Monday, January 21, 2008

Movement and Meaning

As I observe our performers moving through their exercises, I am struck by the profound relationship between movement and meaning.

In older, more traditional forms, the meaning behind the movement is probably more specifically and formally defined - gestures for sadness, elation, love, inspiration, etc. As movement and dance have become more 'modernized' and 'post-modernized' the relationship between specific meanings of movement has become more sophisticated and complex.

I think particularly of the work of the German choreographer Pina Bausch and New York based Trisha Brown, both of whom have at various times been described as 'post-modernist' choreographers. They are, of course, not the only pioneers in this direction, but perhaps the best known on the world scene. Like non-narrative musical composition and other abstract forms, these choreographers often construct compositions based purely on their aesthetic sensibility, with no specific meaning behind them. With both Bausch and Brown, the results are often tantalizing, teasing, and strangely moving. But if there is a meaning drawn from their works, it is not necessarily a meaning specifically intended by the choreographer, but rather a meaning supplied by the viewer.

This is not to say that there isn't some over-arching idea or meaning, but rather an approach to that meaning that is considerably more sophisticated and subtle than simply proposing that 'a' signifies 'b'. Instead, the relationship between movement and meaning can bypass the 'either/or' bifurcation, and can instead be 'either/and' or 'neither'. But because we are 'playing' in a certain intellectual territory, there IS indeed some meaning we should consider.

As I watch Tanya work with our performers, I love the way she sort of brushes aside any specific meaning or message as she plays. The movement of bodies through space is in itself a lovely, engaging process. I don't suppose she has any specific philosophy behind her technique (or maybe she does), but rather just sets out on playing with her performers and seeing where it goes.

There is an interesting side note here too: this free-form method of play never seems to dissolve into anarchy; there always seems to be an evolving structure. Also - just an observation - the wide range of movements and physical gestures suddenly morph into a formal structure the moment the gesture is repeated, especially once they achieve a second repetition of an original movement. In other words, the first time a gesture or movement is performed, it has to succeed or fail on its own. Then when that gesture or movement is repeated, once, then twice, it becomes a part of the physical 'vocabulary' of the exercise.

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