Friday, October 19, 2012

Steve Paxton, Simone Forti, Joseph Pilates and trigger point theory

Me in a tree, on the right in a skirt: the early California years.
Photography by Fred Lonidier at Pauline Oliveros' wedding.

"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. Understanding how to embody an experience of space is an integral to that theory as systems theory or Geographic Information Systems science (GISc). I plan is to develop that thesis 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.

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 site that has been degraded, are grounded in dance. I trained in ballet and did dressage from childhood. 

My own experiences observing animals and doing dressage opened me to Joe's ideas during my six 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, and what I gleaned was later realized for me in my performance group, the American Ritual Theatre (1969-1971). Those ideas are still 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 arguments as I hashed out where their ideas began and ended in my thinking. But what I absorbed, has stuck with me and grown over all these years, has been a relaxed but highly sensitized relationship to space in the broadest possible sense. 

To my regret, I didn't hear about Steve presenting his work @MOMA until yesterday and 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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