Two Perspectives on Platform 2015, Part III
June 9, 2015
Danspace Project invited several artists and practitioners from our community to participate as Respondents in a series of written reflections on Platform 2015: Dancers, Buildings and People in the Streets. This series shares a wide range of perspectives on the Platform’s events. Below, Platform curator Claudia La Rocco shares a look back at February and March. For more background on the Platform, read La Rocco’s curatorial statement here. Below, Jimena Paz and Jean Butler share their responses. Share your comments on our Facebook page!
This Platform was about New York, intentionally and disarmingly so. But cultural collisions and assimilation coexist willingly or not, peacefully or not, in spite of our intentions.
In the closing discussion of Danspace Project’s Platform 2015: Dancers, Buildings and People in the Streets, a few of the panelists talked about ghosts, so perhaps it is not so strange that during the whole of the Platform I couldn’t help but think of a teacher of mine in Argentina.
Iris Scaccheri was an extraordinary dancer and choreographer. She would have probably made it into the dance history books had she been born in the United States or Europe. Unfortunately, if you Google her you won’t find anything that does her work and history justice. She passed away last year. She is my dance ghost. She had nothing to do with New York, the time of Balanchine, Merce and Judson in New York; but there were other dance conversations happening in the world, and she changed the way I saw dance forever. It is a lasting change I share with the many people who saw her dance. I was lucky to meet her when I was sixteen years old and lucky to be part of her world for several years.
Iris became a professional ballet dancer, and later studied German Expressionism; she was in Dore Hoyer’s dance company. A comprehensive study of those traditions took her deep into experimentation. Her most provocative work was presented at the revolutionary Instituto Di Tella in Buenos Aires (in the late ‘60s early ‘70s) and she had an international career as a solo dance maker. It is said she had to leave the country during the dictatorship because her work was not only artistically daring but also a denunciatory account of the time.
There was much necessary discussion about the economic division in our dance world(s) during the Danspace Platform, yet we are all so privileged in different ways. Even Iris, she spent 8 hours a day in her studio/home making work. She taught and made work without a sprung floor, in her living room. It was a small living room; we had to move all the furniture before and after rehearsals. The good thing about being in a living room (surrounded by books) is that we could stop and read poetry. Iris was in close contact with great writers of her time in Argentina, she was a muse to them. And she was a poet herself, she spent the last ten years of her life only writing. I remember reading a lot of women poets; Alejandra Pizarnik immediately comes to mind.
The multiplicity of Iris’s practice: What she called the outer line and the inner line, the importance of how things are done in spite of the aesthetics involved in making choices. In a way, honoring the dancer as a maker. The work the dancer does within the work. (Something I also remember former Cunningham dancer, Frederic Gafner-Foofwa d’Immobilite talk about). For Iris there was an active place, the interior of a work, the invisible part of the work that manifests the outer.
Somehow during the Platform I saw more the dancer than the work/dialogue being shown. Maybe what I saw was the dancer at work, the beauty of that. And that brought a lot of interesting questions about dancers as makers. Also how we still have certain hierarchies at play in that regard. It seems choreographers are regarded and treated as sole authors most of the time.
The multiplicity of Iris’ practice also included teaching, and she was extremely generous, there was no money involved. Teaching was another interesting aspect in the Platform—what Judy Hussie-Taylor called the pedagogical spine. I often think of how little time we spend honoring teachers: it is kind of embarrassing. Teaching is an enormous source of transmission in dance, and perhaps, I dare to say, has a greater impact on the form than performance.
“You are a dancer if you can dance for a tree”, Iris said. I think this statement meant different things. The caliber of one’s commitment to work regardless of being seen or acknowledged in any way. It was also a message of her profound respect for what is not human, a different kind of devotion.
I wonder where these experiments would have gone if there had not been an audience, a formal audience. A question I would like to contemplate, though I truly appreciated being there and thinking about all these things in the presence/absence of Iris.
At dance talks I tend to take endless notes, writing down every poignant utterance, capturing the words of others in ink, making thoughts permanent. Documenting, for myself. To read these notes after the event, on the subway home perhaps, or months later as I trawl through the thousands notebooks that contain sometimes undecipherable script, I continue to be inspired. But that is only part of the reason for my note taking, my notebook filling compulsion.
Truth be told, the majority of the time I am afraid of missing out, of forgetting something important, or beautifully stated, or both. Afraid that if I do no write it down I will not remember it. I love to listen to dancers talk about their work, where it comes from, why and how it happens. I love to feel the moment when the light bulb goes on and I think- “I know how you feel, I know what you are talking about.” I belong.
On Friday February 13, I entered Danspace for Silas Riener’s workshop and in honor of Cunningham, decided to abandon my notebook. Whatever I would write as a Respondent to Claudia LaRocco’s Dancers, Buildings and People in the Streets Platform would be left entirely to chance. Over the course of the platform I attended Riener ‘s Cunningham workshop; the opening Conversations without Walls; Dance Dialogues: Kaitlyn Gilliland and Will Rawls, Silas Riener and Adrian Danchig-Waring; Kaitlyn Gilliland’s Serenade workshop; and Dance Dialogues: Sterling Hyltin, Jodi Melnick, Sara Mearns and Rashaun Mitchell.
So what didn’t I write down? And what do I remember?
Many things of course, but the one that sticks with me is Adrian Danchig-Waring’s remark about ‘dancing with ghosts.’ Having never met his movement master, Balanchine, Adrian talked about being part of his legacy, an interpreter of an interpretation of something Balanchine thought and made. But Balanchine is dead, as we know. And Adrian never met him. Neither did Kaitlyn whose workshop on Balanchine’s Serenade was so beautiful, so honest, and so generous. So moved by a particular part of the music, Kaitlyn cried repeatedly every time it played, and I thought of the little deaths that occur every time a dance happens to never happen again. The idea of Balanchine’s ghost haunting the company stays with me. The legacy of Merce Cunningham and the profound insights into his work revealed by Silas, in what was essentially a private class, hang in my mind.
The question of legacy, of masters, of absence and inspiration stays with me.
Who are my dance ghosts then? Four people came to mind, some of which were taught by my dancing master, teacher Donny Golden. Stephen Gallagher, Laura Kelly, Winiford Horan and Frieda Gray. Dancers, great dancers in the tradition of Irish Step Dance, unknown to most who will ever read this post. The most important difference between Adrian’s ghost and mine though, is that all my ghosts are alive.
When I was a young girl going to Irish step dance classes 5 days a week in Long Island, Brooklyn and the Bronx these 4 dancers were talked about in hushed tones, as if having witnessed their dancing was such a remarkable, life-altering experience to talk about it could only be done in the quiet tones of a haunting. These dancers, all one and two generations older then me, had finished dancing. Quit with nowhere else to go. No record, home video, documentary footage existed of their performances, their achievements. How they danced would always be a figment of my imagination. I would never know, but I wanted to dance like them, be talked about like them. I wanted to haunt someone someday.
When I finally met and befriended a few of my ghosts years later I thanked them for being these immortal role models of my youth. Though completely unaware and utterly modest about the impact their dancing has had on generations after them, these friends, these supernatural gods and goddesses turned humans, will always have a slight glow, an aura around them that lingers.
It was the not seeing and the not knowing that was the thing. I had to imagine how they moved and what moved them to move an audience.
Balanchine, Cunningham, The Judson Dance Theatre and Edwin Denby. I did not know these names growing up. Having come from an entirely different and segregated traditional dance world, I did not know some of these masters until relatively recently. So, in some ways they are double ghosts to me. But I can see their work, their impact, and their legacy. And that feels very, very real.