Thursday, August 27, 2009

More On Performance and Physically Integrated Dance

A blind friend pointed out that dance is not just a movement art. It is a visual art. The audience mostly watches. I always think of dance as a movement art and of physically integrated dance as a particularly successful inclusive form of same. I've written a couple of posts about it here and here. Particularly key, though, are these ideas:
PID is about the ways a dancer moves in his or her body and also about what I see as the positive effect it can have on the audience. It seems kind of cheap to say that I am looking for an integratedness as the effect of PID, but that is what stands out to me.

Too often, I think, you go to a dance performance and see bodies on the extreme doing extreme things. They can be very beautiful and very effective, but the usual dancer body tends to be if not alienating at least in a different world. You can marvel at it, enjoy it, be moved by it, but not necessarily own it in your own body. If you are not a dancer, you know that you could *never* do that.

I think the effects of the representations of the body we see in PID are very different. The movement that, for me, defines the genre communicates a certain awareness and acceptance of the body. I think it communicates a deep engagement with embodiment. By which I mean, an understanding of the reality of the body -- something I think that disabled dancers can really bring to the field. I also mean an engagement with the idea that we know, perceive, and learn through our bodies.

Not sure whether that's clear. For me, a successful PID performance has me admiring the aesthetics, yes. It has me appreciating the social value of dancing PWDs, yes. But it also brings about within me a deep sense of recognition of the power and potential of the body. It's an embracing of the body -- any body -- the fleshly body as a beautiful thing in itself. A thing that can change the world, a thing to be admired; the thing that unites us, a central part of our humanity. PID is different from other dance forms in that the diversity of bodies on stage inherently enables everyone involved in the process of producing a performance (and, yes, that includes audience members -- no performance without you!) to engage in a deep knowing, acceptance, and embracing of all bodies.
I am deeply focused on that sense of integration. I think, particularly to a non-disabled person, that the movement of a disabled body and the mutuality of the dance for nondisableds and disabled together raise questions about embodiment that are so deep, so fundamental that even though you know you couldn't possibly do "any of that" you gain a new understanding of how we humans exist and the potential for connection.

How, then, to produce audio description that differentiates a dance piece from a work of visual or plastic art? I remember an ASL interpretation of a dance piece. Usually, ASL interpreters were placed out of sight of the dancers, way off in a corner of the stage, almost behind the curtain. In this location -- I've forgotten where -- the interpreter placed himself at the front of the stage; he was lit. His interpretation was both, as I understand it, a "good one," and it was a dance. Somehow or other, the interpretation became an integral part of the piece and not just an addition. I would look up and see him looking at me; we'd breathe and then go on. It was AWESOME. How to provide an audio description that is also part of the dance -- for both dancers and members of the audience?

In the comments to an earlier post, Diane reminds me not to overthink reception: performance is a gift. I agree. But I also worry about what happens when I am entrapped by the gift that I have given. It is one thing to give a gift and relinquish all control over it. That's what performance is about. But it is another to give a gift and to be imprisoned by how an audience member understands it. We are so vulnerable when we perform. Not just because of the physical risks we take, but because our presence and commitment to the movement are stripping. Revealing. We yield ourselves to the possibility of scorn, mockery, boredom, excitement, happiness, exhilaration, etc. And we have no control. We can only move. Communicate.

And hope beyond hope that what we have to say is seen as more than the old, familiar, ugly stories of disability.

That's why I insist on seeing physically integrated dance as more than a mix of dancers and "non-dancers," disabled and non-disableds. As an art form, physically integrated dance takes trained dancers -- disabled and non -- and launches them on a collaboration of bodies. (This is in response to Anon's comment on my post on Merce and Wheelchairs.) It's the mutuality between disabled and non and the potential for an accepting, kinesthetic effect on the audience that together define physically integrated dance.

Physically integrated dance does not necessarily encourage non-dancers to join in more than, say, (post) modern/contemporary dance in recent years, so I want to be wary of using the term "physically integrated dance" in this context. Granted, placing disabled and non-disabled movers in the same performance space provides a certain degree of integration, that doesn't necessarily make it physically integrated dance. As a professional art form, physically integrated dance uses trained non-disabled dancers AND trained disabled dancers. The freedom for non-trained dancers, disabled or non, to move together with or without trained dancers is not necessarily equivalent to physically integrated dance.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous2:47 PM

    I always enjoy your posts on Physically Integrated Dance. So thank you.

    I wrote the Anon. comment and realized I was in dangerous territory talking about non-dancers in the same paragraph with Physically Integrated Dance, and should have been clearer, and I appreciated your clarifications here.

    I also realize that while PID, as you say, "does not necessarily encourage non-dancers to join in more that, say, (post) modern contemporary dance in recent years", it has had that effect on me or I will clarify--first, that I am not really a non-dancer but more of a...lowly trained dancer?, and for me seeing highly trained dancers with visible disabilities use a range of vocabularies, mobilities, etc. shows me that there is a place in contemporary dance(and a very exciting one, at times) for a range of highly trained people/dancers, and by extension, for me, certain forms of dance become a possibility for pursuit, and to see, as i did for the first time a few years back, for the first time, something I viewed as a limitation (physical disability/impairment) as not limitation, but as a range of new and provocative possibilities in performance is a powerful experience.
    Perhaps this is part of the "accepting kinesthetic response" for me--to not only see but to feel the dances and, for me, to feel internally my physical body as one of possibility more fully. Of course, this can happen with a range of dance, I'm sure, yet as I consider and experience my own shifting body and mobilities, I feel a, I'm not sure what to call it, an affirmation of the possiblities of who I am and who I will become and what I could work towards (if not attain). That's not quite right, the end part, but I guess I really get something out of seeing performance that seems to come from non- or less ableist places, and challenge me to think better, feel better, consider, question, enjoy, etc.