One of life’s great dramas exists in the struggle between wanting to be seen and wanting to not be seen.
There is an amazing example of this in our relationship with the internet. We want to make our opinions heard. We craft perfect self-portraits. The access to new and previously too expensive technologies let’s us now make our own movies and images, our own entire channels even. While at the same time we want to be anonymous when our venom is hottest. Our self-portraits are about being counted, but not being seen. And so much of the content that gets generated is a part of this new movement of expert p.r. that’s driven by the also brand new antiseptic metric of followers and likes: the ones and zeroes of visibility. Everyone becomes famous for their personal brand but the human being, all the while, is hiding. We want to matter and have the sense that our time on this planet was worth something, but the risk of actually exposing who we really are and risking finding out that other people don’t like it…it is too great.
This is why I love artists. For whatever reason has compelled them, they have made the leap to splay themselves open, to present all of the ugly truths and find some way to connect them to the divine order of existence. If an artist is truly great, they have found a pathway to that tiny kernel, that seed at the core of it that allows us to see through the complications that we have invented in our own lives and focus on something that resonates as “true”.
And this struggle is constantly present in the process. I think dance in particular is deeply susceptible to missing this because dance is physically spectacular. Someone flying through the air is inherently gasp-inducing mainly because they are doing it. It connects us with our own wild spirit and inner heroic. A line of perfectly matched humans standing in perfect formation speaks to our need for order and hope and the thought that there is a reason for all of this living. An original partnering move that seems to come from out of nowhere wakes up our childlike creativity and belief in magic.
And then what?
Yes, there is inherent meaning in just the act of dancing itself but there is such temptation to hide behind its flashiness. It is possible for a skilled choreographer to execute any of these things and be brilliant at it, but in the end, they are presenting you with the benefits of the form without the insight, danger, and exposure of the artist. I think this is one reason why critics and audiences can appear so jaded about dance. If you see enough of it, eventually you just get sick of that shit and are left feeling that something is missing.
And as dancers become capable of more and more over time, it becomes more and more appealing to push those capabilities into the forefront and stand directly behind them. It can be a little like the Instagram filters that give you perfect skin and bigger eyes. Yes, it is to startling effect, you can look better in whatever configuration of features “better” means to you, but what will be the history of you on this planet? Who was that person?
I struggle with it all day long in the studio. Ideas come that I think on some unconscious (and sometimes conscious) level, “that is impressive,” over, “that is true.” And there is heartbreak in letting go of the notion that I can be adored for all things, just like a baby is. If I want to make something that is truly worth it to me, I have to risk showing the real thing. I have to risk being seen.
The same struggle plays out in writing this blog. In my last trip to SF, I committed to writing a post every day, no matter what. The result was for me personally, very exposing. I was smashing apart a lifetime held belief system that those were parts of me that it was more polite or something to keep hidden. The result has changed me as an artist, but here I am on the second trip with no such commitment and I couldn’t even do a post a week! I don’t know if that’s the result from making a more complex piece with more moving parts or if it is some kind of retreat from such a big change, but no fucking way was I going to tell you what was going on that first week.
I come back to this puzzle every day in the studio. This piece for Smuin is ambitious and risky for me. There are so many things I haven’t done before. There are so many moving pieces and absurdities. There are so many moments where I ask for something and the person that I am asking looks at me like I am nuts and I wonder if I have led everyone down this path to support my failure. Why didn’t I do something easy that I know I can do? I fluctuate between stopping myself from taking the easy ways out and then also just succumbing to the feeling of falling and letting the risk and the exposure fortify and carry me.