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Through a close reading of Material for the Spine (Paxton 2008) Stancliffe examines how the artistic and movement philosophies of American choreographer Steve Paxton (1939–) are successfully digitally mediated in a way that is not possible through traditional systems of documentation such as movement notation. This chapter examines how the creative and analytic affordances of video annotation and animation illuminate ‘hidden’ facets of movement not immediately accessible in video alone, namely the imagined spatial and sensorial experience particular to Paxton’s practice. Material for the Spine is important to acknowledge in the discussion of cultural heritage as it sets a precedent for augmenting video to articulate and reveal the inner structures of movement and experience which is then transmitted through media objects.
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“Founded in 1984 by the Belgian dancer and choreographer, Patricia Kuypers, Contredanse has, since its inception, taken on the mission of supporting choreographic creation. It wishes to provide tools and resources for choreographers and dancers in order to enable them to link their studio work to an analysis of the philosophy of movement, body, composition, and history of their discipline” (Contredanse n.d.).
Judson Dance Theatre, whose founding members included Paxton, Deborah Hay, and Yvonne Rainer, was a collective of artists who were instrumental in the development of postmodern dance and performed at the Judson Memorial Church in Greenwich Village, New York between 1962 and 1964.
Described as “the wonderful collective, comedic, and anarchic group [… who] improvised all of their works” (Bither in Walker Art Centre 2014), the Grand Union was an improvisational collective that emerged from Yvonne Rainer’s Continuous Project: Altered Daily (1969–70) and involved, amongst others, artists including Trisha Brown, David Gordon, and Douglas Dunn.
In this chapter, virtual content is used in the choreological sense, which refers to the knowledge arising from the intrinsic study of movement. Dance scholar Valerie Preston-Dunlop describes virtual forms as illusions “made visible by the performance given to it by the dancer and/or by the relationships and dynamics structured by the choreographer” ( 1981, 30).
Baptiste Andrien, email message to author, 15 October 2015.
Paxton explains that although Material for the Spine first derived from studying the way contact improvisers used their spines, he was also influenced by the Japanese martial art form Aikido. Aikido seeks to redirects the energy of an attacker or opponent without inflicting harm.
In Aikido gestures of the arm start from the pelvis and through Qi, which has not been translated, follows the underside muscles of the arm and out into space through the ring and little finger (Paxton in Walker Art Center 2015).
Andrien Baptiste, email to author, 15 October 2015.
“Napping” is another exercise that uses the animated skeleton to successfully communicate the fluidity and scale of movement that occurs even when the body is resting and allows the viewer to contemplate how big even perceptively small movements can be.
It took twenty years from when Paxton was first asked to create a document of his material for the spine until something was created (Andrien 2015). Reportedly, Paxton also feared that such a short process, initially estimated at two years of research and development (though taking five years in the end) would provide insufficient commitment to the work he had been researching for twenty years (Andrien et al. 2015).
Andrein Baptiste, email to author, 15 October 2015.
Andrein Baptiste, email to author, 15 October 2015. Contredanse is currently working with Lisa Nelson’s Tuning Scores, seeking to minimize this gap by developing a publication that enables the user to play with video content changing its linearity by pausing, reversing, and looping sections of video footage. As Andrien explains, “you see what you do or I’d better say you see what you saw. So the material is reflecting your own experience rather that someone else’s that you have to meet” (email to author). This project challenges traditional approaches to movement representation and the mediation of movement ideologies.
Albright, Ann Cooper. 1989. Writing the Moving Body: Nancy Stark Smith and the Hieroglyphs. Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies 10 (3): 36–51. CrossRef
Andrien, Baptiste. 2015. Contredanse. Keynote presented at the 20th/21st Century Performer Training Working Group: Remediated Training, University of Leeds, 13 May.
Andrien, Baptise, Corin Florence, and Scott deLahunta. 2015. Choreographic Objects: Contredanse and the Publication of Dance Ideas. Curated session presented at the Conference for Dance and Somatic Practices, Coventry University, 11 July.
Contact Quarterly. 2014. About Contact Improvisation. Accessed 2 October 2015. http://www.contactquarterly.com/contact-improvisation/about/.
Contredanse. n.d. Contredanse. Accessed 3 October 2015. http://www.contredanse.org/contredanseV4/templates/index.php?path=contredanse/contredanse.php.
Forsythe, William. 1999. Improvisational Technologies: A Tool for the Analytic Dance Eye. Karlsruhe: ZKM Zentrum for Kunst and Medietechnologie. CD-ROM.
Forsythe, William, and Ohio State University. 2009. Synchronous Objects for One Flat Thing, Reproduced. Accessed 5 January 2015. http://synchronousobjects.osu.edu.
Hay, Deborah, and Motion Bank. 2013. Using the Sky. Accessed 26 February 2018. http://scores.motionbank.org/dh/#/set/sets.
Morrissey, Charlie. 2011.Spinal Trialogue: Charlie Morrissey, Steve Paxton, Scott Smith Email Dialogue. Accessed 30 September 2015. http://www.charliemorrissey.com/writing/spinal-trialogue-charlie-morrissey-steve-paxton-scott-smith-email-dialogue/.
Novack, Cynthia J. 1988. Contact Improvisation: A Photo Essay and Summary Movement Analysis. TDR 32 (4): 120–134. CrossRef
Paxton, Steve. 1975. Contact Improvisation. The Drama Review 19 (1): 40–42. CrossRef
———. 1987. Improvisation Is…. Contact Quarterly 12 (2): 15–19.
———. 2003. Drafting Interior Techniques. In Taken by Surprise: A Dance Improvisation Reader, ed. Ann Cooper Albright and David Gere, 175–183. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press.
———. 2008. Material for the Spine: A Movement Study. Brussels: Contredanse. DVD-ROM.
Preston-Dunlop, Valerie. 1981. The Nature of the Embodiment of Choreutic Units in Contemporary Choreography. PhD Diss., The Laban Centre for Movement and Dance.
———. 1998. Looking at Dances: A Choreological Perspective on Choreography. London: Verve Publishing.
Walker Art Center. 2015. Steve Paxton Talking Dance. Accessed 16 October 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_82Od5NM4LI.
- Mediating and Visualizing Paxton’s Material for the Spine
- Chapter 11