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Posts Tagged ‘dance’

Intellectual enquiry sitting in mystery

In Uncategorized on October 24, 2012 at 3:10 pm

Ideas about consciousness are important in Dissolve, the work I am creating for Niagara Dance Company, and I am enjoying returning to this subject. (As a young artist, I considered it anathema to repeat myself, a recipe for self-sabotage if there ever was one.) I have worked with ideas about consciousness before, most consistently in the 1990s with works like Nature of the Body and a year ago I re-invested in the idea by taking part in the Subtle Technologies workshop at the Centre for Brain and Mind at University of Western Ontario (please see blog post here).

As explained in the early post, Dissolve started from a notion of dissolving boundaries as a defining phenomenon of our time. I knew at the outset I wanted to work with concepts about changes in body mind dualism. (I have worked with this before too, in Earth’s Flesh.)

I first contacted Rebecca Todd, neuroscientist and former dancer (and mentioned in the aforementioned blog post). I told Rebecca that I am less interested in the relationship between emotion and rationality than I am in the idea of a “whole” body/mind offering an interdependent model with which to view life and asked for resources. Rebecca very kindly did suggest one possibility for research (which didn’t speak to me), responding:  “…whole interdependent model of body/mind is something that a lot of researchers think is important but few address directly – largely because people tend to do their research at one particular scale or level of analysis.” I then consulted old friend from Western Front days, Jane Ellison. Jane studied intensively in the early 1980s with Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen of Body Mind Centering and in more recent years with Susan Aposhyan of Body-Mind Psychotherapy, who she annually brings to Vancouver.  Jane’s many interesting comments included:

It is perhaps about the brain investigating the mind without consultation with the rest of the organism?….And a thought on the use of “boundaries”.  Susan talks about the fact that at one level the body (including the brain of course) is nothing but fluids and membranes: selectively permeable membranes. So that rather than actually dissolving boundaries, some of which may be useful and necessary, we can work on keeping fluid and permeable so that all the information we need (like Pert’s dissolved molecules) can easily pass through the membranes.

(Pert refers to Candace Pert. I have been wondering what happened to the ideas in her book, Molecules of Emotion, or if she is just dismissed in the scientific community because of her overt spirituality.)

When I went to the Centre for Brain and Mind, I was surprised to find that consciousness seemed to just not be on the menu. I’ve read a bit about scientists’ frustration with the pop-ifying of neuroscience and its abuses and I’m hoping I’m not part of it! In the Buddhist community, I’ve read some good commentary questioning the value of all the work that is being done measuring the brains of lamas and monks.

I recognize that an important part of my interest is what brain science has learned about the plasticity of the brain – and that I attach to this the value of hopewe can change, whether this be on the individual or global level. This belief stands in stark contrast to the “nasty, brutish and short” theme that permeates the religious fundamentalist positions and political realism – the response that nothing can be done, that the violence and destruction of life is “human nature”. This is similar to the view of psychologist Daniel Siegel that mind science offers opportunities to promote more integrative functioning, “integrative” being defined as “honouring differences and promoting linkages”.

I’ve only just come across the idea of The Hard Question by David Chalmers. (Thank-you Wikipedia.)

Why is it that when our cognitive systems engage in visual and auditory information-processing, we have visual or auditory experience: the quality of deep blue, the sensation of middle C?… It is widely agreed that experience arises from a physical basis, but we have no good explanation of why and how it so arises. Why should physical processing give rise to a rich inner life at all?

“Facing Up to the Problem of Consciousness”, David Chalmers, Journal of Consciousness Studies 2 (3), 1995, pp. 200–219.

The Hard Question is very relevant to my own work. (It also leads me back to commentary from my main virtual Buddhist teacher, Ken McLeod, a hard-nosed intellectual sitting squarely in mystery.) Our society is deeply uncomfortable with mystery and equates it with quackery, superstition, and all the madness we witness around us attributed to fundamentalist religion (hello Mitt Romney!). I am an artist. As a young artist, I was thrilled by the intellectualism of conceptual art and this blood continues to flow through my artistic veins. When I started teaching Creative Process at School of the Toronto Dance Theatre years ago, my first order of business was to counter the notion that creativity is too mysterious to discuss. So yet again, I encounter how both/and is what makes me tick – I have just realized by writing this post that one way to look at what I do is intellectual enquiry sitting in mystery.

Does this work in the gallery and theatre? I have no idea. I haven’t exactly had a brilliant career filled with either critical or audience attention. On rare occasions when I work within the Toronto dance milieu, I return home disappointed, thinking that there is no interest in engaging with the ideas that are important to my work, that all the dance audience (mostly dancers) sees in my work is movement that isn’t physical enough or choreographed well-enough. The audience here in St. Catharines is very small and different.  If you see Dissolve please find me and tell me straight up what the experience was like for you.

Feelings are Facts – 1

In Uncategorized on August 2, 2009 at 12:43 pm

Last month I finally purchased Yvonne Rainer’s auto-biography, Feelings Are Facts: a life, part of the MIT Writing Art Press series and published in 2006, having been reminded to do so by its reference in the essay Irene Loughlin wrote about my work for the exhibition I had in March at Hamilton Artists’ Inc.  (if you open the link, scroll down).

Studies of Yvonne Rainer and the Judson Dance Theatre of New York were the single most influential part of my university education, which took place at York University in the very early days of the Dance Major program there, which was the first in Canada. (The fact that it was the last art form to be embraced by academia reflects the status of the art form; while my relationship with it has waxed and waned over the years, its underdog status has always been a selling point for me, which I understand as our culture’s fear of our bodies within the context of the Cartesian mind/body split.) A young Selma Odom was my prof – she very recently retired and I regretted not getting to her farewell dinner.

I have read precious little for many years with the exception of Buddhist books. It is an activity that I have allowed to fall away in the choices one makes while cramming as much as possible into too little time. I have always been cranky about the degree to which critical theory overtook the practice of art, however, I read theory during the three years it took to write the essay, Asserting Our Bodies, for Caught in the Act: an anthology of performance art by Canadian women, published in 2004.

 I read a little of the Yvonne Rainer book while visiting my Sis, Margaret, in Finn Slough  after performing in the 30th anniversary of Walter Phillips Gallery at Banff Centre August 2008.  I am only in Chapter 5 at the moment, still in her adolescence. So far, I feel vaguely depressed each time I read, as it reminds me of my own adolescence. Not that the details match by any means, but the general sense of not belonging, that is the experience of many artists. I remember Margaret talking about it when we were young as “being from Mars”.

Yvonne Rainer suffered greatly as a child but came from a family that might appear “interesting” inasmuch as its Italian anarchist politics were not mainstream. I just read with enjoyment her description of the movie theatre her father took her to as a child in the basement of San Francisco’s Palace of the Legion of Honor, where she saw Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc at the age of nine. I enjoyed, and benefited greatly, from my own parents’ love of the arts and I have learned to understand that it is not necessarily usual that a working class family made the arts so much a part of life.

Here are some of my own childhood and adolescent memories: a nascent National Ballet of Canada at The Palace Theatre on St. Paul St. in St. Catharines. We regularly went to The O’Keefe Centre in Toronto and back then you could whip up in an hour and ten minutes on a barely-travelled QEW. Highlights there at the time were Béjart’s Sacre du Printemps and Peter Brooks Midsummer Night’s Dream. Here in St. Catharines, in the early days of the Brock theatre program, I was transfixed by Anouilh’s Antigone and I still have my hand-written copy of her monologue, “I spit on your happiness! I spit on your idea of life – that life that must go on, come what may. You are all like dogs that lick everything they smell. You with your promise of a humdrum happiness – provided a person doesn’t ask too much of life. I want everything of life, I do; and I want it now!”. Ah, yes, youth. At Brock I remember also Toronto Dance Theatre’s performance of David Earle’s Atlantis (and Susan Macpherson’s naked breasts if I remember rightly.) We went to Stratford every summer but nothing stands out in my mind. Another O’Keefe memory is of my father wangling us into a reception honouring Margot Fonteyn and being introduced to her along with my best friend at the time, Janice Alton (Kate Alton’s mother). It was not my father’s habit to crash receptions and it was a very loving act. Janice was beside herself with joy and I wasn’t far behind.

Regardless of having regaled the reader with memories, I cannot imagine going through the work that Yvonne Rainer did to write her autobiography.