A Choreographic Mind

Susan Rethorst’s book A Choreographic Mind: Autobodygraphical Writings is a treasure for my line of inquiry. Her approach is similar to mine in that she draws from her lived experience to make conclusions and ask questions about what dance-making is and can be, as well as its epistemological value: how we come to know things through dancing, and what kind of knowledge that is. As someone who has been a working artist for a very long time she has a strong and grounded presence which comes through in her writing. It is questioning and reflexive but not doubting and unsure. She has complete faith in the process of creating dances and offers a critique of the institutionalized academy of dance. She is a strong believer in acting on impulses and intuitions rather than thinking everything through before doing something about it. You can think something to death. Reflection comes after action in her book, not before. You can’t know what you are going to make before you make it. You can have an idea, an image, a set of tasks or exercises you want to try. The crucial thing is to actually try them before going any further in the conceptualization of a work or a project. Obviously this takes time. How can we make space for this? How do we take the time? Often the problem is that we have to know what we are doing and be able to give a solid explanation, predetermining what something can become. How do we get around it? I’m thinking that confidence and solidarity, sharing our stories of making work is helpful. Like Susan is doing in her book. Sharing her knowledge as proof that it works.

Susan Rethorst writes about “dailiness” as her guiding principle, simultaneously a mindless propulsion and a considered minuteness. “Dailiness allows for the endless finding of a reason, for curiosity, ongoingness, tedium, for humor, perspective, for working with the unclassifiable, for the work of the work, for embracing the excitement of being led by that stranger – the unmade dance.” (7) This is another way of talking about what I tried to express by invoking the studio-based model where the work happens in increments over time, yet by unknown bounds and leaps.

“You can think you don’t know what next, or how next, because you can’t say. But you do know, the way a three year old knows her own mind – the part we come not to trust. It is an effort and a leap of faith to find it again.” (12)

The wisdom of doing, or the knowing inherent in the doing, is described by her as “inwit”  – a dwelling in the craft of making, of being entangled with the task at hand. “As much as you might feel out on a limb, working without a thought in your head, something has to be operating, leading you to make the decisions that result in the thing you make that is from you, of you, about you. Your choreographic mind is at work.” (13)

In a sense her approach is phenomenological because she recognizes that we know the world through our own experiences but also that we never start from zero, “you are never nothing. You weren’t nothing when you were born.” (38)

Her concept of “allowance” resonates deeply with my mission in finding a methodology and grounding for movement-based work in academia. It is the fundamental piece of the puzzle that is so hard to fit into the academic framework: working without an end goal in mind, but within certain parameters and conditions where meaning is created through the engagement, not brought in from outside or spread on top. “Allowance is not a luxury, as in extra time to fool around before getting serious.” (34) This is the trap we fall into, even when we proclaim to be working with movement. We must let the movement be an end in itself, not just a means to an end. The power of movement research is this allowance and by not giving in to it we cut it short and rob it of its virtue.

The assumption of this view is that we are embodied beings, and our minds live in our bodies. Thus, thought arises not just by focused reasoning but through the body and its actions in the world. The mind is at work in the body. We should learn to value that.

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