Saturday, June 28, 2008

Day Eleven: Rejecting the Idea of a "Simple Piece"

Okay, so Jeremy asked me to blog about what's happened to my ideas about "simple" and "complex" pieces. A quick recap first for those of you who weren't there. Here goes:

So after i made "The What's Left Over After" (the piece that i made the hypermedia for) i recieved the comment (multiple times from multiple people) that they enjoyed the piece, but wished that it could be "clearer" - to paraphrase one comment, that sections of the piece were like rich chocolate cake, but all of the parts of the piece pushed together became overfilling and overrich - in need of editing. This made me think about previous pieces, upon which i realized that most of the feedback i was getting was that my pieces needed editing, and could be much "better" if i stoped tryting to make epic work, and instead concentrated on honing my craft and construction.

Now, let me just make it clear, that i 100% respect and 98% agree with that feedback. I make too much. It needs editing. If i could make less and hold myself to editing, it would, most likley, be "better" (let's say, in the eyes of those who judge what's "good" in postmodern/contemporary modern dance as of right now).

BUT. It brought up a lot of issues for me about the ways in which we as choreogrpahers are asked and taught to make dances; what we are taught is "good" work. A few big paradoxes came to mind, the biggest concerning clarity and the role of the audience:

When i was younger (and a little in college too), i was always instructed to not think too much about the audience. That, if i was to make good work, i needed to follow my heart and really craft what i wanted to make from my heart to your (the audience's) eyes. I'm sarcastic, but that's what i was being told. But at the same time, i was being told that i had to follow a set of structures and rules that would make the work "clear" "interesting" and "watchable" for the audience. The goal was to make somthing that wouldn't be entirely overwhelming for the audience, rather, enjoyable and entertaining. After all, we make the work for the audience. The paradox being: make the work for the audience, but make what you want to make from your heart, but make it clear and enjoyable. What if what's in my heart is complex and epic? What if it's unwatchable? Here's when people started telling me that maybe i wasn't really a choreogrpaher and that i wanted to try other art forms.

But the question still held for me: if what's in my heart is NOT compatible with the clarity that i'm being asked to deliver, then what happens if i (as well as anyone else who feels similarly) puts all that energy we've been expending molding our visions into clarity, into simply letting what we have be what it is, and finding ways to help veiwers (who have likewise been trained towards simplicity) access it?

SO. In my early grappling with these notions, i started calling the work that i felt i was being asked to make (for the audiece, but 100% from your heart, but clear) a "simple piece" and the idea of what would be possible to make if we redirected our focus/thinking a "complex piece".

Let me just say, my bad.

I did not mean to imply that work being made now was simple, nor mine vastly complex. I did not mean to offend, and i certianly didn't mean to say that i didn't see the complexity at play within every single dance created. In many cases, the pieces that seem the most simple and clear and the hardest to make and the by far the most internally complex. I know (and after last semester, have proved) that i can not and will not make a piece that is clear and simple to view, becuase it is too hard, and i lack those specific skills as a creator.

So where are those ideas now? (Jeremy, the world, wants to know!)
Actually, i've kind of rejected the idea of simplicity, especially under that name. Nothing nothing nothing is simple. However, i AM still interested in the idea of CLARITY, and how it has been constructed in our learning of modern dance and choreogrpahy.

In senior seminar this year, Sara always asked us what we were "assuming" in our work. Are we assuming that the dancers always start offstage? Do we assume and reassume that a piece is always to music? These sorts of things. Well, i feel that contemporary dance assumes many things:
  • the work will generally be between five minutes and "evening length"
  • the work will not be unwatchable
  • the work will involve bodies, onstage, moving/not moving, and music/no music
  • the work is performed for an average of two nights, or on tour
  • the work is generally ephemaral
  • the work will be clear enough that in one veiwing, the audience will be interested/intriqued/entertained enough to a) want to see the piece again, b) want to see the company again, c) donate money to the company, or d) tell a friend to see the show

etc, etc, etc. There are more, and of course all of these have major exceptions (especially here in postmodernism) but these are the ones that stick out to me. To me, this is how the dance world seems to function, and whether this is due to economic factors or artistic theories or the Will of the Muse (or all of them, which, it is) this is how we are being taught and teaching ourselves what dance is.

It isn't that we're teaching ourselves "this is good dance, this is bad dance" (even though we are.) It's that we're being taught, "This is dance, this isn't."

So that's my little rant. As you can see, i'm still very much engaged with the idea of clarity and the idea of questioning that, even if i've givin up the monolithic (and i think not really real) ideas of "simple" and "complex". Everything is both. It's seeing what we're assuming that's interesting to me now.

Personally, i'm interested in trying to create dance along the lines that Joyce wrote Ulysses. Create something that is compleatly on your terms. Create something that is too much, too dance, unread/watchable. Create something with a new language and old structures. Create somthing that must be studdied intensley for any understanding to be reached, yet is at the same time intensley provocative and moving and beautiful. Create a work that people will spend their entire lives studying, and still profess to not compleatly understand. AND. Create a study guide that goes with it.

No dance like that has been created, not that i've seen or heard of. So that's what i'm interested in making.

As always, questions welcome.


Laurel A. said...

why do you want to make this?
because it hasn't been done before (presumably?
are you interested in exploring the unknown?

i don't think that we were being educated in what is "good" or "bad" on a larger scale. i think that we were being challenged to see what was "good" or "bad" (heinous words) within our own requirements of our work. what were our good assumptions and our bad assumptions.

and so people watch our stuff (the audience! sometimes chock full of peer creators and educators!!!) and then we sit around and watch other people's stuff (we're the audience now! oh god!) and then we all sit around some more and talk about what was "good" and what was "bad".

and we use those terms and we even run the spectrum of kinder versions to violently cruel versions of those words. it's because we have opinions (and oh lord do we have opinions. such loud talks. such large words being chucked around such small rooms.)

this means that we were paying attention. we were even paying attention to the stuff that we wanted to gouge our eyes out at because we thought it was, yes, THAT BAD. it held us. so that we could yell about it later.

so good and bad are little bags of finkel matter that we pass off onto each other and ourselves. but they're just weird little identifications. it has nothing to do with the work. it's just the aftermath. it does, however, show there was an audience and they were paying attention and then they had something to say. yeah, sure i'm talking about a room full of dance makers and artists. but some of them are our friends who came to see.

some of my friends who would come to the shows would never engage in such a large debate because they are not comfortable with their opinions in the situation. but in their rooms, their comfort zones, they are more than willing to speak about what they saw and what they felt and how it did compare to other things that they have seen. this is the audience member you talk about a lot in these posts. they're already paying attention, yeah?

simple vs. complex. eh...
it is what it is.
but to make something that is so complex that people will spend their careers studying it and not understanding it, doesn't that negate the hypermedia? i know that that is your handbook. but, to keep on the joyce route, there are many handbooks to joyce. yes, his and many others. these are, again, opinions. yes, one of them is joyce's but it is his post ulysses written handbook. not his during my writing this blah blah blah. reflection and then definition. so even that is somewhat impure in its analysis.

you have probably already made something that people could spend their lives studying and never quite understanding. i'm sure we all have because the mind is a difficult thing and asks unanswerable questions as well as has multiple answers to one question. not to mention the lovely factor of time causes change which cause reassessment. therefore, new answers and explorations.

the reason why ulysses is studied is because it's earthshatteringly beautiful in its coarseness. it's extremely well written. it's fabulous. it is completely and totally readable. that's why people read it. the people that say it isn't readable mean it's just not their cup of tea. so let them drink coffee and enjoy some raymond carver.

even raymond carver could be analyzed. but it's not only the work itself it's the person behind it. you want to know their life and the time that they wrote/made their work to better understand where they were coming from and what it was that made them get these ideas out of them in whatever form.

and they got them out. and they got them out well. that is why we study them and not ___________ ( i would name someone but we don't know them because they aren't doing the universal thing). joyce was able to make something that at one point and time during the novel there is an intense understanding by the reader. he is writing their life. he was breaking down time and space. that was the talent part.

so, really sarah, just keep working. if you keep making stuff you'll get closer to making that one thing that people cannot deny. you're 22. you've got time. hey, van gogh had to die before people saw that he had it goin' on (and that he was crazy to boot. that makes all the more fascinating. the creative process is a glorious thing to study, but that process has to be interesting.)

make something great and then you make the handbook later. you know, when your audience is beggin' for it.

Laurel A. said...

forgive my slip ups.
it's summertime!
vivi and i are going to
a museum to look
at pollocks
and de koonings
right on.

Sarah A.O. Rosner/The AOMC said...

i think that i'm very inclined to agree with you and your very beautiful writing. I'm very moved by your response.

I do understand what you're saying, and understand that the audience (even those who might not voice their opinions, as you say) are paying attention and are experiencing. And, after all is said and done, i do understand that this whole process for me is simply a way to keep myself interested in and dedicated to, making more work. Becuase, yes, that's all we have to do.

But i also think it's interesting to think about it from a hypermedia perspective. Yes, we know that all we have to do is make the work and THEN deal with what comes next (both of which are no small feat). But what happens if we interput that process? Precede our own reflections by reflecting in process?

I'm not suggesting it as a way of working for everyone, certianly, just as it wouldn't be a satistfying way of watching for every audience member. All i'm saying is that we know how it goes that way - amidst the chaos of puting a piece together and the heartwrench of giving it away and the joy of seeing others expereince it (all of which are YES! huge big joyous things that i LOVE), we know the routine and we know how it goes.

I, for one, have NO IDEA where this hypermedia thing is going to end up, or what kind of work it is ultimately going to produce from me, others. Which is why i'm chasing it. It may be that the work i make after all this inquiry is different to the work i was making only through my eyes; i may make worse work from here on out.

BUT. I think the reason i make work is to process what i do know and have been through, and lead me to new things that i have yet to think, feel, love, and fight.

So if after all of this, hypermedia is, at its very core, the way that i "just keep making work", then isn't it worth the added benifit of making something that no one has even made before? In a big way?