In the year 2000, I spent a fraught several months in Germany making a new work called The Difference Between Naked and Nude for The Stuttgart Ballet. The title was based on a passage in the book “Ways of Seeing” by the author John Berger, who died yesterday.
“To be naked is to be oneself.
To be nude is to be seen naked by others and yet not recognised for oneself.”
Though perhaps not as high profile as the deaths of Prince and David Bowie (among many others), his loss is right in line with the profundity of repetition in the deaths of people who pushed and shaped our cultural perceptions about gender and sexuality…specifically in how they are communicated through art. I wonder out loud if our loss here marks the beginning of a new revolution of thought in this area, or if we have learned all that we can from these people, or at worst, we simply cannot handle the vulnerable truths they brought us and we are about succumb to the life-denying grip of Puritanism and over-simplicity once again.
It was the designer Sandra Woodall who first introduced me to “Ways of Seeing” and I think it was in preparation for the making of this dance in Germany. It is a literary work of poetry and revelation. The title is a summation of a way of life. The process by which to actually SEE the world around you. It unfolds with both the complexity and simplicity of the shift that happens when your eyes focus into a stereogram. Like all journeys of the spirit, you are no longer capable of whatever ignorance you blissfully hid within before. It is not a dogma of what you must see, but rather an opening into the truth of ones own unique perception, full of prejudices and insight. Now that I write this, I wonder how much of the summation is where my own experience has taken it. I’m going to read it again.
The dance, The Difference Between Naked and Nude was a good summation of who I was as a 30 year old artist at the time. I was experiencing the pull between the lonely world of my own unique path and the more commercial success that was being offered to me. The trappings of social acceptance were very compelling to me and it would take me another 15 years to realize how much more lonely abandoning myself was.
Interestingly to me, it was the Americans in the company who gravitated to and embraced the work. The Germans wanted little to do with it. The one German choreographer on the program, my friend Christian Spuck’s work was embraced, even though this particular piece was a stumble for him. The Canadian, James Kudelka, was eviscerated by the critics, and me, the American, was most cuttingly dismissed with a “meh.” I feel really proud of the piece. It certainly did not reach the depth of its source material, but for me was one marker the beginning of a journey that changed me.
I’m currently swimming within ideas for a new dance that I will begin for Smuin Ballet in two weeks that will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love. This period before starting rehearsals is so important to sit and dream through. It’s the time away from the concrete pushing of completion, where the most organic and otherworldly possibilities can arrive from. Right now I can have 20 ideas today and none tomorrow and that works just fine. Once rehearsals start, if there’s a day without a good idea, that’s bad. And I’m not talking about movement ideas, I’m talking about content. It was in Germany when I first heard someone put this distinction articulately. I was speaking with dancer and new choreographer Douglas Lee. Douglas was the embodiment of the Cheshire Cat. Too smart or lazy or complicated to feel fulfilled by his natural talent. He is the rare artist who pilots the quandary of too many easy gifts to an end of great productivity. We were randomly seated together before a performance of one of his early pieces and had a teasing conversation about process where I heard someone assert for the first time that it was ideas that took time, not steps. Steps were easy. I had developed a crush by the time the lights went down and my favorite part of the piece was the moment where our knees accidentally rested against each other. This is not even true amongst my favorites because I loved the piece, specifically because it was FULL of ideas.
Zeroing in on a point of focus for the Summer of Love is a full figured task. No one describes it in the same way and it did not come about from a single unified vision. And few people romanticize this particular event in the way that I always have. It occurred before I was born but I have come to learn that many of the influences in my life were hatched from this time period. It signaled the end of an era for the people who created the new San Francisco, but it was the beginning of the entire country dealing with this major shift in thinking.
So I am letting the ideas come organically in the way that the Summer of Love did. I’m not beholden to any one version of events, nor am I attempting to describe a history. I’ll let you know later what do I decide to zero in on.
In the meantime, I did a photoshoot with Austin model Travis Benson using projections of photographs that I took in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. It’s a riff on projection experiments of the time as a way of seeing the human body in new ways. It’s not necessarily an experiment to be literally eventually used in the piece. I’m just exploring the idea and mindset to see what will come up from it.