Collaborator Thomas Körtvélyessy and I were delighted that our Zoom showing on December 11th drew an audience from so many countries: Germany, Japan, Israel, Slovenia, South Africa, and Ukraine in addition to The Netherlands and the US. Our multi–media research in preparing for the showing further confirmed for us how authoritarianism and the climate crisis are actually two aspects of the same issue, a perspective which some of the attendees readily appreciated and which was a novel concept for others.

The showing included video, stills, and texts from other sources as well as our own choreography–in–development and discussion with attendees. A few days before the showing, Ukrainian choreographer/director Viktor Ruban was able to send a video excerpt from his theatre piece in–progress Putin’s Prozess, and the text of a monologue that is part of the piece. Amazingly, his cell phone service allowed him to join us from Kyiv and contribute his thoughtful, relevant comments to the discussion.

“What a wonderful and creative event! It was so great to see other ways that we movers can share our work and collaborate outside of a theater setting. Also that it is an international collaboration and that the audience is bigger than NYC opens up so many possibilities.”  — Janet Aisawa

“What a provocative and beautiful amount of work, thank you for sharing it. Loved your dancing characters. the songs/poems just beautiful. And it was a pleasure to get lost in such important thinking with your friends and collaborators.”  — Christine Dakin

“Enjoyed the work and all the research you put into it. I thought your video worked out well and the fact that the videographer (Celeste Hastings) could change level and come in close – and in focus – was great. “  — Penny Ward


credit: left. Laura Shapiro, photo by Kathryn Butler; right, video capture of and design by Thomas Körtvélyessy

image credits: left, Laura Shapiro in photo by Kathryn Butler; right, video capture Thomas Körtvélyessy

In September, co-collaborator Thomas Körtvélyessy became an Artist–in–Residence for Research at CLOUD at Danslab, Den Haag, and we began Zooming intensively about dis/-embodiment and dance in relation to the sociopolitical and environmental crises of our times.

We shared our performative research via a hybrid online/studio showing on September 16th (co–produced with CLOUD at Danslab and Kinetic Awareness™), and presented various media and recordings, including relevant excerpts from previous works each of us has created in addition to new material. The audience also had the opportunity to participate in our conversation and share responses and insights.

As we prepare for a second hybrid online/studio showing on December 11th, we are continuing to investigate the following questions: As dance professionals how do we understand and experience dis/-embodiment and its consequences, including fascism and the destruction of the biosphere? What can be the role of (our) embodiment, dance, and creativity in addressing these crises? How does engaging with these questions relate to a dance culture where production and performance often supersede embodied processes?

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images: left, Laura Shapiro, photo by Kathryn Butler; right, Thomas Kortvelyessy, video capture _________________________________________________________________________________________

REGISTRATION INFORMATION

  • This Zoom link will ask you to register before entering (you can do it in advance).
  • Please arrive 10 minutes early to enter the meeting so that we can start on time.
  • Class 5–6:15 pm EDT
  • Class Discussion 6:15–6:30 pm EDT
  • Community Discussion 6:30–6:45 pm EDT
  • The class is free with an optional donation to Mission Improvable Buffalo
This summer, the phenomenal new images from deep space and deep time provided a welcome alternative perspective to the almost daily onslaughts of “unprecedented” news. The photographs reminded me that there are traditions that say we are stardust and, more recently, biophysicists have found that our cells are bio-luminescent. And, in An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us, which I am currently reading for somatic perspective, Ed Yong writes that “In a way, we see by smelling light.”

CREATIVE PROJECT UPDATE: As we head into fall, Thomas Körtvélyessy and I are continuing our investigations into the embodiment and dis–embodiment of what researcher Kristopher Goldsmith recently described as “the paradox of anarchy and totalitarianism.” Thomas will be an artist–in–residence for research at CLOUD at Danslab in the Hague in mid–September, and we will be Zooming and emailing intensively on a daily basis. Using scores, maps, drawings, and more, we will create performative forms from our research.
TEACHING: SAVE THE DATES!
I will be teaching two classes for the Mission Improvable Buffalo Friday Night Series:

On Friday, October 7th, we will focus on Spontaneous Chi Kung with chi kung warm–ups to discover and enhance our experience of life–force energy and then segue into spontaneous movement that is directed by this energy.
On Friday December 2nd, we will focus on an awareness of the facial muscles and human sensory organs in the face and head as a basis for movement exploration, and then segue into improvisations imagining the sensory apparatus and experience of other animals.
The classes begin at 5 pm on Zoom and the suggested donation per class is $10. I will be sending out further details and registration links closer to the date of each class. In the meantime, please feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

Dance-maker Thomas Körtvélyessy and I have decided to further develop a creative project—albeit remotely, as he is based in Rotterdam, NL. To begin adding movement investigation to our prior written exchanges, I was glad to attend the Zoom session he led for Movement Improvable on May 6th. His expertly guided yet open-ended warm-up was grounding and centering.

Next, we were invited to explore the movement of just one body half and, then to change to the other half. I was surprised to find that the dynamics of each half were quite different. Perhaps because I am left-handed I started with my left side, and the movements were sustained and fluid. When I switched to the right side, the movements were sharp, angular and percussive. Then we went on to explore turning, which was freeing on many levels, reminding me of movement possibilities that I had not been accessing of late and leading me to experience an abundance of new images and ideas in the following days.

Afterwards, I also reflected on how sagittal my movement had become over the past two years. While walking along the river in all seasons has been energizing and healing, although the head turns easily, the rest of the movement is straight ahead (i.e., sagittal). Using a mat for floor work, I had been focusing on just one plane at a time. And sitting at a computer for many more hours per day–almost every day–than prepandemic, again the focus is straight ahead.

More to ponder here about how so many people spend so much of their time with similarly physically-blinkered perspectives and how this affects their experience and understanding of themselves and of the world. I remembered Colette Barry’s teaching a class in NYC years ago while on break from teaching at Connecticut College and saying her students were learning to turn out for nuclear disarmament! Much to be said and done in favor of (a minimum of) three-dimensional living.


Photo: Courtesy Thomas Körtvélyessy

I finished reading Michele Wucker’s The Gray Rhino: How to Recognize and Act on Dangers We Ignore a few weeks ago. I had intended to write about the book, yet, like many people, I was left speechless by recent world events, including the breaking off of yet another huge chunk of Antarctica.

To most of us, the Russian invasion of Ukraine was—and continues to be—an increasingly horrific Black Swan, a highly improbable event with devastating impacts. Yet, to some foreign policy experts, it began as a Gray Rhino. William Burns, current director of the CIA, was US Ambassador to Russia in the 1990s. He wrote memos then advising against the expansion of NATO eastward because it was being perceived as a threat to Russian security. Other experts point to an overly mild response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. No one, however, predicted the senseless destruction and barbaric atrocities that have occurred.

What has happened at Chernobyl is also tragic. Young Russians who had not heard of the 1986 nuclear disaster there were ordered to enter contaminated areas without wearing any protective gear. Then, some of them were ordered to dig trenches in an area called the red forest that is so contaminated that even workers with protective gear are forbidden to enter it. Some soldiers have died from exposure to the radioactive dust. Others are severely ill with radiation sickness and may not recover. Ominously, the threat of a nuclear accident–or warfare–continues to lurk in the background.

What has all of the above to do with art, with dance, you may ask. Sadly, yet presciently, I spoke about nuclear weapons and the climate crisis in my solo, Last Gasp! (2018-19). As these existential threats are currently even more dire, I will reprise a relevant excerpt from Last Gasp! at the Lower East Side Festival of the Arts at Theater for the New City over Memorial Day Weekend.

A recent newspaper article mentioned Gray Rhinos in the same sentence as Black Swans. Curious, I searched online and learned that “A gray rhino is a highly probable event with a great deal of impact which is dismissed or over-looked, perhaps because we’re not taking it seriously enough. The term was coined by The Gray Rhino author Michele Wucker to mean a danger which is obvious, visible, and charging straight at you,” unlike black swan events (see previous posts) which are highly improbable.

While I cannot think of any dance works about the rhinoceros, Eugene Ionesco’s play Rhinoceros (1959) immediately came to mind as well as the congruence of its anti-totalitarian allegory with my thoughts about referencing a piece that I choreographed several years ago–which used text from Wilhelm Reich’s book The Mass Psychology of Fascism–in a new work. As of this writing, however, it is not clear to me yet whether January 6, 2021, for instance, was a Black Swan or a Gray Rhino, let alone what November 8, 2022 and its aftermath will be—or precisely how they might relate to my new work.

To be continued: I look forward to reading Wucker’s book and posting further about gray rhinos.

I have learned that the black swan has been an inspiring image for numerous composers and musicians for well over a century before the publication of Taleb’s book (see my previous blog post) and became a provocative one after it. Below I briefly share just a few highlights of my research.

Swan Lake: It turns out that the original libretto for Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake contained neither Rothbart nor a black swan, but rather a jealous step–mother (instead of Rothbart) and Odile as a human enchantress who, in the earliest productions, wore a rainbow–colored gown! Then later, when the story was somewhat altered for a new production, Odile became a black swan.

Black Swan Records was formed in 1921, the first record label owned and run by African–Americans. It was named for Elizabeth Greenfield, a famous 19th–century African–American opera star who was called The Black Swan. Born into slavery, she was freed as a child and later trained as a singer. When she gave concerts in the United States, her promoters insisted that she perform for white–only audiences. On her own initiative, she gave benefit concerts for African–American organizations and audiences.

Black Swan: Pop and Punk: Taleb’s book, or at least its title, led to bands, albums and songs taking its name and creating varying interpretations of its meaning. The K–pop group BTS released a song and video; their “Black Swan” was about “what if they lost their passion for making music.” Adele also has a song titled Black Swan. There were a number of rock bands, too. Most notable among them was the punk super-group Black Swan’s album Shake the World with vocalist Robin McAuley.

As mentioned in my previous post, although native to Australia, black swans were not “discovered” by Europeans until the 1600s, yet Nassim Nicholas Taleb takes his title from the Latin poet Juvenal who refers to “a bird as rare as a black swan.” Published in 2007, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable ruffled the feathers of proponents of economic and investing orthodoxies. Today, after the economic collapse of 2008, the presidential election of 2016, Covid–19, and the insurrection on January 6, 2021, we can barely keep up with one highly improbable event and its impacts rapidly following another.

The second edition of The Black Swan was published in 2010. In the new section “Robustness and Fragility,” Taleb recommends an investment strategy, for people who have money to invest, that allocates most of their money to “safe” Treasury bills and just a small percentage to very high-risk ventures in the event that if one of the latter succeeds, the returns will be prodigious (i.e., a very positive Black Swan). As anyone who has followed the game of chicken that was played out with regard to raising the debt ceiling earlier this fall may have noted, even the alleged safety of Treasury bills has been called into question, with another deadline for raising the debt ceiling looming on December 3rd.