SHAME PORTRAITS

We originally developed the “Shame Portrait” with Jaime Alvarez during our CrossPollination residency with SwimPony.  Jaime started talking about personal shame on the first day, and Chelsea and I are dedicated practitioners of “seeing and using what is there” in the room.  So we jumped right into the shame pool.  If Jaime was going to talk about it, we were gonna make art about it, dammit.  Art dammit.

Then we taught for a month at Uarts.  If you have ever majored in modern dance at a university level, or at a conservatory, you know there is a huge push to achieve technical mastery- which is an external ideal.  If you have ever been a woman, you might know about wanting to achieve an idealized external image.  I don’t give a shit about either.  In fact, I don’t like to see performers strive to achieve any kind of external ideal.  So in the Uarts context, the shame performance was performative.  And it came to mean bringing your full self to the performance.  Refusing to strive for an ideal self onstage.  Insisting that your full complicated and messy self is good and right for performance.  That there is nothing to hide or mold.  Or that the molding should be a molding of your choice, and not according to anyone else’s standards.  And definitely not according to a narrow societal construct.

Next we went to the Yard for a residency and further explored our own performative shame portraits.  But we landed on the combination of shame and pleasure.  We called it the “Shame/Pleasure Cake.”  The crossroads of shame and pleasure is very important as we move forward with this concept.  We are not interested in the kind of shame that is traumatic and action based.  “I did this awful thing and I regret it.”  Not that.  Rather, an aspect of my own identity that I love but I have developed a complicated relationship to because it hasn’t always been well received.  I am aggressive.  I enjoy that.  Other people don’t necessarily.  Society may not be ready for the aggressive woman really.  So how can I embrace this aspect of my identity onstage instead of denying it?  And what happens after?  Looking back on that performance I feel a little more relaxed about this part of myself.  A little less of the fight around it.  And that is a lovely feeling.  The goal here being personal liberation, and communal liberation.  I know there are some other aggressive women out there.  It’s for them too.  And for the timid men too- for all the shame portraits.  That we could all include ourselves in performance more and feel a little more relaxed around our tender identities.

The last stage of this was another photo shoot.  We shot 7 shame portraits in 2 days.  It was INTENSE!  The latest discovery was about a “shame spectrum.”  We discovered that for most people, making two portraits on opposite ends of the same personality quality was extremely relevant.  So my shame is about “aggressiveness” and making one image that was celebrated domination, and a second that depicted submissiveness felt like a full journey.  It turns out it is fruitful and shameful for me to inhabit both of those states.

Remix Festival Reflection

backstage at Remix

backstage at Remix

We were the only ones working as a pair. Everyone else who was remixing was remixing alone. They were the lone director; their task was not collaborative. In this way it made sense for them to follow the thing that Susan Rethorst had said. She talked about remixing as wrecking. As taking the thing the other person had made as raw material and doing with it whatever you wanted. The goal was for the “remixer” to make a new piece-their new piece with the other person’s stuff. One could even rudely disregard the other material.

Well. Easier said then done when you’re supposed to be remixing with another person. Our process is honesty and transparency. All of our work is a bit like therapy when we make it and also sometimes when we perform it. Anything that comes up in our life is raw material in our work as well. The audiences who’ve seen us perform probably know more intimate details about us then some of our friends (ie when the last time I got my period was, Magda’s sex dreams, our parental emotional baggage etc). Since this is the way we work together it only made sense that this is also how we approached our process of remixing.

It actually would have been too difficult to completely disregard the other person’s work while remixing collaboratively, so we decided to approach remixing the work with the high regard for the performer/original creator and each other that we usually try to create with.

However, another thing was also going on for us in our remix process that prevented us from “wrecking.”
Something that I love about creating on/with another person.
Something that I was only exposed to recently but hope it will continue to be a part of my process for as long as I create.
Something that people I highly respect, as artists and as people, use as a main tool:

Seeing the thing that is really happening and heightening that aspect in the performer. I am not good at explaining this. Magda would be much better at explaining this. I’m talking about watching a performer do something, looking at it and saying yes yes but actually it is really about THIS thing. THIS thing that is hiding somewhere in the corner behind or next to the thing you actually thought you were doing. Maybe you weren’t even aware that you were doing THIS thing and were oblivious to its existence at all! Pointing to that thing and taking away all of the other stuff. Removing the unnecessary crap that is cluttering the view of THE thing and letting that thing breathe in its own intricate idiosyncratic-ness. “Naming the thing.” Clearly we are hardcore students of the Headlong way of life.  

And oh Meredith’s piece had so many beautiful things to be named. With the short amount of time we had to get to know her on some sort of intimate level through her work we quickly named the things that jumped out at us and worked with those.

We gave her a lot of “psychic choreography” directions about presence and focus to make those moments really full of herself and itself and all the selves. And because she is a spectacular performer/mover with amazing facilities we really pushed her with detailed directions and we tried to complicate her own patterns so that she would really be concentrating while she was performing and in this way forcing her to be present.

And man can that woman take direction. She perfectly morphed her presence and beliefs about who and why she was on stage to fit this other frame we were putting her in and really ran with it (or stood in place and hummed with it as the case may be).

backstage at Remix

backstage at Remix

Anyway this is how we remixed Meredith’s piece. From the inside out. Without wrecking but with a lot of listening and seeing. Of course sitting there afterwards in the audience Magda and I doubted ourselves and wondered if maybe just maybe we should have done the huge- fuck-everything-up-wrecking and leave the old material behind and make Meredith come out in the children’s toy car stored away behind the stage while singing the national anthem or something. But I’m glad we didn’t. And I think Meredith is glad we didn’t either. Maybe if it was called the “Wrecking Festival” and not the “Remix Festival” things would have turned out differently. 

Singer/Songwriter Inspirational Video Archive

Patti Smith interview in which she half takes off her jacket while she rambles confidently.  A man’s hand appears ready and waiting to take her jacket but she never gives it to him.  She looks at her tshirt as if she didn’t remember what she was wearing.  We talked a lot about the touching of self and clothing and contact between “band mates” as a result of this beautifully odd moment. 

Eartha Kitt: the baddest ass on the planet.  Not willing to compromise he he he.  “If a man comes into your life and wants you to compromise…” She laughs maniacally and says “Stupid, you must think about that one again.”

Bjork in a tiny tiny voice talking about her personal bizarre interpretation of the inside of a television.

Nanci Griffith’s banters in tiny voice, yet sings with a fierce voice. When I was little my mom would play her CDs in the house and I never forgot the shocking disconnect between the speaking and singing voice after this.

Sinead O’Connor interview: she eats on set while talking about the stigma of mental illness.  She is hard as nails.

Dolly Parton interview on Oprah.  Dolly was an inspiration for Chelsea’s costuming.  For the combination of sexy and smart where you don’t know which quality is winning, if it is a fight between the two.

Joni Mitchell on the Mama Cass show.  The female friend harem.  We wanted this laid back, we are women comfortable with each other and being onstage.

8 Beck as a youth just fucking up the shit out of this interview with Thurston Moore. Goddamn 1994. Lookin good. "Its like surfing in some oil spillage." 

 

Chelsea:

“I try to leave mystery, to not explain everything, but let the viewer have their own story in the story I am showing.”  This is such a tricky declaration. Can this be true of an illustration? Can this be true of a dance? Can I make two versions of the same movement: the first one explains everything and the second one doesn’t?

and a separate reaction I had to the article:

Reading Murakami’s “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles” and at first annoyed by the “colorless” main character because he is male, and many of the “colorful” supporting characters are female. And because I am the color for colorless too often in my life.  And partly because of cultural trends like “The Death of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl”

http://www.bkmag.com/2014/07/15/the-death-of-the-manic-pixie-dream-girl/

Rooster & Snowball Again


Last week Magda and I performed Rooster & Snowball again in its original 15 minute form for the Performance Mix Festival in NYC. We applied for the festival when R&S was a brand new baby of a piece but we were going to perform it a full year after that! 

We were nervous that it was going to feel different. What if we didn’t have any of that anger anymore? What if we needed to make Rooster & Snowball grow up in someway? In previous run-throughs it sometimes slipped into a forced place where we were “performing us performing” the piece. I was nervous I was going to be stuck in that zone.

So this is what I was trying to prep me and magda for as we embarked on our first R&S rehearsal before Performance Mix. Reminding us how it might feel bad and lowering my expectations. Wow I must be a fun rehearsal partner.

But lo and behold! It felt fantastic. We ran it all the way through fucking laughing and cracking each other up the entire time. Riffing down more diagonal paths away from the piece and right back to it again. The paths that aren’t visible to the audience in performance, but dwell in the sub world of invisible rehearsal meanings and psychic choreographies. We were right back where we were two years ago, lonely, angry and looking for love (do you believe in life after love?) It felt like hugging an old friend. A friend that you grew up with but forgot how they instantly mirror back to you the person you are in all of your mess and your beautiful when you’re with them. It felt like me! Like us!

It was a reminder, of what exactly I’m not sure. Something about myself. Something personal and not necessarily about the piece. Like a touchstone where the deep core of my being is easily accessible. It, again, felt like freedom in the way that it had at the very beginning.

I was explaining this feeling to my therapist and she told me it reminded her of a painting by Henry Matisse “Bonheur de Vivre,” which currently resides on the second floor of the Barnes Museum. She told me how all of the seeds for the rest of his work are in that early painting of his. The style and colors and direct images from all his other work can be traced right back to Bonheur de Vivre.

Can Rooster & Snowball be the Bonheur de Vivre of me and Magda’s work? Is it the piece that birthed all the other pieces?

But also the piece has, of course, changed. Rooster & Snowball are growing up a little. They both have blonde hair now and wear turtle-neck sweater tank tops so they look real professional with their bouffant hair-dos. But they also got yelled at before the show for sitting on a carpet in the lobby and taking a nap on the floor of the dressing room so they didn't grow up too much. Feels good (and bad) to be failed rebels again.

where ideas come from

I was talking with Lily Kind of Effervescent Collective about “where (artistic) ideas come from” during our time in Baltimore. We were interested in the difference between “fantasy ideas” (the fully imagined images of the final performance that can begin the whole process) and the decisions that happen along the way (also ideas) that shape what the actual end piece is. How much to push for that original vision? How much to value the little logistical ideas/compromises that come along the way? 

My process right now is largely shaped by the fact that I am collaborating with one other individual only. And that between Chelsea and I there is rarely a disagreement about ideas. We may disagree about when an idea should happen, or how- but not the what of it- the content of it. We don’t have ideological conflicts. But part of what I am doing is having ideas in the context of Chelsea. When I go into rehearsal with her I am not imagining an opera with a corps of men. Or even more subtle things- I don’t imagine dialogue between us as would happen in a traditional play. 

For the past several years I have been on a “using what I’m seeing” kick. That means when I look at a performer I don’t have any preconceived idea of what they should or could do onstage. My favorite way to work is to in the studio together- speaking, moving, writing, singing, anything to keep momentum; the whole time practicing the art of seeing them, hearing them, knowing them as a person and performer. What are their habits? What are their themes? Their uninteresting obsessions?

I remember one dance class in college where the teacher had us perform improvisational solos for the class and then the class told us what our physical habits were so that we could work against them in the future. This struck me as violent but also premature. It was too soon to ask a twenty year old to work against their habits, before they were even aware of them. I am interested in mining the habits- what if you went even further into your weird performing predispositions? In a rigorous manner, with a questioning mind- what if you let yourself go off the deep end? With analytical acceptance instead of judgment. Trusting that the subject matter is already here, in your buttocks and your to-do lists.

On a retreat

It's midnight on Monday night. I'm sitting on the bed I've been sleeping on for the past week which is two futon mattresses piled on top of each other. Outside is dark, like really dark, and I'm scared of the dark but I can't hide from it because there aren't any curtains. That is sort of a good metaphor for what its like to be on a week long retreat with just yourself and your collaborator. 

IMG_1245.JPG

Also the back of my hands are rubbed raw from rehearsing for a piece where we have our hands inside of our pants the whole time. Now that's dedication. amiright?

anyway here is a bunch of stuff that is present, or coming up, or hanging out, or exploding, or swimming around inside our bodies, the studio and our mind grapes

The gentle humping ballerina

Sexuality is hanging out, power is hanging out, desperation is hanging out

Interrupting familiar movement trajectories over and over 

Silo Studio

Silo Studio

Idea boot camp- Coming up with ideas and actually doing them. Right there. When you think of them. No matter how silly they sound.

Write the most emotionally drenched vulnerable thing you can. and then read it to me!

The concept of Woman as a subcategory to being female

This gem

How much mucus can Magda's nose actually make?

What does it mean if we do a whole dance with our hands down our pants? Is there a difference between hands moving around inside of pants and using your pelvis as a handle? If we don't lead ourselves around by our pelvishandles will people think we're copping out?

Multiple art mediums that are dependent on each other. ex, music only a dancer could make

A dance film where the dancer on camera is aware of the dancer filming and they have a duet with the camera being one person's point of view.

A duet where the only unison is the rhythm/rate of change of the movement, which is improvised

7 minute dances. You must dance for 7 minutes. That's it.

This led to a bunch of questions about maintaining space/performance presence/consciousness while also doing movement. Why does this feel so difficult? How can I create movement that feels free of associations? (Some tactics mentioned above) How can we use our movement habits to dive inside and create something new?

 

The movement doesn’t slip out.
It rips out. Like rough wood on sandpaper the movement squeezes out of my body.
What does this mean what does THIS mean? And where did the impetus for this come from? Was it pure? Was it sensation? Or did I have an ulterior motive of composition, of aesthetic, of habit? And if I did is that bad? Is it only bad if I wasn’t aware of it but since I’m aware of it maybe its ok?
The movement is trampled by analysis before it can realize its full growth in its fleeting existence on my body. Guess I’ll stand here some more and maybe look out the window. If im looking out the window and not at the audience am I present? If I’m looking into her eyes and thinking about something she said before am I being present? If I’m looking into her eyes and moving my tongue around in my mouth and scrunching my toes on the floor because I am uncomfortable am I being present? If I’m moving my tongue and scrunching my toes because I’m uncomfortable sitting inside the discomfort the unknown sitting and hanging out with it as twitches drip off my body onto the floor and into the air in the silence around me molding the atmosphere of the now into the shape of the improvisation am I being present?

Here's an example of what one may write about in their journal on an artistic retreat:

Obligatory Horse Pic

Obligatory Horse Pic

We wanted to do writing, work on new stuff, lunch, work on old stuff. But instead we did breakfast, work on new stuff, late lunch, go for a walk. Which I’m glad we did today because if we didn’t we would have wanted to do it later and honestly it wasn’t that great and we would have had more expectations built up about spending time in the nature. But everything here is still covered in snow. And, the thing that I said to Magda today, was that we’re here during the worst/best seasonal time because everything is dead, and it is also the end of the season of death, so it's like double death. We are surrounded by nature inside of the double death stage and that is where we are making our work.

Here is another example:

The meat smell is getting to me. My nose is all confused.

I am a dog/man

More and more interested in the meaning that is suggested by movement.  Or the meaning of movement that is an undeniable part of watching performance.  But what is the meaning?  I spent some time trying to articulate what certain habitual movements mean to me:

1)   A walking around the room that means I am a dog/man; pissing and marking my territory.  I am presenting myself as an intelligent, thinking performer.

2)   A groping at the sky that means I am drinking the milk of the universe.

3)   Frenzied gesticulating while jumping that means I am the sky creating fireworks, and I am me making emotional explosions in other peoples lives.

4)   Skipping, light feet with outstretched arms, because I am Jesus on the cross (dancing) or men from a small village who get drunk and let loose once a year.

5)   I’m vibing off you as an audience- throwing you some energy and catching yours.  Energy Frisbee.

6)I’m aware of my body- my breast shaking.  Sometimes I am proud of this shaking breast.  Sometimes I am not proud.

-MSM

First February Rehearsal

I am operating from an assumption that my ideas are a part of me. For example, if you had an ice cream flavor made of yourself it wouldn't taste like anything to you because it is what you walk around tasting all of the time (sideways stories from wayside school reference). In this way it is difficult to find your ideas because they are assumptions or habits you have in the world and in order to find them you have to go in and look around and pick stuff apart. Stuff that is hard to see because its always there and you don't constantly look at it. Like your own face which you can't see unless you look in a mirror. Or in rehearsal how working with another person acts as a mirror for your "operational assumptions" or "habits" which is where I'm deciding to say that my ideas come from. 

Magda's ideas come from a different place. She sees things. She has visions and makes drawings of them. She sees settings and costumes and characters. Everything has a meaning. I don't have ideas like this usually. This month we are trying to work in the studio separately and then come together to share our research. Part of the reason we are doing this is so I can work on developing a connection, respect, and confidence in my own ideas. This is why i spent much of my time in the studio today reflecting on where I think my "best ideas" come from. The above is what I've decided to be true. For now. 

I also went on to explore the difference between a "meaningless" phrase of movement and a "meaningful" phrase of movement. The exploration of movement creation from two different points of inspiration. "Meaningless" movement from function. Aesthetic. geometry. "Meaningful" movement from what makes me feel something. What movement feels like the fullest expression of myself in the moment and makes me feel stuff inside. This seems so self indulgent to me that it is difficult to write about. Ok this could be another post for later so I am done. 

Also I decided I'm a verb and not a noun.

CM