The visibility of anticipatory preparations – persisting in moving on, being seen looking ahead –– Dorothy Dubrule
I've been watching and thinking about the Olympics. As spectators, we not only take pleasure in the spectacle, but also recognize the state of our social politics in the performances and values assigned to the bodies of individuals from around the world. Conversations about the previous nights events include the sex of an athlete and whether they should be evaluated as a male or female based on their performance, why we still equate male performance with superiority, the inequality of opportunities to train based on race and nationality, the long history of that inequality, whether someone's performance should be judged differently because they were on their period at the time... all of this reminds me that a performing body can make the mechanisms by which we assign meaning and judgment visible. We can recognize our value systems at work – who deserves the praise and why do we think they deserve it?
In my work as a choreographer, I intend to make the seams of the performance visible. Rather than try to hide the effort and smooth out the transitions, as dancers are often encouraged to do in their training, I want to make all of those actions a primary feature of the dance. I want the audience to see the performer at work, see what they are trying to do, see them perform imperfectly. I am pursuing the underwhelming, I think. Sorry to my audience. But maybe the virtuosity is not in making the accomplishment look easy, but in the attempt to accomplish itself. I wonder if we can be impressed by sheer persistence.
For the Rose Hill performance, performer Jason Black and I are sourcing the choreography of Olympic gymnastic floor routines and removing all of the gymnastics. What remains are all of the transitions and preparatory movements that are performed with energetic emphasis, but mainly serve the purpose of expressing the fact that something really difficult and really impressive is about to occur. There are also many pauses – moments where the gymnast is looking ahead with anticipation, then lifts their shoulders, nods their chin and disappears into a tumbling sequence. Putting these sequences back to back, there are many preparations, many flourishes of the limbs.. there is a constant ascent, but there are no dazzling feats.
Learning the sequences, which are dominated by balletic shapes, I am investigating what the choreography wants to express. Something femme, something playfully childlike, but at the same time perfect and confidently executed. Watching the faces of the gymnasts performing the routines, especially in moments where their bodies are still, they look terrified. There is an enormous amount of pressure put upon them to master the sequence they are about to perform. And they are celebrated immediately, but not for long. Their careers may last at most one or two more Olympic cycles. In interviews I've heard gymnasts describe the breakdowns they have before marching out in front of the crowds. What are the values expressed in this choreography?
I'm watching and thinking about the Olympics and reflecting on the visibility of our own persistent ascents in life. Perhaps not altogether athletic in appearance and often lacking what most would consider dazzling feats, but seen and judged by others. I wonder if we can celebrate the simple repetition of looking down, landing, and starting again, looking ahead. I wonder if we can make a choreography that exists in the moment ahead. I wonder if the audience can see the brilliant thing we're preparing for, even when its not in front of them. I'm still working.