Sunday, June 10, 2012

Ready, Aim...


Ready, Aim… is a solo work that I created for On the Boards NW New Works Festival 2012.  I expected this piece to be an excerpt of the larger piece, Fire!, which I am creating for 2013, however what emerged feels more like underpinnings for the evening-length work, rather than an excerpt.

I was inspired by Niki de Saint Phalle’s Shooting Paintings.  In this body of work Saint Phalle covered surfaces with objects including plastic bags of colored paint and plastered over the objects to create a voluptuous white surface.  Then in increasingly public performances, she would shoot the paintings with a rifle causing the bags of paint to bleed onto the painting’s surface.

I am fascinated by the fact that visual artists create work outside of themselves; while dancer/choreographers are often inseparable from our work.  Because of this I felt it was important to imagine what it was like to be one of the shooting paintings as well as the femme fatal shooter.  So I proposed to On the Boards that I make a piece in which I invite the audience to throw things at me…  Be careful what you ask for, you might just get it.

I feel that our bodies are very much like the shooting paintings in that we all bury memories in our flesh.  Our muscles and joints hold scars quietly until a touch, or smell, or flavor wakes up the memory and we find our selves reacting to a situation irrationally, in a way that is more about our personal history, rather than the actual present.

My intention was to create movement phrases based on injuries that my body holds, which would be initiated by the impact of the objects the audience threw at me.  While I was digging into my injuries for movement seeds however, two things happened.  One was that a long-standing chronic knee injury eclipsed all of the other investigations and actually became so aggravated that I was no longer able to dance.  The other was that while on tour I caught an episode of Comedy Central’s “Laugh at My Pain.”   Watching the stand up comedians I was struck by their amazing physicality and the fact that by making comedy out of tragedy they were offering themselves, and their audience a way to heal from their pain.

My work is not usually very funny.  But there is nothing I love more than a challenge.

photo by Tim Summers
 My knee injury is rooted in early ballet training in which I was told that I shouldn’t have such a big butt and to tuck it under.  In my desire to be a dancer, I believed my teacher and set a posture pattern in place that caused strain on the front of my hips that led to compromised health in my knees.  I was 22 years old before a physical therapist (named Rocky) told me that I was in fact supposed to have a curve in my lower back.  Physical habits die hard, and the undoing of this conditioning is still (12 years later) something I have to be conscious of.  This early training, that to be a dancer I should have no butt, also lead to a long struggle with eating disorders. 

As I investigated the other injuries I have had, I began to realize that most of them are the result of nutritional and emotional imbalance, all of which can be traced back to self sabotage that I enacted in order to fit into my perception of what I was supposed to look like as a woman, and certainly as a female dancer.

One reason I create work inspired by historic artists is to analyze the relationship between art and culture, both what has changed and what has remained the same.  Saint Phalle was cruelly objectified and not taken seriously as a woman artist in the 1960s.  While the waves of feminism continue to beat on the shore of misogyny, we still live in a culture that does not provide equal pay for equal work, expectations are extremely different for boys and girls, and women’s work is often reduced to how they look doing it.

In dance, misogyny is so inherent in classical aesthetics that it is almost invisible. *  The history of ballet costumes is about the increasing reveal of women’s legs and point shoes make women unable to stand on their own resulting in the continuous, literal manipulation of women by men in classical dance.   That’s what we expect when we go to the ballet.  Even Martha Graham, with her incredible cast of female heroines also established a theatrical aesthetic in which thick make-up and pounds of fake hair have become an essential component of the female character’s strength.  As a dancer in the Bill T Jones/ Arnie Zane Dance Company I was valued for what made me masculine; broad shoulders, height, and I had a shaved head when I joined the company.  I am a tomboy, but it was confusing from age 19-28 to be told in so many ways by my mentor that I would be more valuable if I were a man.

I’ve been creating my own work for many years, wrestling with my love of classical lines, technical virtuosity, and feminism.  I believe that as an artist I have a responsibility to make work that actively participates in creating the kind of cultural dialogue I want to live in.  My love of beauty and my desire to be an activist often feel as though they are in conflict.  Ready, Aim… was born out of that tension.

Dance is an incredible language to speak about the amorphous, dynamic, multi-faceted experience of being human.  But there are some subjects better addressed directly.  The pain in my knee enforced a monologue rather than a movement study, but as soon as I opened my mouth I realized how much I had to say.  I thought that being a target would be painful, but instead it fed my fire.  I thank all of the audiences for their active involvement.

Someone asked me if I “wrote” Ready, Aim… I didn’t.  I uncovered it.  What makes it funny is that it’s so true.


* This was the subject of my MFA, so I’ve written numerous papers on the subject. This paragraph is a gross over simplification- it’s a blog so I’m trying to get to the point.

1 comment:

mc said...

Yes, Catherine. I resonate with so many of the ideas and feelings you express above. Feelings that get kept within the flesh only to be activated by a sense, usually when we least expect it. Being a human being first, but due to a love a beauty, falling into the paradigm of what it means to be a beautiful woman. These are all topics that need more fleshing out. It seems to me, you are doing this process of fleshing out in the textual sense, but also in the physical sense. Keep on it! This is essential uncovering.