Virtual Composition Exercise Notes
The following entries explore how strikethrough concepts could be applied in a dance composition workshop.
At first, I was skeptical to continue the process remotely, carrying the trauma of leaving our precious performance space behind so abruptly, among the many other covid-related theater departures. But still with a plan to somehow disseminate this idea of strikethrough in a more straightforward way than our collaborative approach these last few months, I proposed an exercise to the dancers that would be completed individually, sent to me, and eventually compiled into an instructional film on how the tip of the process works. I had always planned to share some of the text with the dancers—interestingly, their only memories of it are from Jade’s animated letters floating up from the book, and of course from my pamphlets distributed at the performance. I wondered how I had so easily bypassed the very root of this project—was it my choreographic instincts overpowering my writerly ones? Or maybe someone in the universe was telling me that we wouldn’t have the space for very much longer, and those silly words could wait. Hmmm. Either way, I think the distance between me and these beautiful artists forced a slow-down between me, the mode of communication, the mode of production, and the product itself. Designing a choreographic exercise was exactly what this process was missing, considering at all other times, my involvement superseded the dancers’ pure interpretation of the text provided to them. In addition, the base material came from own choreographic structure, not the dancers’ (they only manipulated this material per my instructions), so it was time to develop a method that anyone and everyone could use—particularly in a time of quarantine—to fully visualize and somatically realize the strikethrough.
It was intriguing to review the footage the dancers sent me. The composition exercise was simply to create new material based on the first part (I.) of strikethrough #1 and then modify it based on the instructions in the second part (II.) of the score, resulting in two parallel yet diverse phrases. I illustrated the structural similarities between the phrases by editing them side by side, and then conducting an “opacity experiment” where the videos of phrase I. and II. are overlaid to demonstrate the traces of I. in II. and vice versa. This type of editing I found a great tool for capturing erasure, specifically because the strikethrough works with forms that are seen erased. It also works well in illustrating to the novice #1: What is erasure poetry? #2: How is it made into a score that inspires movement? and #3: Does it read choreographically? These questions were for the most part bypassed in our initial creation of strikethrough because, well, we were comfortable as insiders with their unknowability and how that might deepen our relationship with choreography as a readable art. But the above questions are valid, they have a lot more to do with the anatomy of strikethrough rather than the theory of it; basically: what is it? how does it work? And does it work? These anatomical questions, once defined, will thus verify any associated theories. It’s simply the choreographer getting ahead of herself ;).
Set up a camera or phone in a stable location. If you have storage and battery space, record for the entire time and provide time-codes for the complete phrases. If not, just record and label the complete phrases you generate.
Use strikethrough #1 (I.) to generate one complete phrase of material: research the spatial and durational qualities evoked by each line of the score (i.e. “this shapelessness” being one line), as opposed to merging them immediately into one idea. Choreographically, you should be able to distinguish each new line of the score from the previous, meaning each line has the ability to be separated and/or extracted from the others like a puzzle piece.
Use strikethrough #1 (II.) to generate one complete phrase of material: keep the choreographic integrity of the lines without the strikethrough from the Phrase 1. In the lines with the strikethrough, research the original material but with the added instruction (i.e. what does “energy” look like when you “omit the presence of effort”?). This can be as simple as a qualitative shift on existing material or as complex as the production of new material.
These moments of strikethrough should act as substitutions but also additions, as like poets, we are not only working with forms of erasure, but visible erasure.
Note: The omissions act as moments of take-away, however if you feel what you’re being instructed to take away never existed, explore the omission as an indicator of a quality in your original material. Ask yourself, how might this omission function as something that informs the existing material? I.e. If we want to “omit languid fade” from “into black”—perhaps something that has already faded in the movement—how can we deepen the moment after the fade, the moment of vanishing?
The full process of strikethrough composition will be explored in an upcoming workshop with the first-year BFAs in their creative research class, which involves a third part (III.) where the instructions in strikethrough II. along with the phrases struckthrough have completely been erased. I wonder now about the functionality of this third part in the context of erasure. By the time the reader reaches strikethrough III., there seems to no longer be a strikethrough, as all forms in the process of erasure have been fully erased. So maybe it is memory that strikethrough III. tests—when once you’ve discarded certain ideas, it’s about what sticks, or more importantly, what sticks that is no longer there? Parts IV. and V. are merely repeats of parts II. and III., but minimize the text further in order to pronounce what effect erasure can have on its existing message—what further message can appear with the disappearance of language? For example, in the above poem, part IV. functions to explore the effect of eliminating “the node of entrance” from the score, which by part V. is completely eliminated. (I guess we might one day consider this question apocalyptically, considering language falls less and less into our social media posts, our text messages, our hollers across the street at a fellow neighbor in quarantine—does language really need twelve lines when it could do fine with just three? does a dance mean more to a viewer when it abridges an idea as opposed to elaborates it? are dancers mere summarizing automatons checking off meaningful sentences to delineate to our general population?)