Assemble them as stars
Celebrating Mercy at 100
SF Dance Film Festival
Delancey Street Theater, SF
May 4, 2019
To celebrate the legacy of Merce Cunningham, we must also honor those who worked with him. My enriching conversations with Karen Attix, Diane Frank, Hope Mohr and Margaret Jenkins are assembled here. This visual notation spans several decades and merges my own images with generously shared archival photographs.
The excitement of encountering Merce’s approach seems to have exerted something like gravitational pull, drawing dancers into the sphere of his studio. His impact took many forms yet all four women mention the thrilling combination of precision and freedom, “broadening the palette” of what dance could be.
Each of the women has moved forward with her experiences to make this embodied inheritance uniquely her own: savoring “kinetic appetite” and physical expression, transmission and dissemination, notational invention and form-based research, choreographic production and cultural exchange.
My thanks for their time and trust.
Archival print on Moab Estrada Rag Fine Art Bright White, 44”x68”
Photographic credits, clockwise from top left:
- Karen Attix (2019). Nevada City, CA | photo by Hillary Goidell
- Karen Attix (1976). Cross Currents , Palais des papes, Avignon, France | photo by Nicolas Faure
- Karen Attix (1976). TV Rerun rehearsal, McCarter Theatre, Princeton, NJ | photo by Nathaniel Tileston
- Birgit Cullberg, Margaret Jenkins, Merce Cunningham (1967) | photographer unknown
- Margaret Jenkins (2019). MJDC Dance Lab, San Francisco, CA | photo by Hillary Goidell
- Hope Mohr (2019). SFAI, San Francisco, CA | photo by Hillary Goidell
- Hope Mohr (2019). SFAI, San Francisco, CA | photo by Hillary Goidell
- Hope Mohr (1997). Merce Cunningham Studio, NYC | photographer unknown
- Diane Frank (2019). Stanford University | photo by Hillary Goidell
- Diane Frank & Douglas Dunn (1976). Lazy Madge , NYC | photo by Nathaniel Tileston, schema Diane Frank
- Diane Frank & Deborah Riley (1981). Overlap/Lynx , St. Marks Church, NYC | photo by Chris Harris
- Diane Frank & Deborah Riley (1977). Rehearsal contact sheets, NYC | photos by Nathaniel Tileston
- Merce Cunningham (1976). Palais des papes, Avignon, France | photo by Nicolas Faure
Wall Becomes a Window
The Laundry, SF
Wall Becomes a Window is a series of photographs that acts as both a trace and a conduit. I joined a small group of young women with metastatic breast cancer during a BAYS/Commonweal retreat. Hearing their desire for a more expansive sense of time and place, I offered images as tangible markers and points of access back to the embodied connections they found together in Bolinas.
The photographs are showcased as part of LavaSaga’s Shadow Channel event during Reimagine End of Life, a weeklong conversation in San Francisco celebrating and exploring big questions about life and death.
With deep thanks to these women who let me into their lives, along with Bay Area Young Survivors (BAYS), Commonweal and Katrina Mayo-=Smith, Arlene Allsman and staff, Deborah Cohan, The Laundry and Lava Saga.
Emily Payne / Five Days
Aquatic Park-SFSC, SF
How can creativity be an ally in helping us connect to both the living and the dead?
Emily Payne created an outdoor wall drawing dedicated to her father, whom she lost at the age of ten. The anniversary of his drowning accident and subsequent death, five days later, happened to fall right during the week of Reimagine End of Life, a city-wide conversation celebrating and exploring big questions about life and death.
My collaboration with Emily was through documentation of this work, from the studio preparation of her unique book cover canvasses to the installation at Aquatic Park, her brilliant engagement with visitors and contemplative work facing the water.
Relocating Echoes, SFMoMA
A project conceived by Fayen d’Evie, with Georgina Kleege, Shelley Lasica, Bryan Phillips, and Trent Walter.
This research into the radical potential of blindness explores ways that performative, ephemeral and degrading artworks can be sensed, archived, conserved, and remembered through creative, ekphrastic practice. Experiments includes vibrational recording, recalling performances, sonic collages, audio narratives, and tactile artist books, in relation to encounters with artworks by Richard Serra, Eva Hesse, Bill Fontana, and Janine Antoni, at SFMOMA.
This research is supported by the Victorian Government through Creative Victoria, and the Ian Potter Cultural Trust.
Click here for more reading on Fayen d’Evie’s work on the radical potential of blindness.
Attendees' Companion, Part I at ODC Theater, telling the visual backstory of RAWdance's Double Exposure.
One year after the premiere of the performance and exhibit of the photos, this new show is a new visual organization that provides a different look at the work, along with photographs not previously seen.
Attendees’ Companion, Part I: Learning Twelve Languages
Photo installation, ODC Theater SF
Twelve duets for the same two dancers.
Twelve personalities, twelve languages.
Drawing on RAWdance co-founders Ryan Smith’s and Wendy Rein’s 17-year history as dance partners, Double Exposure is an evening-length work comprised of twelve duets created by some of the field’s most intriguing and esteemed choreographers working in contemporary dance along the West Coast.
As I documented RAWdance learning twelve choreographic vocabularies at once, each time I joined a different choreographer at work in the studio, there was a tangibly distinct hum in the room. I photographed six duets in progress this way, finding truly unique processes and exchanges between the choreographer, Wendy and Ryan.
For the remaining duets, I shadowed Wendy and Ryan as they rehearsed on their own. Reviewing the syntax, debating the nuances. These photographs are about the two dancers reviving choreographic conversation without filters or external input.
For those attending the performance of Double Exposure, much of this creative process is invisible or masked. Documentation of the project’s choreographic thinking is meant to accompany and sustain the making of dance, alongside its final form. We look to foreground the ways in which dance is perpetually becoming, with performance as just one way of engaging in a multifaceted process.
Attendees’ Companion, Part II: Rehearsing with Onlookers
Photo installation, 836M Gallery, SF
From March 15 through June 3, Wendy Rein and Ryan T. Smith, founders of RAWdance, were in residency at 836M Gallery, transitioning the space from a static gallery into a living laboratory of artistic incubation. The piece was titled Without Lonesome George and the Last Martha.
The gallery itself became an immersive space and stage for an evolving collaboration with celebrated scenic designer/engineer Sean Riley. Joining them was a company of six dancers in a project that advances a set of physical and visual responses to questions of extinction and de-extinction, loss and legacy.
As an extension of RAWdance's residency, the photographs here echo the activity in the gallery at given times during the 13 weeks of experimentation. Remnants of the set resonate with their representations in the images–an opportunity to virtually recompose choreographic moments and generate new personal experiences.
The images also perform on their own. The documentation highlights that performance is just one mode of engagement. Without Lonesome George and the Last Martha can be viewed here one evolution at a time, as part of a long and multiple experiment in choreographic thought.
Le Quotidien des Plateaux
Les Plateaux is an annual event organized by the French dance center, La Briqueterie. Dance companies are invited to show excerpts of their work to the general public and dance/theater professionals.
Le Quotidien, or daily newspaper, is a collaborative effort led each year by an established artist. In 2013, several photographers worked with Charles Freger to offer a portrait of Les Plateaux behind the scenes: the typically hidden backstage and rehearsals.
8,225,281. To date, that is the wild number of people who have seen the youtube video of my dear friend Deborah Cohan. Quintessential Deb, she staged a flash mob in the OR to gear up for her double mastectomy. An improvised recording and upload later, images of Deb’s “joy trumps fear” experience took off. Thousands of strangers, meme-like, sent their own dancing images in return.
My photography found a fine place in Deb's healing process, alongside Tibetan herbs and a polar cap, as my best way of listening.
Serendipitously, I moved to town a week before Deb’s breast cancer diagnosis. “Could you take a few pictures of me before surgery?” We danced up a storm and made visual testimonies of Deb’s body and movement. That series was the first in a steady stream, still in progress, that reaches far beyond Deb's surgery and rounds of chemotherapy.
The Feedback / Joe Goode Performance Group
"So much of a choreographic process takes place in isolation. The Feedback program is designed to offer in-process response for the choreographer to have support in their development of new work. All applicants will receive some written feedback on their work samples. Five choreographers will be invited to participate in the performance portion of The Feedback program."
Documentation of choreographic process and program for The Feedback 2017.
Bunker in the Garden travels to San Francisco.
Photographic objects installed in Yerba Buena Gardens and Bernal Heights.
New neighbors moved into our courtyard
but oddly nobody threw a welcome party.
Two six-image sets.
Sight Unseen catches people in the act of observing. Some are witnessing a car accident, others are watching a kid on a skateboard or in liminal space at the bus stop.
The actual events remain invisible—maybe even interchangeable. An attempt to distill the act of observing.
If/Then Installed is an interactive installation that invites viewers to physically imitate and virtually pilot a video projection of a dancer performing gestures from a choreographic system. As spectators imitate each movement, dialog emerges and it is soon the “learner” who controls the avatar.
If/Then Installed exhibition venues:
Muffathalle (Munich, Germany)
Museum for Contemporary Art/Admont Abbey (Admont, Austria), Centre Georges Pompidou/Vidéodanse (Paris, France)
Commissioned by ZKM for Notations exhibit (2009-2010) and permanent collection.
Coproduction: The Bakery, ZKM | Karlsruhe | Institute for Visual Media, ZKM | Media Museum, Ircam-Centre Pompidou, with support from CENTQUATRE.
Concept/Design: Richard Siegal, Frédéric Bevilacqua, Florent Bérenger, Hillary Goidell
Programming: Florent Bérenger, Jean-Philippe Lambert
Motion capture and programming: Frédéric Bevilacqua
Thanks to Incandescence, Thomas Pendzel, Fivos Maniatakos
Bunker in the Garden
Mois de la Photo Off 2008
Jardin Anne Frank
Bunker in the Garden is an urban installation of photographs documenting a dance intervention performed atop the Bunker de la Demeure du Chaos by Mathieu Briand, a monumental sculpture erected at the Grand Palais, Paris for La Force de l’Art.
The installation extended the performance to another public space at the Jardin Anne Frank in Paris.
Images spring from the ground, hide among plants, grow on walls, play with visitors’ sense of scale.
If/Then Open Source
If/Then Open Source is the digital extension of a live dance created by Richard Siegal. The choreography is a series of games based on the syntactical system If/Then. During performances, the dancers choose their movements in turn from a set of pre-defined rules.
If/Then Open Source extends these gameplay ideas by offering an online system for collaborative creation. Participants contribute to the evolution of the piece by modifying existing rules or adding their own events using text, photo, drawings, sound and video.
Concept/Design: Richard Siegal, Florent Bérenger, Hillary Goidell
Programming: Florent Bérenger
SACD Prize, Monaco Dance Forum 2006.
DVD published by Hatje Cantz
Text by Peter Weibel/ZKM
American dancer and choreographer Richard Siegal is known for his mergings of bodies and systems. In 2005 he created "If/Then," a piece for two dancers structured as a flowchart organized around gamelike rules: "If I do x, you do y or z," etc.
In 2006, he collaborated with Hillary Goidell
and Florent Berenger to create "If/Then Open Source," an online platform--"predicated on the belief that the beauty of systemic complexity resides in relinquishing individual control to the infinitely more qualified organizational abilities of community development"--whereby visitors can manipulate or add to the basic flowchart of a performance, creating new actions or dragging into new positions existing modules such as "Slap table with both hands simultaneously. Forearms on the table... Justification: An escape" and "Slap the other player as hard as you can. Justification: Violence is never justified." This DVD uses video and text excerpts to examine Siegal's work.
Photography, project production and coordination