Notebook — Paramodernities
Editors’ Note: We asked the writer and curator James Fleming to attend each of the live moments in the Limited Edition program and create short, visceral responses in conversation with the performances. This is the fifth, written after seeing Netta Yerushalmy’s Paramodernities, performed February 23–24 at ODC Theater.
In 1649 when Descartes met Christina, Queen of Sweden, ballet was solid enough to couple power and politics into a body politic. It went like this: I am the nation-state. I am the queen. I am the ballet. I am the dancer. Ballet, like its antecedents, loses certainty — becomes a drink, like Coke. I am a liquid. I am sugar on the tongue. I am now nothing but the faint aftertaste of sweetness.
Netta is beyond liquid, in fact she has become air. What I mean by this is her movements — compulsively recast into new, decontextualized forms lifted from Nijinsky’s The Rite of Spring —produce such a degree of uncertainty as to inspire a sense of having been evaporated.
When becoming air, cells experience a totality of transformation: viscera shrivels up and the legacy of genetic composition is irreparably damaged.
It doesn’t matter if you called Merce “Merce,” you can drink the legacy all the same. To do so, mix the movement with any number of liquids and before consuming say: “This is Merce.”
Pour it into my mouth and I will start dancing. I will then pour it into another mouth.
The grounds for metaphor collapse in the froth of liquid experience. Things are exactly what they seem to be; there is no higher order. In the time you have read this, presumably with your computer or phone — which is now part of this catalogue — I have generated thousands of new lines from this text. Bots are presently seeding these new forms across the globe in public forums, dialogues, and exchanges, all of which are rapidly producing their own infinitely coiling structures of decadent, orgasmic collapse.
The unrestrained reproduction of cells is the metaphor we use when discussing the potentiality of legacy. When this framing fails, we are left to inspire new genetic compositions into the desiccated form of inheritance. We do this through art.
Every moment, whether in dance or politics, things age faster. Where once power — which is the term for the capacity to do things — was directly connected to these subjects, it is no longer the case. Action uncoupled from the decision to act, as the dancers swing through effortless loops inspired by Cunningham.
Blood memories pour out across the stage. Ailey’s Revelations triumphs over narrative strata, moving into spaces outside the materiality and meaning produced by whiteness.
Sorrow liquefies into water, which does not progress, but suspends itself in a moving center I cannot see. Tommy’s voice rings out: “There is so much diversity here, don’t you want to be free?” We listen to the sublimation of Blackness at the center becoming center. As the stepping patterns rise in joyous exaltation, revelation permeates outward from the theater, becoming indistinguishable from the world.
Soon after this dance, I watched a woman scream “Annihilation!” as she turned into air, then into light. I found this strange and beautiful. I thought to myself that I should one day hope to be similarly annihilated and whispered into the air: “What a sign of the times!”
To understand the structure and sublimation of legacy, first describe the exact moments (when, how, with what causal power, and to which change of state) you touch on it. Assign a temporal rigidity to it. Over three centuries, it is sandstone; over an evening of performance, the sand-toned hue of my home screen.
Repeat for every related catalogue of movement across history up to now. Pour this collection over the body politic, rub manifold epiphenomena until we become them, a global collective aesthetic action: transcending light.