all the people i can remember sleeping with … day 3

Yesterday was long, at times something to be endured, frightening when it came to rehearsing and going to places of near humiliation and embarrassment, and of course laughter. Before all that darkness though we had a lecture from Dr Johnathan Bollen from Flinders University talking about gender, identity, all the stuff this project is about, even name-dropping Judith Butler. I think for the others they managed to have presented to them in a way I fail to do, a clear account of what is being thought of as gender, sex, sexuality at the moment, or as much as you can do in one and a half hours.

My still current concern has been the place were the first two meet the last one. Johnathan’s musing on this was that it can be seen in two ways, one in terms of pleasure, what feels good, the role of desire, I suppose physicalised, and the second from moving towards other sexed and gendered bodies. I suppose I find this a bit unsatisfactory, not intentionally evasive, but just, I dunno, a little too easy, or uncritical. I think in the last say 10 years, and I imagine especially because of the internet, the diversity of gendered bodies, firstly through porn and then just through the overwhelming deluge of information has become so pronounced that to be so simple or maybe purposefully naive is to be left far behind the world as it happens.

Later on the bus, Paea and I talked about this, really in the context of my opinion of my own work that I need to be able to justify every decision I make, to elucidate through language what it is I’m doing, or more pertinently how the edges of each idea or thing is sewn to the others. This came from a late part of the rehearsal where Tara asked me, “So, what does this have to do with the rest of the work, and gender?”.

I just feel that if a question is asked I should be able to provide some answer better than, “I don’t really know yet”, even if it is that but with a degree of analysis attached, this is why I don’t know, maybe this, perhaps something else …

So, to rehearsal. Getting towards twilight, and more talk of gender and of course, me and me and me. I’ve done something odd for me this time, and closed the rehearsals. Usually I’m fine to have other people hang around or play with us, but this feels, despite the laughing and ease with which we do things, it is, I’m aware both while watching and on later reflection, a quite demanding piece. I’ve said before what’s important for me is to make work where we leave rehearsal changed, a different person than the one who went in, for what we’re doing in performance to require a commitment beyond what we think we can give. Mostly I think this applies to me, how to make myself uncomfortable, lost.

Some of what we did, just a repeating of stuff from previous rehearsals is to become more coherent in what we’re doing, to work out what is possible, what works, were the disasters might erupt from, all the fun stuff. It is getting close here and there to engineering, the logistics of how to proceed. And then on to making myself squirm.

The bus on Monday night, I was feeling bleak and so also frustrated, not from rehearsals but from myself, and remembering how Nigel coerced me into turning this into performance before, I thought a perfect response to my own self-indulgence was to somehow present it, a list of myself I wrote on the bus, entangled somewhat with what I wrote a couple of weeks ago.

I was really worried about how this might progress once Xuan started reading the text, maybe it would be so horrible the other three would pull faces or look at me with disdain, or with incredulity at each other, or laugh. So the list of ‘must-nots’ was fairly comprehensive. Also maybe I wanted to see that, the first response in which they, all standing naked facing me listening to Xuan reading, responding as literally as possible, nothing extravagant, just bodies on display and the parts that make them.

Yes, there were moments of cold horror, a yuckiness verging on art as therapy, all the things I find revolting, and sometimes like I was the one naked in front of them (though I did have to show my breasts after to appease the others … I can see where this is going …). Did it work? I think so, but maybe they are all just being polite to me, hoping it’s one of those things that happen in rehearsal that can just be forgotten. I’ll see if it lives or dies in the next while.

Then on to the bit that Tara asked of, “So what does this have to do with anything?”. There was a day in SiWiC when I was drained of tricks and ideas, and then was pushed to deal with several tasks in rapid succession, maybe having only fifteen minutes or an hour to get through each one. I think that’s when I started making things I hadn’t ever done before, finding in this endurance of emptiness something else.

Probably easier to quote myself:

The duo with Jens and Anna-Maria was just that. Firstly, I wanted to continue the Wittgenstein stuff, then I wanted to make something exceptionally dancey, then I fell asleep for a bit and woke up not wanting to move too much, so I thought maybe they could just sit in chairs and do lots of arm-partnering. So I thought, sitting with them both, I’d find some music, and put on Prince, Purple Rain as a bit of background noise in the meantime. Somehow, I don’t remember they were standing doing ballet curtain calls. That became seven minutes of the most beautiful Fontaine and Nureyev curtain calls, over and over and over.

Yeah, it’s been done before so many times. But I wasn’t being ironic or contemptuous of ballet. The best outcome would have been everyone watching going with it and yelling screaming… and it happened, and I had this moment of, “Oh! you love me! You understand me!”. And everyone was well pleased to see Jens show a bit of cock too.

Tara and Daniel make a beautiful Nureyev and Fontaine.

So now I need to find videos of them in curtain calls and for the next thing, Japanese rope bondage instruction manuals and accompanying ropes. And then there are all the tasks Daniel, Xuan, Paea and Tara gave me I have to somehow make something of. Oh making dance … so much fun.

all the people i can remember sleeping with … day 2

Second rehearsal is sometimes like second night blues when you’re performing, despite spending much of the weekend preparing, reading Judith Butler in Cibo and having late evening visits there from Daniel. Ah yes, I am predictable in the mundane patterns of my days. I also spent the weekend with Kate Champion and Roz Hervey of Force Majeure and twenty or so dancers, actors, performers and theatre people in a workshop of the company’s, I guess to call it working aesthetic.

There’s some crossover between this workshop and what happened Monday afternoon, that I’ll try and write something out here about, but perhaps what was most interesting for me in the late evening when everyone had left the studios except me and the creaking, settling ghosts of the building was what came from the remains of the couple of hours with Xuan, Tara and Daniel.

How to make dance without making steps or counts? I think some of this piece will certainly have some kind of rhythm, perhaps even one as metronomic as the interminable danceworld’s 1,2,…8, repeat. How to not repeat myself? What came from SiWiC in Zürich now two years ago, those three weeks with Nigel Charnock left a trace on me that I still haven’t tired of exhuming. A similar one from Hans van den Broek in Vienna at DanceWEB, well it was only really a drunken night with a group including him and me eavesdropping on what they were doing, that a description of a process could affect me more than so many weeks and months of living in other people’s processes.

I don’t want to make steps. In the past, with a few works, I assembled scenes from examining, say, Goya’s Disasters of War or the 春宫图 Chungongtu or Shunga drawings, making what could be regarded as steps with counts, or at least coherent, repeatable movement with some definable timing. I started again this time with something similar, looking at all the images, paintings, drawings, sculptures of the Rape of Lucretia and the Rape of the Sabine Women, looking at one grouping of individuals then another, imagining them as a progression, like the real movement of people if caught on film. But I’ve done that before.

In all this searching for what is simply I think an exposition of my own unsettling fantasies (and consequently what Judith Butler has to say, if anything), I found Eve Sussman, her film The Rape of the Sabine Women, the choreographer for which, Claudia de Serpa Soares dances with Sasha Waltz. And trying to remain somewhat faithful to what I always do, which is as little as possible, nothing preferably, I started to think about how maybe we can work with only one tableau of bodies, how they can keep returning over and over to this but otherwise there’s a freedom, dictated by the determination to accuracy in our rendition of these paintings, that allows for something not shackled to me having to make steps, the dancers having to learn and repeat, a corpse of movement.

The same too for where this goes, my new favourite form of partnering, biting and grabbing folds of flesh, jumping, twisting, falling over, dropping, still with teeth in skin. Yes, there are marks that remained overnight. There isn’t really any difference between this approach here to making movement and what I’m working on in Monadologie, where choreography is a series of initial conditions acted upon by defined circumstances.

So I was sitting on the bus, feeling partly empty and thinking about where this started, the list of names of people, only the ones I could remember, I’d slept with, and how that performance of sex could possibly be knitted together with what I first imagined this would be, far more literal about my body, and so then on to Judith Butler. I didn’t get very far, it all seems a little contrived to force this, and while it’s easy to represent fucking, either metaphorically or literally, it’s really not easy in any way to represent gender, especially as Butler imagines it. It’s feels like separate things which only have a personal commonality.

It was Nigel who forced me into using text. It was painful. It was Nigel also who forced me to use myself as an almost humiliating source of theatre. So I sat on the bus and wrote and maybe when we get to this text in our next rehearsal somehow it will knit together these differences.

all the people i can remember sleeping with … day 1

Late afternoon into twilight, playing in the dark our first rehearsal, Paea, Xuan, Tara and Daniel together in one small part of the gloom lit with festoons. Today was mostly trying out a few things so I could see if I actually had a coherent idea, to try and not repeat myself, after all two months is far longer a time than any rehearsal I’ve had.

During Alison’s 42a I found a book of photographs that I’ve seen before and stupidly didn’t write the name of the artist, though managed to collect some that I had a more immediate emotional response to with my camera. I’d been thinking about establishing a body and identity through the memory associated with different parts, skin, bones, organs and from this through language. Butler talks about how gender is made legible through language and while this was particularly in reference to her conceptualising of the performativity of gender in reading Derrida’s reading of Kafka’s Before the Law I’ve been interested in this as I guess this verbal reiteration of memory.

One of the things that I am sure I have belabored in the past is the failure in theory to exist in the real world. This I think came originally from reading Deleuze and Guattari and that particular bunch of philosophers I’m fond of responding to the failure of Marxism after 1968. Or maybe I’m just imagining that. My attraction to Baudrillard was precisely the ease with which however confrontational his theorising, it could be transported off the page, to make real the imagining of another world.

So we started with these photos as an idea and a bunch of instructions, and pairs oddly for me one looking at the other while side by side through the diverted gaze of the mirrors, touching or probing or … all the conceivable possibilities of one set of flesh in contact with another, maybe as impartial as an examination or purposely antagonistic or like a lover, and what to say in response, what to say love grief sadness melancholy, happiness in whatever small location brought out of amnesia.

More reading of Judith Butler and then a turn to something uncomfortable for me. I mean really this is all about me, no? Lucky I had the beautiful Angela Carter to save me. In another instance of me photographing things, Angela whom I love for The Passion of New Eve wrote this in Sadean Women:

It is fair to say, that when pornography serves … to reinforce the prevailing system of values and ideas in a given society, it is tolerated; and when it does not, it is banned.

The moral pornographer would be an artist who uses pornographic material as part of the acceptance of the logic of the world of absolute sexual license for all the genders, and projects a model of the way such a world might work.

When pornography abandons its quality of existential solitude, and moves out of the kitsch area of timeless placeless fantasy and into the real world, then it loses the function of a safety valve. It begins to comment on real relations in the real world.

Somehow I’ve been thinking of The Rape of Lucretia these last few days, and spent a hurried half hour digging around the internet for copies of paintings, synopsis, bits of Benjamin Britten’s opera, not really sure where this particular thread was going. Something of imagining in the midst of this barbarity a fantasy of desire, much like enjoying being strangled.

How gender fits in with desire, beyond the simplification of ‘subject identity – object attraction’ about which Butler says, “I sought to understand some of the terror and anxiety that some people suffer in “becoming gay”, the fear of losing one’s place in gender or of not knowing who one will be if one sleeps with someone ostensibly of the “same” gender”. I think after years of living with her text I really need to far more coherent on this point.

Getting late and yawns and slack eyes and an encroaching subterranean daze. While the whole 春宫图 Chungongtu and Shunga thing first appeared at the same time as this awful personal dialogue, I don’t really want to return to this, it now belongs in hell. But something of it remains, so we started with biting, pinching, throwing, collapsing bodies. I’ve liked the idea of partnering flesh and skin, breast or cock or pussy or face, mouth, cheek, tongue, soft bits to grasp or prod. On its own at this late tired hour it was at turns strange and hysterical, falling while biting like Willem Defoe as Nosferatu in Shadow of the Vampire.

Enough. I’ll stop with Judith again, and for me some of the most profound few lines written on gender.

Female Trouble is also the title of the John Waters film that features Divine, the hero/heroine of Hairspray as well, whose impersonation of women implicitly suggests that gender is a kind of persistent impersonation that passes as the real. His/her performance destabilises the very distinctions between the natural and the artificial, depth and surface, inner and outer through which discourse about genders almost always operates. Is drag the imitation of gender, or does it dramatise the signifying gestures through which gender itself is established? Does being female constitute a “natural fact”, or a cultural performance, or is “naturalness” constituted through discursively constrained performative acts that produce the body through and within the categories of sex?