My Body as the Topic Coming Around Again
My Body as the Topic Coming Around Again: Vol. 1 (Land)//Highlights
Scroll Down for Full Work
My Body as the Topic Coming Around Again is an evening-length dance work that unravels the tangled threads of white womanhood and American Modern Dance. From its inception in the early 20th Century, modern dance has been a site of liberation for middle-class, white women like myself. Since I was ten years old I have been swinging, and collapsing, and falling into gravity. I have found purpose and ease in modern dance class. I remember being entranced by images of dancers wearing togas, skipping in fields, and running bare-foot through forests. I learned to imagine my own body into that history.
As an adult, I am increasingly suspect of these sensations and images. Who is absent from these lovely pictures? Are they beautiful or ominous? Why is my body the one invited to frolic and take up space? When I experience freedom through flailing and flying which bodies are not entitled to this release? My Body as the Topic Coming Around Again takes on the impossible task of loving modern dance while trying to expose the inequities and exclusions on which it rests. How do we keep dancing while shifting the ground beneath our feet?
For me this research began in 2018 when I returned home to Connecticut after almost 20 years living away. I spent extensive time on-site at the Noyes School of Rhythm, a 100 year old dance camp, minutes from my home in Portland, CT. Noyes technique imagines the bodies as a series of units and spaces with a “spot” around the solar plexus. Like other early modern techniques, Noyes dancers retrain their body in everyday actions like walking, running, and skipping in order to express freedom and grace. I intended to make a dance that celebrated early modern dance in the region but found myself increasingly drawn into questions around my own identity and legacy. It was inspiring and confusing to put on a toga and walk down a wooded path to dance with these women, many of them in their 70s and 80s. As we imagined ourselves as butterflies, or jaguars, I tried to understand my own place in this world? How has modern dance gifted me joy and freedom and how has it made me complicit in scripts of settler-colonialism? Is it possible to decouple these things?
The evening-length work is arranged into three 20-minute volumes:
Vol 1 (land)
Examines the stories of the performance venue, considering how we are taught to imagine performance sites and our bodies as empty sites to be staged and occupied. Its central question is “how does it feel to dance on stolen land?” Creating a map of our training, as well as an autoethnographic reflection on the creation of the work itself. At the end of the piece, two dancers cradle one another against a wall, seemingly retracing their entire path up to that point.
Vol. 1 was developed as part of an Art in the Community Garden Commission by LEIMAY Arts and the New York Restoration Project. It premiered in September 2021 and has been shown in NY, CT, VT, and MA.
Vol 2 (visibility)
Considers the way white female bodies are constantly on display. Using phone cameras, multiplying images, and looping voices, it brings the viewer intimately close to the bodies of the performers. As the work becomes increasingly abstract and disjointed, the story telling of volume 1 to give way to imagery and motion. The steps are violent and architectural, moving between cool disregard and overwrought emotion. The dance begins to disintegrate, breaking apart and stepping outside of its frame.
Vol. 2 was developed as part of a distributed curation residency co-sponsored by the School for Contemporary Dance and Thought and APE Gallery in Northampton, MA. It premieres in July 2022.
Vol 3 (motherhood)
Opens with our mothers on zoom watching us dance. This volume of the work telegraphs outwards, bringing us into conversation with our families, our dance teachers, our friends, and communities, asking for accountability and change. It centers on a piece of historical repertory from Florence Fleming Noyes that was created in 1918 as part of the suffragette movement. In this final volume of the work we ask what can be salvaged as we work towards regeneration and new ways of training, thinking, and being in our bodies.
Vol. 3 will premiere in March 2023 as part of the evening length version of My Body as the Topic Coming Around Again at 33 Hawley Street in Northampton, MA. This performance is presented by APE @ Hawley Street and is supported by a New England States Touring Grant. It will be developed in Fall 2022 through residencies at Dragon's Egg and Hambridge Art Center.
Performer/Creators: Ellen Smith Ahern, Dot Armstrong, Alexis Robbins, Taylor Zappone
Music: Christine Southworth
Costumes: Joy Havens
Dramaturgy: Meredith Bove
(Photo Credits: Shige Moriya, John Atashian)
Stories We Stand On, will pair performances and showings with embodied walks that discuss indigenous and local histories at venues where we work. We will reach out to historical societies and organizations that steward indigenous and embodied histories in each region to plan meaningful events and to invite their constituents. We hope to reach local audiences who are engaged with the stories of their home cities and spaces. Histories of site are complex and always, already embodied. We hope these walks will be a way in for audiences to think more deeply about legacy in their home communities. Our first Stories We Stand On walk will take place as part of our July show in Northampton, MA.
Leading into performances of My Body as the Topic Coming Around Again we will hold additionally hold a Dance Wrecking event, which invites choreographers from that community to intervene in the work, reshaping it as a form of generative disruption in our process. If the invited choreographer allows us we will show excerpts of these "wrecked dances," as part of the performance of the full work. Our first Dance Wrecking occurred in April 2022 as part of our residency at 33 Hawley Street in collaboration with artist Hilary Clark. Dance Wrecking is a form of choreographic feedback and intervention initiated by New York choreographer Susan Rethorst.