On Saturday, June 23, 2012, I gathered a group of dance improvisers at the Museum of Arts and Design to interpret a score I had structured. The project, In and Out of Uniform, was a reprise of a portion of a larger exploration of improvisational structures, which I had presented at MAD the previous Fall. The score for the original iteration of In and Out of Uniform centered around a jacket that had been designed by Liz Prince for Ishmael Houston-Jones in his 1986 production of Adolfo und Maria: “Duh Guvnuh’s Dancin’ Gal.” This more recent version incorporated a new jacket, designed by Laurie Berg and me, as an homage to the first.
The score for the day was:
1. The Jacket rests in the space.
2. Improviser A enters, puts on the Jacket, and performs the score contained by the Jacket* for 20 minutes.
3. Improviser B enters and receives the Jacket from Improviser A, who exits.
4. Steps 2 and 3 are repeated in relay, through Improviser O.
5. Improviser O removes the Jacket, places it in the space, and exits.
6. The Jacket remains alone in the space.
*The score contained by the Jacket includes the Jacket. The score contained by the Jacket includes the body inside the Jacket. The score contained by the Jacket includes the bodies formerly inside the Jacket. The score contained by the Jacket includes the jackets referenced by the Jacket, and the bodies such referenced jackets may have contained. The jacket must not be harmed.
The Improvisers were: Jillian Sweeney (Improviser A), Maggie Thom (Improviser B), Emily Wexler (Improviser C), Arturo Vidich (Improviser D), Peggy H. Cheng (Improviser E), Carolyn Hall (Improviser F), Jessica Ray (Improviser G), Rebecca Davis (Improviser H), Laurie Berg (Improviser I), Aaron Mattocks (Improviser J), Tara O’Con (Improviser K), Anna Sperber (Improviser L), Jodi Bender (Improviser M), Enrico D. Wey, (Improviser N), and David Thomson (Improviser O).
We learned some things:
“It is a very rare thing to sit and watch one person’s kinetic stream of consciousness, to get lost in an engaging presence without any other distractions. To simply appreciate each other’s artistry and personality is a nice gift now and again.”
“I am reminded that when pushing an art practice (especially dance practice (especially improvisational dance practice)) it behooves me to look outside of the arts for fuel. Pandrogynous insect robot aliens are awkward enough to foot the bill. I am reminded that causation does not imply correlation, but coinkydinks are still fair game for meaning-making and can carry a heavier load than well-thought-out master plans. Maneuvering, prone, to suck red beads off the MAD floor and then spittoon them into the groins of female dancers like airborne demon seed—good to repeat at least three times. For emphasis. Staring at MAD’s Public Programs director for unbroken, uncomfortable durations—better to leave it alone, Turo.”
“Collaborators across time: You could smell that rich legacy in the jacket. Seriously.”
My score for the day:
Nudge up to Laurie Berg. Her face is covered with the jacket, so I have to figure out how to let her know it’s switching time. Assume her position. That’s my nod to the relay part.
Explore the wall for a while, what it feels like to be moving, to be with the jacket. To be in focus.
Thinking about Murakami: I might quote it, might not. I have the book in my bag of tricks just in case.
Reading aloud seems too heavy-handed, but who knows. I might want that. I have 20 minutes.
p. 230: ‘Now I was enveloped by a darkness that was total… The movement of my hand seemed to cause the darkness itself to shift, but that could have been an illusion.’
Jacket over my head for a minute or two, so I can just breath and learn how to be myself with people watching. Find myself in the darkness. Start dancing more. Show my face. Slowly. Shyly.
‘THIS IS FOR XAVIER. I LOVE YOU.’
Dance that score. For a while. Don’t really know how that’s going, but I’m pacing back and forth, writing the letters with my hands and arms.
Finish the letter. Keep dancing because I am never very comfortable with stillness. And silence, too. People later used their voices. I wish I had. I used my voicemails instead. Go to my bag of tricks. Pick up my phone. Check the time. Play messages from last year. I don’t think others can hear exactly, but I can. It’s calming. Friends saying hi, I love you. Mom.
Start dressing up (hence the bag of tricks). Fuchsia corset belt, silver spangle bracelet, rainbow lei, turquoise neck bandanna, liquid mercury Spandex tights. Cut off t-shirt says ‘God Save the Queen.’ The earring in her ear is an actual rhinestone. Aviator sunglasses, big baseball cap with orange stars.
This is my thesis: In and Out of Uniform. Also out IN uniform. Sarah asks what it means to be part of a group, how we express our individuality within that. I respond with a pride parade for one, DADT, and try to subvert uniformity, highlighting how we express ourselves as much as we can within the frame we’re given. I’m also thinking about this: the supposed death of gay culture. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, vis-à-vis Judy Garland. See also: One-Shot.
So I gayed the jacket. Queered the uniform.
I’m wearing the same shell, and I’m going to dance the same dance, but now I’m different within it. I think it worked. After I’m all dressed up, I return to the letter score. But now there’s the added layer of the baroque.
‘THIS IS FOR XAVIER. I LOVE YOU. That’s all.’
I do the apostrophe with my pinkie finger. Rebecca Davis laughs.”
“It was incredibly beautiful in so many ways I never anticipated. Democracy exists. HAPPY PRIDE.”
“The jacket contains more than I had expected. It is part of a uniform, yes, and it is also an object, a character, an adversary, an infant. It transforms and it is transformed by. Connotations are surprising. To dancers, the instruction ‘body’ is an open-ended question, not a definitive, corporeal boundary. In fact, such things, boundaries, may not exist at all. The edges certainly blur.”
After. Photo by David Thomson.