Saturday, November 14, 2009

Growth of the Author

One of the things that draws me increasingly to performance-oriented work is the complexity of authorship. I do enjoy the isolated, private give-and-take of the studio experience, but collaboration tends to be more fun, more unpredictable and more unstable. And the result is more than can be contained by any one brain - a sharing and dispersal of responsibility.
A piece like Bandage A Knife (which runs for 5 more nights!) explores so many variations of authorship, it becomes quite difficult to determine a point of origin. Some moments, such as the trio of Anne, Kaj and Rebecca with mirror, flashlight and mirror came directly out of my notebook sketches and my scripted monologue, but were developed through improvisation with Linda and are brought to life in performance through Rebecca's intonation and Kaj's elaborate and absurd facial translations.

Some moments, such as the dialogue between Kaj (below the plywood) and Linda (standing on top) were developed through improvisation, but injected with my dialogue (which is itself an interpretation and extraction of the filmic source material). Other moments were written in a back-and-forth manner between Linda and myself, with much laughter. Laughter was used as an evaluative tool throughout.

A moment such as Rebecca with projected hand gestures and a percussive score depends heavily on my studio-based video and sound composition, carefully constructed (though again, the video was assembled from an editing of Linda's improvised gestures). Rebecca's hands-behind-back trajectory within that video/sound moment was then developed from my broad suggestions which asked for her interpretation.

I am thankful for Linda Austin's willingness to allow me to develop my own directorial ideas within the safety of her studio. And it was fascinating to observe the wide variety of methodologies which make up her own choreographic practice. These ranged from predetermined and taught movement, to suggestions for improvisation ("imagine your eyes are a camera"), to a kind of aleatoric mirroring ("catch my gestures as I improvise and assemble them into your own phrase") to free-form improvisation by the dancers, videotaped and then painstakingly relearned from the tape, among others. These elements then meet discussion, suggestion and editing from the directors and the group.

What makes this issue of authorship even more complicated is the way a distinct voice shines through such an enfolded and complex development. (A standard example being that of John Cage - if he's so interested in subverting the authorial ego to allow indeterminacy, why do his pieces always sound like his?) For this reason, it's understandable that Lisa Radon would mis-attribute moments from this piece in her thoughtful review. Linda's quirky movement and choreographic preoccupations with bodily awkwardness are suffused throughout the piece - and influenced me too. This raises the open question of how the dancers subsume their own bodies within the director's aesthetic, and to what degree they are "allowed" or willing to insert their own movement idiosyncracies. The meeting point is diffuse, complex and, to me, deeply interesting.

Within cinema - another highly collaborative form - it is somewhat understood how the cinematographer, sound designer and others operate within a directorial vision. What would Ingmar Bergman be without Sven Nykvist? I'm sure that each director and each film explores these relationships in variously shaded ways, but we at least know how to think about such structures.
Modern dance/performance work, on the other hand, seems to rely much more broadly on what Catherine Sullivan calls "unique methodologies". It seems that the author's role in this kind of work becomes one of providing frameworks for improvisation, contexts for material, strategies for assembly and, of course, a guiding voice and a kind of generalized "veto power". Authorship gathers, disperses and re-gathers within the unique methodology of a director, as each participant gives him or herself to the collective creative process.

photos by Michael Degutis

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