Reading: Steven Spier (ed.) — William Forsythe and the Practice of Choreography: It Comes from any Point

I am sitting here, in Berlin, looking across the Uferhallen and south, the Panke canal, through trees not yet budding in an unseasonably early spring, entirely because of William Forsythe. Of course, not entirely, the details and meanderings can be said to be my own, yet the impetus, the first shove, or — to use it knowing also its religious connotations — the revelation, was sitting in a theatre watching The Frankfurt Ballett, having no idea what it was I was seeing, but knowing that was exactly what I wanted to do.

An origin story always gets remade to emphasise the desired narrative over what actually happened, so to tell it like this is knowingly to omit to the point of lying. Nonetheless, it was seeing The Frankfurt Ballett, leaving the theatre thrilled and shaking, seeing and hearing and feeling what was roiled inside of me without recourse to language to make itself conscious; it was this moment that gave clarity and understanding to me. Perhaps even it was the moment itself, that time then, and to see it a few years later or earlier would not have caused this immediate, complete change of direction. Well, yes, perhaps. Perhaps is not so interesting nor knowable. So: I’m sitting here, writing this, because of William Forsythe.

I enjoy writings on Forsythe, The Forsythe Company, Frankfurt Ballet because the work lends itself so easily to serious critical and philosophical thoughts. When Forsythe talks about deconstruction, he really is using the word in a Derridean sense, and not some vacuous, lazy synonym for dismantling. There are conversations you can have with the former that are not possible with the latter not merely because there is neither deconstruction nor dismantling taking place; it is these conversations that interest me, which I think are pertinent, even imperative to dance.

So I come to editor Steven Spier’s William Forsythe and the Practice of Choreography: It Comes from any Point, which I forget where I first saw, published in 2011. It’s a collection of essays, some short, some long, some easy to read and addressing a general dance audience, others assuming at least a familiarity with post-’68 philosophy, music theory, architecture … most of it (approaching half-way in the reading) I find very interesting and stimulating, while a couple of parts I feel a weight of disappointment. More or less typical for an essay collection.

One in particular irritated me, no coincidence I suppose it was the one heavy on Foucault: Gerald Siegmund’s Of Monsters and Puppets. The fixation on the word, ‘monster’, dancers’ bodies as monsters or monstrous, uttered over and over until it became like a nervous tick or fetish, the direct line to Foucault (who turns up more than once in this book), irrespective of the validity of this line of writing (either as a critical interpretation or coming directly from Forsythe’s references to Foucault) is all a bit too easy, predictable. It anticipates as well a queer colonialism wherein Queer claims dancers’ bodies as its own because all that is monstrous is Queer. It’s not. Queer doesn’t get to claim all bodies that fall outside of the normative as queer, nor are these bodies necessarily monstrous.

An opposition to this is Michel Serres writing on bodies that move, bodies that dance. The dancer’s body as the possible, the unknown; the body that thinks and is subject through moving; a body that is not reducible to a duality, separate from mind (or thinking, or consciousness) because of this; a body that resists a ‘holistic’ integration or synthesis of the two by being already somewhere else.

Certainly also it’s not a strict opposition. There is at play here in the monstrous and queer what Baudrillard calls, “an increasingly racist definition of the ‘normal human.’” yet that is not all there is, nor is it necessarily a coherent path of discourse to describe what is categorised as not normal in the language that does this categorisation. If nothing else, it means we agree a priori the designation is correct and we’re just arguing over the details. There’s also something dishonest in naming bodies monstrous and yet not admitting there’s something sexy and cool in such an appellation, perhaps even better than the non-monstrous.

Perhaps all of this is to say, yes, even if Forsythe names Foucault as an influence, it doesn’t follow that all analysis of his work has to be the standard turning of the lights labeled Foucault, Lacan, Marx, and others on it and performing a kind of paint by numbers theorising. Who else is there? Serres, obviously. Judith Butler was and is writing concurrently with Forsythe’s work. Mainly I find it a little uninteresting to remain so narrow and predictable in the choice of philosophers and tropes with which to regard the world.

Besides all that, which was only one or two of the essays I’ve so far read – and even these are well-written whatever I might think of their arguments – this is one of the best collections of essays I’ve read on Forsythe, and it’s a joy to read about dance like this.

Reading: Iain M. Banks — Feersum Endjinn

Ah! This is brilliant! What a colossal imagination! This is the book I measure all other science-fiction by, which I haven’t read for years, and in the intervening time have got through a couple of hundred works in that genre, including everything of Iain, with or without and ‘M.’, and subsequently, it has a lot to live up to. Can a novel that was written nearly twenty years ago compare to something of the last couple of years? Is my memory going to disappoint me?

With science-fiction, it’s not such a simple question. A sublime work set in the future can be undermined by referencing already dead technology, or equally, one which holds on to social mores which have become championed only by the constipated right, both of which in various ways speak more about the occluded parts in the imagination of the author than they do of any possible future.

Iain, from the moment I read The Wasp Factory, has maintained a certain aptitude for evading these and other death-strokes of science-fiction — and whose Culture would have to be my future of choice, even if I was more likely to feel at home aboard an Eccentric, or with the Affront. He is, ah yes, that word, my favourite writer, for the corpus of his work if not for the individual works themselves (even though China Miéville has managed to snag my Book of the Year this decade). Other writers I’ve adored for individual works, or even also their entire opus, but Iain I’ve returned to more than others, and find his works — old and new — become more delightful with each reading. It is a seduction, yes.

And so to my book of books, the one I do compare all others to, Feersum Endjinn.

Woak up. Got dresd. Had brekfast. Spoke wif Ergates thi ant …

Oh Bascule, you glorious miscreant! I read the first pages imagining occasionally how this book would be written if it came around the time of, say, The Algebraist, and well, it would probably be much bigger, and bear the refinement of Banks’ fifteen more years of writing, and would be even more of all that it is, but it doesn’t matter that it wasn’t, that it’s towards the end of his second period of writing (I think The Algebraist marks the beginning of his current period); it’s just a fantastically inventive work that how ever many times I’ve read it — I guess this must be at least the sixth — I come to as though it’s new.

Perhaps that’s far too much to place on a single book, and yet, if it were dance, it would be Forsythe’s Artifact, which now almost thirty years old still gives me shivers and still is seldom equalled by any work since. Yes, really that good, and surprisingly underrated in the accolades of Banksianism; usually it’s Excession or The Crow Road that gets the attention. So, I shall savour each page, sentence and word, somehow thankful that such a work exists and I can enjoy it yet again.



Last night I stumbled upon knots and suspensions in the most unlikely of places (a bit like how after having left Psychic TV and Throbbing Gristle years ago, only to return when I discovered Genesis P-Orridge was now Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, and all that went with that). It’s an infrequent thing for an artist I admire at one time of my life to return again with a new moment of inspiration. With William Forsythe, I’m accustomed to this, but Shibari? That was unexpected.

For some reason, I’d saved a link to his site, and while cleaning my folders, and seeing what all the links were, ended up there. A list of works. One caught my attention: Knotunknot.

“Knoten sind gut, sie halten Dinge fest, damit sie nicht wegschwimmen. Knoten sind schlecht, denn sie fixieren Gedanken, die weiterlaufen sollten, oder sie bedeuten Krebs.”

Further looking … Suspense. An work from a couple of years ago. Forsythe bound and suspended in film.

I was talking with Gala last night about the messy tying Dasniya and I have been doing lately, so thought also to make some small notes about what is interesting for me at the moment in this. A question that occurs immediately is, where is shibari in all this? I think about formal tying figures, the social and gender aspects of traditional shibari and BDSM, the tropes they engage, how does my interest tangle with that?

No clear answer, these things are still there (I tried to remember Hojo Hishinawa a couple of nights ago), but not ascendent. Well perhaps formal figures are, as I’m certainly thinking about everything else in relation to this. In its simplest manifestation, this would be a question of: what constitutes a formal figure (any or one) that could be said to be understood as an expression (part-expression?) of the set of all possible figures?

From topology, the first obvious stop is knot theory, which goes to physical knot theory, being more practical in the real world – though ideas about knot description, (also invariants, and groups), equivalence and so on are at some point I think necessary to apply. Also adding knots together (or subtracting), particularly when knot tabulation is incorporated. I’ve been thinking about this in relation to messy tying, which I’ll come to later.

Braid theory turned out to be especially applicable in messy tying. Though I have nowhere near an even simplistic idea of how to formalise these theories in not just an analysis of what we do, but in some kind of system to determine what comes next.

On a somewhat unrelated side, there is a couple of words Lewis said recently about wabi-sabi. I can’t remember when the ideas of messy tying began, but by Parsifal, with the tying of Tamara, and around the same time with what I was thinking of for abjection, there was a definite point of clarification.

Messy tying seems a unsatisfactory name, but it suffices. Some of this was about needing a line of flight from the hegemony of traditional shibari; some of it was practical – tie and untie quickly, what’s the minimum necessary to do with a rope and be able to hang from it?, what can be found to be pleasing in playing with rope so? Starting to read about wabi-sabi, I also find aspects of Chuangzi’s Taoism.

Then also the practicality of rope as an object of use, its history and philosophy (on which I don’t think much has been written; history yes, maybe some anthropological studies on rope use …). Around a workshop recently, where I wrote on this briefly, I read someone interviewed who’d been in Guantanamo, who said, “… but every time I see a rope I remember …

Physiology of pain and suspension also. Something about the the inner life of a rope. Yes, also in the play of rope the erotic, sex, relationships between people; the visual too, which is necessary in regarding this, not just thinking about it.

Merely some thoughts, nothing especially coherent, my interests at the moment in rope. Some images to break the monotony.

dance dance dance to the radio

Somehow I’ve found myself devoid of blogging the last couple of months. I suppose that’s what a third birthday does to you, and it does seem to be the third birthday of many blogs lately, including darling Theatre Notes, who smugly announced a Melbourne theatre bloggers party … I feel left out in the cold. (Anyone wanna fly me over to Melbourne? I probably don’t deserve it anymore seeing my pathetic regularity).

It feels time to return to supernaut. Beautiful Anna has blogged from Bruxelles, and Gala is soon to begin her blogging from Vienna. I won’t give the www yet, as I’m supposed to be doing the design now instead of … this.

I came to Adelaide to escape Melbourne. How long has it been now, almost two months, only two months. A short time even, and already an anxiety to move. China is still tempting me, but also I feel a need while contemplating journeys to airports – despite being atrociously poor – to remain for a while. To experience in the stopping that which I feel in the continual moving. For the moment Adelaide is perfect for this.

After Guangzhou last year, which was absolutely the hardest project I’ve ever done, and left me monumentally burnt out, I realised how much I was missing dancing. Before that, it had been about a year of continual dance, finding things in my body, new ways of moving, and then this abrupt stop. It was crush where I thought about the possibility of just dancing for a while became something tangible, and finding the whole Adelaide dance thing really came along at the right time, so now, since I first came here in September last year, I have, I guess, luxuriated in the infuriating storm of my body dancing.

It becomes a difficult question to answer though, “How long are you staying, what are you doing?” The answer to the first is entirely predicated on currency. The latter … to say I’m focussing on my training seems a little underwhelming. Perhaps I can be obtuse and hint at works that vaguely circle around my thoughts, or of getting in to a studio and choreographing. I am waiting. I am trying to find something in me, in my body or possibly more likely in my thoughts that will allow me to keep moving.

This return to all the Forsythe stuff in a situation where I am teaching it rather than the usual showing it to whoever I’m dancing with and saying, “ok let’s make something now” has been so liberating in me thinking about dancing. I don’t often feel natural or comfortable or capable or coordinated or articulate or proficient or … and so on when I dance. I’m slow, I learn slowly, I find different teachers and techniques baffling, incomprehensible, frustrating, torturous for different reasons, and so often feel I am trying to hide somewhere even while I am trying to dance, embarrassed by my own inability.

But with this Forsythe stuff … as I remember it being taught, as I remember doing it, by dancers from the company, so I suppose I can affix the attribute of his name to whatever it is I’m doing, possibly I am so far from this orbit … it slides onto me so easily. It’s where I belong and the more I do it the more ecstatic and intoxicated I get. Intellectually I find it so simple to grasp and from there to moving, it’s just a game, the closer I get to accuracy, the more I find there is endless possibilities. Then I get all over-excited and hyper-intellectual at what could be done in choreographing. I would like to keep it simple for a while. Just dancing around.

Two years ago I was in Zürich. A year ago, in Guangzhou. This time next year? I’m not sure but I have this slowly building feeling that certain things have to occur if I’m to keep dancing. To keep dancing every day is part of it, but this return to Europe … how boring can I be in this repetition, this need to be home? To dance alone is not enough, I need a sense of belonging. I’ve found it in Adelaide more than anywhere outside of Europe, but here is not for permanence. Here I think is to find how to dance, and then.

more neurotic twitching

This Sunday I’m having another workshop doing more of the improvisation stuff I started a couple of weeks ago. Since then I’ve been teaching it at ADT, and gradually coerced myself out of teaching contemporary dance at all and substituting it with this, which is far more interesting for me, and I have so much more to say about than trying to find something meaningful while teaching pliés and tendus. So possibilities of partnering and I feel a need to jump and let my bones rattle and skin melt like Emio Greco too. You can get all the information here.

“If the rest of us did that it would be a neurotic twitch.”

This Sunday I’m running a workshop based on what I’ve picked up from doing stuff with some dancers from Frankfurt Ballet over the last few years, and I guess also how I’ve imagined what I’ve learnt in my own work. When I saw Frankfurt Ballet in Wellington so long ago, I was still quite ambivalent about dance, it seemed an impenetrable story that the purpose was in the obfuscation of the telling, and really that bored me, along with movement that had no real commonality from one step to another.

So I’m sitting in the Regent Theatre in Wellington, the noise is a shrieking inferno even in the gods, the stage a gaping maw, like the open door of a blast furnace, people around me are – in their gentile balletomane fashion – close to rioting, huffing far too loudly, “This is not ballet!”, and I’m shaking, having an epiphany that is the cause of my life since. I didn’t decide right then to be a dancer, though you could say that, it was more that I saw in Forsythe’s work everything I was imagining in art made already real, and so it was obvious then what I was doing.

The movement, the dance is what snared me, to sense there was some formal system at work here, that the coherence in the apparently undisciplined structure was as precise and conscious as any architecture or musical system. This is what always draws me back to Forsythe’s work. He once described the fascination in rain splattering on a window, the endless repetition yet also the endless difference. Something you either get or you don’t.

I was really lucky in my first year of studies to meet former Frankfurt dancer Alida Chase who ran a workshop covering a large proportion of the original Improvisation Technologies dvd, and then to purloin my very own copy, that has now in various forms been pirated across several continents. Then also in Vienna at DanceWEB I had fun with Tony Rizzi and Elizabeth Colbert, more of the same and always the single underlying foundation of what I do when I make movement.

Amidst this, making my own work, occasionally doing workshops with the company dancers, I’ve assembled something that is I suppose derived from the original idea, mostly it’s my understanding of what is in fact a very clearly explained system, but it is also my appropriation of what is useful to me. My interests have shifted from the strictly geometric stuff to currently the processes that really disrupt, throwing yourself off-balance, getting entangled disasters in movement …

“You don’t start dancing. You dance.”

“If the rest of us did that it would be a neurotic twitch.”

Spatial analysis, geometric folding and unfolding, disequilibrium, falling over getting back up, deconstruction of movement and talking about it while it happens, the probabilities of dancing to make something we don’t know, and bits and pieces of William Forsythe’s Improvisation Technologies.

This workshop will explore some of the systems of improvising and generating movement and maybe even choreography that look at dance as a pure geometrical inscription. Simple methods of understanding your body in space as it falls and analysing the possibilities that can unfold from anywhere on your body, switching as rapidly and as fluidly as possible from one part to another.

The aim is to get beyond yourself, what you know and what is comfortable, to understand exactly what is happening while you’re moving and know what the infinite choices in what comes next.

When: Sunday June 3, 1pm till 4pm

Where: Gravity Studios, 41 Gilles St, In the city

How much: $10

Questions answered: 0419 586 227 or

— improvisation workshop

lazy sunday cooking eating blogging …

A late night swirling Pernod with Bonnie at Orange and an early trip to the shops for Sunday fruit, now on with the important task of keeping you entertained.

Jean Baudrillard. Jean Baudrillard. Jean Baudrillard.

One film I never did manage to find in Guangzhou, despite being banned for decades was Michelangelo Antonioni’s Chung Kuo – Cina. Zhou Enlai and others were hoping for an ode to the marvelousness of the Cultural Revolution and communist China, what they got was not what they wanted. As for the four hour documentary now, The 88s tell all about it.

A Fifty year long provincial border war in China that only reached ceasefire a couple of years ago, Nationalist and Communist maps, enclaves, exclaves, and internal border adjustments that were only made legally binding in 2002. Mutant Palm has the cartography and the translation of 微山湖畔边界械斗50年 The Fifty Year War on the Banks of Weishan Lake.

“If Guangzhou’s problem with street crime makes southern China seem a dangerous place … denizens of the province of Guangdong were less worried about the odd mugging or bag snatching than they were about rampant banditry or pillaging rebel armies.” I thought it was Feng37 blogging about media reports of what a scary place Guangzhou is, especially with all those Fulan migrant workers. Actually it’s about the 开平碉楼 watchtowers in Kaiping that are on the verge of UNESCO World Heritage listing.

Uncoy one of my favourite dance/art/european blogs who has provided almost nightly coverage of ImPulsTanz in the past looks at the NYT review of Forsythe Company’s Three Atmospheric Studies, Joni Mitchell and political dance and thanks Bush and Cheney for making dance relevant again.

That’s enough, I’m going to eat dinner now.