August 21, 2014 § Leave a comment
The following excerpt comes from Christopher Lemann-Haupt’s review of Modris Eksteins’ Rites of Spring: The Great War and the birth of the Modern Age.
In an essay, ”The Culture of Modernism,” included in his book ”Decline of the New” (Horizon), Irving Howe deplored the persistence of the modern sensibility’s ”nihilism,” its ability to live on ”through vulgar reincarnation and parodic mimesis.”
The obvious response had always seemed to be that the forms created by modernism have long since been divorced from their struggle to come into being. Besides, how is it possible to do any art today without acknowledging these forms through some form of imitation? What is most disturbing about ”Rites of Spring” is its implication that simply by acknowledging those forms we are participating in the destructive spirit that created them. It is not a dance of creation we are doing when we celebrate these rites of spring, Mr. Eksteins seems to say. Even if we only follow the beat, we are doing a dance of death.
I need to spend some time writing about this book. Does one line about this book fit into the first paragraph of the Krimmer paper? I hope so, because it might wrap well into the ending image of Chouinard’s Sacre.
I like the image of struggling to come into being. We realize by the end of Chouinard’s piece that that is what we have been witnessing a struggle to come into being and that we each as humans live with this struggle — acknowledged or not — on a daily, moment to moment basis. I am grateful not to have to be faced with this struggle in every moment, grateful that I can go to the theater and see these gorgeous and intellectually engaged dancers demonstrate what might be going on beneath my surface in every living moment. This is not just the moment after life first began, as Chouinard claims she is considering, but every moment since that time as well.
August 21, 2014 § 2 Comments
This morning I read a blog post by dancer and movement analyst Matthew Nelson responding to a video of a young dancer demonstrating extraordinary feats of physicality that somehow look hollow or passionless — not quite accidental, but lacking personal engagement. Nelson asks himself: “So what is this depth I seek? I want to see who people are.” “I’m interested in seeing people through the individual quality of their movement.” So do I.
Nelson is talking about individual uniqueness, choice making, and engagement. “Qualitative depth comes from how we connect our individual experiences in our dancing—spatially, personally, and interpersonally.” He’s talking about the unique choices that each individual makes in response to their unique location in the fabric of a whole. We can only make such choices when we are aware of our environment and our relationship to it.
This definition of human depth connects with Erin Manning’s concept of relationscape describing each person’s uniquely fluid relationship to a fluid matrix of fluid relationships and how that positionality is constantly shifting. The whole is constantly shifting around the individual, while the individual is constantly evolving within the whole.
This is the shift that I see in the final moment of Chouinard’s Sacre. For one final moment the dancers assume human bodies, normal upright walking human bodies. But because we have just witnessed their 40 minute transformation from four-legged creeping to snarling beast to sexy sea anemone and sex-crazed fury, we know more about these people walking toward us than we otherwise might. We have witnessed the extraordinary passion and intensity brought to bear when creative thought is aligned with physicality. These bodies now striding toward us hold potential, they are active, engaged, and powerfully human.
On the other hand, part of me knows that I can never “see” who someone is, nor can I see what choices are being made by another person. I am confused by my own fantasy of what I think I might be seeing. The boy dancing virtuosically in that video certainly is — he exists. His spatial precision suggests that he has a certain mastery of his physical environment and propels his body through that environment with precision. What is missing for me is choice-making around timing, breath and Flow. If there were modulation of timing, breath and Flow I might imagine that I were seeing choices in the process of being made in a way that satisfies the part of me that yearns to see such manifestations of human aliveness. Of course, I would have no idea what is actually going on in the young man’s head, no more than in the video I did see, but such modulations are hallmarks of engagement and awareness that I associate with choices being made even in the course of set choreography.
March 26, 2013 § Leave a comment
In the specific context of Greek hero cult, Carla Antonaccio has written, “The term cult identifies a pattern of ritual behavior in connection with specific objects, within a framework of spatial and temporal coordinates. Ritual behavior would include (but not necessarilly be limited to) prayer, sacrifice, votive offerings, competitions, processions and construction of monuments. Some degree of recurrence in place and repetition over time of ritual action is necessary for cult to be enacted, to be practiced”2
To what extent can we view the 20th, and now 21st century, practice of recreating, performing, and witnessing The Rite of Spring, this faux ritual suicide, as a cult? How does our 100-year practice of reenacting this mythical rite (or refusing to reenact it by changing key aspects of the original libretto) satisfy Antonaccio’s criteria for cult worship?
The latin root of the word cult, cultus, means “care” or “adoration.” Lovers adore/care for one another every day in countless gestures. Similarly, worshippers care for the values they hold dearly by practicing devotion to deities or other forces that embody or otherwise represent these values.
Note to self: could easily devote multiple sets of 12 to this topic. Non-stop writing for 12 minutes at a time is a mainstay of my current writing practice. Is it devotional? Let’s ask Antonaccio.
1 Antonaccio, “Contesting the Past: Hero Cult, Tomb Cult, and Epic in Early Greece”, American Journal of Archaeology 98.3 (July 1994: 389-410) p. 398.
2 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cult_(religious_practice). I like the brief etymology presented here. Would be good to cross reference with some others.
March 13, 2013 § Leave a comment
I’m sitting in Café Moritz, in a chair identical to those in Bausch’s Café Muller. That piece is often described in the context of the cultural confusion and shock in the aftermath of WW2, which is the context in which Bausch grew up as the daughter of café owners. I don’t know how this café compares t the one where she grew up, but it might be pretty similar.
While sitting here in the part of Wuppertal known as Barmen, I happen across a description of the Declaration of Barmen, 1934, and the dedication of a new synagogue on the campus of a local church. In angry response to Hitler’s ongoing efforts to bring the church under state power, church leadership met in Barmen to articulate their rejection of Hitler’s policies regarding the church. Their statements was called the Declaration of Barmen and it inspired church resistance activity throughout Germany. Resistance churches called themselves the Confessing Church, in contrast to the pro-Nazi German Christianity. Pastors were jailed, put in concentration camps, and executed for opposing the state.
One essay I found described the actions of the pastor of Barmen’s Gemarker Church on the Sunday following the Kristallnacht pogrom (November 9 1938) which destroyed the lives and property of Jews in Barmen no less than elsewhere in Germany:
Pastor Karl Immer stood before the congregation–not wearing his cassock–and said that a few hundred meters away from the Gemarker Church God’s word had been burned. He was referring to the destruction and burning of the Barmen Sheurenstrasse Synagogue. Because of that he said he neither could nor would preach. He simply wanted to read two Bible texts. And he read the ten commandments in their original form and the parable of the Good Samaritan, prayed the Lord’s Prayer and said, “Those who have understood the meaning of these texts are invited to join me in the choir vestry afterwards.” There were about 40 to 50 members of the congregation. With forged passports we did then manage to get a number of Jewish citizens out of Germany. (1)
Alongside this description of bravery, heroism, and generosity, the article makes a point of not excusing the gross omission of the treatment of Jews from the Declaration of Barmen in 1934.
“Those who gathered in Barmen in 1934 found no words against the putting into place of the persecution of the Jews. Karl Barth, one of the “fathers” of the Barmen Declaration, later confessed that it was a sin to not have made the Jewish question a decisive issue for the Kirchenkampf, or at least to not have done so publicly.”
This omission is called “the missing seventh Barmen Thesis.”
Sitting here in this traditional café in central Barmen after rehearsal for Bausch’s Sacre, I cannot help but draw connections between these various threads. How does the Sacre relate to this city in which it was created, and the bodies that created it? Bausch was born into a world ripped apart physically, emotionally, and spiritually, a world where people were trying to make sense of the atrocities they had committed, atrocities both in deed and by omission.
What about the neighbors on that November night in 1934? How might their experience of fear and dread have mixed with relief that they were not the chosen ones to have their livelihood destroyed and the contents of their homes thrown into the street? How relieved were they that it wasn’t their cousin, brother, child being kicked to a bloody pulp right before their eyes? Or perhaps it was. How might this extreme upwelling of emotion have prevented them from taking action on behalf of their neighbors? How can one act against a mob without becoming collateral damage? Contemporary Indian cinema is full of images of the extraordinary mob violence that accompanied the end of British rule and which eventually resulted in the partition of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh along religious lines. There is no question of intervening in a tidal wave. Stepping in front of a mob armed with machetes is suicide.
What about the double downward pulse that the crowd repeats throughout her solo, or as an invitation or invocation of her solo? Are they egging her on? Are they reconnecting with the earth from which they all have come and to which she will return, sooner than they? Are they shaking off their own emotional overload – guilt, shame, relief, fascination, etc.
Bausch created Café Muller in 1978, three years after her Sacre. How do they connect? Perhaps two attempts to solve the same puzzles. Wim Wenders acknowledges that he and Pina shared a cultural context and that their artistic visions each grew out of an attempt to make sense of the post-apocalyptic nature of the times in which they lived.
Wenders had met the choreographer when her company performed two of her masterworks, Café Müller and The Rite of Spring, in Venice in 1985. They felt an affinity, he confirms, in part because they were both children of disconsolate, recovering post-war Germany.
These two iconic Bausch pieces were presented together in 1985, the year following a lecture by Eberhard Bethge celebrating the Barmen Declaration while simultaneously faulting its framers for omitting their responsibility to their neighbors, the Jews. He calls for a “reappreaisal of the reasons why no clear statement was made in the Barmen Declaration on the issue of the persecution of the Jews” and calls upon the community to rectify this violent act of inaction. Bausch’s Sacre, created in Barmen in 1975 and continuing to circulate now partnered with Café Muller steps into this conversation. Of course, Bausch refused to discuss the meaning of her work, so much so that the very idea of asking her about meaning makes longtime collaborator Mercy laugh: “With Pina, it was no help to ask her. She liked to be surprised. She liked misunderstandings when what emerged was incredibly beautiful. I never felt the need to ask things.” (Jays, 2) Her collaborators are generally adamant that discussing the meaning of her work “would [betray] their maker, who squirmed when asked to explain her creations” (Jays, 2)
Bethge calls for an “actual act of encounter”. Encounter with the previously ignored, the previously unseen, unspoken. What do we encounter when we see the Sacre? Our own past, our own ghosts. What do the bystanders witnessing the dance of the chosen one encounter? Encounter the divine. The offering becomes sacred and thus we encounter the divine. Think about examples of sacrifice which require extensive ritual activity in order to create the conditions for encountering the divine.