judson deconstructions. Carrots ceremoniously inserted into sieve create an altar of orange radiance, then a crown when place delicately on her head. Many sponges are stacked vertically and one end inserted into her mouth. The mask is further manipulated by cramming the fanned gaps of the sponges with the carrots from her crown. The game ends by spitting everything into the blue bag removed from her foot.

At the back wall she does a headstand. In precarious balancing she performs a circus act with socks and a white sheet and she disappears. Ta da! It recalls certain actions/images in Xavier LeRoy's Self Unfinished, created 34 years later.

She captures air in the plastic bag and it stands unsupported. Another circus act with magic fully exposed and yet it's still magical, that is, whimsical, unexpected, and previously unimagined. She looks at it. Stomps it. Smiles. Proudly. The smile turns on and off. Then she cries. Steps away. She performs tasks with arbitrary rules that must be obeyed. If this isn't the essence of art, it's one of them.

I propose this work for an Izzy: best reconstruction of 2014!

Hope Mohr
s(oft is) hard (2014)
Performed by Peiling Kao
Sound by Ben Juodvalkis, Video by David Szlasa, Costume by Keriann Egeland

We hear the sound of writing, by hand. A mix of knocking and scratching. Peiling faces away from the audience but her face, in close up, is projected, large, as if staring back at us. She is wearing black tights and a blue crocheted top. A voice over, Hope I presume, tells of writing 89 journals in 20 years. She recites specific dates but not the entry that follows... After reading through the journals while making this piece, the voice tells us that she recycled all of them except the first and the last, numbers 1 and 89. I believe her and vow to hold on to my old journals even tighter.

There is a more complicated relationship between text and movement, or language and embodiment, than in the previous works tonight's program. More dates. More sounds of writing. More silences. More shapes and gazes and self-touching gestures and other dancing movement. Minimal piano accompanies the continued chronological progression of dates...we're in the 90s...then 2000s. Video is intermittent. We switch from face cam to feet. Peiling's breath becomes the dominant text as her movement increases in vigor. Today's date. Tomorrow's date. She rolls and jumps repeatedly. A virtuosity that impresses, viscerally. On her back, the lights fade, slowly.

Deena Metzger
I can't find the actual reference that was a radio piece from the 80s but here's her current work:

Xavier LeRoy, Self Unfinished (1998)

I am an enemy of the slow fade to black at the end of a dance. Also the device of the blackout to begin a piece, to tell the audience that it has begun, and to allow the dancers to enter the space unseen (or the suggestion of unseen since I can almost always see and hear them). The framing of the stage or the theatrical moment with darkness is a cliché, a trope emptied of any specific meaning that carries more ideological weight than dancers in the US are taught to consider. In San Francisco I witness these devices at almost every concert I attend. In the “contemporary” dance scenes I frequent in Europe or New York, they are extremely rare, and when they occur they are more likely to be conceptually integral to the work.

October 10, 2014

This Is The Girl / Funsch Dance Experience, Sep 2014

This Is The Girl

Funsch Dance Experience
Sep 12-14, 2014
Dance Mission, SF

Observations and opinions by Keith Hennessy
followed by a comment by Christy Funsch

Choreographer Christy Funsch enters to give the (now) compulsory pre-show announcement that unnecessarily frames dance performances in SF... but with a twist... when we realize that the announcement is (integrated into) the performance. Information about exits and cell phones erodes into awkward silences and unfinished statements, until finally Funsch states, “I am nothing” and exits as if lost... This opening action reveal's Christy's dry (or is it wry?) sense of humor that threads through and sometimes even structures her work.

A woman in a red dress plays electric guitar with five young, fit, multiculti, dancers. Christy and Nol (Simonse) are the seasoned performers in this work, sometimes exaggerating their “experience” by playing old farts who need help from the young whippersnappers. When they chat, the text and performance are so unforced. The audience relaxes. It's easy to laugh along and enjoy. Later Christy tells me that the conversation is improvised. I say it's like watching old friends play together. Super charming. Amid family tales of sisters and coming out, they talk about story versus nonlinearity and ponder the relationship between construction and imagination.

SF choreographers never got the memo that unison movement is “out” or at least should be questioned and not assumed as integral to dance making. But then I think about how many companies based in SF (at least 5, maybe 6...) employ photographer RJ Muna to make them look practically indistinguishable, their (wannabe) sexy lithe bodies revealing lots of bare skin, leaping. Add some flying fabric for extra drama. Neo-classical modernism thrives here. That's not what Christy's doing with her young dancers, but it's a meandering rant that follows my questioning of her use of synchronized ensemble movement. What is possible to communicate, invoke, or inspire with dancing and when is unison the best tool or sign for choreography?

The next section involved the Dance Brigade's Grrrl Brigade on Taiko drums, led by Bruce Ghent. I thought Bruce's role was perhaps too big for a young female empowerment project but my main experience was of the joyful power of the taiko, and the particularly feminist approach to taiko that the Dance Brigade, with Bruce's coaching, has brilliantly pioneered. I don't know whether it was the thrill of the precision drumming or the ubiquitousness of teen girls in daisy dukes but I didn't notice at first how short the girls' denim shorts were. But when I did, they distracted me. How does fashion happen? Can shorts be too short? And would I be a terrible parent of a teenage femme?

The young dancers help out the fake-old dancers and everyone plays together – electric guitar, taiko teens, big showy dancing. What does dancing do? It invites me to ponder issues of age and power, of gender and sexuality, of color and racism, of the relationship between individual and group, of the invisible exchanges and collaborations from which choreography emerges. Maybe a better question is, “what does dancing want?” or “what do dancers and dance makers want?” But maybe not.

Nol joined the quintet for encounters of touching and measuring. I'm writing this in Rome from notes I scribbled in the program's margins three weeks ago. And this note doesn't trigger any memories. I wonder how long I've been watching Nol perform... more than a decade I'm sure. He's a generous dancer who plays well with others in so many different contexts. I loved seeing him outside a sprawling warehouse in Oakland in the work of Mary Armentrout and I remember being provocatively surprised when I finally saw him in his own work.

My notes kinda fall apart. I noted three slow pods, cuddling but not ________ then simply “taiko + dance” and an observation about recurring cross generational themes that made me re-assess my earlier comment about Bruce and the Grrrl Brigade.

The emotional tone of the work coalesced with the entrance of a team of young girls from the SF Community Music Center's Children's Chorus. The vibe intensified – I don't know how to describe it but something was happening – to all of us it seemed – the energetic-emotional field intensified when Christy and Nol started dancing, fierce at first and then in unison. “Horses in my dreams...” the girls sang. Teens hung out in the back, looking out windows, and although the image was 'staged' it didn't feel fake. It just felt good, like how it's supposed to be, and I mean the whole thing, all of us, sitting there in the dark and light. The person beside me started to cry which simply seemed like part of the plan, or part of the potential of the plan, as if (Christy's) choreography is not a plan but an invitation for an experience to happen, inside and among us.

The song ended. A light, fast, repeating dance moved upstage, with one dancer downstage center focusing our gaze into a four-generational world of music and dancing, in the Mission, where many of us live(d) and work(ed). And this history of place and creativity, while delicate, seemed neither precarious nor exceptional but just right, just right now.

Response by Christy Funsch, choreographer of This Is The Girl

One of the most difficult decisions I made in my recent full-length work, This is the Girl, was how to costume the teenage women of the Grrrl Brigade (who accompanied several sections of the work on Taiko). I allowed the six 8-year old girls from San Francisco's Community Center (who sang to accompany the last section of the work) to dress as they wished-why wouldn't I offer the same freedom to the teeagers?

Perhaps because it isn't so simple. Questions of who is in charge and in control of their presentation in public beleaguered my wrangling. Do they realize that they stand on the brink of our culture's vapid insistence on objectifying them? They study dance and music (and some have for ten years or more), with Krissy Keefer's Dance Brigade, a crucial, strident collection of women who have pushed back against mainstream depictions of femininity for decades. Surely some of this counter-cultural politic has rubbed off? Why, then, when given the choice of costuming, did they all decide to wear revealing, tight-fitting clothing very similar to each other's and very much emphasizing their physiques?
Should I have asked them to wear pajamas? Or martial arts clothing?

Most disappointing to me is owning that when I was wrangling over this decision I did not set aside time to have this conversation with them. I should have made it as much of a priority as getting their music rehearsed. It also brings up for me a larger query which served as subtext for the work, subtext that was latent perhaps but nonetheless alive in my decision to assemble an age-diverse cast for the work. Is there a time when we realize our place in power's structure? Does this happen at different times depending on where you are in the structure? How does our confidence shift when we grow from young girls into teenagers? What happens when we come into sexual awareness and how can we cultivate autonomy in young women when it happens-not just inside the household but all of us, culturally? Is provocative dress a sign of empowerment or compliance with expectations and objectification? Is it the height of conformity or a bold act of rebellion and resistance?

I don't know and will now have to (sadly) file under "conversations that didn't happen." I was so focused on the power implicit in the choreography (what I call "who is lifting whom"), that I missed an opportunity to engage the extended cast in this troubling, rich discussion.