11 August 2014

Summer 14 Update

Summer 14 UPDATE

Since the end of the school year, I have been immersed in projects that will be realized during my sabbatical this fall. I am spending much of that time in a black-box space in the lower level of UM’s sprawling North Campus Research Complex (formerly Pfizer Drug research facility). I have set up my 3-scrim projection system and am developing many 3-part videodances that overlay and merge due to the opacity of multiple video projections onto white scrims hung one behind the other in space. My colleague at UM School of Architecture, Assoc. Prof. Robert Adams, is designing and constructing a sleek, easily assembled structure to house the configuration. We call it our PUPP: Pop-Up Projection Pavilion. Click for quick tour of the set-up and finished design. 

One of the many series of studies involves a terrific dance improviser, Sean Hoskins, a graduate of UM MFA Dance program and now on faculty at Wayne State University in Detroit. Here is a one-screen version of the material, still in progress… The Sean Chronicles.

See Screendance Artist tab for an update 1/8/15. 

This work and others will be screened during the fall at Open Studios:

Wednesday & Thursday, September 10&11
Kinetic Counterpoint at the Pop-Up Projection Pavilion (PUPP) Open Studio: Dance on Screen Exhibition
North Campus Research Complex Studio 520 12-7PM
Thursday Soirée/Panel Conversation “Three-Part Inventions: Hearing, Seeing, and the Play of Memory” with colleagues from related disciplines from 5:30-7 PM. 

Wednesday, October 29 & Thursday, October 30
Kinetic Counterpoint at the Pop-Up Projection Pavilion (PUPP) Open Studio: Dance on Screen Exhibition
North Campus Research Complex Studio 520 12-7PM
Thursday Soirée/Panel Conversation “Depth Charges: Living in 3D (Depth Perception)” with colleagues from related disciplines from  5:30-7 PM

Join Peter Sparling, NCRC Artist-in-Residence and Rudolf Arnheim Distinguished Professor of Dance, for showings of new, multi-layered video works made specifically for his 3-screen projection system, featuring the PUPP designed by Robert Adams, U-M professor of Architecture and co-director of Adams + Gilpin Design Studio

Notes for a Voyage/The Martha Graham Dance Company

During the fall, I will have a few out-of-town trips: to NYC and Westbeth, formerly home of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company and now home of my alma mater, the Martha Graham Dance Company. The company will perform Notes for a Voyage, my reimagining of a “lost” work by Graham, created this past June while in residence at Skidmore College.  Spent three intense weeks teaching composition to 23 students and setting the work on four exquisite company members, Blakeley White-McGuire, Tadej Brdnik, Ben Schultz and Lloyd Knight.

See tape of June showing

Notes for a Voyage at Graham Deconstructed
Martha Graham Dance Company
Westbeth Studio
Tuesday & Wednesday, September 16 & 17 at 8 pm 

Notes for a Voyage re-imagines a pivotal but largely hidden chapter in Martha Graham’s personal and creative life.  Peter Sparling, principal dancer with Graham from 1973-87 and assistant to the choreographer for various works in the 70’s, has stepped back in time to 1951 to reconstruct through dance, video, text and music the making of Graham’s short-lived Voyage.  Working with four of the Graham Company’s present roster of principal dancers—led by Blakeley White-McGuire and joined by Tadej Brdnik, Ben Schultz and Lloyd Knight—Sparling followed clues left by original cast members, the original musical score by William Schuman, and the painstaking research of Mark Franko in his recently published Martha Graham in Love and War. 

Franko points out that Voyage was one of the very few works of Graham’s to emerge from a more contemporary point of view, avoiding the use of archetypal or legendary figures and instead evolving directly from Graham’s sessions with the Jungian psychoanalyst, Francis Wickes. As revealed in the correspondence with Wickes and in her Notebooks, Graham was wrestling with her own projections of male identity as they formed and mirrored her own constructed selfhood. Well ahead of her time and working outside her usual creative terrain, Graham and her management found that her audiences and the critics were uneasy with such confessional work and her departure from the repertoire of typical Graham heroines.  The work was never filmed, and it was removed from the company’s repertory by 1955.

A practiced screendance maker who has researched dance for the screen in his present position as the Rudolf Arnheim Distinguished Professor of Dance at University of Michigan, Sparling has filmed and edited images that create a moving backdrop behind the dancers and frame the action as if it were Graham’s work notes coming to life.  He has culled from Graham’s writings a series of texts that appear as if being typed across the screen. Figures of Graham’s projections-embodied by the three men--share the screen and reveal the interior landscape of her dancing persona, performed by White-McGuire. The voice of Ellen Lauren, Co-Artistic Director of SITI Company, accompanies the text and overlays excerpts from Schuman’s piano score.


In October, I’ll attend the SECAC Southeastern College Art Conference http://www.secollegeart.org/conference to present a paper entitled Defiant Abstraction: Assuming the Universal in the Impulse of Mid-Century Modern Dance. Here is a sneak preview, or rough draft of a possible first paragraph:

Is it possible to obliterate the humanness of the body and perceive it as animated form capable of pure materiality in motion?  Or is it forever bound to its own narrative, fully embedded in and embodied with its history as an undeniably recognizable human form, incapable of being released from its past, present and future?  Beginning with Cézanne, through the Cubists, Futurists, Dadaists and on to the abstract expressionists, we see this fractured dialogue play itself out, the body’s presence transposed into paint, stroke and color, then deconstructed, wrestled to the floor and disappearing into a pure, formalistic display of optics or action. On a parallel track, and not always in perfect synch,  we watch the mid-century modern dance pioneers—mostly  women, mostly American although with the exception of a few upstarts in Weimar, Germany----shed the trappings of story ballet, Vaudeville and Victorian propriety to rediscover weight, flow, time and space with a utopian fervor. For the modern dancers—Graham, Humphrey, Holm-- the body itself was both the artist and her materials: the paint brush, the paint, the clay to be molded, the figure in the landscape and the landscape itself. The proscenium was the frame, and within it, bodies created depth and a moving architecture of relationship and dynamic tension. They endeavored to trace the origins of impulse, and as much as they stripped away to arrive at pure physicality and pre-thought, and to chart a vocabulary of movements unencumbered with period trappings and that could express universal themes. They also found that those very same impulses betrayed or revealed the body’s intention, the conditions of its being. Movement could be pure metaphor while also charting the human condition in all its tragedy, comedy and everything in between. Could they possibly have it all? Since those heady times of fiercely competitive rush towards discovery, modern dance has remained defiant of its right to claim any territory, any domain to make claim to and nurture its impulses. For purposes of this paper and the themes proposed at this conference, I will focus on those mid-20th century modern dancer/choreographers whose work explored, exploited and challenged ideas of abstraction as a means to and function of the universal. As the only dancer to have worked directly with both José Limon and Martha Graham as member of their companies, and having performed works by Doris Humphrey and Anna Sokolow as well, I feel particularly close to this generation of dancemakers.  From my 45 years as a dancer, my body remembers making shapes at once abstract and narrative, the liminal state of balancing between the two states in an exquisite tension, and the ecstatic, perhaps delusional moments of becoming pure form in space.


The university has deemed me worthy of its top honor! The UM Regents approved my appointment as a Distinguished University Professor on July 19.

I now can wear two titles as feathers in my professorial cap: Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and the Rudolf Arnheim Distinguished University Professor of Dance.


For a second summer, I’ve been seduced by the ease of acrylic paints onto canvas –and my continuing fascination with the duet of the brush stroke and the body—to create many figure studies. Here is a video tour of our living room temporarily filled with the results of my recent three-week painting frenzy.