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In Dr. Bench’s graduate seminar, “Bodies on the Line” this semester, there was a moment, when, rather organically, someone used the title of our course in a class discussion. The phrase was probably something like, “those protestors were actually putting their bodies on the line.” We laughed, because it was bound to happen: the course […]

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Here’s the thing: dance is hard. With any body. Among many bodies. Trained, untrained. Similar, really different. The physical act of moving with someone, of coordinating actions and kinesthetic responses and timing and detail and intention between two fundamentally discontinuous human beings is difficult.

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I think I had Lacan’s idea of the Mirror Stage in the back of my mind as Quilan and I worked together, and I decided to point to it pretty directly in how Quilan and I engaged each other as mirrors, as well as the actual studio mirror. We decided to structure our duet as a series of mirrors: mirroring the audience, mirroring each other in the mirror, mirroring ourselves, mirroring the movement of each other, and then “breaking” the exact reflection of the other through partnering material, in which the distinction in our shapes and efforts allowed us to take each other’s weight.

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This duet investigates the “borders” between postmodern and modern ideologies as they exist in Carrasco and Levitt’s eclectically trained bodies. The duet arose out of an exploration of choreographic choice-making in relation to dance history and training backgrounds. Carrasco and Levitt posit a series of questions in Semi-Formal: “How do our choreographic choices reflect borders and delineations of modern and post-modern ideologies as embodied history? How do we locate our own, individual identities within these Euro-centric principles? How does Semi-Formal ultimately create a set of value systems of its own?” In performance, Semi-Formal posits a series of questions and leaves space for audiences to interpret answers.

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It was interesting to work inside someone else’s physicality but make movement that reflected both my sensibilities and Daniel’s sensibilities. As we crafted this section, I really tried to become more and more like Daniel every time we did it, without sacrificing my physical range, or my instincts as a dancer with a lot of training in a particular style. As perhaps an answer to my questions about empathy in my last post, it may be that learning how to be Daniel without losing my self to “Daniel-ness” is a way to honor both of our contributions to the process.

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After learning that the way Daniel liked to move was connected to dancing at concerts, I had him annotate his re-creation of his physical actions at a concert while performing them for me in the studio. I loved the intensity of it, how Daniel could really lose himself in the movement, at moments describing the scene, and at others describing his physical or emotional experiences. Here are sections of Daniel’s improvised text and movement. He’s listening to a song called “I’m Not Part of Me” by Cloud Nothings.

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Choreographically, there is great benefit to this sort of empathy building. In attempting to “be” another dancer, I begin to recognize their preferences. The more I attempt to “be” another, the more I can internalize these preferences and predict how another person will move. It’s easy to recognize this empathic exchange in dancers who have spent a long time dancing together: their deep, physical knowing of the other allows them to read each other in the unpredictable space of live performance, and make split-second choices together.

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