Monthly Archives: September 2012

Keith Hennessy’s Turbulence, one’s resistance of queer art and the boogeyman of cultural compliance

Along with seeing the highly anticipated Keith Hennessy piece Turbulence at Velocity Dance Center, I attended the Stance meetups earlier in the week discussing two pieces, in one of which Cassie Peterson made a hyper-intellectual effort to define the notion of Queer Art. To sum her piece up, the term Queer shouldn’t be constrained to LGBT art but can describe any piece of culturally subversive art. As a straight guy, this opened the door for me on a topic in which I’d otherwise feel a complete outsider.

I’ve been sitting on this topic a while as I was never sure of how I felt about it, about the concept of queer art or how this piece related to that message.

I ultimately enjoyed Turbulence, a spectacle too extrasensory to describe, a lot of noise, a lot of action, a lot effort and a lot of provocation. Parts irked me and parts motivated me to greater ideas. Given the definition of queer art and this piece’s bent of honoring that approach, qualifying any of it is supposed to be beside the point. Provided it struck you and made you think, whether you liked any of it or didn’t like any of it is irrelevant.

Such a stance is by its nature pretentious and it’s very easy to bristle at such pretension. But queer art subverts the notion of pretense: Pretension requires a sense of personal status quo, and queer art is all about subverting status quo. And obviously in that is paradoxical irony: To claim identity requires pretense, yet pretense is built upon a point of view. To exist a point of view requires a sense of status quo… and queer art is about subverting status quo. In queer art identity is at all times simultaneously broken and formed.

I have to realize that at any point I took some sort of offense at what Hennessy presented in Turbulence, that I took offense was in itself exactly the point. Just as any point where I took inspiration or the piece compelled me to ponder what I was watching or the reality that inspired the moment before me was in and of itself the point. In its abstraction of overall focus, Turbulence constantly questioned itself and in turn compelled you to question yourself, what you were watching and the world you live in.

That I found Hennessy and his piece at times artistically masturbatory showed me more about us, about myself, about the dance and theatre and arts community at large than it did of Hennessy and his company, and in turn sparking other epiphanies.

– Artists try so hard to be profoundly self expressive, and ironically their efforts prove so introspectively wanky that their effort frequently falls far short of sincerity (the only true barometer of successful self expression, queer subversion be damned).
– We take ourselves too seriously. In turn, we have judged each other into oblivious cultural compliance.
– In turn, we focus on rewarding cultural compliance, and mistakenly equate cultural compliance with good art… as intelligence insulting as shitting on someone’s face and calling it a hot fudge sundae.
– The artistic cliques that result from cultural compliance have suffocated sincere expression. Artists are so afraid of pissing the wrong people off that few take any real risks, or make half hearted stabs at innovation and, after culturally complying, receive praise for having taken alleged artistic risks that were, in fact, not that risky at all.

I realize in making any of these points that I am leaning on firm definitions, and the concept of queer art emphasizes that definitions are relative and, in turn, easily rendered irrelevant.

I will posit that, queer movement aside, you need definition to have meaning. To be truly queer is to live in anarchy, an impossible ideal. Without a sense of order, there is no society to produce an audience to share your art with. For art to be produced, there must eventually come some sense of order. Hennessy himself not only eventually had to set a score to his Turbulence piece, but he also had to approach funding agencies to finance the piece’s production. This required adherence to a process. It is only through compliance with the granting agencies’ processes and tastes of the adjudicating personnel that Hennessy could receive grant funding. He had to win the approval of his audiences across the world, which includes the community at Velocity Dance Center, to receive the opportunity to share his vision.

This is all to say that art can never truly fit the abstracted definition of queer. We live in an artistic society that has its rules, its pecking orders, its benevolent providers whose favor you must win to get a seat at the table. To share his vision of cultural non-compliance, Hennessy had to culturally comply.

And therein lies the challenge of performance art: Finding that artistic middle ground between cultural compliance and finding the queer nirvana of breaking those rules and truly expressing yourself. Many in the dance and theatre communities won’t seek out the high end of that artistic bell curve: They will etch themselves firmly within reach of the cultural compliance end, afraid of the ostracization of pissing off the wrong people and the boogeyman of being artistically blacklisted.

The challenge is not in chasing the nirvanic ideal of a world where everyone lives in queer artistic anarchy, but in convincing the artistic world that they should not be afraid of the gatekeepers to a world that is easily subverted once you open your mind and close the doors on your boogeymen.

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A rough week and the effects of exhaustion on creative process

After weeks of creative flow, my body and creative mind reached tap-out status this past week.

Part of it is the volume of rehearsal I took on, sure, but truth be told the rehearsal schedule I booked for myself was not terribly demanding, nor in many cases was the intensity of the work I put in. I did put in several class sessions during one week in mid-August, but otherwise I’ve kept my dance slate mostly clean.

It’s my day job. Now, I work in finance and I’ve had this job since I first got back into theatre back in 2010. It’s a common denominator throughout my active Seattle theatre experience and is typically just as much a factor when things have gone well as it’s been when things have not gone well… which is to say it doesn’t interfere with my theatrical endeavors.

Recently that has changed. With my office in transition I have taken on additional demands, deadlines and other challenges that required a lot more of my energy… energy I did not have to devote to my dance pursuits once the workday’s done.

I also received less than two days notice on an apartment complex inspection, and while my home didn’t look treacherous it had also been a while since my home got a good cleaning… which I had to rigorously give over two nights earlier this week. With multiple events and projects the last few months, I did not keep the place as clean as I would like or should have. Addressing this not only killed all of my free/rest time (outside of sleep) over two days but demanded a lot of what little energy I had after tough workdays.

My home is now clean (with a new basic plan to keep it so) and in time this peak period at work can and should pass as things at work settle. If it doesn’t and the state persists then I have a serious problem, but I presume for now given available information that it will pass.

The recent demands have dramatically affected my personal projects. It’s one thing to come to the studio tired after a workday. I do that all the time and still produce. But my last couple rehearsals haven’t been productive: After limited work and production I cut both rehearsals short once I realized continuing wasn’t productive. I did reschedule one midweek rehearsal the night before, but that was fortuitously generous on Velocity’s part. Reschduling on less than 24 hours notice is generally not feasible so dodging a rehearsal once I realize I may not be up to it that day isn’t feasible, and probably not responsible in the long run as the feeling often points to a laziness: You don’t feel like going in, but then you get going and you’re up to speed.

Maintaining energy in a busy lifestyle is a constant struggle for every performance artist that couples their artistic pursuits with a day job. Some of us do a better job at mitigating the challenges than others, and all of us do better some times while doing not so well other times.

Vanessa DeWolf, who was once a serious athlete, told me she was trained to not just actively train but to actively seek out, book and take time to rest the body. The key to building stamina is to not just push your limits but to take time after pushing them to let your body rebuild and grow from the experience.

Now, I’ve long understood this to some degree and over my artistic life I’ve actively carved out time between the busy periods to take time and recharge, even to this day: I cleared the calendar for the 1-2 weeks before Strictly and after SFDI.

I’ve also been intensely active during stretches of my recent theatre training: Last summer I faced a gauntlet of Meyerhold Movement sessions, physically intense clown training sessions, improv classes and rehearsals. And that came on the heels of my SFD stage combat certification, itself preceded by a period of intense fight rehearsals with my test partner.

ALL of this came in-between 40 hour workweeks. So even though dance itself is new to me, the rigors of pushing my body into uncharted territory amidst a demanding schedule is not.

In this case, the ironically uncommon denominator was work. While work has always been present, it also has not been this demanding of my energy during any extended stretch. For the longest time, despite challenges associated with incomplete protocols (I won’t get into), I was to some great extent able to find habits and conserve energies that I could utilize in the evening. However, habit or no habit, I’ve had to burn much of my energy on the demands of my work. When it came time to develop my own work, I didn’t have much left and my work suffered.

I don’t want to take a hiatus from dance or making my own work. I still take, enjoy and get a lot from classes. The chance to create is one of the solaces between the rigorous demands I’m tasked with facing at work. And even now, having had almost 24 hours to decompress, I feel a lot better physically, mentally and emotionally. After meeting a major deadline at work that situation shows signs of settling substantially down.

I’m sure I just hit a rough patch and things are looking up. That said, sometimes the rough patches force you to take a long look at yourself and your habits, and recalibrate.