becoming becoming becoming
“…it must be said that all becomings begin with and pass through becoming-woman. It is the key to all other becomings.”
Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus
“This is how it should be done: Lodge yourself on a stratum, experiment with the opportunities it offers, find an advantageous place on it, find potential movements of deterritorialization … have a small plot of land at all times.” Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus
becoming becoming becoming is a dance for eleven dancers presented as part of ALL SIDES IN VIEW, the Denison University Department of Dance Fall Concert, November 13-16, 2015. My approach to making this dance was as a minimalist, formalist composition; it is very much about these bodies performing these actions within this structure, as well as the broader social context in which these movement vocabularies circulate. The piece is composed of a limited set of movement vocabularies that function as citations: an opening section in which the dancers enter walking along straight lines, suggesting a fashion runway, the lines implying a grid that extends across the space; a series of poses abstracted from the pages of Vogue and W magazine; bourrées with undulating arms that directly reference Michel Fokine's The Dying Swan and Petipa/Ivanov’s Swan Lake; rapid, aggressive crawling evokes something animal or insect; and an intensely still kneeling posture. Over the course of the piece, these dancers cycle through these vocabularies, each of which occurs within a specific area —or territory —of the stage space, with individuals remaining "lodged" in these areas and movement vocabularies.
Within this choreographic approach, I was interested in examining the constitution of femininity —or, here, particularly idealized versions of femininity —the ways in which different bodies move and pass through those particular forms, as well as the excess of those forms. From the start, I consider gender to be constituted in part through how bodies move. There are particular choreographies through which we perform and recognize gender—ways of moving that we as a culture associate with femininity, other ways of moving that we as a culture associate with masculinity. In other words, how we move is part of how we become the gender that we are; or: to become any gender will incorporate specific ways of moving. This particular approach to choreographies of gender is directly informed by the work of scholars such as Judith Butler and Susan Leigh Foster; the choreographic structure with which I examine these kinesthetics was intended as a practical experimentation with Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari modes of becoming-woman, becoming-animal, and becoming-imperceptible.
The vocabularies in this piece are abstracted from sites that present particularly idealized modes of femininity —specifically, the fashion runway, fashion magazines, and classical ballet. The ways in which bodies perform at those sites shape our social expectations for gender. Both fashion and ballet present a femininity that is often unattainable, out of reach, a fantasy that is performed by certain bodies that then becomes the expectations for other bodies. In becoming becoming becoming, I utilize movement vocabularies from those sites as choreographic phrases or phases through which the dancers pass repeatedly. In the repetition and return, we get to see how these bodies do and do not fit within these movements, how these ways of moving are —in a sense —anonymous, the bodies exchangeable within forms of moving that are taken on by all but belong to none of them.
In addition to the choreographic citations from fashion and ballet, there is crawling and there is the kneeling position. These are places that I consider the "excess" of femininity. If to be "feminine" is to be other than "masculine," then beyond that "otherness" is perhaps the "animal" that is other than the "human." (The ballerina in The Dying Swan or Swan Lake is, after all, both a woman and a swan.) The crawling is a citation of movement dynamics that we associate with animals and insects, something beyond the human. In the dance, we see where femininity tips over into the animal; it is a kind of "beyond." We call the final position —the kneeling where Graci performs most of the dance —"imperceptible," which is both a reference to the philosophy of Deleuze and Guattari, and a description of what the dancers are doing. They do quite a lot of activity in that final position even though it is in stillness, but what they are doing is not entirely visible to the audience. You get a sense that they are doing something, something very intentional, but what exactly they are doing remains imperceptible. This imperceptibility, where you recognize that something is taking place but it is something you cannot fully recognize or name, is perhaps also the excess of femininity, or even gender more broadly, where we cannot fully name or articulate what it is we are seeing.
Juliana Huxtable's text, which comes in about halfway through the piece, is a poetic text that discusses gendered embodiment in a digital age, the various ways that virtual (fantasy, imaginary) ideas of gender come into fleshy being, and the ways in which we become our genders in relation to a whole matrix of images, social apparatuses, cultural forces, desire, etc. I view this dance as continuous with the processes Huxtable describes in her text: the repetition of specific movements always results in the change of the body. Muscles develop differently; the body becomes more accustomed to moving in those ways, building up patterns of habit. Gendered ways of moving quite literally, physically, bring a gendered body into being; these activities are the process of actualizing virtual/idealized forms as our own bodies. The text is not an explanation of the dance; rather, Huxtable describes a broad cultural context in which I see this dance operating.
When watching the dance, it is difficult to pay attention to the text and the dancing bodies simultaneously. When we focus on listening to the text, we "miss" what's happening on stage; when we focus on watching the dancers, it becomes more difficult to listen to the text. This is intentional. In the same way that we watch dancers passing through gendered vocabularies that come through their bodies but belong to none of them, we experience the ways in which words and bodies do not easily co-exist —an uneasiness that often escapes our notice in everyday life. We utilize language in ways that carefully corresponds to our bodies and physical experiences, and in doing so, the relationship between bodies and language seems natural or easy or as if the relationship between the two is necessary, concealing the potential friction between bodies and the words we apply to them. In the difficulty attending to both bodies and words while watching the dance, we perhaps start to recognize some of the difficulty bodies face living with words —words like "she" or "he" or "feminine" or any other words that are applied to bodies, that shape how bodies live, but which never belonged to those bodies in the first place.
Finally, the dance is necessarily a group work in order to emphasize the inherent sociality of gendering processes. The basic choreographic structure is this: individuals enter one at a time and accumulate into a group that stands together. They move as a pack through various modes of moving. Individuals remain in each of these modes as the pack passes backwards and forwards through a large sweeping curving pathways; they are left there for a time before the group returns. Time and again we are shown individuals who are left behind, but even when we view these dancers individually, on their own, they always remain part of a group, a group that returns and into which they are absorbed. In the end, the group recollects all together in the final kneeling position where they remain until they can no longer hold it. It was necessary in this project to maintain that these physical practices of femininity are social, a group effort, a system we inhabit never on our own, always with and for others.
Choreography and costumes: Michael J. Morris
Performance: Ajai Brooks, Chelsea Chen, Tanvi Doshi, Emma Hatcher, Jeremy Hollis, Isabella Luaces, Graciella Maiolatesi, Fumika Miyamoto, Jiahao Ran, Meghan Tenorio, and Callie Towles
Music: “Armed Venus” by Matthew Stone, premiered as part of Gareth Pugh FW 2013 runway show, Paris Fashion Week, February 27, 2013
Text: Juliana Huxtable, premiered as part of Hood By Air FW 2014 runway show, New York Fashion Week, February 9, 2014
Rehearsal Trailer: https://vimeo.com/143778259
University Press: http://www.denisonian.com/2015/11/news/all-sides-in-view-conveys-divisive-issues-through-movement/
Press Release: http://denison.edu/academics/dance/whats-happening/department-of-dance-2015-fall-concert-all-sides-in-view