Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Steve Paxton, Simone Forti, Joseph Pilates and negotiating the space of trigger point theory as aesthetic activism

"Trigger Point Theory as Aesthetic Activism" is the title of my dissertation with the Zurich Node (Z-Node) of the Planetary Collegium at the University of Plymouth, UK. In a series of five chapters, I describe a holistic approach to understanding the space of environmental degradation and resilient restoration with an original theory I've written briefly about elsewhere. My plan is to develop this into a book as soon as I can put the PhD behind me. Meanwhile, from time to time, scraps of my past remind me where my ideas came from, as Steve Paxton's recent appearance at MOMA:

I first met Steve Paxton in person, in 1970 in a workshop he did at Ace Galley in LA with Alex Hay. Steve & I were close that summer and I loved his work, esp when I saw it for the first time in 1966 in the Armory "9 Evenings," as part of EAT. Steve Paxton brought a deliberate appreciation of athleticism into the dance world.because he had once taught gym classes in high school. He was part of developing contact improv movement, no doubt inspired by football and basketball, which Simone Forti then sought to develop even further, as what she once described during rehearsal at UCSD I was part of, as a virtuosity of that technique. In Simone's approach, she was recapitulating the historical trajectory of how ballet developed from fencing in the seventeenth century. These two approaches were mirrored in what Joseph Pilates called, "controlology," based on watching animals and doing yoga.

The New Dance movement at Judson Church in the sixties, fostered by the late Rev. William Moody was not just a series of performances, it was an expression of a zeitgeist of those times as much as Fluxus and Happenings. As individuals, Judson was a group I began to know personally just before leaving NYC for California in 1968 and then early in my career in So Calif: including Yvonne Rainer, Carolee Schneemann, Steve Paxton, Alex Hay, Simone Forti, briefly Rauschenberg, etc.

"Joe," as he was known to his many students, was not at all interested in what has popularly evolved as a set of calisthenics. He was interested in creating a system of movement, highly sensitized to the environment of movement, which therapeutically reshaped the body's learned distortions, as from conventional sports training and ballet.

Photography by Payson Stevens, 1967 shortly after the death of Joseph Pilates, illustrating how the body naturally moves in the environment, with spatial awareness, when all aspects are equally developed by his training.

What I've spoken about briefly to colleagues and occasional interviewers at various times, is how some of my performance ideas for how to understand the space of a potential restoration site that has been degraded, are grounded in movement studies. I trained in ballet and did dressage from childhood before beginning work with Joe.

Observing animals and doing dressage opened me to Joe's ideas during the years of work with him when he was alive. It also gave me a unique perspective on Jill Johnston's brilliant writing for the Village Voice, which I devoured every week for her expression of the relationship between dance and experience of the city as a Happening in those years. I was lucky to experience all that simultaneously.  New Dance was very connected to  Joseph Pilates' thru the sixties, as part of the zeitgeist in the air, even tho few of the New Dancers even knew of his work. What I gleaned from those years was later realized for me in my performance group, the American Ritual Theatre (1969-1971) and those ideas became integrated into my practice.

It was around that time that I also also met & became close to Allan Kaprow and many of the other Fluxus folks, as, Peter Van Riper and Alison Knowles, Dick Higgins, etc. I would TA for Allan Kaprow @ Cal Arts in the early seventies and went thru many years of intense discussion with him as I hashed out where the ideas of movement and Fluxus artists began and ended in my thinking. What I absorbed from these great innovators, took seed, has stuck with me and grown over all these years, was  a relaxed but highly sensitized relationship to space in the broadest possible sense. I think this is the same quality of awareness we might bring to environmental resilience in the anthropocene.

To my regret, I didn't hear about Steve presenting his work @MOMA until yesterday, because I fly out tonight to present at the Restore Americas Estuaries National conference:


I will also miss Steve's video this evening but highly recommend it to any of my readers.

So if anyone else out there can get to MOMA tonight, enjoy for me too!

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