This is a series from the class I taught at #performatica2018 called MOVEMENT IN NATURE. I teach this class because I want to share a practice I have been cultivating that re-patterns my relationship as human to the Earth 🌏. It was such a joy to teach this in Mexico and I am grateful for the opportunity.
By becoming more attuned to the structure and processes of our own bodies, we also have the opportunity to register the balanced wholeness of the world more vividly. Such heightened awareness may move us past abstract concern for "the environment" to a more immediate and physical identification with the earth"
This is a quotation from a book titled, BODY AND EARTH, written by Andrea Olsen.
I started teaching movement in nature because I saw a need for humans to remember their origins- the human body evolved from the Earth. I'm not sure why I came to teach this. For me, it gives me peace, it connects me to myself, and I feel that is not something I was taught in the civilization that humans created. How did we manage to get so far from our origins? How have we managed to destroy our home?
I am here speaking with a student after class. We talked of Authentic movement. We work on finding our authentic movement patterns as we dance with the Earth. Listening and valuing what the body has to tell us, remembering that it is our home and it is part of Earth that is our home
This is a powerful quotation if you are still reading 🤗
"Some students who protest the use of chemical spray on blueberry barrens in Maine, and...fertilizers in grain fields...and pouring raw sewage into streams...do not hesitate to take Ritalin (to stimulate brain chemistry) or Paxil (to slow down) or Motrin or Valium...what goes into the bloodstream enters the tissues, alters the overall balance of the body. Why is interconnectedness important when talking about migration patterns....but not the hormonal secretions of the thyroid gland." BODY AND EARTH by Andrea Olsen .
In the past three years I’ve been trying to…
break into, or more like
not play by the rules of a game that’s clearly not designed for ANYTHING useless (art) to survive
but to create my own rules, to survive, to be happy, to share happy with others, to find them first and then play. Because play will set our spirits free.
Today, I shift between that state where after a lot of listening, I become numb. I was forcing myself to care, and then I’m fearful of saying: I don’t care.
But I do, (this is the other, more hopeful state), I just can’t honestly care for everything
The act of listening to anything is to not listen to everything. Practice to discern, to tune in, to focus, to be a be fucking useful member of humanity, and fight the forces that overwhelm us and make us loose sight of the root of suffering.
I’m afraid of becoming sceptic of change. I roll my eyes at efforts of communicating ideas that hit walls. EVERYBODY HAS MADE UP THEIR MINDS. As a society, we are capable of very little, definitely not of achieving perspective. As individuals, maybe.
The truth does not set us free, we know the truth. There’s no conspiracy. All the mechanisms of corruption and greed exist at plain sight. It’s just fucking uncomfortable to try to do anything about it.
But the truth within ourselves. The truth of our actions. We have agency over the lies we tell ourselves everyday to comply, to merge, to feel accepted. Very seldom (and I believe mostly through art) we are invited to step out of the lie, to see that a life is possible without blending completely. That we can still have meaningful relationships, that we can still make a living.
That WE CAN stop lying to ourselves and others about how wonderful we are, even if instagram really wants us to believe it.
Technology has its own agency, and IT wants something. IT wants to keep us using it, developing it, "making our lives easier". Technology only moves forward, it never takes a rest to smell the flowers. It doesn’t fucking ever take a break. It lives out of our lies and out of our being forgetful of the past. And it sucks money and resources.
We are going to tell some stories that we are afraid will get forgotten: Journalists and students are being killed for exposing corruption. The government is controlled by businesses, drug cartels are just one of them, war is the main one. There’s no democracy. There has never been. Indigenous peoples continue to be dispossessed and trampled over. They’re putting the pasamontañas again, and they’re willing to die. Racism is still a reason for people to kill, imprison, and just plainly take rights away from others.
The wall has already been built.
Life feels like we see, but we can't make out anything. We hear but we can’t listen to one thing.
We are trying
We are blind leading the blind
But, at the risk of sounding super cheesy, I’m going to quote Saint-Exupéry and say: “it is only with the heart that one can see rightly, what is essential is invisible to the eye”.
#alloftheabove is a dance piece about the artist’s role in times of conflict, born out of personal moments of doubt and frustration. The making of the piece posed questions of empathy, responsibility, and privilege. It also wants to defend the artists’ freedom to not be defined by their affiliation with any particular cause, while acknowledging the existence of suffering. The process is presented here as collection of written and visual sources and conversations with colleagues. I will reference Facebook (FB) often, pointing out that, although social media is now normalized as the core of our shared experience as a society, two years ago, when I started collecting these ideas, it hadn’t occurred to me that it would become so much so. I became interested in the habits of exchange of information of a certain group of people as a reflection of such group’s expression of empathy.
In August 2015, there was a post shared by Juanfran Maldonado, a friend from my hometown (Guanajuato, Mexico) with whom I haven't spoken in person in more than ten years. The post was shared from the ImpulzTanz Vienna Festival’s page, it was a picture of a printed letter, signed by “Members of the Mexican dance community”, which contained the following:
To the international arts community:
We are deeply shocked, hurt and angry about the torture and murder of Yesenia, Alejandra, Mile, Nadia and Rubén, in an apartment in the central area of Mexico City, this last July 31, 2015. This is not an isolated case, and it illustrates the escalation of violence across the country. The mathematics of terror under which we live add more victims everyday to the already thousands; people are murdered (close to 160,000 since 2007), disappeared (between 26,000 and 40,000), raped and abused in all kinds of horrifying ways without consequence. There is a pact of impunity signed by those who hold our government hostage of their interests. Neoliberalism has come to its purest form of cruelty in a situation like this. Bodies only matter as assets. The outrage we feel is very strong, and the strategies to face the facts are yet unknown.
One of the victims, Nadia Dominique Vera Pérez was well known to many of us, she was our colleague because of her work as a producer and cultural promoter. She produced the Cuatro X Cuatro International Dance Festival in the city of Xalapa, Veracruz, crucial for the promotion and development of Mexican dance.
. . . As an anthropologist, Nadia strongly believed in the arts potential for social transformation, and acted accordingly, Nadia practiced as well a strenuous political activity on behalf of human rights and freedom of expression, against the injustices of an oppressing government, and in solidarity with the victims, the dead and the disappeared of our country. More than once, Nadia expressed her fear: she felt watched, marked. More than once she was threatened because of her political activism inside the state of Veracruz.
We find it very important to spread knowledge of her work and life, to talk about her, to highlight her identity, farther than just her picture of the idea of her broken body.
. . . We need your help and collaboration. We need the entire world to talk about this, because it just cannot keep going on. We live in a Mexico in which more than 90% of crimes are left unpunished, in which state violence is exercised more cynically every time, in which the notion of justice itself seems to be inaccessible. Our country is falling apart, violence gets worse, and we are subject to a greater danger everyday. Nadia was a fundamental element for art in Mexico, for dance and as members of an international community that intends to be reflexive, sensitive and critical, we believe that we are in this together. No matter if we met her or not, if we had similar aesthetic interests or not, if we are Mexican or not, a member of our community has been tortured and murdered in a failed state. Nadia’s death concerns the art community all over the world. It concerns us all. International pressure is one of the few effective protection mechanisms. We ask you to speak out with us, and since many of you perform, speak, write, screen, show . . . We ask you to take a moment during your presentations to talk about the five. We think that it is important to talk about this in spaces open to direct effective exchange.
Michelle applebaum's reflexions on her new piece
Refelxions and interviews on Dance to the people's first open class series at bax
An elementary school student might think her teacher lives under her desk to awaken only to teach and to retreat under after the school day terminates. Adults know that teachers lead lives outside of the classroom, though not necessarily separate from teaching. My definition of a teacher is one who began to study because of a strong pull or desire to master a certain area. A teacher knows more than a book or paper can explain and has experienced the lessons she passes on to the students. A teacher has the aptitude to convey knowledge and simultaneously gain knowledge. He is an improviser, a leader, a sage, and a life changer. I am interested in how teachers become a master of their subject and what knowledge they have learned from other teachers, from life experiences, and from mistakes. I interviewed two teachers, Angel Kaba and Melissa Lohman, who both taught for Dance to the People’s (DTTP) Open Class series at Brooklyn Art’s Exchange (BAX) this past fall (another series will start in the Spring). Here’s what they had to say about teaching.
"I must have been 9 years old and My body was changing and I remember feeling stiff and awkward. My teacher simply stated out loud that I was struggling, without making me feel bad or good about it. Acknowledging that I was going through a change, but that the disaster was not the end-all, was a crucial lesson for me that I still grapple with today. "
Do you have a story of a dance class that you can share or a dance class experience that you remember and think of often?
Angel: One day I was packing my bag in the dance studio and a 5 year old girl came with her mother to ask me to teach her dance classes. I had never worked with someone so young, so I said no. Persistently, the mother asked me to put on music and watch her daughter dance. Her name is Elya and as of today it’s been 11 years that I have taught her. She is one of the best dancers in my company.
Melissa: I must have been 9 years old and for some reason my jazz class choreography became a challenge for me. My body was changing and I remember feeling stiff and awkward. My teacher simply stated out loud that I was struggling, without making me feel bad or good about it. Acknowledging that I was going through a change, but that the disaster was not the end-all, was a crucial lesson for me that I still grapple with today.
What inspires you to teach?
Angel: Life and People.
Melissa: I learn things that I want to share with others and I believe that part of the learning process is sharing.
How do you think that non-dancers view your profession?
Angel: Some people will say that dance is not a real job, just a passion, but I think it’s funny when they say that.
Melissa: I think in general non-dancers are in awe of the dance world. It is a kind of mysterious profession that entails a lot of training and dedication in order to make beautiful things with the human body. A general stigma attached to dance and art at large is that it is not a necessity for society and so, the hesitation to view dance as a profession and to be paid fairly for one’s work remains a problem.
Environmental Dance Experiment
In Aldo Leopold’s view, conservation of wildness was self-defeating. ‘When we cherish nature,’ he said, ‘we must see and fondle it, and when enough have seen and fondled, there is no wilderness left to cherish.’ Leopold contested humans should experience nature through perception and not through recreation. A photograph is one of the few hobbies in which a human can perceive nature without ‘writing one’s signature on the face of the land.’
Leopold believed in order to conserve nature we needed to establish a land ethic that focuses less on our enjoyment of nature but more on our human connection to ecology. Environmental philosopher, J.B. Callicott, furthers Leopold’s argument by advocating for a human land aesthetic that appreciates an ecosystem for its function and all of its biotic components, versus an idealized beauty that appreciates just the photo.
" An autonomous natural aesthetic should involve so much more than the visual appeal of natural environments...the appreciation of an environment's natural beauty should involve the ears (the sounds of wind, insects, birds, or silence itself), the surface of the skin (the warmth of the sun, chill of the wind, textures if the grass, rock, sand etc), the nose and tongue (the fragrance of the flowers, the odor of decay, the taste of saps and waters) as well as the eyes.”
J.B. Callicott from an essay titled, “The Land Aesthetic”
Callicott believed in order to establish an ethical and aesthetic kinship with the land, the human relationship with nature needs to shift to support a non-anthropocentric value theory that recognizes the intrinsic values of all species to the function of the ecosystem. This shift opposes the current theory that places human as the center.
Evolution is not Anthropocentric was a scientific inquiry that began with a Research Question in 2010: Can dance be a method to discover the innate human connection with the Earth, to support a non-anthropocentric dialogue of species, and to experience the land aesthetic? The Hypothesis, derived after five years of research (shorted version in the first three paragraphs) evolved to be: Yes. The role of an environmental dancer, and any environmental activist is to find a practice that habituates ‘listening’ and non-anthropocentric values. From that practice, a dance would then emerge from assessments and artistic choices with regard to eco values.
The process of creating and performing Evolution is not Anthropocentric was the Experiment/Test.
We began by dancing outside in five New York City sites: Prospect Park, a park alongside the Gowanus Canals, Central Park, Red Hook Recreation Area, and Rockaway Beach.
The first sessions in Prospect Park began with contemplative dance practice: 20 minutes of meditation, 20 minutes of warming up the body with the eyes closed, and 20 minutes of open space (open eye) improvisation. We generated movement patterns from the last 20 minutes and shared it with each other, collaborated on more movement ideas from that place, and did some contact improvisation in the park with each other.
A journey into a piece of Madness
On the first day of rehearsal when the director of Dance to the People (DTTP), Maira, said, “this dance is inspired by ideas from Foucault’s Madness and Civilization,” I knew I was in the right place. I had originally arrived at the DTTP rehearsal in January to take advantage of the free training and open collaboration opportunity. I openly admitted to Maira and the rest of the DTTP crew that I was (and am) a dancing fool. Like the character I portray in Dance to the People’s Narrentanz (Dance of Fools), whose masked smile first alludes to her normalcy, I too entered the dancing space with a façade. But just as my rapid and uncontrollable hand jitter develops in the piece and the smile graduates simultaneously into a forced grin, my attempt at deception deteriorated and I revealed my real fool by the second day of rehearsal. The other dancers reciprocated.
Narrentanz formed with the support of the CUNY Dance Initiative, which gave Dance to the People a residency at the College of Staten Island. The making of the dance came from ideas of spectacle. The dance examines the discourse involved with putting on a show. Coincidentally, Foucault’s examination of the discourse associated with madness overlaps ideas of spectacle. Being mad, or a fool, wasn't always associated with medical institutionalization. Renaissance people put their mad denizens onto ships, instructing the seamen to rid the city by taking the fools out to sea. Hence where Bosch got his inspiration for Narrenschiff, the ship of fools. The spectacle of the ships, full of foreign lunatics, created great excitement for onlookers when they docked at fresh harbors. I myself had a chuckle when I looked at Bosch’s painting and thought of the boat-landing sight. Is it the familiarity with the mad that draws us to their spectacle? Is there an inner reality in folly that we possess but hide due to societal constraints?
In Narrentanz the dancers play a game, each coveting the other’s chair, dressing up in clothes, and running in space. The spectacle of the game is enticing. The challenge to win brings out the madness within each player. In rehearsal for the game section I felt unrestricted, as if I was in grammar school again. The social pre-occupation attached to the folly of wanting to win that I adapted in adulthood disappeared when I got more comfortable with the other dancers/players.