MCP 503 Intro Paper

1) Research question or specific inquiry

What is ‘difference’ from the perspective of a peripheral body? What is difference when self and other are difficult to distinguish? I will discuss how improvisation techniques and choreographic scores offer entry points into an expanded, peripheral, sense of the body, and the resulting affect this may have on communication, representation, and collaboration within the performance arena. In addition, I will consider social space, and its shared characteristics with the choreographic score in terms of delineating, containing, or influencing movement.

2) Outline (10% of your paper, 200-400 words)

I. (Dis)locating a Peripheral Body: Improvisation Movement Strategies

     A. Hyper-Empathy

          1. Disability and Perceptive Landing Sites

          2. Meditation and Fake Practices

     B. Events and Emergenc(i)es: Context as Produced by Movement

     C. Flow: Resistance and Surrender

     D. Discrepancies, and the Line of Disappearance

          1. Projection as Generative

     E. Navigation Strategies

          1. Prefixes and Modifiers

          2. Expression, Exorcism, Contingency: Moving by Necessity

II. Choreographic Structures: The Score

     A. How Scores are Crafted: Intentionality, Causality, Accident

     B. Deploying Action: Agency and Control

          1. Collaboration

          2. Chance Procedures

III. Environments that Push

     A. Non-Space, Present Absence, and Buddhist Emptiness

          1. Encountering Shadow

          2. John Cage, and Crafting Attention

     B. Audience and Convention

          1. Transparency, Access, and Representation

     C. Social Space as Choreographic Landscape

What is ‘difference’ from the perspective of a peripheral body? I will first address what I mean by peripheral body: that which the senses inform and are within our control, including that which the senses cannot inform and are not within our control.1 The senses capture information and inform perception, and also position the body in space in relation to this sensorial information. Dance techniques design attention to the senses in very specific ways, forming an inner dialogue between the dancer and her body. This dialogue is what produces variation, restraint, and various qualities of the choreographic ‘material’. This dialogue is also what distinguishes self from other, feet from floor, right arm from left hand, or ‘difference’, and the dancer can learn to track, memorize, and repeat these subtle differences over the course of a performance, rehearsal, class, etc. Much of dance history is entirely composed of this process of encoding and replicating sequences of differential stimulus.

How might this work when considering the peripheral body? Artists like Deborah Hay have made attempts, proposing action on a cellular level for example, and the resulting process enters an imaginary realm. It’s impossible to move all of our cells in different directions, but it can be imagined. However, this activity tends to live in the imaginary, like a forceful ejection or dismissal of the body and the feedback it’s sending (whether the dancer is ignoring it or not). In my research, I propose activating both imaginary and perceptive functions by carrying the senses to an endpoint. To engage with a peripheral body by stretching its capacities, expanding the senses, and amplifying the signals they are already processing. This activity may stretch into the imaginary, but it is founded in sensorial reality. I call this engagement ‘Hyper-Empathy’.

How can improvisation frame a practice of hyper-empathy? Take the case of Karl Dahlke, the blind mathematician who solved the polyomino puzzle in his mind, Arakawa and Gins point out that “…imaging landing sites act, for Dahlke, as stand-ins for perceptual ones.” (16). By limiting one perceptive landing site (visual), the others become heightened (imaging), and amplified in function, endurance and ‘reach’. The puzzle pieces that Dahlke experienced in his mind were really ‘there’, and possessed a real physicality. Perhaps by reconfiguring assumptions of disability, there lies the possibility for advanced ability.

I have taken this concept of expansion through limitation into improvised movement scores, starting with the gaze. I chose the gaze because of its primary function in empathic response when witnessing dance performances via mirror neurons: “synaptic connections in the cortex that fire both when one sees an action and when one does that action.” (Foster, 1). I developed a score for mapping the space using peripheral vision, and moving towards the blurred spots within the gaze. Chasing the unrecognizable in a continuum that has you chasing about the room. The score then tips into the imaginary through synesthesia, whereby information within the gaze is newly associated with a sensation of the body that is not within the dancer’s vision. I see the chair leg, and I feel the back of my right knee. In this process, the information taken in by the gaze is dislocated through an imaginary process of re-locating.

3) Introduction (300 words)

‘Difference’ infers the existence of a split: a point at which something is no longer itself, as defined by the perceptive and linguistic codes of a conceptual map. I am interested in this split, and see it as a cavernous fissure, a line of disappearance, into both liminal (space) and subliminal (consciousness) territories. A present absence, where distinctions become blurry, and categorizations dubious, but something unquantifiable is nevertheless ‘there’. What intrigues me about this territory is that it is never fixed, and emerges indirectly through constant flows, fluxes, and shifts. It is temporal, and temperamental, and akin to Buddhist notions of emptiness: a ‘positive’ space (unlike a true void/nothingness) that is part of the composition of all things in existence.

I will frame this discussion of locating ‘difference’ from the perspective of improvised movement techniques and choreographic scores, both historically, referencing artists such as Jerome Bel, Jonathan Burrows, Meg Stuart, John Cage, Yoko Ono, and Yvonne Rainer, and personally, referencing my own studio research. I will bring this investigation to the body, the senses, and the subconscious, or ‘shadow self’, and discuss techniques that bring about rifts in perception, the experience of ‘peripheral’ senses, and indirectly produce an ‘event’, unpredictable rupture, or lost notion of self. If there is no ‘self’, how can there be ‘other’? This research seeks to understand difference by exploring the possibility of inhabiting the body differently, how improvisation techniques offer an entry point into doing so, and how a differently inhabited body might encounter social space.

Place, space, and cultural signs all produce the construct in which humans act, move, and affect, or are affected by. Although intentionality may be different, situational constructs are similarly crafted within improvised dance and choreography, in which a framework of codes establishes a way of being and moving within the creative process and/or performance engagement. In many ways, the choreographic process resembles a micro society, and is an opportunity to play time within space under a series of conditions that test an artistic proposal via actions of the body. But how is the body considered, and in what ways could re-considering the body affect its interactions?