We released the inaugural FRONT a year ago and watched it float between many hands. The conversations and connections that came out of the first edition extended well beyond what we had imagined. Print publications devoted to contemporary dance are all too rare, so FRONT got noticed. Thanks for the encouragement: Contact Quarterly, Conduit Dance, Inc., White Bird Dance, PICA, Nationale, Colleen Leonardi, Ann Cooper Albright and all of our supporters!
In the past months, we’ve been meeting in one another’s homes—or at bars—steering this paper forward by gathering written contributions from our peers in Portland and well beyond. We’ve softly focused this second edition on artists who provide platforms for other artists. We’ve gathered essays from itch + Meg Wolfe (Los Angeles), The Lucky Penny (Atlanta), Nomad Dance Academy (Balkans) and Performativity (Ukraine). These artist-run organizations have taken it upon themselves to nurture and manifest opportunity for present and future dance communities. Also in this second edition, you’ll find practitioners unpacking their doings in the Open 100; Conversation Chains linking creators, curators, dancers, collaborators and intellects; Photo Essays from close range; and the verve of live artists shaping their field.
Additionally, this year FRONT broadened its curatorial practices into event production through The Collision Series. Two performances brought together dancers, musicians, lighting designers and sound artists to improvise into the unknown, 45 minutes at a time. Left to their own devices, brilliant things happened: collective awareness, open builds, magic moments + hot, sweaty togetherness. Deep thanks to the artists, audiences and Conduit Dance, Inc. for supporting FRONT by way of The Collision Series. Your contributions have brought these pages to many eyes and minds.
Our process remains an experiment. It remains an open thing. It remains unstable, yet solidly intent on giving ideas. Here’s to ambitious discussions and awesomely interpretive paraphrases over lunch—paragraphs torn out and pasted into inspiration—copies for strangers! We hope you find something you like here. We hope you take issue with voices here. We hope you take issues with you to give away. Use your bag, binder, arms, hands. We present these words for you and for dance. More always.
Until next time, FRONT
/// OPEN 100 An odd little publication opportunity: Do whatever you want in the space of 100 words.
ANN COOPER ALBRIGHT (Oberlin) Falling
We live in a state of anxiety about things falling apart, and our bodies reflect that. What can the intentional practice of falling teach us about surviving this historical moment? Contact Improvisation teaches falling as an essential practice, one that radically refigures Western ideologies of falling as failure, giving us a new slant on the binary of up and down. The experience of falling can teach us a great deal about resiliency—physical as well as emotional and even economic resiliency—helping us to mitigate the vague panic that seems to have permeated almost everyone’s being these days.
LINDA AUSTIN (Portland) In my latest studio practice, part of an ongoing experiment to translate into dance what inspires me from other media, I dance the equivalent of a Proustian sentence, setting in motion one long phrase that lasts at least 10 minutes, timed or untimed, where each gesture—whether a slow unfurling or a chopped up mélange of non-sequiturs, a stuttering or a full stop, a word uttered or object hurled—is part of the unwinding of one complete thought, one that wanders and strays, or even knots itself up, but is felt as one thread of contemplation and action…
These excerpts appear in FRONT ed. 2 Vitus, November 2012. IMAGES: Jill Sigman by Andrew West + Keith Hennessy by Ian Douglas
Welcome to FRONT. The pages in your hands are an offering of affection and imagination. FRONT is devoted to diving into the depths of our tangled affections for contemporary dance and harnessing the collective imagination of those who share these affections. FRONT is dedicated to creating an expansive container for capturing the swell of contemporary discourse surrounding the form. It is a space for the movement of ideas. We thank you for allowing them to find a curve, pursue a line, and swing freely through your consideration.
We have titled our inaugural edition, Edition 1: Moves When Folded. Collapse , double over, create space, open up, and turn the pages. We have started, in part, by beginning to capture a snap shot of our community; a chorus of voices speaking to their own conceptions of and connections to dance and performance. This is an ongoing project. Our design is to offer a publication that is open to a spectrum of contributors willing to take on the satisfying responsibility of stewarding FRONT ever forward.
Writing about dance forces a fundamental issue, the lack of a neat tailoring of defined language. We wrestle with and fully bask in this reality here. We invite you to do the same.
Danielle, Noelle, Robert, and Tahni
THE CHAIN CONVERSATION: A > B // B > C // C > D
Chain Conversation #2
a. Woolly Mammoth Comes to Dinner > Karen Nelson > Daniel Lepkoff
b. Woolly Mammoth Comes to Dinner > MGM Grand
Woolly Mammoth Comes to Dinneris an aesthetically-inclined, trans-pop-culture, dance-therapy performance group formed in Portland, OR in 2006 by Katie Arrants, Kathleen Keogh, and Rikki Rothenberg.
Karen Nelson finds herself dancing, meditating, traveling, performing, practicing, and studying; embodying miraculous and gracious forms.
Daniel Lepkoff is a dancer; over the course of more than three decades he has looked closely at the interweaving of sensation, perception, and action arising in the body’s interactions with its environment and developed dance techniques for practicing and bringing this material on the stage.
MGM Grand is Biba Bell, Jmy Leary, and Piage Martin with R. McNeill (music). Since 2005, the group has been making highly structured dances, functioning as a touring entity that performs single dances in dozens of spaces.
FRONT > Woolly Mammoth Comes to Dinner: I feel like your work evokes a sense of mystery. What place does “deliberate” have in your work?
Woolly Mammoth Comes to Dinner: We are deliberate about encouraging honesty amongst each other. We are deliberate about making room for our own experiences and personal/individual creative impulses. We are deliberate about giving enough (but not too much) to the audience in order for them to have their own experience. If that creates a sense of mystery or a non-linear experience, we allow that.
We purposely allow the content to create the theme of the piece rather than the other way around. Authentic Movement is a large part of our rehearsal process. We create work and spend time with each other being/doing/creating the following: nurturing, stretching, interpersonally relating, being friends, listening, seeing, loving, being like family. These things create a safe place for entering and expressing risky and unknown places in the psyche with each other and consequently with the audience.
Woolly > Karen Nelson: How has your Buddhist practice influenced and/or changed your dancing over the years? Why do you think Woolly Mammoth likes you so much? How do you do what you do?
Karen Nelson: Actually, dancing and Buddhist practice came at the same time in my life so it’s difficult to distinguish influences. It’s sort of like asking how does life influence your dancing, which sounds like you aren’t living when you are dancing and not dancing when you are living. They are interchangeable. One is formally done with my body sitting on a cushion. The other is usually minus the cushion. Practice helps me to come home to my experience, towards recognition of embodiment. Buddhist teachings draw my attention to the impermanence of the situation. If I forget, then I feel like Styrofoam. Buddhist practice gives me solitude. It’s always been more difficult to go into the studio alone since I like to dance with others. There is a lot to discover in sitting practice where there is no expectation to do anything. Yet, it’s all happening there, so it’s been essential to discover that possibility.
I can’t know someone else’s experience although I constantly pretend (to myself) that I do. Unraveling my assumptions is my best shot at seeing myself and seeing other. The tuning scores work, introduced to the world and to me, by dancer/choreographer Lisa Nelson truly reveal this wonder. That work celebrates awareness of our unique experience, and raises the possibilities of playing with each other within that awareness. We expose our compositional desires to each other during the improvisation allowing a somewhat informed collaboration to unfold.
Someone’s words or actions offer me a chance to notice my own reactions. Most of the time I simply run with my reactions, believing their reality. Without the awareness that meditation cultivates, I’d be a sunken ship most of the time reacting with rage, jealousy, competition, et al.
So, maybe Woollies think what they like so much is me, but really they see something about themselves that they like, similar to a mirror reflection.
I think my habits, carved by the great river of family of origin, culture, addictions, desires, teachers, people I hang out with, along with physical and perceptual forces, dance me. My body is a habit that mysteriously changes, constantly.
Learning of Steve Paxton’s ‘small dance’ early on gave me a life practice and it’s rather portable, like sitting practice, except it’s done standing. The dancer climbs into the meditation cave of their standing skeleton and watches the miracle of balance. It’s so portable a practice you can take into dancing with others as in contact improvisation, or not, as in delicious embodied solo in space.
Buddha emphasized exploring on your own to discover what resonates and wakes you up. What better dance instructions than this?
Karen > Daniel Lepkoff: In an overview statement of your work you write, “I view dancing as the imagination acting through the body”. Reading these words gives me the sensation that you are saying, “it’s all imagination”. I’d love to know more about your current thinking on dancing and imagination—do you include both physical and mental imaginings as elements of that term? How do you come to your working conclusions? Can you describe an instance?
Text Karen is referencing: “I view dancing as the imagination acting through the body. The work examines how the mind and body act together to compose our movement. Whatever is happening, at any moment, is appreciated as an intelligent response to one’s present moment and as material that can be placed in a dance frame. The workshop provides tools and situations for researching your own movement choices and developing your powers of observation.
I am an improvising performer and my own reference point is to develop a performance practice. However these techniques can be easily applied by anyone interested in making dances or dancing, as well as people with a curiosity about the creative process and an appetite for being physical.
The material is drawn directly from my own research, which has its roots in my early work with both Anatomical Release Technique and Contact Improvisation, as well as through on-going discussions and collaborations with many artist whose interests overlap with mine.”
Daniel Lepkoff: the use of the words “imagination and sensation” when describing my dance work. First it is only fair to say that when I speak about dance I am only speaking of my own dance work which, in my estimation, is rather a unique approach as far as dance techniques go. In the studio, in classes, and when performing I am considering movement from life, that is functional movement, movement that occurs anyway whether one is in a studio, in a workshop, in front of an audience or not!
Is that dance?
The only thing that makes my work “dance” might be that rather than just occurring, these innate movement events are being intensely studied. Studied how?
Well, certainly not by reading about it in a book. Studied basically by doing what you are doing together with an intense insistence on the act of observing while acting. To do that one needs a variety of tools that bring the “events that be” to our consciousness. Thus my work is a technique.
This kind of learning brings a special kind of knowing about things. To quote myself: “knowledge of that which is known by knowing.” This way of learning is innate, highly functioning when we are children, and seemingly functioning less and less as we age. My observation of human behavior, my own included, is that gradually we stop intensely and actively assessing our situation and rely on tried and true responses. After years of gathering experience and figuring out how to respond, navigate, and survive most of the various situations we are likely to encounter, we feel no need to learn “THAT AGAIN!”. This strategy works! It also causes those faculties of observation that bring moment to moment information to our awareness to atrophy.
Because of this, most of us lack a sense of the mystery of ordinary physical events. Without this mystery we make unconscious assumptions.
At this very moment I am writing and you are reading so can we, for a moment, consider language. Language or words, arise originally through a miraculous and uniquely human process of mapping strings of written symbols or sounds onto actual experiences. For example the word “red” is a symbol for an actual experience of a color and the experience of that color has come to be called “red” or “rouge” or “akai” Over time “red” has also come to mean “stop”, among other things. This is an internationally accepted social convention. Now we can see a red light and rather than look carefully at the sensation of “red” we jump to the action of stopping or waiting. This is convention in action.
Where do the concepts of sensation and imagination enter into all of this?
Imagine that, rather than jumping to the conventional understanding of the color “red”, you also actually look closely, and then look again, and then again, and then again, and then again to see if you can see what it is that you are actually seeing. This activity brings you closer to the origins of the word “red”, closer to the sensation that has come to be called “red”.
THAT is what I call “sensation”.
Suddenly “red” is no longer just “red” in the way the word “red” means “red” you are tasting a never-before-seen experience. If you want to remember “that” experience, the isolated word “red” will not work, because your own experience is special. And so!!
You find your own way to describe or remember your experience.
That means you create an image or a map that allows you to recall or understand your own experience.
THAT!!! is what I call “imagination”!
Imagination, in this context is functionally creative.
In my own dance practice instead of looking at a red light we may look at the action of moving a weighted object and consider the underlying architecture that connect us functionally to the physical environment. Still, the example of seeing “red” applies exactly. We have concepts held within us of what it takes to accomplish a task. (Where exactly these concepts are held is an interesting question). This is our body’s language. These concepts are organizational principles. They come in the form of tensions, patterns, postures, chemical responses, and so on. If these principles operate outside of our awareness and are not questioned certain learning and change cannot take place. To question our bodies concepts is to use our imagination to create new more finely tuned responses. As a dancer my baseline is to question my understanding at every moment. It is hard to provide instances of this process. New images are both extremely particular and detailed and mostly non verbal. Weight can be sensual, pushy, dense, permeable; one can pick up a chair or one can pick it down, rise from the floor or push the earth away, move through the world or watch the world move, one can come closer to things or watch them get bigger, stare into empty space or watch particles of dust move… hear nothing or listen to silence.. .. and on and on…. The entertaining of alternate meanings and organizations of experience is what I have come to see as my way of dancing.
It strikes me as unfortunate that we have two words: “physical” and “mental”. The more I immerse in my dance practice the more I realize that this division is a fiction, a sad fiction that is the cause of so much human suffering, ignorance, discrimination, and fear.
Our “thoughts” are physical and our “movements” are thoughts. One cannot move without having a map or projection of what one is about to do, one cannot have a map of what one is about to do without having a streaming flow of moment to moment sensation, one cannot make sense of this streaming flow of sensation without mapping an organization principle or image onto these raw sensations, one cannot access a map without a memory, inherited or self created, of a preexisting experience…..
And so…. I’ve come to realize that one cannot imagine anything that either does not already exist or will not soon come into existence… in other words…
the fanciful is real. or ……. what is perhaps more fun…
reality, when examined closely, is fanciful!
March 18, 2011
Woolly Mammoth > MGM Grand: Now that you live across the country from each other, how do you maintain your collaborative practice, and how does the distance affect your art?
MGM Grand: We three way chat. It’s like high school again. We trade off going to each other’s home towns to work, doing residencies and performances in various places and being in NYC because both Biba and I still work there often, and Paige still lives there. When we are together - wherever it may be - it’s sort of like a movie shoot on a small island. There’s not much going on except for shooting the movie. We just work on the dance 24/7, dancing, discussing, researching, finding costumes, going to museums, making the sound for the dance, making dinner together. When we are apart we do more on the admin side. It’s strange that this is the way MGM has gone but we have never really been centrally
These excerpts from FRONT originally appeared in Ed.1 Moves When Folded , September 2011.