Preset: Two large screens with adjacent sides are from 10 – 15 feet in front of the
audience. An easel and a large pad with a line drawing on it are to the right of the
screens. Several markers are in the easel’s tray. Standing near the easel I hold and
speak into a corded microphone.
The title for my solo dance o beautiful, choreographed in 2002, was
appropriated from a patriotic American song. I was feeling tremendous
resentment and anger toward then President Bush and his administration.
This was coupled with a sense of personal inadequacy and powerlessness
in regard to the injustices perpetrated throughout the world during Bush’s
term of office. I continue to feel this way in relation to American policy
at home and abroad.
It took a year to choreograph o beautiful. My question was, can a
dance emerge if I travel the same path through space, guided by a
series of hypothetical questions that reside in my body, and not my
head? In other words, if I do not set out to choreograph a dance, will
the daily performance of the same set of parameters ultimately give birth
to a dance?
[I point to the line drawing on the pad. It is the floor pattern for o
beautiful. I trace it with my finger over and over to signify my daily
resolve to follow this path. I also describe the fundamental question that
guided my daily practice for more than a year. “What if every cell in my
body at once has the potential to perceive beauty and to surrender
beauty simultaneously, each and every moment?” I then joke with the
audience and try to reassure them that I am fully aware that this
practice is not something I ever achieve. And, that I continue to apply the
question to my dancing because it is a way of learning without thinking.]
In 2002 I was commissioned to write an essay about the choreographic
process for the inaugural edition of a journal, Choreographic Encounters,
published in 2003 for the Institute for Choreography and Dance in Cork,
Ireland. My submission was the written score for the solo dance o
beautiful. A Lecture on The Performance of Beauty is an edited,
expanded, and performed version of that essay.
Timeline for A Lecture on the Performance of Beauty
o beautiful was choreographed in 2002. That winter I
commissioned Laura Canon, a young costumer from Austin TX,
to design an outfit inspired by the film Blade Runner. I was
distraught by the state of affairs in the world. [You will see me
in this costume on the left screen in awhile.]
In January 2003 I had my first public performances of o beautiful
at Zodiak Center for New Dance in Helsinki, Finland, and at
Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, NY. Following these
performances I decided against the post apocalyptic attire
because of how it influenced my movement and colored my
behavior onstage. I found a simple pair of pale blue linen
pants and a matching tailored shirt to wear instead.
My solo adaptation practice of o beautiful continued through early
summer in Austin, where temperatures rose into the 90’s. I made a
point of not turning on the air conditioner in the studio
because I was not paying rent. My arrangement with the
proprietor was an exchange of practice space for
acknowledging his support in my dance programs and
newsletters. The studio was a large room among a suite of
smaller massage cubicles above a downtown bicycle shop.
That morning I stripped off my clothing and danced. My body felt
animal and my movement naked. It was as if I was in the most
pristine environment imaginable. Nudity seemed the only
conceivable option for o beautiful. Next, I changed the title to
The London program, in July 2003, began with my solo Music.
After intermission, clothed in blue linen, I approached the
audience and invited a volunteer to the stage. Speaking
quietly, I asked if she would follow and undress me upstage
and then return to her seat. She proceeded like a mother
removing and folding the garments of a much loved child.
Beauty was performed only once, at the Greenwich Dance Agency
in London, England. It was such a quintessentially satisfying
experience for me, and the minute it was over I knew I would never
perform it again.
A Lecture on the Performance of Beauty is what replaces Beauty.
A Lecture on the Performance of Beauty
I give a signal to the technician to start the video of the London performance of
Beauty that is then projected on the right screen.
Notes for the performer of Beauty
What if the you who dances is less like a dancer and more like a
computational neuroscientist whose research currently defines our
understanding of consciousness and normalcy? Some differences between
your work as a dancer, and that of the computational neuroscientist are;
1) your laboratory functions best when it is empty whereas a
computational neuroscientist needs, at least, a desk, chair,
2) You are not required to write papers in order to be recognized…
although I can attest to the fact that it can help your career your
3) As a dancer your discipline is in schooling your body to perform
whereas the scientist references the mind.
4) The dynamism of your whole body is necessary to your research
whereas a computational neuroscientist primarily needs mental
5) As a dancer your methodologies do not require exactitude
because your experimentation is deliberately unquantifiable.
What if there is a question, applied like a guideline for Beauty, a
question that functions like the rudder of a small boat heading out to
sea at night? The rudder is in the hand of an experienced navigator, just
as the question is in the body of the dancer. The rudder keeps the boat
on course in the same way the question guides the dancer. The steering
hand on the rudder bar is relaxed and responsive, like the mind of the
dancer. The boatman heads out to sea without knowledge of what will
befall him, yet he is inseparable from his world: the water, the night sky,
wind, and the currents that slap against the surface of his launch. In
much the same spirit, the theater is your world, and you attend to your
navigation by keeping the question current. It is the question that guides
you through the night of Beauty. To seek an answer is to narrow the
immensity of the question.
You are alone onstage and noticeably different from the person who was
alone in the dressing room moments ago. Your body brought you to this
stage. Here you shimmer.
What if shimmering is your cellular perception of time passing? Here and
gone, here and gone, here and gone… with an emphasis on the here in
the here and gone. Without necessarily being able to describe it, what if
your audience can sense these shifting boundaries of your body?
What if as a counterpart to shimmering, you exercise your skills for
undermining the ordinariness of time? As strong as your genetic and
bodily response to your inner pulse and excitement may actually feel,
you operate like a jazz musician who turns a song into an eclectic
reconfiguration of notes and phrases that defy order, subvert the
expected, and yet coalesce masterfully. Your experimentation questions
automatic or naturally flowing movement; movement shaped by behavioral
patterning that flows from all of us like a reservoir of training and
acquired tastes that lodge like a fashionable ski resort at the foot of a
beautiful mountain in the Rockies or Alps as the case may be.
the choreographer’s confession
stage directions: the performer drops her manuscript and begins talking to the audience
about the political crisis in the US. She describes her inability to articulate her concerns
about US policy. She hears only her anger and rage and is fully aware of how
ineffective her arguments are under these conditions. She apologizes for her lack of
factual information and analysis and ends with this remark: “Dance is my form of
political activism. It is not how I dance or why I dance. It is that I dance.”
the choreographer’s question for the performer of Beauty
What if every cell in your body has the potential to perceive beauty and
to surrender beauty, simultaneously, each and every moment?
I signal the projectionist to start the video of o beautiful on the left screen and I
position myself, with a marker, beside the easel and pad. I hold the microphone and
written score in my left hand and draw the dance with my right, all the while reading
from the written score. It is my intention to 1) get wound up in the microphone cord, 2)
adjust my glasses frequently, 3) constantly negotiate holding and reading the manuscript
and drawing at the same time, and, 4) to sing beautifully.
The blue inked phrases in the written score are excerpts from several patriotic American
songs that I sing in the course of A Lecture….
Do you relate to the presence of a straight path? It is always there,
whether it is followed or not. What if your experience of a straight path
is a source of real or imagined security, order, clarity and strength within
the construct of Beauty? What if departing from the path takes into
account your revolutionary spirit, providing space for the anarchist, the
individualist, the surly, the part of you who enjoys playing the odds,
testing the limits? she’s the emblem of, the land I love, the home of the
free and the brave You can leave the path because you know where it is
when you want to return. Will you risk leaving the path? Are you serious
enough to risk BEING foolish? What do you think of life without
foolishness? What if what really matters is that you remain doggedly
aware of the straight path whether you are on or off of it, getting what
you need wherever you choose to be? let freedom ring What if being off
the path and free of obstinacy or willfulness, is an opportunity for
change, nuance, absurdity, beauty, inclusion? my country tis of thee,
sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing The world flowers when you depart
from the straight path because leaving it heightens your sense of just
where it is. What if a real and/or imagined straight path is the only
measure by which you know where you are? The path is your bearing.
And, what if your choice to perceive and surrender beauty as life unfolds
each and every moment, whether you are on the path, or off the path, is
your only means of survival? O beautiful, for spacious skies
At the far end of the straight path, in quadrant I, you begin a counterclockwise
journey along a single curve, like the outline of a pregnant
belly. stand beside her, and guide her, through the night with the light
from above What if Beauty is the innate performance of feminine power,
before memory, without signification, inclusive of emotion? Pure, like a
dog with a snake in its jaws, a gorgeous management of energy.
What if upon meeting the staged and metaphorical straight path once
more, you perceive yourself getting everything you need or think you
need? What do you need? The answer is too long, prohibitive, complex.
Why not stay with the question? What if where I am, wherever I am is
what I need? What if time is of no consequence? glory glory halleluja,
glory glory halleluja
In quadrant II, Beauty is ‘work’, symbolized by repetitive and insistent
movement, driven by your passion to survive, a determination to exist for
another year, no matter what. At some point you even get down on the
floor with no intention of making this look good. You are determined to
experience Beauty wherever you are, deliberately avoiding smooth action,
alignment, right movement. You do not make it easy or find solutions just
because you are performing in front of an audience. You are unbeguiling,
caught in making your work work. You are a rat. You will not be mislead
by looking for beauty in shape and/or content. You notice beauty for
infinitesimally small instances. It is gorgeous. It is enough. o’er the land of
the free and the home of the brave
What if upon coming up to the straight path once more, you imagine
getting everything you need or think you need, like silence in the middle
of the day, a scarf in cold weather, cream for your coffee. every heart
In the fourth quadrant you lift your head upwards.
Choreographer’s aside: Looking upwards can sink a performer. When the
head tilts upward, it is as if the connection between the mind and body
is severed. As a theatrical gesture the poetic or narrative relevance of
‘looking up’ is not applicable in Beauty. For instance, looking up
suggests hope and hope has no context onstage except as a function of
narrative. Your challenge is to look up in order to enlarge your
perception of beauty. O beautiful, o beautiful
As you look up you follow a curved path leading to the top of quadrant
four, returning to the starting point of Beauty, the imagined apex of the
dance, the highest point, the holiest of holy places.
my home sweet home, my home sweet home
Travelling slowly and solemnly downstage, you complete an elongated
petal-shaped path. This passage is the resolution of the dance, where
you test your affinity for and disconnectedness from the blueprint that
has held you in performance. O beautiful…. O beautiful
Finally you detach from the blueprint for Beauty, the cipher you have
milked for continuity and definition. Entering an imagined void, your wit,
pathos, memory, disillusionment, love, and anger, form, and formlessness
merge into nothing but Beauty.
I remain on stage near the drawing and with the audience watch Beauty conclude.