Marriage of figure and ground
for you, you for
whom I have lost
I’m driving toward the sea. An angular silhouette rises up out of my lane: a square, skeletal piece of machinery is on the road. Inside the wreckage crouches a woman. She faces oncoming traffic in the posture of a sniper. I swerve.
under me the
road moves we are
The air in California is porous, diffuse. You can’t rely on the physical environment to feel your edges. You have to build your edges with your mind.
In dance circles these days, there’s a lot of talk about decolonizing the body.
“He owns form,” “doesn’t he?” “The tyrant” “owns form.” (Alice Notley)
Other people’s gestures are imprinted deep in my fascia. This is a dancer thing. It’s also a person thing.
archive of flesh
unseen trash fire
a tissued nest
What kind of dance do you see when you imagine moving free from the imprint of other bodies? Do you see a dance without form, without edges?
An elusive quest. How do you know what is non-form without knowing form? This is the holy grail of improvisation: to lose yourself in nameless, burgeoning potentiality. For skilled improvisers, the environment is not a static plinth, but an extension of the body itself.
Eadweard Muybridge presented action as a sequence of static forms, thereby proposing that everything, no matter how liquid, how kinetic, can be grasped. In the stutter of a Muybridge stop-action series, movement is broken down to its constituent parts, coaxing the mind to provide the connective tissue.
“It is the edge separating my tongue from the taste for which it longs that teaches me what an edge is.” (Anne Carson)
It’s impossible to rid the body of the imprint of other bodies. We’re born already encoded by our mother’s encoded body.
But I can imagine setting the terms of transmission. I can imagine a room in which we offer each other moves. No one’s watching. Each of us chooses whether or not to absorb the offerings.
That moment of apparent decision. Enmanuel Ghent writes about the difference between surrender and submission. You can decide to submit to someone. But you cannot control the terms of surrender. I think my body knows the difference, but I am not sure. I have submitted to the bodies of other people as a way of approaching surrender, thinking: this is as close as I can get.
to let someone
dwell in you to
be written on
We have been without the proscenium for more than a year.
Proscenium (n.) c. 1600, “stage of an ancient theater,” from Latin proscaenium, from Greek proskēnion “the space in front of the scenery,” also “entrance of a tent,” from pro “in front, before” + skēnē “stage, tent, booth.” Modern sense of “space between the curtain and the orchestra” (often including the curtain and its framework). Hence, figuratively, “foreground, front.”
The conventional stage foregrounds the figure. The dance is properly lit. The action is understood.
Experimental performance, in contrast, often risks “unrecognizability as a subject.” (Judith Butler) Performers obscure their bodies, ask audiences to be satisfied by glimmers of action in near darkness. This kind of dance says: to love me is to let me stay unknown.
Recent email subject line from Lincoln Center: “When will you feel comfortable returning to Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts?”
The proscenium has closed for business. Not all of us can afford to sit around and wait for the machine of production to crank up again. Some of us are tired of navigating a field that devalues us. Some of us are just tired. I know dozens of professional dancers who this year decided to end their careers to go into social work or ASL or performance studies or law or movement therapy or studio art. I want to bear witness to this cultural migration.
Of course, dance will continue. The wealthy will still want to take children to The Nutcracker.
My friend Parker says, “I hope that the dancers who come back learn to ask for more.”
Sometimes you decide to stop dancing. Sometimes the decision is made for you. Often it’s a combination, which feels complicated. Did you secretly want to get injured? Or get fired? This is absurd; no one wants to get injured or fired. But this is how some of us think.
What happens inside a dancer when they leave the proscenium behind?
Virginia Woolf, in her ecstatic conclusion to The Waves, a novel preoccupied with seeing and being seen, writes: “The face looking at me has gone. The pressure is removed.” In solitude, she finds that: “From me had dropped the old cloak, the old response; the hollowed hand that beats back sounds.”
My body, once relentlessly in the foreground, softens into my life. New parts of myself emerge, as if finding a new lover. Under the skin, currents shift. Circuits re-wire.
Desire changes form as conditions dictate.
As I dance less, I write more. To paraphrase Renee Gladman, who writes of the symbiosis between writing and drawing: I dance myself out of dancing not because my taste for it has diminished nor because I have lost content, but because I have begun to say what I need to say elsewhere.
My body moves across the page.
In language, I want to be braver than I have been as a dancer. Braver than I am as a person. Less hidden.
In writing, I reach for the same thing that drew me to dancing: surrender. I want to stay with desire until it rips into illogical conclusions. I want to write in “a language lined with flesh,” to summon “a whole carnal stereophony.” (Roland Barthes) I want to use language to destabilize itself, to force a stuttering of form “as though possessed with the force of other things.” (John Rajchman on Deleuze) To send words careening into each other. To write myself into abstraction. To imagine abstraction as a liberatory tool.
Yet habits persist. Do you see the swerve away from your line of sight? The same dilemmas hover — the dilemma of surrender, the dilemma of being seen — on the page as when I danced on stage and you sat in darkness.
“As soon as I desire I am asking to be considered.” (Frantz Fanon)
form is a fence
with five fingers
I am lying on my right side on the Great Highway, which is now closed to cars. The earth presses into my outer arm and leg like a good bruise. My weight pours sideways through my chest. To begin to roll backward, I lever into the ground with the outside of my right thigh as my left hip pulls back. My knees separate. I roll across the back of my ribs, over the knuckled ridge of my spine, onto my other side.
Over the dune to my left, surfers scramble in the water. I can’t see them, but I imagine them.
People pass like neon tracers, like sonic waves. I am part of a motley procession in retrograde. A dog rolls by on a skateboard. The dog is pushing the skateboard with its back left leg.
This didn’t happen. Well, there was a dog on a skateboard. But I didn’t lie down in the road. I imagine it. I imagine it so hard I feel it. I imagine you so hard I feel you.
I imagine running toward you as I try to make a prolonged sound. I imagine raising my arms to signal you from a great distance. I imagine you half-closing your eyes with pleasure, opening your mouth in an O and holding it there. I imagine holding your saltiness close and whispering:
Let’s be excessive. Let’s pump our legs. Let’s crest the hill toward the sea. Let’s speed. Let’s release a yell into the evening. Let’s rub against our bicycle seats. Let’s sweat under our clothes. Let’s spit out the lost objects we’ve absorbed. Let’s howl in the dunes in the tangerine light with the shit and the plastic trash and the dead birds.
an offshore signal
Thank you so much Miguel! That means a lot.
thank you for this, hope. thank you for writing something about the body/dancing/being seen that actually makes sense to me.