Monday afternoon after our Friday night adventures, I met Zoe for coffee near my office in Chelsea. At Cafe Grumpy to be exact, now best known around the US for being featured in the HBO show Girls (well, the Greenpoint location, at least). We were meeting to finally discuss how to move forward with "No Ideas But in Things." We'd chatted a long while on the train ride home, and I told Zoe I had a number of ideas for the piece. In fact, by the next day, I had concocted most of this series in my head, and by Monday part of the initial draft was done. Saturday I texted her and explained that I was going to write her a "Frank Sinatra Has a Cold" style piece, which meant nothing to her.
Back in 1966, Gay Talese was sent to LA on assignment to write a feature on Frank Sinatra. As it happens, Sinatra made for a remarkably poor interview subject (among other things because he was sick and kept delaying the interview). With nothing of any news-worthy import to write about, Talese somehow, through the sheer power of storytelling, wrote what's now widely regarded as one of the best pieces of magazine journalism ever, a pioneering bit of New Journalism.
My own piece is of course nowhere near as good, thoughtful, or polished as Talese's writing, but it sprang from a very similar need: the need to write something when there doesn't seem to be anything really worth writing about.
By the time Zoe visited in November, it was clear that most of what I'd seen in tech in August was out-the-window. I still had no idea the structure of the piece. The design was changing along with the designers. The number of dancers was reduced to two, so all the group work I'd seen was out-the-window, too. I knew a lot about the piece, but I had no idea how to make sense of any of it. Trying to write criticism or analysis or just plain response to it wasn't working because it had no perspective since I didn't know what anything had led to yet. I had done a lot, seen a lot, talked a lot, watched a lot. But it didn't add up to criticism, as Matt Trueman had pointed out. So I did what Talese had done--I just told the story and tried to let it stand on its own.
I met Zoe at the corner of 8th Avenue and 16th Street, and we walked uptown to 20th Street to go to the cafe. She'd been running around all day, meeting with people. We ordered and sat in the back and I tried my best to explain what I intended to do, which she was supporting of. In fact, I often find that talking with Zoe about the project is the thing that pushes it forward. When I get caught up in the weeds, she tends to have a sort of "fuck all" attitude and tells me to just do it. She's previously suggested this project--this opening up of themselves and their work--might be a horrible idea. Nothing is really off limits, I guess; the censorship has all been on my end.
So I told her what I intended to write, and then we turned to what she was actually doing. I knew what I didn't know, pace Donald Rumsfeld. I was ready to figure out where the piece was now.
After sharing with her my mistaken interpretation of the aesthetic direction of her choreography, the email with her brother-in-law, the shift away from darkness in the piece, she tried to clarify.
What we'd been dancing around, it appears, is that her concern is increasingly how to isolate shape, line and form. Looking at her choreography (as distinct from the scenography), I'd paid too much attention to the transition between what we might call tableaux. I say "might" because it's not a matter of poses, per se, but rather of line and form. Zoe and Juniper's various attempts to isolate parts of the dancers' bodies through design elements was oriented towards capturing and isolating particular visual states, each of which can have its own particular emotional weight and resonance. At Velocity, for instance, one sequence she frequently ran her dancers through was referred to as "Mapping." Each dancer on her own would seek to sort of imprint herself in space, then shift to a different pose in a different space. There are aesthetic precedents for this in their work--think of the "rewind/fast-forward" section of A Crack in Everything, or the photo series that captures Zoe moving through space that were used for the installation. During the Mapping section, an emotional weight is created through a dancer's pose. As the dancer shifts away from that pose, certain elements--the angle of the arm, the line created by the spine, the specific location in geographic space--shift before elements. The dancer may step, for instance, shifting the foot, leg, spine, but the angle of the arm, maintained in the prior pose, is anchored in a previous moment.
The body casts, then, serve as physical documents of specific points in narrative time. Their deployment in the design of the piece makes concrete what the movement score of "Mapping" only renders implicit. The experiments during No One to Witness, which centered on questions like "the interplay of static and active space" or "isolating elements of the dancer's body," were intended to figure out various strategies for focusing on particular elements of the body.
As Zoe told me over coffee, which I quickly wrote down, "I'm interested in how dance reframes the object, and how the object reframes the dance."
The dynamism of her choreography emerges from the static, object nature of the pose, which creates a center-of-gravity which the movement has to contend with. The first rehearsal I sat in on with Zoe, five years or more ago, was a rough of what became the "rewind/fast-forward" sequence (as I call it). I remember Zoe stressing to her dancers as she led them into the first pose, "Find a memory, I don't care what." That emotional state became a force which the dancer's movement out of had to fight against, as if either they were pushing or pulling from a weighty state.
The choreography and design, then, both focus on objects which bear a weight. These objects can be physical pieces (like the plaster body casts), or ephemeral (shadows, silhouettes), but the intent is that each should be imbued with a particular resonance. It needn't be read as some literal thing. The object can attain a weight and gravity without a specific referent, such that the ultimate work--the aesthetic for which their collaboration is known for--is dream-like, ephemeral, phantasmagorical. The interplay of lightness and gravity, weight and weightlessness.
Like Juniper told me in our interview, "When we use the video projections, it's more about the projector itself than the video we use. The projector amplifies real space."
Or as he otherwise put it: "[T]he most interesting thing to me is to create something that people remember in a certain way later on, something that's instilled within someone's memory that's activated at some later moment I have no control over."
Zoe and I left the cafe after only 45 minutes or so. I had to get back to work. She had things to get to before heading back to Philadelphia. As we walked down 20th Street toward 8th Avenue, she told me to just do it. Get to writing. The reason she had wanted to work with me was because I was willing to think dynamically about the work, to engage with it and let the work take me somewhere other than she intended. She mentioned me referencing Milan Kundera in my review of A Crack in Everything.
I did my best.
It's nearing seven o'clock in the evening. It's seven weeks later, in early 2014. Numerous drafts, a couple delays, and a vacation over the holidays delayed completing this. Zoe just wrote me an email--she and Juniper are in New York again having just completed their first residency at the 3-Legged Dog Art & Technology Center, where BeginAgain will be shown in May as part of the Joyce's season. I just spent several days in the studio with them as they grappled with a whole new set of challenges. We're supposed to get dinner soon.
There's never enough time. This story's done, but it's kind of a lie. Sorry. I finally know what BeginAgain will look like. So you, dear reader, have that to look forward to in new year.