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legible/illegible finds a common language


“It was a large room. Full of people. All kinds. And they had all arrived at the
same building at more or less the same time. And they were all free. And they
were all asking themselves the same question: What is behind that curtain?”

Laurie Anderson – Born, Never Asked


A man enters the central, open space of a large room tautly, loudly, hammering out a rhythm. The rhythm is electrifying, rousing and unapologetically loud, even sometimes uncomfortably so. The man seems nice enough; he smiles broadly. His physicality matches the music – a broadcast and an invitation. As the rhythm varies and grows, revealing itself like an expanding fern, the man layers his voice into the aural pattern. Then, as if to say, “You’re not going to just sit there and watch me,” he beckons the audience to leave their chairs and come closer, much closer. We gather round, closer-knit, organically organized. This music is participatory, and we will play our part. At least, we’re given the option to. To dance, bounce, punctuate. Most everyone does and feels much better for it.

I could have said that Movement Research’s Spring Festival legible/illegible opened on Monday, May 11, gracefully overlaying itself on Movement Research at the Judson Church. The program began with a solo performance by Sunny Jain on the dhol, the dual sticks of the dagga and tihli hammering out an infectious rhythm, soon to be joined by Jain’s percussive vocal accompaniment. I’d then want to include a biographical attribution for Sunny Jain, attempting to diligently reference his compositional and performance resume in too few words. Then return to the main narrative and next performance, Patricia Noworol Dance Theater.

These contrasting approaches highlight and differentiate what I experienced as a participant in legible/illegible, and what I’ve come to understand about its curatorial process and intent. By participant, I don’t mean that I performed, or even helped out. It includes being a member of an audience. But not all legible/illegible events were performances. It means I was present. That’s what I believe we had in common for that time and place, before the differentiation of roles into performer, producer, spectator, press, staff, etc. These roles are indispensable, but can obscure a greater truth if the adhesive on these labels is not loosened to see what lies underneath.

legible/illegible’s full title included the subtitle: opening beyond the space of identities. The dual descriptions above of the same time frame and event seemed a fitting exercise and an opportunity to introduce a participant and performance frame, in the first instance, that might faithfully reflect this curatorial intent. The more traditional and expected approach – even required in most instances by a publication and its audience – can give the appearance of providing access but have the opposite effect of obscuring, or altogether omitting, the experience that the first approach reveals. How and when does what we know, or think we know, limit or substitute for sensation, feeling, experience?  The first approach above describes the experience in language anyone can understand. The second requires, and trades on, frames of reference.

Spring Festival curators Layla Childs, Jaamil Olawale Kosoko and Samita Sinha, first (joyfully) confronted the intersection of their worlds in coming together to co-curate, not previously knowing one another. Their diverse personal, artistic and cultural practices and identities quickly became a catalyst for the issues and questions that they would ferment upon and then structure the festival to research and embody.

This process led to a wider investigation of how performance is contextualized and how art functions at personal and societal levels, along with what inhibits its function, frequently by categorization and commodification. These considerations translated into a festival that was able to offer a variety of experiences and contexts as well as integrate diverse sources and disciplines.

After Sunny Jain’s sonic kick-off, legible/illegible’s Opening event at Judson Church followed with Patricia Noworol Dance Theater presenting an excerpt from Replacement Place, which had just premiered at New York Live Arts the week before. The program concluded with a physical and vocal study by Okwui Okpokwasili finding and refinding stability across the waves of a silver foil runway lit by a single lamp; the audience was asked again to come closer, this time to sit on the floor.

The next day, Tuesday, legible/illegible relocated to Gibney Dance Center (890 Broadway) for “Placing Performance,” a discussion on how dance and performance is communicated and contextualized. The central question was how can performing artists increase literacy for their audiences of the non-linguistic form that is the craft of much dance and performance work? It was moderated by Sarah Maxfield and panelists included AUNTS and Megan Bridge (Philadelphia: thINKingDANCE and fidget).

Wednesday brought two events. First, “The Medicine of Art” at Movement Research’s Avenue C home — a part-talk, part-workshop led by Dr. Stephen Cowan –  and the featured event in the festival’s greater intent to create spaces of and for healing. “The Medicine of Art” proved a rigorous attempt to research the natural relationship between healing and art, looking at the neurological and cosmological basis for how and why art can and should heal, and the balances and imbalances that the artist needs to navigate in this. Wednesday evening, legible/illegible reappeared at Barbès, the venerable Park Slope music venue, for an extended set with Tongues in Trees, whose sounds soothe and disturb, grate and take flight. Understanding that categorization can be problematic, think Velvet Underground meets John Luther Adams meets…something else uniquely theirs.

The festival continued Thursday afternoon in Prospect Park, focusing on the intersection of family and art-making through the simplicity of gathering with parents and children. Friday evening at stalwart Triskelion Arts, now in Greenpoint. Billed as “Between the No Longer and the Still to Come,” the performances included several solo works that unapologetically created worlds of their own, resonating strongly with the themes of legibility/illegibility. Performers included Bonnie Jones from Baltimore and Dana Michel from Montreal.

Saturday night: Tandem Bar, Bushwick. “Something of the Ecstatic” brought site-appropriate comedic, joyful and dark performances followed by a Basement Bhangra dance party with DJ Rekha. “Something of the Ecstatic” succeeded in proposing that performance that-doesn’t-seek-to-entertain be mixed with cabaret be mixed with dance party, and that audiences could and would embrace and respect all, at the same time, in the same place.

Sunday. Field trip! Mount Tremper Arts. “The Wild Beyond / Final Clearing” included a deep listening meditation  and sound-making exploration with Pauline Oliveros and Ione, catered lunch, lots of opportunity to be alone and make new friends, a performance program including local and regional choreographers, and a closing ceremony. 10-hour day. $20, including round trip transportation from Manhattan. (How cool is that?)

Placing performance. How art can heal. Inclusive of participants and sites outside of New York City. Multiple forms, disciplines and practices. Experiential range: relaxed, heightened, dark, intense, sonic, familial, loud, sublime, sunny, wet, generously affordable.

Communion is defined as “1. a sharing, especially of intimate thoughts and feelings. 2. participation; a sharing in common” (The Concise Oxford Dictionary; 9th ed., 1995). Something noted and marked, perhaps in a wordless exchange that says we were just part of something special. That changes us and won’t be forgotten even as we move onto what’s next. It lives and flows underneath the roles of curator, performer, producer, audience but needs each to play their part.

Movement Research Director of Artistic Programs Levi Gonzalez noted that part of the premise that emerged from the curatorial process of this festival was that “gathering is enough to constitute an event.” legible/illegible tried every which way to contextualize (read: root) artistic practice and performance in a more natural sense of community, stretching and altogether deauthorizing the bounds of categorization and commodification. And, in so doing, greatly improved the odds for something special to happen, for communion.


“You were born. And so you’re free. So happy birthday.”

Laurie Anderson – Born, Never Asked


Hiram Pines is a New York City-based writer and performing artist. He’ll be performing in LEIMAY’s Qualia–Skyhole at the Gill Hodges Community Garden on September 3 and 5, and very much looking forward to participating in Movement Research’s first Fall 2015 Open Performance on September 8 at Eden’s Expressway. He can be reached at

  • August 14th, 2015
  • Spring Festival


blind-written notes from SOMETHING OF THE ECSTATIC

blind-written notes from SOMETHING OF THE ECSTATIC

Plastic wrap coiled to spring or melt, spiral script in white against the marley’s black ground: a synthetic glisten tightly wrapped around Jumatatu Poe’s pelvis, ass, thighs, genitals, and up the chest, faulty at the shoulder and with a loose end needing constant re-tucking. Hip-drop on the unexpected syncopated next beat. I notice, entering the theater, his brow furrowed in focus; I empathize and wonder at once about the effort to sustain that attention, the choice to furrow the forehead, looking down at the task at hand (both the plastic to be wrapped and the hip slip rhythm to be maintained). The expression on his face seems both a coherent decision on Poe’s part and a necessary byproduct. Hold the roll ever gently and wait for the next move to mesh.

Squeak and squawk at once, pull back and forth; let a small part loose against the soft pallet (how is it that sometimes watching dance I can see the invisible happening in bodies?); and in the throat gutter it becomes babytalk (“yes little mama” “aren’t you just…”); fast, fresh, so fresh-a, hands on plastic hips, hips like a lullaby; feeling the fight in the moving, call it in with your feet, then vaudeville, then articulate/dislocate. The phrase “deep black somatic praxis” comes strongly to my fingers while watching.

Mining these notes scrawled on a program during May 15th’s BETWEEN THE NO LONGER AND THE STILL TO COME, I’m reminded in retrospect of Jaime and I’s conversation as we generated ideas for our co-written post, “notes on what we’re doing here.” We talked about the possibility of a THIRD, between-ish way of watching performance, other than watching as an audience member with an eye to the piece or watching as a critic/reviewer with an eye to the piece as it might be translated, comprehended, or transfigured into language later. That THIRD way: watching as writing practice, watching the dance with your pen and paper in the dark, the performance jumping through your fingertips into language at that moment, not for or towards a “later.”

This is something Megan Bridge pointed out in the Placing Performance discussion. Those notes in the dark, written over, scribbled, double and triple layered onto themselves, often indecipherable, tend to produce far more interesting and quixotic descriptive language about performances, which is to say, they tend to produce a more complicated relationship between the dance and its textual response than description produced afterwards, or even written while the house lights are up and the page can be glanced at as you go. This has been on my mind: this blindness to words as they are made, as a mode of seeing.

Something else that was said at Placing Performance: making art is making universes.

Some notes from The Medicine of Art workshop with Dr. Stephen Cowan:

is faith or belief the decision to rely on what you don’t know, to step out of the narrator mind that constantly wants to make clear, ordered sense of things, to find reasons, explanations, and causal trajectories for things? relying on the fact that you don’t know.

what would a literacy of the wordless be? how to teach it? how to teach comprehension beyond “about”ness?

Walking into the back room at Tandem Bar feels exposed and enfolded. Pink clip lights throw party and night out and show around the small square room, and everyone hugs the walls to leave the center open for performances. But we’ll move back and forth between each to one side or the other as requested, and everyone will gladly pick up their bags and drinks and relocate: we are here and in it and eager to be both.

Swift sweeping arms cut the projected video of, maybe, cityscapes and motion, motion, motion, through which Lion and Kia Labeija move side-by-side and deeply ON POINT, occasionally trading or invading each other’s space sharply, lovingly, then moving on to the next thing. Their bodies like the realist of ghosts in the flicker, confused with their shadows and the pound of the music. When the projection and music go out, their everywhere-rhythm goes on steady and alone, then drops away, rising delectably, slowly again into speed. The sound of All Stars brushing the floor is everything. There are only arms moving, only these two dancers looking dead at each other in the dark, creating something solid in the air between them.

Antonio Ramos is always PERFECT with the music’s break/drop: the glorious quantity of high kicks, his hair, exploding with spectacular relief into its release from the mirror-ball helmet he was wearing, becomes (in my eye’s memory, filled with glitter and spinning lights) like a dipping weight at the other end of his always flying leg, giving all of it, dropping dropping, and sometimes withholding just enough of the beat from us in his body, beguiling grin and ecstatic glow, he throws it all down when the moment is right without ever seeming to have held back and we are there completely, unable to not love and love and applaud.

Two nights in a row I’ve seen Dana Michel languish on the floor, a languishing that goes on and on and becomes a way of life or being. Slithering through the doorway like a slug leaving a residue of crumpled white bread:
what is loose? what hangs and breaths low to the ground? what carries everything with it, what is a lump, what is limp, what is heavy, what is lumpy and losing grasp and holding on for dear life without urgency? what sinks and slips and gives up while going on? what is actually survival and what is it to be that debauched, desolate, destroyed ongoing thing that just does its thing and chuckles to itself?

the white wrap around her locs pulling off is a less dramatic release tonight than last night, quick like a band-aid tug
digging in the black tent, she sits in it, it is part of her body, she is part of it
hair flies back, breast out, again and again to properly place each thing
this walk/saunter/fail requires proper placement of parts
the mess she made
coke cans, bread, halogen lamps, debris, cups, containers rising up like so many growths from the ground

You’ll notice I don’t know how to write about music performances, like the evening of Tongues in Trees at Barbes, or this second performance by Sunny Jain now with Samita Sinha. It’s simply all around/in/beyond the bodies and the room, and it soaks in until we’re drenched.

I did not take a picture of the sweat line that made its way down my shirt like an elaborate necklace while dancing to DJ Rekha, but the next day it occurred to me that it would have been better evidence of the ecstatic than any text I might write here.

legible/illegible, beyond the space of identity:
This “beyond” at first made me uncomfortable when I saw the Festival announcement. It’s dangerous territory and the word incites a tremor of protectiveness in me. I’m accustomed to calls for getting over, beyond, away from identity being laced with equal parts good intention and dismissive disregard. But then again, the space of identity is just as treacherous, if not more so. This is a Festival in which that “beyond” – that moving past – is not a dismissal but rather a gesture of healing, a reparative space for looking out over the legible/illegible nature of identity, the ways “we fear/fail to see an-other,” and attend to the “unseen, unheard of, misconstrued, inchoate, messy, untidy, unpackaged, and missing.” These are all words from the curatorial “CLOUD OF IDEAS” in the Festival brochure. And in moving through the Festival itself, I feel deeply grateful to have the words these three curators produced together, especially their open description of their curatorial process. Chatting with them off and on at events, I am struck by the particular love they’ve developed for each other and the way it has shaped a not-simple space: I feel surrounded by their caring, careful thought at each event, a space available for being unsettling/unsettled as needed as a practice for healing.

Descriptive writing about experiences is like skywriting – pushing words into the air of the event. But sometimes I want to just hold it all in memory without changing the nature of it – not so much out of resistance to working it through in words or language (I roll in those all day, willingly), but because I don’t want it to change its form, how it lives in the after-dregs: it’s a matter of what kinds of ephemera we want to have and to make. The blur of discourse around and including the thing. The experiential recollections are part of that. But sometimes I don’t want to produce any other part of the blur than the one I hold already. “The ether of the day,” as I described it to Jaime in our friend’s car on the way back to the city from Mt. Tremper Arts upstate for the final day of the festival, THE WILD BEYOND/FINAL CLEARING. And then I wrote that phrase down. My notes from that day consist of jotted feelings about having to write about the day, but nothing about the day itself. This “clearing” is like the “beyond” in the festival title, and the other half of the “opening” of the first night at Judson Church. It is energetic and it is literal/geographic: Mt. Tremper feels like an open, surrounded world in the woods, and we spent the last moments of the festival in a silent circle in a grassy clearing just up the hill.

I found myself blinded by the sun and holding my arm up into it, playing the light along one side of my limb’s skin and surface in a starkly gradated fade towards dark on the side in shadow. The fingers moving against the blue sky, the fearlessness of the shape, and the freedom to move it strangely, like an unknown quantity or quality in the air.

—Tara Aisha Willis

  • May 23rd, 2015
  • Spring Festival



Where is your own true north?


We set out from midtown in the first of two vans. No traffic in sight and the sun shining hotly even though it was supposed to be cloudy. About an hour and a half later, at the urgent request of some bladders, we took an exit that promised a gas station. Moments after we pulled up, the other van did too—clear evidence of dancer gravity. One rider had overdressed and was too hot and got re-wrapped in a friend’s sarong. The tire pressure was checked, Bergamot essential oil was sprayed, and we took off.


We arrived into summertime paradise: Mount Tremper: tables of exquisite food and shade and a garden, countless trees visible on the facing mountainside. More cars arrived. I wonder who would come and who wouldn’t. Soon it was time to enter the studio for Pauline Oliveros’s Deep Listening workshop.


You are at the center and the sound widens out.


It was cool in there, with the high, open ceiling. We sat on the floor in a circle. Pauline and her partner Ione, a beautiful butch-femme elder couple, stood to greet us, Pauline’s violet button-down setting off her handsome silver-white hair and Ione’s deep plum blouse accenting her piled-up dark hair. We began with an exercise to awaken our listening bodies. Pauline then led us in a listening meditation. I laid down and listened to birds, cars, the shots from a nearby shooting range, breath, rustling fabric, stomach rumblings, and diving planes that seemed on the verge of entering the room.


Something catches you and you follow.


Next we were asked to choose a song. A simple one that we knew very well. We walked around the space, dragging out each note to the length of a breath. It felt and sounded like we were making church. Our voices became unfamiliar, beautiful, sonorous—we walked slowly, shuffling like sleepwalkers. Passing to different points in the room, between bodies, my voice changed to my own ears, adjusted to adjoining voices and refracting through corners.


It’s hard for me to sing since I transitioned, my vocal cords have never quite caught up and they get strained easily. I wouldn’t have been able to sing my song outside of my mind except like this—unrecognizable, each note stretched to its limit and joined to so many others.


you are my sunshine

my only sunshine

you make me happy

when skies are grey

you’ll never know, dear

how much I love you

please don’t take

my sunshine away


This was the song that came to me, a song my mother sang to me as a baby. As I sang it, I felt a release taking place. It’s not always easy between my mother and I—but over the progression of the song, I could feel the beginnings of love she bore for me, her new-mother pureness of feeling. A few weeks ago, my grandmother passed away. She was so dear to me. She called me her treasure. The last time I was in a building like this was the chapel at her funeral.


When I went outside, I felt myself in a whirl of feeling. I sat down alone to write, and then joined the curators and a few others on the grass.


It’s so simple.


The curators spoke of filling and clearing—the whole week of events generating and sustaining and then this final day: the journey north, the release.


Throughout the week, it was said, and especially now, the impact of place on the experience of the work was so apparent. Someone else said that the whole week allowed them to pay attention to what they gravitate towards and what they don’t and to be curious about that.


Jaamil asked us if we had moved our heads during Bonnie Kim’s score at Triskalion on Friday night. He described turning his head to experience the sound from different points in space, using his body as a tuning instrument. Most of us hadn’t thought to move in our seats, but Jaamil found movement in sound.


Relating this back to the workshop we’d just taken, and the singing score’s powerful simplicity, Layla wondered out loud: How do you get to the place where you can lead that sort of simplicity? Another person noted that the exercise reminded them of the importance of slowing down before you get to the next thing.


We talked about our songs and their distortion in relation to the festival’s theme of legible/illegible. Making something that is legible to yourself illegible is a way of expanding your perception—defamiliarization as a step towards new knowledge.


Locating one’s own true north.


Samita told us that in Chinese medicine, north is associated with water, death, and the sexual center. It is also associated with winter and the color black. I know that major personal losses were experienced during the planning of the festival and over the duration of the festival itself. Healing had always been an instrumental part of the vision, and perhaps became even more so.


Final Clearing


After the performances, the curators invited us to walk up the trail to a large clearing. Everyone arranged themselves loosely in a circle, perhaps in an echo of the earlier workshop. No direction was given and gradually none was anticipated. Eyes drifted skyward and sideways to the green. Breath slowed. Jaamil passed around the bundle of sage he’d been holding and we dusted ourselves with smoke. Reluctantly, I returned down the path and prepared to leave. The voice of Ione came back to me: Remember, you can experience this feeling again whenever you like. I took comfort in the thought that the reverberations of this day, this week, this work, would continue to course through us.


The best dream you ever had, ever…


— Jaime Shearn Coan

  • May 21st, 2015
  • Spring Festival



BETWEEN: Jumatatu Poe, Salt

“finding my infinity by way of rigidity” (from Jumatatu’s NOTE in the program)

Coming in from the courtyard to the theater—sound is first: not a metronome exactly but a measured repetition. Jumatatu is between nudity and dressed, wrapping his hips in cellophane.

Six more spools of cellophane line the front of the stage. Will he wear them all?

The audience quiets but does not grow silent as he repeats his score. I wonder how decisions such as these get made collectively by the audience. What are the cues for beginning?

What different kinds of attention get directed towards the performer? How does the audience feel towards/with/around this young man, his brown skin and long natural hair.

The curators come onto the stage while Jumatatu continues to move, welcoming us, and after they sit down the lights change to blue. We have spent some time (with and between) beginning.

The lulling sounds of saran wrap, footfall, metronome.

Looking off to somewhere beyond the walls.

Guttural sounds emerge from his throat, gradually shifting to cooing, to baby talk.

Left to right, forward and back, stride, turn, hips, hands.

His mouth in slow motion shifting from O to toothy smile.

“I want to do a little (w)rap for you.”

Disordered phrases, cut-up/scramble: “I have been obsessed with——-for a long time.”

Backwards walk with arms bent around head in a pin-up pose, blackout.


THE NO LONGER: Paul Matteson, slow slip down

“Where others go on ahead, I stay in one place.” – Ludwig Wittgenstein (from Matteson’s program notes)

NOTE: My response to this piece is shaped by a lack of personal and historical context for the work of Matteson, as well as the work of Jennifer Nugent, who performed—their relationship to each other, to Bill T. Jones, etc. I was filled in by other attendees of the evening. This raises questions of what happens to the recent past, of the challenge for choreographers who have moved beyond the status of “emerging” to maintain both presence and relevance.


What happens when a choreographer leaves New York to teach Dance at an academic institution? Does time freeze? Is the choice to use all faculty and students from the 5-college Consortium in Western Mass a commentary on Matteson’s position—or purely practical?

In a festival concerned with questions of legibility and illegibility, this piece, a seven-person all-female ensemble (largely white, not-tall and thin) felt too legible, felt of the past. The piece was full of modern dance stereotypes, from rehearsal clothes to partner balancing, to very serious gazes for inexplicable reasons. I felt like I was watching a recital, a platform for demonstrating newly acquired skills. The live music, which could have added another level of sensory experience, felt somehow similarly flat and uninspiring.

Who are these performers behind their carefully set faces? What have they been told to imagine? What are we to imagine as we watch them execute their leaps and falls and regard each other blandly? Was their subjectivity unwelcomed or not available for them to access in the first place? Not all dancers make compelling performers after all.

It doesn’t feel good to me to dismiss this piece, not knowing much about its making. In the context of this evening, all of the other works were solos and self-made (sometimes in collaboration). I do know that I’m not the only one who felt somewhat baffled by the presence of this piece in the program.


AND (1): Bonnie Jones, We’ve

Bonnie lines up objects at the lip of the stage, members of the audience lean forward, twist to see, some stand briefly. A bowl with something in it? Scraping, rolling sounds.

She returns to the table to make adjustments to many knobs on a mixer. I’m aware of a ringing sound filling the theater which gradually narrows and concentrates into the space between my ears. It’s arrival is shocking—the internal space of my head a new theater that the artist has entered. I wonder if I am becoming entranced. My heartbeat quickens.

Whirl and disorientation, accretion.

Reading from a white sheet of paper: “We walked in a circle for several hours maybe months.”

Soundscape of street: speech and cars approach and fade away. The voices are speaking an Asian language that I cannot place, which I place next to my knowledge from the notes that Bonnie is Korean-American.

She opens a door, turns on a little light, uncovers the mirror, shadows, reflections. Clicks light switches, the house lights illumine us in our seats for a moment.

She is creating a new topography. “We can see ourselves as map legends.”

Stacking and stretching sonic transmissions.


AND (2): Alex Escalante / Melanie Maar

“a meeting of two beings from two separate pieces and choreographers” (from Melanie Maar’s program notes)

AKA a mashup of material from Melanie’s Spaces and Bones and Alex’s Venado (Deer Dance)

In addition to having seen Alex’s recent solo at Gina Gibney, on two occasions I’ve heard him speak about the genesis of Venado: first, in a talk-back session after his work-in-progress showing of the piece at BAX a couple of years ago and then again, last fall, as a performer in Xavier le Roy’s Retrospective at PS1. In Retrospective, he talked about his early experience of performing a ritual dance that was connected to indigenous culture in Mexico, and his consequent investigation of his relationship to that material. At BAX, Melanie Maar was in the audience when he alluded to having seen her work Spaces and Bones (performed at The Chocolate Factory in 2010), in which she performed a deer dance. Here is an excerpt from an interview that Melanie gave to Gia Kourlas in Time Out:

Does your deer dance refer to anything?
When I was doing the deer dance at Judson as a preparation for the piece, a Mexican choreographer named Isabel Nares came up to me and asked, “Did you study the Danza de Venado?” I said, “What is that?” and she said, “It’s the deer dance—they do it in the north of Mexico, only men, for religious purposes.” I looked it up on YouTube, and it made me feel so emotional because there are many similarities to my deer dance. I’m glad I didn’t see it before I made it and that only men perform it because a lot of the piece is about playing around with male and femaleness. I think Kenta and I are transforming a lot between male and female energy and that our roles are not so set. So to know that the deer dance is done by men in the north of Mexico gave me a big boost, and it also made me feel like there is something—an access to a movement potential that is not just what I have learned and what I’ve been exposed to.

I never got to see Melanie’s Spaces and Bones, but there is something both reparative and generative for me in the pairing and subsequent transformation of their works I find it to be a beautiful gesture that these two very different artists have chosen to share the stage, and to be open to new signals and significations trafficking between them.

The piece opens to Melanie’s bent figure holding a set of antlers in each hand, her arms extended, her body strong and marble-white in the bright light. Wind sounds. Behind her, a moon-shaped circle is perfectly centered on the wall, her shadow larger-than-life at its center. She looks down or away as she holds herself still, transitioning into a new pose, clacking the antlers together sharply, lifting a heel, flicking her calf.

Alex enters from stage left, looking into the audience and nodding in recognition repeatedly, his arm extended. He is all flow where she is fixed. He has no shadow. He is on all fours, slamming first one fist and then the other in to the floor.

The light becomes more unfocused and Melanie’s shadow less defined, more wavery. Alex’s antlers are his hands growing out of his forehead. They are in stillness, unseeing of each other.

He is on his back, one hand on his stomach, which rises up and down up and down, slowly.

She crouches down, bringing the antlers on top of her head, raises her eyes and steadily travels her gaze across us. The lights cut out.


THE STILL TO COME: Dana Michel, valley valley

A tent, a coffeepot, a teapot, a microphone on stage. Elaborate set-up. Props and propping up. Glimpses of the body, snippets of speech, objects out of their context.

Dana rolls onto the stage from the back of the theater—she’s wearing white stockings, a semi-buttoned white shirt, black oversized shoes, a white piece of fabric around her hair, and as she rolls, she leaves a trail of white bread behind her.

Sounds of water, a running bath. She drags herself with difficulty over the coffeepot and on sits precariously top of it, holding a microphone limply, muttering. She looks like she’s the sole survivor of a shipwreck. She looks dead tired, her eyes shift all around the floor and don’t land anywhere.

Fragments of speech seem to drop out of a fully constructed inner world:

“I don’t like it—“


“You gotta use gloves”

“Peel it on the train”

“I’m not gonna hurt you”

She rummages around in the tent where we can’t see. Brings out more. White lights, which she turns on one at a time. Red plastic shot cups, which she arranges on the floor. She sets out and then stacks cans of soda, before putting them to bed, drawing them in with a white mitt on her hand, saying: “Come on, shhh.” Cereal is poured, a bag of onions is thankfully left intact. She stands up, leaving her property/refuse scattered across the floor, walks through the door and slams it behind her—more than just a gesture, a reverberation passes through us.

I came across this interview with Marin Sander-Holzman for American Realness where Dana spoke about her 2014 performance Yellow Towel, a work that reckoned with black cultural stereotypes. Addressing ways of communicating with the audience other than through direct eye contact, she asked: “Is there not another way to connect with the people that I’m sharing this work with? Can I not speak to them with my elbow? Can I not look at them with my nipple?”

Throughout the performance I sat on the rim of discomfort and curiosity, aware of something abject being enacted, something private being displayed and inquired into, a collection of codes forming meaning as they came into contact with their environment. The adoption of a persona, or range of personas, requires a level of concentration that creates a force field around it. In that same interview, Dana said: “I wanted to live something. In order to just live it and not show it, I needed to remove the gaze.”

— Jaime Shearn Coan

  • May 19th, 2015
  • Spring Festival

notes on what we’re doing here

legible according to the dictionary is
: capable of being read or deciphered : PLAIN
: capable of being discovered or understood

etymology: late 14c., from Late Latin legibilis “that can be read,” from Latin legere “to read”

reading dance, reading as processing, as responding, as reiterating, as extending, as searching out/making/elaborating meaning from dance: reading as a mode of access to the thing, as a process for creating impressions, recollections, after-the-event understandings…something said on Tuesday night at the Placing Performance discussion: how can Legible/Illegible open conversations, performances, and social spaces that drift away from the realm of “about”ness and head towards communal enactments of healing practices – not so much “what” as “this, here, now, and then…”

this keyword of the festival has a direct relationship to language
the curators made a choice to involve writers and to hold a discussion (read, discursive session; language exchange) about how words and places (including virtual language spaces, e.g. our current “location” here with you) shape performance’s “communicative power” and its consumption.

said discussion on Tuesday night wandered and trailed off gently from its verbosity, so perhaps the crucial thing is not to fight against words themselves but rather think through the relationships we produce and respond to through them: the kinds of rooms we can make with them.

dance’s fraught relationship to language:
needing it / getting caught between it
the description / the review* / the curatorial statement / the interview / the grant application

*uses of the review: as pre- or post-perception, as a reason to go to the show or a way of processing it after the fact; as an archival capture of the performance, an archive of one person’s experience of it in words that might stand in for one’s own; a piece of a larger (though impossible to fully ingest) puzzle of discourse/language/imagery/conversation/response that floats nebulously around a performance, always – just one among many pieces of the way the performance works in the world along with tweets, vines, post-show talks, chats over beer, marketing language, curatorial statements…maybe even a choreographer’s process notes and debates in rehearsal.

judson monday’s and AUNTS say no to reviewing
these events are usually free
both venues encourage risk & risk is not to be evaluated, yet

and MR @ Judson also becomes emblematic of Movement Research as artist/process support organization; and AUNTS shies away from over-languaging, over-describing their events – so that the DOING can have room to take place and get done.

what we are doing, tara and I, is, in a sense, unproductive, out of circulation – useless? speaking into the dark?

what does that do? – maybe we’ll be famous. indeed, all of us. and isn’t it funny that we’re getting paid this time?

does it create a new kind of writing? – we are our own editors, our own filters, our own constraints. – our writing is both singular and plural now

a new platform for performing? – as in, we are performing? or as in, we are relating as writers to performances and performers differently than reviewers…even differently than other edited forums? – yes AND if the expectations around language and representation (because that’s also what we’re talking about, where it gets sticky, right?) are lifted or shifted, how does this/can this impact the work being presented? – what might be gifted to both writer and artist at once? and reader. and viewer.

illegible bodies (to who and in what context), read into violence, read with violence.
illegible as in unread, erased, unrecognizable and holding potential for productive mystery, blindspots, unknowability, opacity – not “about”ness.

what if reviewers and writers language not only what they don’t know but also the experience of not knowing while watching something unknowable?

“who do we think we are?” i.e. what do we think we know about ourselves in relation to others? what do we think we know that we might not actually know or be able to know?

freedom stations—not just the designated events but all the events
a place of legibility? a place of freedom in the sense of “do what you need” “be how you need” (healing, openness, not beholden to allowance/prohibition structures.

“One day I thought I could fly
one day I woke up and I could fly
I’d look down at the sea
and I wouldn’t know myself
I’d have new hands
I’d have new feet
I’d have new vision
My eyes would be open a little better” – Nina Simone)

what would it feel like if we didn’t have to worry about our futures / our ratings / our survival?

maybe what we write in the dark is written by who we are in the dark
when we return to who we are in the light, could we try to see the gaps
not write over them but towards them?

I’d like to try.

— Jaime Shearn Coan & Tara Aisha Willis

  • May 15th, 2015
  • Spring Festival

Opening : Judson

Always rushing, always about to be late for something. I enter the sanctuary out of breath.


The lights are dim, people in the seats only outlines. Onstage a single man, a drum, a microphone, and a delay pedal. Rushing slips into release. The church is filled with sound. I stand in the dark and it fills me slowly. I look up at the light blue ceiling, at the windows. Slowness and wonder and a steady beat. Sunny Jain on the dhol enters a common rhythm into us. Something akin to the pleasure of entering a club where we don’t know anyone—losing the specificity of the self in the music and the dark amid other bodies. Or witnessing the grace of a meteor shower on a warm night. Arrive into something new. Get lost in the echo, reconfigure yourself in the caught breath before the music descends again.

I found an empty seat. It happened to be the one Tara saved for me.

Thank You

From anonymity we surge into full-force spectacle. Four performers grab at our attention—singing, cello-ing, calling out, flexing, colliding, cacophony. I start out feeling a little resistant to the artifice of theater, to the excess of sound and movement and situation, but the performers are wonderfully human—just when you think you’ve got them down, they change on you. Troy goes from aimless to bossy with her taped-up nose, Nick says his arms hurt and puts on stiletto boots to be a Creep, Chris is sent to the corner, and A.J. becomes the bottom half of a transformer.

We are invited back onto the floor to circle around a long strip of shiny paper and single bent light.


Back into the realm of the subterranean, the celestial. This world but another world. Okwui, the tall grace of her, in her underwear and puffy vest, the uniform of the world-to-be. A recorded soundscape made of sighs and soft notes smooths into the space. Okwui shivers her shoulders like they too are made of paper, slowly shifts her hips, isolating the right leg in its socket, her muscles visibly outlined under the surface of her skin. Her face shines in the light and she sings. Her lips don’t always correspond to her song—sometimes she holds them tight, and sometimes they flutter. Dissonance, disconnection, delay. The sighing on the recording mixes with her voice, with sneezes and coughs and shiftings from the audience, with the whispers of her daughter. Okwui’s voice gathers itself into phrases, setting the word “innocence” into various situations and registers, opening up so many places to enter as her feet make waves on the paper’s surface. The recorded sound rises and concentrates into a drone, swelling its hum, absorbing her voice, and then quieting again, the voice returning, leaving us with, “A hole inside your—innocence.”

—  Jaime Shearn Coan

  • May 13th, 2015
  • Spring Festival

Spring Festival 2015: Opening

Today at the Placing Performance discussion, the second night of the Legible/Illegible, Samita Sinha described last night’s “Opening” performance as not only an opening night, the opening of the festival, but an ACTION of opening. The printed calendar describes that gesture as moving through bodies and their placedness, an action that propels, giving (giving off? gifting?) a “sense of movement.” Sunny Jain’s opening performance on Monday night at Judson Church was, just as Sinha described it today, a “sonic call” that cleared or parted the waters for the rest of the night, for itself, for the week. Jain’s dhol rhythms reverberate into the seated room from behind us, gravitating slowly into the center of the stage space at last, prodding us to dance or clap or nod in time, gathering in around him as he sonically opens the room to be even more giant than it is without him. There is an abrupt silence that catches my breath at one point, and when we’re returned into sound I realize my bones were waiting for it all along.

When the recorded track arrives into Patricia Noworol’s excerpt from REPLACEMENT PLACE, with chaos and applause and static, its pop rhythm also feels like it was already there – with/in/on the four dancers’ bodies, meeting their wobbled rhythm, which Chris Lancaster’s live cello joins into, ascending it down deeper. My eye is caught by AJ “The Animal” Jonez flexing his way down from the church altar, as if wiring the angles and levels between up and ground through his limbs. A roll to the floor conjures all four into their own versions of the same flopping phrase, which contracts into a song Nick Bruder sings while stumble-sauntering in lace-up stiletto platforms. Its chorus about what a freak and weirdo he is compared to…whoever the song is for…blurs in my memory into the chuckle of his audience: that chorus seemed to apply to the whole group after a while – a group of very different movers, even ill-fitting and incomprehensible together, made into a seamless team with mysterious interactions and actions toward unknown ends. Later the piece goes exactingly haywire: a little gesture phrase is made to happen over and over in different formations, directed by Troy Ogilvie, her nose upturned with tape and her voice nasally. An annoying “Thank you” after every direction she gives the performers, a careful management disguised as kindness and generosity that makes us laugh, and picks away at the structure of things by building such a strict one. The flow of the performance as such feels carefully calibrated and revealed by Ogilvie’s hyper-polite directions that leave Lancaster flailing in the corner like a dunce, Jonez without a shirt, and Bruder on his knees still gesturing in time. But even this tight ship is generous: we’ve turned a series of corners we could never have anticipated and ended up somewhere else.

Some phrases jotted during and after Okwui Okpokwasili’s future study #3:

one joint or a few at a time; look into the light; don’t put your heels down, be monstrous and lithe, hang on; tread water or whatever substance is to come; put through motions put through paces; a step is a big, effing, crinkly, refractive deal on that silver paper (vest, tank, underwear: the legs go on, a small fluorescent on the floor is all we get)

breathing anxious on the stoundtrack like hiccups; crying or sex or everything lost in a slow trickle, worrying on and on, getting over, calming or anxious; like hiccups, crying, or sex, but catching, contagious through time; the hands, the knees and later the pelvis are made priority

sings a changing hum tone, lunges; twists slowly around the leg; HANDS like sea urchins or anemones or enemies carrying the body into in-place gyration; the width or distance of thighs and calves from each other across the light

vibration twitch pass-through sprinkle dissipate; waves of sound course heavy under, closer, waning; sticking around, sticking; each wash through of white noise, fast sound-spin: “your innocence” and all the things to be done with it, from it, to it, by way of it

nearing the end there is a hand waving tentacularly just over her shoulder, lowering out of sight from my side angle

sings only sometimes audibly, the mouth rounding maw-ish into the light, around it and blind.

Today, the festival brochure’s reprinting of a lyric from Nina Simone’s “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to be Free,” reminds me of the power of desire for what is to come in that song. The “I wish” that repeats with every new thought. It sounds out its readiness and determination, while also ringing over and over with the reminder that the wish has to keep being wished, it is not yet. She tells us, singing, that if she knew how it feels to be free, she would sing. The wish echoes its own fulfillment, the call echoes its own answer. Well, here we go…

—Tara Aisha Willis

  • May 13th, 2015
  • Spring Festival

Spring Festival 2015: meet the writers


legible/illegible: opening beyond the space of identities


Tune in to the MR Spring Festival online to follow blog postings by the curators and our team of festival writers, Jaime Shearn Coan and Tara Willis. We have asked the writers to respond as artists, and as such welcome their unique vantages. Read along in real-time as each share their impressions of the various festival events. In casual blog form, these writings will be offered as open-ended dialogues.

~ the curators (Layla Childs, Jaamil Olawale Kosoko, and Samita Sinha)



Jaime Shearn Coan is a writer and PhD student at The Graduate Center, CUNY. His writings on dance can be found frequently in The Brooklyn Rail. An inaugural Poets House Fellow and recipient of a 2014 Jerome Foundation Travel and Study Grant, Jaime recently served as dramaturg for choreographer Mariangela López’s El Regreso. Jaime’s poetry chapbook, Turn it Over, from which he’ll be reading at The Poetry Project on May 22, is available from Argos Books.

Tara Aisha Willis is a dance artist and PhD candidate in Performance Studies at NYU. She is Co-Managing Editor of TDR/The Drama Review, an editorial collective member of Women & Performance: a journal of feminist theory, co-editor of a forthcoming issue of The Black Scholar with Thomas F. DeFrantz, and a summer Thesis Writing Mentor for Hollins University Dance MFA’s. Her writing is forthcoming in Movement Research Performance Journal #46. Tara also coordinates Movement Research’s Artists of Color program.

Please note: Cassie Peterson was unable to write for the festival this year;  Tara Willis stepped in!

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