Stance’s first Guest Editor Syniva Whitney has questions:
How did STANCE get its name?
Mary Margaret Moore, who played a key role in the development of STANCE, came up with a list of potential names. One of them was Circumstance. She and I played with it, then zeroed in on STANCE. We asked other folks what they thought, and STANCE stuck.
What started STANCE? A conversation, a group of people, an idea, a dream, a combination of these things?
A combination of things. STANCE is one of the first projects I set in motion when I became Executive Director of Velocity fourteen months ago.
On a community level: For as long, long time there has been talk in Seattle of starting a journal for dance writing. As ED I was in a position to get one going, to bring others interested in this project together, to collaborate on its conception, and to make sure it was supported by an organizational infrastructure that will hopefully ensure its sustainability.
On an organizational level: If you look at Velocity’s newly written mission and vision its clear why starting an online journal made sense. A key part of Velocity’s mandate is to provide outreach and humanities programs that engage minds and inspire participation, while promoting cross-disciplinary dialogue and meaningful links between artists and the community. We want Seattle dance to be part of larger national conversations. We aim to foster dance literacy. And we envision a city where dance is a regular part of civic and cultural dialogue. Velocity is an artist-driven, community-centered dance incubator and STANCE is a virtual extension of that.
Personally, I’m dedicated to dance writing, to archiving dance events and ideas, and to creating forums where control of how art is contextualized is in the hands of artists – if they want it. How a performance appears on the outside and what it feels like on the inside are often very different things. How do those perspectives talk to each other? And there is so much process, dialogue and research happening beyond the “event” that the “audience” never experiences. I’m interested in places where all these points of view can be in conversation.
Finally, STANCE is a journal of choreographic culture because everyone on the editorial team is interested in what happens when we welcome a diversity of people, and invite responses that reach beyond a narrow definition of ‘dance’ into the expanding field of the choreographic.
What does the term “choreographic culture” mean to you?
I’m glad you asked what it means to me personally because I don’t know if there is an official definition. I’m sure there are others using the term, but I coined it to describe my area of research in graduate school. For my MFA Thesis I developed a course for The University of Washington Dance Department and Graduate Center for Performance Studies: Live Art + Choreographic Culture since 1960. I find the term Choreographic Culture immensely useful.
Here’s my crafted definition:
Choreographic Culture describes any aspects of culture that rely on the organization of movement in space and/or time. Choreographic Culture is a versatile, expansive field of study that can include dance studies, art history, philosophy, anthropology, political science, gender studies, cultural studies, performance studies, neurology . . . to focus on aspects of culture that rely on kinetic organization.
The versatility of Choreographic Culture stems from the broad range of ‘objects’ that can be included under the term “choreographic culture.” The choreographic can include the kinetic organization of bodies, objects and ideas. Kinetic organization can also be pre-determined, spontaneously constructed, collectively derived, unconsciously manifested. We choreograph our lives through the city, but the city also choreographs us.
What led you to use the term Choreographic Culture?
Major influences: choreographer William Forsythe and his choreographic objects and theorizing around choreographic thinking; the work/thinking of artists like John Cage and Marcel Duchamp who blurred the lines between life and art; my studies in Sound Culture and Visual Culture; and an entire generation of thinkers, especially Susan Foster, who developed the field of Dance Studies.
Can you say a little more about Forsythe’s ideas around choreographic thinking?
Seattle audiences know William Forsythe primarily as a ballet choreographer, but his work extends far beyond theatrical spaces. For Forsythe, dance is a body of knowledge that can be used to address current concerns. And choreographic thinking is for Forsythe a physical model of thought. Through his choreographic objects Forsythe questions how movement is perceived physically and mentally. He asks “What else might physical thinking look like” independent of the body? His research produces videos, films, interactive websites, choreographic objects and interactive installations like the world’s largest bouncy castle.
There are insights to be gained when we experience complex ideas choreographically. This really struck me when I went back to school after twenty years as a professional dancer / choreographer. For example, when I was first introduced to the writings of Deleuze I had the distinct feeling that I had already been inside of these theories, that I had experienced them enacted in the dances of Merce Cunningham. I understood the ideas, and navigated them, by experiencing them choreographically.
Can you tell me a little more about the field of Dance Studies?
My understanding of Choreographic Culture draws heavily on the work of Dance Studies. In the mid-80s there began a shift in academia from Dance History to Dance Studies. It was similar to the shift in theater scholarship from Theater History to Performance Studies and Art History’s shift towards Visual Cultural.
It was a significant shift. Until Dance Studies came along, dance scholarship consisted mostly of historical narratives, biographical studies of “the great” dancers and choreographers, and aesthetic evaluation. A main focus of Dance History was to establish historical canons. In contrast, Dance Studies scholars drew on literary and cultural analysis to reveal that dance generates multiple, complex, culturally relevant meanings. Dance Studies increased awareness of the influence of race, gender, sexuality and viewers’ biases on how dance delivers messages. And by focusing on the ideological underpinnings of dance practices, these scholars opened dance to its own interrogations—like the exploitation of dancers’ labor, or the lack of inclusion of non-Western forms in dance departments. Dance Studies also helped broaden the concept of what constitutes “dance” and is worthy of study, into an expanded field beyond the performing arts.
So why not just stick with the term Dance Studies? Because when I used dance to describe my research and the performance events I was interested in studying, I often heard a dismissive “but that’s not dance” or “it’s all performance anyway.” The later response drove me crazy. The definition of dance was so narrow that some of the most interesting new work by dance artists was being dismissed as ‘not dance’ and then co-opted by performance or theater. But to be fair, I was also interested in what happens when you view all movement as dance.
Then I made a discovery. When I framed the subject of my research as the choreographic in culture and society, the quick dismissals stopped. Instead people started asking questions and engaging in a dialogue.
People have very strong opinions about what dance is or isn’t. But people are freer with the term choreography. They readily apply choreography to a diverse range of movements– from the “choreography of an apple event” (cnn.com) to “The Choreography of Presenting” (a book sold on amazon.com), to commuter flow and reproductive technology. Today, people are quick to accept that streets choreograph the pathways of our cars and presidential candidates choreograph their conventions.
When you shift the focus to the choreographic –how movement is patterned in time and/or space – people begin to make more connections between the choreography they see on a stage and the choreography of life beyond the stage; between the stage works of a choreographer like Mark Morris and the performance installations of a dance-based artist like Tito Sehgal. When you shift the focus of study from dance to the choreographic, the field expands to include the movements of construction cranes over the Berlin skyline, interactive video games, the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games, mass rallies, flash mobs, spontaneous gestures by actors in B moves, or the practiced stillness of an artist who chooses to sit for three months in a chair making eye-contact with her audience.
By calling STANCE a journal of choreographic culture, and giving it a mission focused on dance, movement-based art and choreographic culture we’re hoping to invite conversations about movement in the broadest sense.
Choreographic Culture helps us to see that even areas as broad as the study of human motion do not exhaust the field of the choreographic. Choreographic Culture allows us to blur the edges of ‘genre’, to consider the specific kind of thinking, perceiving and knowledge that is involved in the patterning and patterns of movement; and to focus on the potential meaning-making that happens when one experiences the choreographic at work in any context. Ultimately, there is untapped potential in the physical and choreographic thinking that dance cultivates.
Why isn’t STANCE focused on reviews?
There are lots of wonderful folks in town who already do a great job of that. My friend dance artist Miguel Gutierrez said the other day, “We live in a world of thumbs up or thumbs down.” Anyone with a computer can have a blog, post a tweet or update their status on Facebook to “like” or diss a show. You can buy glowing testimonials about your amazon.com self-published e-book online. What I find more rare around dance are great online conversations, performative responses, socio/political contextualizations, creative documentation, stories about how something was made or what toll it took to make it, thoughtful analysis, dramaturgical research, photo essays, and all the other possibilities yet to be imagined . . . It’s out there but STANCE hopes to inspire more.
If you could inhabit anyone’s body for just a minute, would you? Who would you choose?
Absolutely! Anyone who isn’t in severe pain or a coma. An old man, Michael Jordan on the court, a 15 year old Olympic gymnast…it would be interesting to inhabit the body of my husband for a day . . .
Would you rather be able to read minds or control the weather?
I’d be more useful if I could read minds, don’t you think? But controlling the weather could save more lives. Being able to read minds might be horrifying. Definitely going with control the weather.
What was the last performance you saw that moved you to tears and or laughter?
Mattilda Sycamore Bernstein’s reading of her upcoming memoir The End of San Francisco at Velocity’s Open For(u)m. It happened alongside the performance of Keith Hennessy’s “collaborative failure” Turbulence, another performance that had me feeling a million emotions all at once.