Melissa Hudson and Hannah Schwadron are graduate students at the MFA program at UC Riverside in Experimental Choreography and Dance. For a course in “Rhetorical
Approaches to Dance Studies” they came up with the following questions:
In general, we have been investigating the ways that
words and language relate to movement and our
understanding of the body, and this week we are
specifically considering the ‘policing’ of bodily
movement, particularly in regards to gender. We were
given David Gere’s article entitled, “29 Effeminate
Gestures: Choreographer Joe Goode and the Heroism of
Effeminacy” to read for discussion. Please feel free
to answer the questions in whatever way strikes you,
and to omit any that are not of interest to you.
1. How do you feel about the way that you work has
been written by others (reviews, articles)? Have you
experienced an occasion wherein you felt that words
were given authority over your dance? or that you were
grossly misinterpreted by a viewer/reviewer?
JOE: Truthfully, i am not sure when I haven’t felt that way. I think the act of looking and deciphering, the critical act , always has an agenda. Someone comes to review or analyze because they have a thesis to prove or a point of view to espouse. As much as they may want to be impartial they are always providing a very distinct lens on the work. Often what is missing in that critical view of art is the artist’s concern with the functional, with the “how” something gets made. Most of us do not start from a point of research saying “I am going to make something about this”. We start from a point of methodology, “I wonder what would happen if i tried to do this”. In other words, we are experimenting with materials and methods as well as content. I often feel that writers and critics are looking at the end result and solely analyzing the content of my work. But they haven’t considered how the content was manipulated and changed in the process , how it unfolded, not just as an idea, but as material that has life and will of its own.
2. In your work, what power is given to the body,
specifically the dancing body, to perpetuate or rework
JOE: well, I give a lot of consideration to the body as political territory. Men touching men with tenderness, with an erotic charge, is certainly political and often a place where I might begin- partly just because I long to see it (and don’t feel that I DO see it much in the world of high art,) but also because it is charged- for the performers (it is still a pretty transgressive act, believe it or not) and for the audience. I also like to see women debunk the myth that they are the weaker sex. I love to see them lift the boys and each other and I love to see them in postures of anger or obstinacy. The dance norms for women are so limiting, always being pliable, vulnerable, sensual in a pussycat kind of way. Those depictions are nothing like the women I know who are so strong and self determined. certainly the dancer women I know and work with are so incredibly strong and confident in who they are, I like to get some of that across in the stage work.
3. In your opinion, how does the body inscribe
meaning or ’speak’ in an effective way?
JOE: “Inscribe meaning” is such a terribly comical phrase. Only in an advanced degree program would you ever hear this phrase. let me just say that I think this coded language of dance theory is dangerous. Dangerous because it only speaks to other people who have the same educational background, the same frame of reference, it really doesn’t speak to the rest of the world. of course the body “inscribes” meaning. As I said in the earlier answer, the body is a political territory, every gesture, every posture is a statement of who this person is in this moment of action or this very public moment of being seen. If a male dancer touches himself in a sensual way or collapses into the arms of another male dancer in a way that relinquishes all control, these are very meaningful statements. there are limitless possibilities of what the body can “mean”.
4. What do you find most scary in dance and
choreography? what is not scary?
JOE: What is most scary for me in dance is that narcissistic glory that happens. We are all trained, or most of us, by looking at ourselves in the mirror. As young dancers we strive for the kind of physical perfection that we saw in our teachers- get the leg higher, try for more revolutions in the turns -whatever. this kind of dancing is in danger of not being about much except the beauty of the dancer. and this definition of beauty is very narrowly defined. We all started out dancing for grandma- showing off our tricks or our endearing cuteness or sex appeal. It is very hard to excise this vanity, this self conscious element from our choreography as we mature. I want dancing to be about more than just how beautiful and flexible the body is. I want it to serve a more complex vision of our humanity, that we are flailing and absurd and in the process of decay, that we have very dark places in our souls and that we are cruel and even stupid- these are some of the things I want to show with dancing. Just regurgitating my skill is not enough. frankly, in this time when we have such amazing skills being displayed on the stage- i.e. cirque du soleil, the chinese acrobats, just showing our high legs or our double turns isn’t going to thrill anybody much anyway.
5. How would you like to be written in history?
JOE: I really don’t care. I am looking for a meaningful pastime. when I am dead I will be dead.
6. Why do you choose to include spoken and sung text
in your dance pieces?
JOE: I never understood why the dancer should be mute. a dumb rule in my book. I also do not view dance as separate from theater. I am interested in the performative moment as a moment of revelation, of intimacy. whatever can bring me there is fair game.
7. Finally, could you remark on the process of
creating ‘29 Effeminate Gestures’ (process, goals,
‘aha’ moments) and on the interaction that you had
with David Gere as he aspired to write your dancing
I am kind of bored with talking about the ‘aha’ moments in 29 gestures. The big moment was realizing that on some level I was effeminate and that I was going to show it in front of lots of people. my own fear and self loathing in that moment of “knowing” that some of my gestures identified me (at least in this culture) as a sissy was really revealing and taught me a lot. As far as working with David, I was fascinated to see what he saw in the piece. I think he is very smart and comes from a very transnational perspective on things. I think he saw some things that I hadn’t considered before and that was interesting.
I have a blog now that I am writing that you might want to look at. it will illuminate some of the ways I am feeling about dancing these days. Joe