photo by Matt Jamie
photo by Matt Jamie
In my experience of life as a movement artist, I have begun to realize
that movement, especially improvized movement – even more so, improvized
movement within the context of Performance Art – REALLY IS the
“Red Headed Stepchild”
the arts that no one quite knows what to do with!
WELL MEANING RELATIVES
attempt, somewhat awkwardly, to take her under their wing:
Uncle Gothic Rock
wants to sleaze her into some bizarre S&M type of freak show.
Intelligencia like to notice the correlation to an established,
recognized yet obscure dance form, such as “Butoh”.
desperately want to think the best of her – really they do.
But her inability to produce something recognizable, concrete, a
narrative, a pretty picture – something they can grasp as truth – leaves
them highly suspicious.
Brother Open Jam
accuses her of being “stuck up” and “alienating herself” when he's just
trying to be nice and include her in the party.
“Maybe you'll meet someone who can help you out.”
lives next door. He's not related. He gets it. He thinks she's kinda
Doesn't care that much but he'll be around if she wants to hang out.
has Alzheimer's and sees with the eyes of a child) is fascinated. She
holds a seance and calls on history's tribal elders. They ordain the
Prophet and a Visionary. They claim her as a milestone of evolution.
They warn her that her journey is a lonely one.
(Should she pioneer on? Go back to school to study for a more lucrative
career? Devote her life to a kind, compassionate occupation with animals
or poor, starving children?)
VENUES & SITE SPECIFIC MOVEMENT
“......But this is not a good space for dance.” “......We don't do dance
performances here..........” “.... I can put you in touch with some
local dancers who know about dance venues in town.........”
These are typical responses I get when approaching many venues I want to
Most assume that I am a “dancer” who requires a good “dance space” - ie.
big, open space with smooth, wooden sprung floors, high ceilings etc.
That's all fine and good, especially if you have a set “piece” that
needs a “stage” - like a blank canvas on which to present your work
(which I occasionally do.)
But for improvized movement, this kind of blank, open “perfect” dance
space makes me feel quite agoraphobic! There's nothing there for me to
converse with. I need to have a relationship with the environment, and
the more eccentric it is, the more interesting that relationship will
I enjoy performing in a place that quite literally “shapes” the
The rough, splintery floor of an old warehouse, the moldy couch in the
corner of the coffee shop, the books and knick-knacks on the shelves,
the pin-ball machine in the back room of the bar, balancing on a rickety
table, being framed by an open doorway, a staircase, a closet, a
This is the true definition of “Site Specific,”
...the performance could not be the same in
any other location.
MUSICIANS & MOVEMENT IN SOUND
Believe it or not, there are actually musicians who are quite
uncomfortable with dance. As open-minded
as they would like to think they are or appear to be!
I get the impression from some musicians that they think dance is not as
“important” as music. That dance is not to be taken “seriously”. OR that
they are intimidated by it.
Some state that they “don't really know how to play for dance”, or that
it's a “distraction from the music”.
To me, (within this type of collaboration)...
IS AN INSTRUMENT!
In the same way as is a voice, a saxophone, a guitar, a piano. Movement
is an equal voice in this composition in real time. It is not a solo
being “accompanied” by the music.
Neither is it a puppet “interpreting” the sound.
Why would it be a “distraction” any more than rhythm is a distraction
Rhythm and Melody
are commonly accepted as partners. So it is the same with
Another common misgiving is that a dancer needs a catchy tune or rhythm
to dance to. NOT SO. Movement is just as
capable of exploring abstractions; concepts, moods, colors, textures or
of by-passing any cerebral context altogether and plugging into the
socket of the moment.
INSTALLATION & MOVEMENT AS VISUAL ART
Exploring the context of Movement as Visual Art, I have developed a
movement style I call
It is, quite literally, the human form as a slow-motion sculpture piece.
Incrementally shifting shape.
It is presented as installation, often lasting for several hours.
(My definition of
installation being: To create or become part of a (conceptually )
eternal environment; wherein the audience is free to view / experience
in whatever manner and for whatever length of time they wish.)
Yet again, I am misunderstood!
Because these sculptures are made of “real” people, there is the
automatic assumption that it is “dance”. And with this pre-conceived
notion of dance comes the expectation of such things as choreography,
exciting moves, variety and entertainment.
When one complains about the lack of such, it is rather like complaining
about the lack of action in a Zen Garden!
Which leads on to the next variety of individual who does not know where
to put the
CRITICS & REVIEWERS
It usually tends to be dance critics who review my work. The ones who
have witnessed a Motion Sculpture -
Movement Installation typically give the afore-mentioned response in the
Zen Garden analogy.
Something I've noticed about these writers is that they all like to come
across as authorities on their given subject. Therefore, they refuse to
write about anything they don't have some clever jargon, some carefully
prepared vocabulary for.
It seems they are unable to witness something with fresh eyes and
innocently tell what they see.
And it seems that no critic is an authority on movement as a pure art
form which can be interwoven with sound, image, environment, abstract
and narrative in such a way that all merge and fuse until it becomes
impossible to tell where one ends and the other begins.
I guess no one's developed any jargon for that yet!
MOVEMENT IN BOXES
In spite of decades of Performance Art spilling out from lofts and
basements and cleverly disguising itself as “cutting edge” mainstream in
the hope of a crumb or two of funding, and a
gathering of on-lookers worthy of the title “audience” - most people
still like to feel safe with their little boxes – securely labeled with
the lids firmly closed.
They want to cling to their rigid ideas about what “dance” is. When,
where and how it is appropriate for “dance” to be “performed”.
Most acceptable is the nice little ten minute showcase piece with a
beginning, a middle and an end, set to a piece of music – usually
recorded. (Or maybe they manage to find a musician to play the piece of
music for the performance – with one very stressful rehearsal to get the
musician to play it exactly the same way as the recorded music they've
been rehearsing with. Yes, I've been there – Ugh!)
The audience of family, friends and boyfriends sit duty-bound in their
seats, clap politely at the end, then have a conversation about which
party to go to.
Get out of the boxes and join the
It's all art, it's all party, it's all ritual, it's all community.
Seamless – it's all life!
For more information about Claire Elizabeth Barratt
and Cilla Vee – Life Arts,