Some thoughts about Chris Schlicting’s show

1. This is a big show. If you care about dance in the Twin Cities, go see it.

2. What’s happening: hard to say: a new state is being reached, each time, each piece.

3. Schlicting’s work is fundamentally masturbatory, and I mean that in the best sense. Like any artist with a vision, he’s making what he wants to see, feel, be—but he casts forth these wishes not from a disembodied “pure” self, but from an embodied and desirous self. This work is sexual and intellectual and emotional.

4. Schlichting has a genius for motions that can be repeated over and over without becoming tiresome, motions that change radically as they speed up, slow down, distend, or angle, motions that with a slightly different inflection become entirely new. He passed his hand around his face and it was spiritual, a greeting in some better place; he circled more quickly and I thought he was making himself a halo, temporary, warm; he circled more quickly still and I was afraid for him. —Often the speeding up follows a sexual rhythm: not a steady increase but slow, slow, a little faster, then suddenly faster and faster to the breaking point.

5. Seeing and being seen, voyeur and exhibitionist, the eyes the eyes. Dancers wear the glazed gaze then look, look at me. There is an almost touching faith in the magic of looking, that it can make us lovely.

6. And speaking of lovely—Schlicting’s into the beautiful, a certain type of it, perhaps helpless? Like #5 above, this seems to me to be in the air: the desire to abandon oneself to the beautiful, abandon oneself to be beautiful. The emptying out that precedes revelation, the lovely vacancy of just-before.

7. Stay for the repeat show. The night I went the bleachers emptied out prior to the repeat, but really, why wouldn’t you stay? Think of it as a chance not so much to see the dance again as a chance to see yourself see the dance. The second time through is more sensual, less anxious and obligatory—like a train ride through a foreign country that is just on the wonderful verge of becoming familiar.

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“They ask her to identify certain constellations. They make her perform complicated dance steps in her wet shoes. She asks for a pair of socks and they prod her with the jawbone of a horse. It raises certain questions. The social worker behind the counter puts a pencil in her black hair. She is beautiful and smells like the sea.”
—Rebecca Loudon

I want that perfume.

Wait, here it is. I have it. & it is beautiful. a private work of art on the inside of your wrist.

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Zhauna Franks’s Her Hysterical Nostalgia (at the Open Eye, April 7-11, 2011)

I’ve been thinking of getting away. I’ll go someplace elemental: fire, water. When I get there, I won’t be me anymore, but new—the star that I am under the thing that I seem to you and myself to be. The sick little mysteries and masteries, the dismal satisfactions, the stinky histories and hysterias—I’m leaving all that behind.

You know it won’t work, though. There’ll be sirens in the water, winding their silky stupid hair round the unbaited fishhook, just dying as usual to be dinner, and the fire’s dizzy with sacrificial virgins, all screaming some name or other as they dive in. And then there’s me. Honestly, I can’t go anywhere without taking my makeup or my lookbook of attitudes—bathing beauty, speakeasy charmer, blushing birthday gal—all so tattooed on or burrowed under the skin that I can’t tell anymore what came naturally and what I stole at Walgreens with the Bonne Bell. Strip to my soul and it’s just more of the same: total eclipse of the heart.

I’d like to propose a new award: Post-Feminist Tantrum of the Year. If you have a vulva, you know this is a necessary category, and if you were at Her Hysterical Nostalgia you know by the howls (possibly welling up from your own drunk kundalini) that that year’s winner is Zhauna Franks. Can I get a yes ma’am for the moment when Franks flails in a little box on stage, all harnessed up to fly and fuel to burn, but with nowhere to go but around and around like a music-box ballerina? Sample the aesthetic she’s cooked up and you’ll know it’s what you need, ladies. . .

Dance & dancers. Wind-up dolls with legs for days, Barbie’s stiff hips and plastic feet melting to expressive sweeps, the mechanical and made-up always tempering and tempered with the heartfelt. Lately I feel like I’ve been watching choreographers who don’t love their dancers; that isn’t Franks. Stephanie Fellner, Christine Maginnis, and Kimberly Richardson (and Franks herself) get the star treatment here. Even when they’re showing you torment, they look sleek, strong, and happy—and they make you feel the same way.

Detail & design. The secret pleasure of sniffing your wrist. Being flexible enough to kick your own ass (now there’s the successful woman in a nutshell). Franks pays attention and her dance repays your attention. Or take that box I mentioned above: prison, chamber, stage, it starts the show wound up in gauze like an open wound. Clinically bright or splashed in psychedelic bloodstains, it’s a metaphor at once obvious and multivalent. That last gesture—wrapping it up in black tape like bra straps—where does it leave us?

It leaves us, I’m afraid, where I’ve got to quibble with Franks. I understand the desire for revelation, but I can’t get with the yoga party peace-out ending. I know they have some letters in common, but yoga is not god. It’s just yet another system for describing and circumscribing the body, and as such, fuck it. And not to get utterly grimy with theory, but this whole dream of purity is a historically masculine hysteria rooted in fear of the (feminine) body—its urges and messy changes, but mostly its burgeoning death, i.e., self. That closing image: tape up the box? No thanks, Franks!

Sans ending, though, this one is a treat. I’ll definitely be packing it in my Kaboodle for my next shark-fishing expedition, flashy hooks, pink meat, and all.

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Minnesota Dance Theatre spring 2011

Aesthetic of escape: hungry, ecstatic. The point of the rules is to propel out some limb of exception: a partnership of pure involution goes on because there’s a glimmer of light that way. You can hang there, eros revolving, or sudden wingspan, one hand to the floor and one to the sky, and there’s the ah: moment when you see the shape your saving breath makes on the mirror.
This might be hunting: a very intent stare down a diagonal and then a pell-mell lunge. The pursuit in which you hound yourself, pare down to a single stag leap. It might be travel: a severe search, the terms of which perhaps prevent one finding what one seeks. Or we might have seen a winter tree on a hillside and become that for a moment, flitting from shape to shape in order not to be. Or think of saints who burn their way through.
I was talking with another poet about form and formlessness. He critiqued the restraint of the classical body and praised permission. I didn’t really have an answer. But I think I would say, post-MDT spring concert, that I like a moment of permission jerked loose of a strict set of rules. My answer is religious, really: if you don’t believe, you don’t. But if you do, you can also feel the brilliant hurt/heat of a bolt of else.
Certainly it’s sexy: all that lithe writhing. But sexy is not only sex. And certainly it’s teleological: all that breakneck towards. Perhaps it’s irresponsible: the craving for what this is not. But aesthetics is the larger realm than politics after all. You can dislike, if you please, the pleasure that comes at the end of this or that—exhaustion, waking, divorce, first kiss, voice against silence, silence suddenly, departure or arrival. But the pleasure of change is, fleetingly—and then we’ll run through ourselves to find it again.

About the dancers—I never saw them look so together. I don’t mean well-rehearsed (they almost always are). I mean that they seem to have communicated with each other. It’s in their mutual approach that I see the aesthetic sketched above. They look alike dissatisfied with ease and selfhood, and they urge each other on to open more space. This approach (which I know, from taking classes with her, is Lise Houlton’s) used to show most clearly in Melanie Verna (but her version was often architectural or organic, not dramatic). It’s as if, with Verna’s recent injury, the rest have taken up the flag. Everyone has moments of flame, and everyone has authority; I don’t feel tempted to anatomize them or talk about them as if they don’t know what they’re doing (and I have in the past). Sarah Fifer may have beautiful feet and “a knack” for balance—tools, abilities—but what I notice is how she threads the needle: dense and tense winding to find the narrowest escape.
Raina Gilliland especially makes her move here. She looks confident, sure of what she’s standing on and ready to abandon it. I don’t know how she manages to be always at the break point—her arms, in particular, always opened up behind her like wings, far beyond the classical—without it turning into a mere mannerism, but she seems to breathe there, and I believe her.
I have to mention Sam Feipel too. He’s the rare dancer who can do exactly the same step as everyone else, and sometimes not as well, and still look like he’s doing something entirely different. I’m watching in general, I see a flare of something else—realization, clarity, balance that’s felt rather than performed—what was that? Feipel again.

The choreography could all have been shorter and clearer, except for Ashton’s Façade (1931; a bit of ballet fondant in which Feipel is especially fun). The premiere, Hope Boykin’s MOVEments, loves some clichés (that title; that walking around like a school of fish business; that staring at the audience—MDT always walks around and stares at the audience). Boykin’s taste isn’t sure: witness the costumes (man-décolletage? dance snuggies?) and a maudlin middle section. But I like that she has a sense of humor (sometimes in short supply at MDT) and I like the overall shapelessness, the way she trusts that pulling out a dancer or two for an exploration of some impulse is enough. With these dancers, it is.

This coming year marks MDT’s 50th. We’ll hear plenty about the milestone, I’m sure. But it would be nothing if the company weren’t still toeing this razor edge.

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Lucinda Childs’s DANCE

See here.

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a / the / this / that

What is it with these little words? Why do I, on revision, so often find myself switching or removing these from otherwise-unaltered lines? Am I just lazy, or do these variants really change what a line means so greatly? And if they do, tell me what is changing about the line. . . the direction in which it points, seemingly. Something bothers me about the power of these articles. . .

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Exercise: Annotate

an entire book, completely, all the thoughts, memories, everything. Any book, it doesn’t matter. Give it away. This would be intimate.

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