Kimmy + Marina (BFF 4eva <3)

In order to write this blog post I must admit something very embarrassing and personal…

Sometimes, late at night when I can’t fall asleep, I look at Kim Kardashian’s instagram feed.  DON’T LEAVE ME!  Please keep reading.  I promise that this transgression does not negate any intellectual or artistic sensibility that you might have assigned to me.  We all have our weaknesses, right?

Anyway, last night was one of those sleepless nights and when I open Ms. Karsdashian’s feed I was met with this:

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If you’re not sure who Marina Abramovic is you can (oddly enough) reference any number of celebrity encounters – a music video with Jay-Z, a stress management consult with Lady Gaga, a James Franco bio-pic.  I first encountered (through books and video) Marina in a classroom at NYU, History of Performance Art.  In both a school and a program (Performance Studies – sometimes calling itself post-disciplinary or interdisciplinary) that prides itself on challenging boundaries, definitions and labels – Abramovic was introduced to me, quite stably, as the “Grandmother of performance art” – performance art being another one of those porous anti-fields, challenging theatrical, spectatorial, and embodied assumption that might construct boundaries and police behavior – rife with not so subtle feminist undertones.  Performance artists, Ms. Abramovic included, have often staged the hyper violent and aggressively sexual in order to re-appropriate the naked, female body from a public and a media that has demeaned it, silenced it, and tossed it aside.

That said, what to do with this instagram photo??  Kardashian captions it with a cool blue heart and Ms. Abramovic’s name.  It strikes me like a high school yearbook signature – HAGS!  Loved having science class with you….

I would like nothing more than to conclude that Ms. Kardashian’s photo is one of Abramovic’s greatest performance works to date.  Posing for the photograph and cosying up to Kardashian -a celebrity figure who embodies so much of what Abramovic’s works have challenged – is a satire.  I would title this work “Kimmy + Marina BFF 4eva <3”

But alas, it seems as though celebrity and mainstream fame is endlessly intoxicating – even for those that have the patience to live in an art gallery for 12 days without water or privacy.  My late night keeping up with Ms. Kardashian’s photos seems somehow less transgressive than Marina Abramovic’s red carpet ladies night.  But why and is that even fair?

Here’s another personal admission – I’m a feminist.  I believe in an equality of men and women and I resent how my gender is portrayed in the media and policed by its government.  While my own performance practices have not taken on these issues as directly or as aggressively as Abramovic, I stand in solidarity and in awe of her incredible body of work (pun intended).  This discord between her defiantly staged body (see here for example) and the one that passively appeared on my iPhone screen last night is frightening.  Of course, both people and performances change overtime.  Identities, like the academic disciplines that brought me here, are unstable and continuously shifting.  I just have my fingers crossed that Abramovic will shift right off that dangerous, red carpet…

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Double Life

I lead a secret double life.  When I’m not in the studio making dances, I’m a scholar.  I sit at a desk for long hours, reading performance theory and history and then writing in a similar jargon-y tone.   And I love both of these pursuits.  When I have  my choreographer hat on I play down my academic one.  When I’m at school, I try to keep quiet about my studio time.  It’s a tricky balance, involving herculean time management skills and lots of soul searching.  What am I doing and for what end?

Last weekend I was lucky enough to attend the joint conference of the Congress on Research in Dance and the Society of Dance History Scholars.  I delivered a paper called “Towards a Global Dance Marketplace” and spent three days listening to brilliant minds muse about all things dance.  There were many papers, presentations and performances that gestured towards the practice/scholarship divide.  But by attending CORD/SDHS I missed an incredible celebration/performance of Chicago dance makers at the MCA, 10 years of Chicago Dancemakers Forum – highlighting how the two worlds still seem so uncomfortably separate for me.

I wish I had a brilliant conclusion to tie this all together.  But for now, I lead a double life.  I make dances and I write about dance and I look forward to continually bringing these two practices in conversation with one another.  In some ways I am guilty of perpetuating a Cartesian mind/body dualism.  When I walk into one kind of room, I take my shoes off and I sweat.  When I walk into another, I sit still and read.  I think I have heard the term “embodied research” nearly a thousand times in that room where I keep my shoes on.  And I have definitely had research based conversation in the shoe-less room.  But as one who leads two lives at once, let me be the first to admit that one room often lacks an intellectual rigor and the other pretends we are disembodied brains.

Yesterday I taught a room full of high schoolers, 40 of them, almost all novices to modern dance.  About an hour into the class I stopped and asked them, “So, what is this modern dance thing we’ve been doing?” There were a handful of timid responses, including something about not being ballet and staying connected to the ground, but no full understanding of the practice.  These girls, 40 smart kids, spent more than an hour doing steps simply because I told them to.  While I realize I’m making assumptions here (full disclosure, I have not actually conducted this research), I bet if these same 40 kids had been in a classroom studying modern dance in lecture form, someone would have raised a hand and asked a question involving “why?” or “how?”  Dance pedagogy seems to instill this mind/body split.  Do what I say but don’t think about it.  Or, learn these steps and think about it later.  Like I said before, no grand conclusions here.  Just lots of musings about my perceived double life.

So, I sat for three days at the conference, brain on overload and body aching from folding chairs and inactivity.  Is it a fantasy that my body and my brain could be exhausted in tandem?  That my two worlds could fully embrace one another?  That is my unicorn, my utopia.  For now, I lead a double life.

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Self-Reflecting in/on Outerspace

Studying dance, most of us spend too much time growing up in mirrored rooms.  As a child and then a teenager, I spent hours staring at myself.  When it was productive, I fixed a sickled foot or relaxed a tense shoulder.  But more often it was an unconscious critique of my clothes, my body shape or my hair-do.  When I think back on it, that’s an odd way to grow up – always staring back at yourself in pursuit of some impossible perfection, with the reflections of your classmates providing unnecessary comparison.

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This is all to say that I love Outerspace.  The Leopold Group has been a nomad since its inception- no permanent home, jumping between rehearsal spaces, negotiating availability and pricing. We once rehearsed for an entire month, in February, without any heat (that space will remain unnamed).  But I digress…

We’ve been rehearsing at Outerspace for almost four years now and it keeps getting better (most recently new floor and new lighting).  The absence of mirrors is just a surface-level perk.  It is a space that allows us to be a part of a community of artists.  It’s a place where we can afford to rehearse and can get space when we need it.  It’s the right vibe for us.  While we continue to fight the temperature-control battle, it is a place where I don’t have to fight my own reflection.  I like how I feel and worry less about how I look in that room.  I like how I look through my dancers (a much kinder kind of reflection).

Of course, sometimes it’s too small or too hot or too cold or too slippery or too sticky.  We dancers are full of excuses!  But it’s never too judge-y (a word I use a lot in rehearsal, in jest).  Outerspace is simple and empty and allows me to make dances without getting in my own way.  Mirrors are great for technique class, but their absence from my choreographic process has been a happy accident.

I think I have spent enough years in mirrored rooms.  This room allows more self-reflection because there’s less of myself reflecting.

 photo by Arn Klein

photo by Arn Klein

Outerspace/Crawlspace (1474 N. Milwaukee, Chicago)

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