Making a dance (in blocks)

For the purposes of this blog post I have taken a series of photos of a block sculpture to play with loosely describing a few steps in my creative process.

Let’s start at the beginning:blocks_1

Well, that’s not really the beginning is it? The beginning would just be an empty desk – or in my case a cluttered desk that had to be cleared off for the purposes of this adventure. Here I began modestly with a few simple blocks which represent ideas or movement phrases or even dancers in a room together. Already there is a semblance of form and decision making. Beginnings matter and yet they are also somewhat arbitrary: why explore this concept now with these dancers in this studio? Possibly because it is the perfect thought at the perfect time – more likely because it’s an idea that feels interesting and these are able-bodied people who were free on Wednesday evenings from 7-9:30pm.

For the purpose of this project I wanted to start with smaller blocks because they less immediately limiting.

blocks_2

We expand from the initial decisions and already the blocks are feeling so…inert. But they are doing their job as an exterior reflection of all the activity and decision-making that is happening behind the scenes. This portion of the sculpture was actually pretty quick to build. I decided to use a lot of long, flat blocks and start a sort-of spiral. Sometimes the right decision just shows up and you go with it.

blocks_3

This section was MUCH more fraught – should I stay with the spiral or branch out? How do I integrate depth into an overhead visual field? Should I scratch it all and start again (this was my third attempt already)? I persevered and found solace in the calm trial and error of placing, adjusting, stacking and reorganizing these blocks. It’s a similar headspace to the one I have when I’m playing around with movement that already exists in phrase form – placing sections on different bodies in different spaces, attempting to discover which information needs to come first.

blocks_4

As you can see, the depth caught my attention. While I loved the simplicity of the beginning I began to crave texture and contrast. Just before I stood up to take the photo I realized that I had four little cylindrical blocks sitting to the side and they became my inhabitants. Those quick, last-minute decisions are so seductive but they seem to only happen after a certain amount of time and effort has been expended.

blocks_5

I slept on it. When I showed up at the office at 7:45am this morning I felt like the piece was still missing something. Again, I tried taking things off, fiddling with the little cylinders in the middle and finally added some shape and contour to the end and edges. There was kind of a ‘duh’ feeling when I placed the hat-shaped block at the end – too obvious? I went with it anyway.

There are many ways in which comparing block-building to dance making is inherently flawed, movement being the primary one. But condensing a process that usually takes months or even years into a 24 hour adventure was actually enjoyable. In my History, Theory, Literature of Choreography class with Bebe Miller we’ve been reading, and talking with with, Susan Rethorst – a choreographer who believes in trusting one’s own Inwit or innate, personal sense of decision making in art form. This is a relatively easy concept to explore with block-building and much more complicated for me in this studio where the blocks are human beings or ever-evolving movement material and the prospect of a performance with audience adds a different tone to the decision making. Which is fine with me.

2 thoughts on “Making a dance (in blocks)

  1. I really love the process you describe here, Gina. What a complicated transition to try to translate wooden visuals onto messy human bodies! I very much want to see the piece that results from this experiment.

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  2. I really like this metaphor. It feels familiar and true. Beginning, low stakes and play. Middle – more fraught with possibilities and confusion. End, hopefully an “aha” or at least “let’s go with it”. I also wonder if a quick daily practice of block building right before rehearsal, would change your state when in the studio?

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