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the following of tracks and other signs (2011) was a year-long, four-part project that approached my body and “the body” as a source of meaning-making. The name of the project comes from the 1911 Boy Scouts Handbook, in which boys were encouraged to pursue woodcrafting (or animal tracking) skills. To excel in woodcrafting meant, “not only the following of tracks and other signs, but it means to be able to read them.”[1] As the name suggests, I began this project as an investigation—trying to track the shifts in meaning and embodiment in my body and my dance-making practice that occurred over the course of a year.

Part I: Dailiness

Dailiness was a 4-month daily improvisational practice lasting from January-May, 2011. Each morning, I danced in a studio for 20 minutes without pause.[2] I had no score or directive—I simply moved. I videotaped this project each day to create an archive of my body; I spied on my physical experiences to understand on a more conscious level the body/self I inhabited daily.  I began this project as a way of acknowledging my body's role as my primary site of synthesis, an intelligent archive of my history, philosophy, experience, and relationships.  I wanted to privilege the kinesthetic as a mode of response, and simultaneously examine my responses through surveillance.

I had many questions at the start of this experience:  Would the daily practice translate into a more conscious understanding of myself and my creative practice? Would the repetition uncover something like essentiality? Could the practice work on the visceral or intuitive level to engage with the theoretical concepts I was reading? What would this practice do to my body?

On the surface, what this practice did was create hours of boring and nearly unwatchable footage (if anyone is interested, I do have video). It seemed like years of acculturating my body (through my dance training, through my sociocultural kinesthetic experiences) regurgitated in my daily movement choices. It was a difficult, tedious project with results that seemed problematic. Was I actually reinforcing these movement patterns and calcifying the oppressive kinesthetic effects of history/culture? And why did I desire such a ritualistic and repetitive work practice?

Part II: Liveness

Liveness developed in response to some of these questions and manifested in a live 7-minute solo that premiered in August 2011 at the Center for Performance Research in Brooklyn.  Looking at the repetitive drive present in Part I, I this solo referenced masculinity, americana, work ethic, and old-fashioned moral imperative of good deeds and good behavior. I was interested in my own obsessions and failures with habit and work, and looking creatively and critically at Part I. Why was I so obsessed with a daily practice? Were its roots located within the American habitus of hard work as the way to success?

Within the solo, I began to choreograph around some kinesthetic conceptualizations of hard work, honor and the honorable.  I studied the 1911 Boy Scouts Handbook as a primary source for many small boys understanding of honor and merit. I was intrigued with its philosophical stance: “There have been heroes, there have been scouts, and to be a scout means to be prepared to do the right thing at the right moment, no matter what the consequences may be. The way for achievement in big things is the preparing of one's self for doing the big things--by going into training and doing the little things well.”[3]  Was this idea of doing the small things well no matter what the consequences my essential drive in Part I? What are the political consequences of this moral imperative?

Each movement in the solo was crafted and careful—deliberately contained. My head repetitively nodded yes, a sedimented gesture that eventually develops into an off-balance lilt. To say yes is to give up control, my body seemed to say, even as it performed the deliberately controlled movements. Every movement was episodic and self-contained. These juxtaposed movement pieces began to have individuality and embodied character. The run became “run”, the flick of the wrist became “flick”—movements with individualized presence and character.

Part III: Transmit

In Transmit, I began to look at the meaning created through the making of the solo. I wanted to see how this embodied character of each movement would translate between my body and the body of another.  Where did the meaning lie? In the movements? In the idea of the movement? In my body’s execution of the movement? In the liveness of the performance? How would my understanding of the embodiment of the piece translate and transmit to other bodies, particularly bodies that were other genders, sexualities, races?

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I wrote a score detailing each movement in the piece using only words and images. I then gave it to three performers (Nico Brown, Nibia Pastrana Santiago, and Renee Archibald) to interpret as they wished.  I filmed each person individually in the location and costume of his/her choosing, executing the score as they saw fit.

This structure of transmission allows me to investigate my own interests in the mutable boundaries of bodily meaning.  Can meaning transmit between bodies in a fluid relationship like the structure I have created? Will the different embodied ideas “read” similarly on each of the different performers? On a male body and female body? A gay body and a straight body? An American and a Puerto Rican? A “trained” body and a body that is new to dance training?

 

Part IV: Document        

Document is the final section of the year-long project; it is a 23-page accompanying paper.  According to the Boy Scout Manual, following the tracks of meaning in my bodily practice necessarily requires me to not only follow tracks and signs, but also be able to read them.  This paper is my attempt at negotiating the practice of reading choreography and its translations of meaning on and through the body. It can be downloaded here.

 

 

[1]Boy Scouts Of America, BOY SCOUTS HANDBOOK The First Edition, 1911, Kindle Edition ed. (2009). Not Paginated. Chapter 1, Paragraph 12.

[2] I was introduced to this practice by choreographer Jeanine Durning in a 6-week choreographic workshop in 2010.   Deborah Hay also proposes this daily practice in her book, Deborah Hay, My Body, the Buddhist  (Hanover, NH: University Press of New England : Wesleyan University Press, 2000).

[3] America, BOY SCOUTS HANDBOOK The First Edition, 1911. Not paginated. Chapter 1, Paragraph 9-10.