Posts Tagged ‘feminism and dance’

The Dress Code

 

 

Saldus, Latvia

Dispatch 2 from New Dance in the New Venue, The Writing Moving Network (WMN): Lab 1

by Will Rawls

Untitled, artist unknown

Untitled, artist unknown

Last night we packed into the sauna here on campus. The conversation turned from dancer-critic Evelin Lagle’s new residency space in Estonia to the gendered practices of sauna usage. Traditionally, in Latvia, men entered the sauna first when the heat is most intense, women entered afterwards when things had cooled down a bit. We sat there sweating, in various states of undress, bodies melting and unsexy, steeped in our brew of familiarity and strangeness. When the heat became too much we ran 200 feet down to the lake. It was the thing to do. It’s funny when you are trying to follow suit and pretend that someone else’s body habits are your own—this is typical dance retreat practice, the growing pain at the beginning of any shared physical practice, the authentic discomfort that confirms your efforts. Though the sun had set over the lake there was still a faint glow at 10:30pm and constellations were glinting in the eastern sky. I was astounded by the remainder of light at that hour but Anne-Liis Maripuu and Madli Pesti, both theater scholars from Estonia (studying in Berlin and curating in Tallin respectively), were wistful at the encroaching darkness. June is when the light is the most unearthly and enduring here. We jumped in. As we bobbed away from the dock, Sesselja Magnusdottir, dance critic and Director of the Reykjavik Academie, kept doing roll call, making sure no one had slipped beneath the surface of the water unnoticed. She laughed at her own maternal instincts. I counted four shooting stars. After a floating in silence for a few moments, Inta Balode quipped, “I didn’t have to organize this giant project. I could have just come here to swim in the lake.” But then after another silence, “I wouldn’t have found this place if it weren’t for the project.”

 

foreground: Sesselja Magnusdottir, Sofie Luise Moenster background: Moa Sahlin, Annemari Autere, Inta Balode

foreground: Sesselja Magnusdottir, Sofie Luise Moenster background: Moa Sahlin, Annemari Autere, Inta Balode

Earlier today we had a discussion about what a GOOD dance artist might be. Another impossible question that happily led to more varied responses than yesterday’s talk of GOOD dance critics. Madli Pesti placed a certain value on dance artists who know what’s going on in dance beyond their own personal explorations and who also have a sense of what’s happening societally. It’s an argument for dance that is relevant beyond the considerations of form. Something I can also get behind. I would also add that making opportunities for other dancers is part of being a GOOD dance artist—that could mean administratively or choreographically. Sofie Luise Moenster, a writer and producer working in Copenhagen, brought up perhaps my favorite example of circumnavigating the economic dread that plagues freelance dancers. There is a group of dancers and performers called Fan Club who self-organized to apply for funding to then commission their favorite choreographers to come and work for them. Philosopher Max Ryynanen spoke about the value of a dance embodying its physical and architectural context—this seemed somehow related to one of his personal projects, a micro-gallery. He has bought a mini suitcase and will travel with it, presenting videos and objects in it as a way to restage, in a minor key, the oversized exhibition practices of certain galleries he’s come across in Helsinki. His goal is to collect a number of these micro-gallery projects initiated by others—some take the form of a large hat or a handbag—and mount a retrospective of these in Riga, Latvia, where he says the first artist to explore the micro-gallery idea walked around with a trench coat, flashing his art objects. Moa Sahlin offered permaculture farming as a model for working choreographically that thinks generations ahead. Sesselja Magnusdottir spoke this morning about dancers whose kinesthetic awareness is a central subject of the work. Then tonight at dinner, after a number of dance workshops and an improvised performance, Sesselja also said that working with her own body is producing new language for writing about dance. So the critics and dancers can be in it together. luciana achugar put forth a deep love of the form as constitutive of a GOOD dance artist—that and the fact that dance has the ability to connect us to something ancestral or perhaps even pre-cellular, something that roots into the realm of magic and a relationship to the natural. Although she wasn’t swimming with us the previous night, she then said, “We’re made of stars.” Speaking of nature, as I write this I can’t help noticing that the German shepherd who usually sleeps by the kitchen isn’t in sight. But while walking across the lawn to my room, I heard her outside, barking in the dark, probably keeping some nameless evil at bay (this thought is courtesy of Karlis, see previous post).

German shepherd, Radi mascot

German shepherd, Radi mascot

Tonight it’s too cold to swim so we’re drinking indoors after dinner. We spent the afternoon in Saldus, a fifteen minute drive away from Radi, through a thick forest and along a brief stretch of highway. Our destination was the Saldus Music and Art School, which won a national design award for the MADE architectural firm in 2012. The director of the school gave us a tour of the facilities—incidentally she is also the architect of the main building here at the Radi hotel, where I’m writing this. The art school is stunning and seems like a space ship that had landed comfortably in town. The new building draws the eye but doesn’t scream for attention despite is exterior walls of blonde wood clad in thick translucent glass—it is set back from the road and stands no taller than its neighbors. As we walked the school halls, passing portraits of various women copied from Old Masters works, choreographer Elina Gaitjukevica, split off from our group to lead a dance workshop with the students, all around the age of ten. We passed by the dance studio on our way to the main auditorium. I noticed that the girls were all standing up, ready to dance and boldly curious about the strangers peering in through the glass, while the two boys in the class slumped stubbornly in the corner. Elina hovered over them encouragingly. They sank lower.

entrance, Saldus Music and Art School

entrance, Saldus Music and Art School

At 7pm we watched a performance in the art school auditorium, Korpuss, a solo by choreographer Elina Lutce in collaboration with artist Krista Dzudzilo. Lutce ceremoniously enters the stage costumed in a perfect replica of an Elizabeth I dress, fastened head to toe in buckles, chiffon, crinoline and lace. She begins to flinch and shake and quiver, amplifying her discomfort in the gauzy prison. From the moment she wiggles her way out of the stiff collar the trajectory is set—she will spend the next forty minutes removing the dress piece by piece. With each sartorial liberation she is able to dance a little more—mostly in an improvised release dance style, a style that feels like a familiar support when a contemporary dancer is in doubt about what kind of dance to inject into a piece. The performance ends with her standing in a neutral toned camisole top and biker shorts, quivering and seemingly vulnerable, looking out at the audience, perhaps to implicate us in her discomfort. But it is the same performance of discomfort that coursed through her body when it was underneath all that fabric at the start. The WMN group was split about whether this work was feminist or not. I wondered if it actually went anywhere. To me it seemed an overwrought representation of freedom, safe and systematic. The incredible, period details of the dress overpowered the kinesthetic possibilities of the dance and perhaps privileged the beauty of the dress over its dismantling. After dinner, art critic and curator Valts Mikelsons said that it’s important to consider the piece within the context of Latvian dance in which this gesture has a feminist impact beyond its choreographic limitations. And the dance did have a certain formal restraint and focus, the navigation of the sculpture of the dress step by step. My question then is, Is the representation of a feminist act truly feminist or not? And for whom? Mikelson’s comment was a useful takeaway in that it made this time and place more crucial for understanding what contemporary dance can do within a specific context,  and what questions it can raise, regardless of whether the gesture remains ambivalent. I still feel ambivalent about how to evaluate the show and its codes of conduct. Anne-Liis Maripuu put it succinctly in the parking lot of the school while we waited for our bus back to camp, “Isn’t this ambivalence exactly the stuff off life?”

student work, Saldus Music and Art School

student work, Saldus Music and Art School

 

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