Thursday, October 21, 2021

lessons from "Raven Kassandra"

in many ways, revisiting and further developing "Raven" after its inception at Elaine Summers Dance & Film Co. / Kinetic Awareness® Center, 2005 and its first climax in 2009 at the National Dance Center in Bucharest, Romania, helped me complement & understand a lot, deeper, better.
it does make sense, the acronym BUILD (Better Understanding Involves Learning and Doing ) ...

revisiting the black series

the central equation of the piece is 1 over 0 = existence over non-existence, creating movement / process > presence vs. poetry (shaped expression)

this formula is also the base for the entire black series, of which this dance is a part. the black color could be inspired by the black clothing code of 20th century Existentialists, 1980s New Wavers. but even more importantly black as the radical absence of light, hinting at nothingness. (in 2013 I finally explored black as in Blackness, within the same series) 

none of these choices were very conscious: inspired by Meret Oppenheim, I always took the freedom to realize the pieces as they came to mind, including those that would form the austere, daunting, black series, the dark forces of nature. this existential series is always theatrical, fully absorbing, at times hermetic, cutting, austere, dramatic, but also present in the here and now of the performing moment. (like just about all of my work) 

no more "cold-starts" into a project
I realized while preparing for the performance that having continuously done cold-starts with the project-choreographies has been as harmful in the long term as it would be with the dancing body. 

spoken text (voice) vs. movement (text)
delving into the text "Kassandra" by Christa Wolf, exploring it in translation, from German to English, from meaning into presence, movement, props, persona's, became a main feature of the resulting performance.

elements that help to create communication in the moment
each part of the text that I decided on during the rehearsals got its costume (from just about every performance of works from the black series) 
one part already had specific lighting, the scene where Kassandra dreams of the God Apollon, giving her the gift of prophecy, but then wanting to have sex with her as a reward ...

during the performance
the drama, talking, (Tanz-)theater became very prominent, lots of spoken words, bringing me on edge as a performer, because as an actor I have little training when it comes to using my vocal chords for speaking in public. 

fortunately the speaking did not completely push back all other movements, I could dive (back) into  a continuum where movement would happen "naturally" on its own flow, at times going together with the speaking, at other times more autonomous. 

a sober cover for underlying mystery

I was surprised at my overall sobriety before, during and after the performance. I felt very matter of fact, despite the rather dramatic and existential topic and content.

the outbreaks of movement were - except towards the end- mainly "uncontrolled", uncensored, the most simple, unrestrained stream of movement. not unlike the prophetess getting overwhelmed by that piping, shrieking, ghastly little voice, hanging over her and wailing, screaming ... 

a better balance between the two extremes, ideally shaping in the moment would be good.

the outstretched arms to the side had been a very clear moment that I knew would be a corner-stone of this performance, and I am glad that I found a way into enacting them. it is very nice to have gotten a better understanding of the degree of form-alisation of action into poetry, specific words, nouns, compounds that are created to be holding specific moments of meaning. 

towards the end I did quite consciously re-enact rather specific movements from the very beginning of the Raven in 2005 : a quick contretemps of the hands and arms, triggering a vertical lunge/fall/precipice of the entire body downward. if I kept working more on this piece, listen to the dance more, would more pre-set movements emerge that would help re-enact the dance as itself? 

I was also surprised how much my voice became an exact reproduction of how I spoke the final words during the recorded performance in Bucharest.

resisting women, female resistance and silencing
countering innovation, (post)modernism

there was no music at any time in this piece, except an audio-recording of activist and co-founder of Code Pink, Medea Benjamin, as she publicly denounced, ridiculed and exposed the ... shortcomings(?) of a right-wing ThinkTank defending the unilateral annihilation of the Iran Nuclear Deal by then-US president Donald Trump. I am not an uncritical admirer of her political views, but I loved how she just got up in the middle of a "serious" military meeting and started to deflate and debunk it, speaking a plain language, speaking her truth to power.

one direction that would interest me further is to explore is my long involvement with resisting, dissenting women (artists) who as often as not were downplayed and marginalised by their contemporaries: Annette von Droste-Hülshoff, Meret Oppenheim, Gertrude Stein, ... and/or in dance more recently Anna Halprin, Elaine Summers, Mary O'Donnell-Fulkerson, Mary Overlie, to name just a few. (update: later this year, bell hooks passed away, again an important voice who spoke out, against comfortable notions of any kind, an early advocate of James Baldwin as a Black Gay writer and thinker who just like her, prepared us for intersectionality)

these women clearly said no to then-dominant narratives that were kept over their chosen profession, they refused to give in and were in turn often bypassed, ridiculed, ignored, simply not mentioned more widely, despite their innovative achievements and hard work. 

somewhat the paths that they forged, are now more accepted and understood, even taken for granted, even if they themselves are often as not still glossed over, "forgotten", not mentioned in favour of (male) (White) and/or more recent colleagues. but their potential is still a challenge for most of us, today.

obviously there is a very patriarchal context: in a society where people who are categorised as women get blacked out by custom and design, they can be more prone to dissent and alternatives to the mainstream. (Gay men and non-genderconforming people alongside with them) but we must not forget that patriarchy is in no way more 'natural' or Goddess-given than sexual differences.

a living talking dancing book?
if I do it often enough, I could indeed become a living interpreter of the book "Kassandra", a medium interpreter, quoting each time what is the most fitting for the moment. my physicality and personality can co-create a very full, but not unbiased continuation, ... or bring my audience to read the book? (the English translation, is it good enough??)

thanks to close:
before the final rehearsal period, I had been in Berlin to present a work by Elaine Summers at POOL Shine New York Traces. (link here) that weekend, on Sunday morning, I had a long and important conversation with Yoshiko Chuma when we took a walk in a nearby park. the artistic directors of the festival, Wibke Janssen and Sara Möller also contributed directly to the inspiration of this performance. thank you!

it was also very inspiring to have Julia Hoza who came as part of her last year at the Music and Arts University of the City of Vienna, Austria (MUK) come to follow the rehearsal process as an understudy. we talked a lot, also about both being diasporic, 2nd generation, having roots from pretty much the same region between Romania, Ukraine, and Hungary, hers Romanian, mine Hungarian and German.

with all of the above, the piece came back to itself.
thanks to Anthony Hüseyin for curating the evening, all at Ubik/Worm who made it possible, the fellow performance artists, Cuartito Azul for the safe and workable rehearsal space, A. Enser and all supporters.

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