Theatrics of Dance: Discoveries in Dialogue

Wen Wai Dance presents “Dialogue”, a contemporary work at the Scotia Dance Centre, a part of the Global Dance Connection series. In collaboration with male dancers from varying backgrounds, skin colour, and language, the work examines language as artificial structures of culture and affect in a multi-cultural society.

Language in a cultural setting has many layers built up with different ways of knowing. It draws on a line to “play or be played”. In the opening scene, dancers are arranged in a semi-circle, flanked on the outskirts by men of colour and focused on a single white male’s back, which excludes a whole view. It brings home an awareness of structures.

The universality of dance opens up dialogue across diverse groups through each dancer’s embodied expression. In repetitive gestures, the double-fisting pattern similar to the game of rock, paper, scissors highlights a need to communicate, to make a connection.

Variations in movement adds to a rich, sensory quality aroused by the physicality of the dancers. The dancers’ movements walking across the stage has a rhythmic feel to the pacing of a fashion runway show. An encounter designed by an experimental dance structure plays to each dancer’s lively persona, and everyday objects to capture the essence of the individual. A language for each dancer emerges as styles, gaits and signature sounds of stilettos develops an aura or presence unique to each dancer. I see into a space where structures are reframed and connections can flourish outside the barriers of creed, colour or language.

Dialogue continues in a scene with two dancers. One dancer of asian descent in a headstand defying gravity, remains strong in form. In contrast, a white dancer in an upright vertical line is dancing alone, entranced in his own world. A visible shift occurs as the white cushion unfolds into a shirt and once donned the asian dancer’s arm spasms  into a self-beating with his left hand slapping repeatedly over his shoulder. Once the shirt is removed and worn by the caucasian dancer there is no conflict or struggle. I realize in this moment the power of dance to communicate.

This work, as a theatrical art form, is communicating a broad idea of dialogue from particular cultures. Dance mirrors an ebb and flow in contemporary society. As individuals, and part of a larger collective, navigating the boundaries of understanding and being understood through multiple ways of representation is aptly explored through embodied expression.

The choreography driving the creative process of discovery, experimenting and developing movement and sequences is impactful. Dance has the ability to transcend structures as the immediacy, visual understanding is clearer and at its heart lies human connection. “Dialogue” opens our visual field in the commentary across multi-cultural backgrounds, colours, and language.


Final Project Abstract – An Appraisal of Critical Appraisals: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Embrace Arts Criticism

In 2016, in an effort to devote more time and contemplation to the films I was watching, I started writing short movie reviews and sharing them to social media. I was hoping to both improve my own understanding of the medium and start conversations with others who were interested in film. I never considered myself a “film critic” – Arts Criticism was something formal, capitalized, and professional in my head. But every critic needs to start somewhere right? The more I contemplate the practice of arts criticism, the more elusive it seems to me. I think I naively hoped to discover a template, a solid understanding of what criticism should look like or focus on. I wanted to know how or if it was something loftier than what I was doing with my online reviews – if there was some kind of evolution or trajectory to follow from movie goer to cinephile to reviewer to film critic. I’m not sure why I ever thought there would be consensus in a sector driven by analysis and the expression of one’s opinion. There have been debates for centuries on arts criticism, and even though film is a comparatively young medium, those debates have informed thinking on film criticism as well. What is criticism? What are its functions? Who are critics speaking to – the general public, niche audiences, the artists, themselves? Who has the authority to be a critic and from where is that authority derived? And finally, is there a crisis in arts criticism – do the current crisis in print media and resulting job losses really signal the death of the critic?
To refine and hone my own approach to arts criticism, this paper explores these questions and their ensuing debates. Along the way, I explore the tendency towards elitism in art and arts criticism – a feature I find problematic. I note that current discussions and debates over whether criticism is in crisis and in danger of being “dumbed down” actually reflect the same rhetoric used at other pivotal moments in arts history, and may have more to do with asserting or re-asserting critical authority. I attempt to identify the functions of art criticism, many of which were born out of the major debates of those pivotal moments and “crises,” in the hopes of finding models to employ in my own work. And finally, I celebrate arts criticism as an artform in and of itself, an act of creation inspired by the creative work of others. In the end, I find myself still grappling with defining my own voice and approach to criticism, but better prepared for the work ahead.

Now: Move

Dialogue Wen Wei Dance;  The Dance Centre;  2017, May 25th

Whether ‘Dialogue’ by Wen Wei Dance was exactly a dance theatre or was not, is irrelevant. What matters is that it was quite unique case of a truly meaningful creation in difficult, extremely personalized domain of movement theatre, that actually touched and moved: the audience.

The performance’s title, as well as artist statement in the program’s brochure specified, that in his work choreographer focused on this so distinctively human drive to bond with others through constant exchange of information on present, expected or past state of emotions. In sheep, with all due respect to those fascinating creatures, is probably not that significant, what a particular sheep has experienced in life, not to mention expectations: it will be most likely instinct, and sheep rush, that determine its future behavior. Humans are deeply dependent on their experience and how they behave is so much influenced by what they had gone through; Wen Wei Wang’s choreography was just about this, I suppose.

The show consisted of a series of impressions on communication and understanding – or lack of it. Everyone in audience experienced it individually, I guess; for me three scenes resonated particularly strongly: 1. A cartoon-ish impression on weapons and violence; 2. A tango-like scene about need for commitment and dependence; 3. A ‘black hole’ segment (a tag explanation to follow).

Let’s begin with the middle, simplest to categorize and label: a pair of performers, witnessed by rest of non-participating cast, staged emotionally tense and intense relationship of dependence between two individuals: an uncommitted, indifferent and passive character, although obviously in a dominant position of power, and a weak one: active, committed and initiating, clearly in pursuit of dependence and bonding with the dominant. Sounds like nothing new but in Wen Wei performers’ interpretation it looked astonishingly: a weak/female character crossing limits of devotion to attract attention of a strong/male figure, barely capable of noticing partner – or perhaps the weak one was actual intruder and predator? That segment’s choreography, which was not a tango, seemed strongly influenced by tango style and idiom. Also, it gained unexpected context by setting against cheese L. Cohens’ hit music from before decades – an overwhelming, thrilling effect, not easily forgotten.

The other memorable scene from Wen Wei’s ‘Dialogue’ was a funny on surface but in fact alarming reflection on idealization of force and violence – when the very fact of weapon position, amplified by cartoonish liturgy of displaying it, becomes a vehicle for power. This divides the men into the powerful: armed and using arms, just for sake of that; and the powerless: victimized by weaponry games of the strong. In Wen Wei’s interpretation it looked like an episode of TV cartoon show, but unfortunately was so close to what actually happens in too many parts of the world.

Next segment of the night was a rare example of choreographer and performers’ joint creativity, a team movement perfection, as well as ultimate commitment in execution of artistic goal. Over time needed to deliver the piece, performers united their stage presences into one dynamic, mesmerizing to watch, entanglement of convulsed drives and impulses, throwing itself around the stage; six bodies moving like one, with too many heads, limbs and needs inside, to achieve any direction – different from a constant inner struggle. A black hole perhaps is better term to describe this: simultaneous gravity and repulsion of particles inside, mutual support and destruction, symbiosis and predatory. It was a great image of human entanglement in life, own and of others; an effort to reach beyond and above. Witnessing it was a rare, deep and meaningful experience, evoking questions.

As this for example: how ‘Dialogue’ would look like if choreographer did not limit cast to males only? Would presence of female performers change show’s appeal? How and why? This remains unknown; hopefully Wen Wei Dance future works will bring some answers.



Lose Threads on the Fringe of Textile

MAIWA School of Textiles;   Granville Island, Vancouver BC;  2017, May 23rd

It is surprising how little Western art has focused on fabrics – in sense that fabrics or weaving have been its object. The reason being very likely, that textiles are equipped with their own strong esthetic aspect, usually determining their mercantile value, as a merger of crafts and art. Therefore: what to talk (or write) about – if textiles sufficiently spoke for themselves? There are not too many poems about fabrics, for fabric sake, or short stories, not to mention novels or operas, although each of those is full of images or some other form of participation of textiles – as life is. Yet in art, as much as in life, despite the fact that fabrics carry so much meaning and social content, as commodity, they remain a prop, a medium, a symbol at most. And as always, people are what do matter: what they do, about props and symbols, not those objects themselves.

If one takes a look back, only Penelope in Homer brought some dramatic impact into narrative with an act of weaving, progressing with it in daylight, disentangling at night, where very nature of her occupation influenced, conditioned actually, events’ progression in story – paradoxically, because Penelope’s intent was for them to not progress. Also Nessus’ shirt, Salome’s veils and emperor’s new clothes played somehow on the nature and use of textiles – but neither Desdemona’s handkerchief or Malvolio’s stockings, or flying carpet, or Sleeping Beauty’s spindle, do not count, because textiles, clothing or chores involved were merely props, easily replaceable with anything else. In end of XIX century German playwright Gerhart Hauptmann wrote a communist-ish drama ‘The Weavers’, but profession of class exploited in the play did not really matter, they easily could be lumberjacks or railwaymen.

So, amazingly, despite their prominent role in life and history, textiles have not been somehow specifically addressed in art; on other hand, have been specifically addressed furniture, groceries or plants? – unless they formed the still lives or landscapes, in paintings? Yet even then, the composition and framing, plus fidelity (or deformation), were usually at focus, not the objects per se; and obviously the lighting.

It is probably not best idea to comment here on socio-economic role of textiles, especially clothing, since this deserves separate consideration. It is only worth noting that diversity in textiles and clothing seems to be in direct relation with freedom (and wealth of course) that individuals exercise within a society: all totalitarian ideologies of exclusion usually try to execute mind oppression, among other means, trough control of personal appearances and clothes standardization – as all organization uniforms or burkas prove. Therefore the more diversity and color in textiles, the more freedom in everyday life, presumably, although this may be a superficial impression; additionally it varies through cultures. In the West weaving and cloth making have developed as predominantly women’s occupation, while in many parts of the world it remained in male domain.

A great pathway into individual quest (and enlightenment) in complexity of textiles may lead through a place not far from home, in Granville Island, where in shadow of the big bridge lurks MAIWA School of Textiles: a fascinating space. An absolutely amazing stock of textiles from remote parts of world, mainly India, may be found there, to examine with all senses; as well as the lectures about textiles in regard of all their specifics, can be heard. While there, one has a feeling of visiting in half a warehouse, in half a designers studio, or maybe even a research and seminar lab, which in fact this space is, simultaneously, plus a store, of course, selling fabrics.

It was developed as an uncommon merger of entrepreneurship with enthusiasm and support for crafts. Owners run unique and interesting business model, based in creating their own market niche, that seems to be effective mostly due to educational action implemented, along trade, at both sides of the venture. Here, in Granville Island space, a vast array of workshops, courses and lectures is offered, that promote knowledge of unique fabrics while building base of customers, at same time. On contractors’ side in India, owners support their partners in cultivating of traditional hand-made manufacturing technics that preserve distinctive style of local textiles – although it would be much easier and profitable to purchase industrially manufactured products.

Whether it is still business or perhaps more a curating? – that should really not matter, if it works (30 years!) and everyone seems happy. At face value MAIWA operations, including School of Textiles, look like a perfect case of non-invasive exchange between cultures, literally and metaphorically enriching both sides of interaction.



Is That All?

Andrew Czink: piano performance; Goldcorp SFU Woodwards;  2017, May 15th

I always had a problem with minimalism in art: with all that reductionism, alleged synthesis or generalization within esthetic experience – while world, life (and that is what art is about) is a wealth and diversity, also chaos, yet complex and meaningful. An artist has at a disposal unlimited resource of sounds, hues, concepts – to establish his unique, individual experience and a relevant comment. If artist willingly gives up on that, the wealth and diversity (and chaos), in favor of the limited or restricted – usually labeled as a pursuit of purity and significance – I always wonder whether he actually reaches the essence, or in essence disables himself.

Which was the case when I witnessed recently a short piano performance by Andrew Czink, preceded by artist’s introduction into his insight in music – that immediately established that audience was about to embrace something beyond traditional experience in major and minor. According to it, if I got the introduction correctly, Mr. Czink’s focus, both as composer and performer, was on sounds’ relations in tonality, chromatic and tempo, as well as in a sensual experience, both for the audience and the musician, while music be performed. Following, the artist executed a solo piece, ca 20 min., constituted mainly of rubato of not distant chords in variable tempo, focusing on rhythmic, chromatic and harmonic in sounds progression, as promised – with no melodic aspect to it whatsoever. While I deeply admire artists’ urge to explore ideas they identify with, and usually I do try to follow and understand their efforts, from my point of view (or hearing point, actually) this particular experience seemed isolated and insulating, monotonous and not quite interesting. If music, and Mr. Czink emphasized at the beginning that he considered his proceedings as music, not barely quest in the sounds domain, so if music is, as someone observed justly, a liquid architecture, then Mr. Czink constructed a modest shack merely, it seemed, or even a shack’s fence only: limiting but lacking, beyond the limitation, any wider function, role, content or meaning. What’s the point?, I kept guessing, listening to that emotionally charged, undoubtedly, but otherwise going nowhere, I felt, performance. What is the reason to limit such a magnificent, melodic instrument that a grand piano is, to a barely rhythmic, almost percussion function? Somehow like hammering a nail with a baroque candlestick: can be done but is that the best use for candlestick, and the nail?

Restriction, limitation or exclusion may be creatively fruitful: take black and white photography, which falsifies reality, but how aesthetically revealing and significant the results happen, at times, to be? In Mr. Czink’s performance a significance was substantial, perhaps, in his own emotional expression and fulfillment, at a given time and place – which obviously is a reason and fine purpose for art, too. Not necessarily for sharing.


(dis) Harmonia Mundi

Long Division by P. Dickinson;  The Annex;  2017, April 29th

‘Long Division’ by Peter Dickinson in Pi Theatre’s rendition appears as unconventional stage attempt to comment on profound (therefore conventional) theatrical and intellectual theme: what is a reason and purpose, hopefully justification, for an absurd that life is? – in context of vain, pointless, random often, therefore horrifying, cruelty that constitutes for life’s large slice, recently so overexposed by the media. Playwright and Pi’s creative team offer a polyphonic variation on the subject; resorting to theatre means they orchestrate stage equivalent of a fugue: a dominant theme entwined with an array of motives and voices that comment, counter-point and relate to a dominant tune. Which is, or seems to be – a question, or rather a supplication – timelessly repeated by artists and philosophers: let there be some point, some rigor, some idea, a mechanism, a structure, that justifies all this.

In his take of the above P. Dickson seems to blow three major horns: 1. a narrative structure: a story, whether factual or fictional irrelevant, of a school shooting, that clearly locates stage action and subject matter in a contemporary present; 2. a coincidence: as life (and drama) device that largely rules lives of humans (and play’s characters), often bringing people at wrong times, at wrong places; 3. and an idea or symbol that is pure and strong (math): and counter-balances, perhaps arbitrary, a chaos of two former. Whether simultaneous sound of these three voices is justified and harmonious, remains P. Dickinson play’s puzzle and mystery. As well as presumption, permissible in light of play’s structure and logic, that coincidence (chaos) is in fact a necessity, lurking in infinity of numbers’ relations and the scale. Unfortunately, that has never been confirmed so far and none mathematical model, statistic nor probabilistic, has ever allowed to avoid or predict horrifying consequences of human desires, anxiety or prejudice.

So where P. Dickinson and Pi Theatre are taking all this? A question with no direct answer. Perhaps a feint cue lies there in a brief conversation, toward almost end of play, when the math teacher, shot dead during school carnage, talks to the perpetrator’s mother, suddenly bringing into the conversation a category of beauty – as teacher somehow admires, despite loosing own life, his former pupil’s ultimate reaction to bulling, as well as, much earlier, his bright, though difficult and isolated mind. Would that be – the beauty – another, unexposed, sub-superficial tune in playwright’s composition? A key to play’s mindset, although beyond simple distinction between evil and good? Great contemporary composer Karlheinz Stockhausen tagged 9/11 attacks in New York as: ‘the biggest work of art there has ever been”. Would ‘Long Division’s’ author be similarly… calm? – in the face of cruelty of absurd?


The City That Grew Up, Between the Mountains 
and the Sea

I was thirteen when came to Vancouver in the summer of 1969. It was a small city with low buildings and a quiet downtown. Having lived in Toronto, then Regina, I was accustomed to relatively uninterrupted horizons and being able to “see” the rest of the world from where I stood. When my family moved here, I began to feel a profound sense of isolation which seemed to come from the constant sight of the mountains which stood between me and the rest of Canada. The veil of grey that hung over the city for long hours on most days further delineated my perception of a restrictive space. This memory made me think about how “place” has shaped my predilections as a designer, and also what effect Vancouver, as a place, has had on its creative community as a whole.

Vancouver is arguably one of the most beautiful cities on earth. Its situation on the west coast of Canada, with the Pacific Ocean, Coastal Mountains and a temperate climate, is the envy of almost every Canadian. Its ancient history, steeped in the trade, politics and spirituality of Tsleil-Waututh, Tsawwassen, Musqueam and Squamish First Nations has deeply impacted the culture, sensitivities and artistic output of the city. It almost seems as if the disruptive style of artists in the sixties, seventies and early eighties was channeling the anger of Indigenous Peoples around the loss of, and impacts to, their traditional territories.

Its prominent placement on, and involvement with, the Pacific Rim permeates every aspect of life in the city. Listening to voices on the street, Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean and Punjabi are often heard more often than English. These cultures influence the creative output of the city and cross-pollinate with established forms.

The nature-driven celebrity of Vancouver has attracted the motion picture, technology and creative industries. With this has come a demand for housing, infrastructure, services and cultural investment. Mercuric growth is a challenge for a civic government to manage. The tax base grows quickly, but so do demands on budgets. The responsibility for city councils and city managers becomes more onerous as their performance is scrutinized by a well-educated population. Not only do they make decisions on funding for the arts but, through their community planning, they ultimately decide whether or not artists can continue to live and/or work in the city.

Vancouver’s contemporary artistic community has always appeared to have maintained a certain swagger. Since my days in art school in the 1970s there has been a confidence, perhaps even defiance, in the mood of artists. As a collective, there has not appeared to have been a “contemplative” personality in Vancouver’s creative community. It is more one of acute awareness and questioning. It is driven by activism, intelligence and empathy. Dr. Scott Watson, Head and Professor at the Department of Art History, Visual Art and Theory at the University of British Columbia, comments on this in his article “Urban Renewal: Ghost Traps, Collage, Condos, and Squats”. “In the 1960s, it was asserted that this city led the nation in experimentation and the embrace of new ideas in the arts”. He speaks of Vancouver’s “West Coastness” as tying into the “counter-culture of consciousness raising” rising out of California (Watson). There has been a long-time fetishization of the city, its residents, and its backdrop in Vancouver’s art. Fred Herzog’s documentations of life and moments in the city in the fifties and sixties feel almost sentimental in their voyeuristic insights into Vancouver’s early days. Jeff Wall and Ken Lum of the Vancouver School created work that continued to collect visual data about the changes in the city. Their work maintained a critical edge as if to say, we’re watching….

Contemplating the Curio Cabinet (Philanthropy as a Business)

Philanthropy is generally defined as an act or gift done or made by someone for a humanitarian purpose.  The word itself comes from the ancient Greek, meaning roughly the love of humanity; to care and nourish.  I have been pondering the many ways in which we are exposed to and influenced by artistic events; plays, music, art, lectures – all made available to us thanks to the philanthropic acts of an individual or business.  I readily admit to mixed feelings, actually, a lot of discomfort at the level of philanthropic giving in the Vancouver arts scene; the fact that so many spaces, performances, and careers seem beholden to the favour (patronage) of local philanthropists.  There is much celebration of the generosity of the benefactors and the benefits bestowed upon the public and the arts community, however I cannot shake an uneasy sense of apprehension each time I participate in a cultural event in this city and realize the space or the performance has been underwritten by a local entrepreneur or wealthy philanthropist.  I found Peter Dickinson’s article on Vancouverism (and it’s cultural amenities) provocative; it stimulated my interest to probe a little more deeply into my discomfort issue, guided by several of the discussions raised by Dickinson on the influence of developers on civic arts facility planning.  Our group visit to the Audain Museum was the last push needed to move on with an exploration of role of philanthropy in our current arts culture; the theme of patronage and sustenance for artists; an attempt to understand the personal motivations and desires of an individual philanthropist.  This essay is intended to be a critique of philanthropy by means of a visit to the Audain Art Gallery using commentary on the art seen and the feelings evoked, referencing recent interviews with the philanthropist and reflecting on the work of  Peter Dickinson, Walter Benjamin, Susan Sontag, Max Wyman and Globe & Mail journalist Russell Smith (who’s writing I admire but did not incorporate directly into this inquiry).  I also meandered along a smaller sub theme alluding to the importance and subversive nature of the very wealthy gaining a positive public image by supporting and aligning themselves with the aspirations of an appealing ‘underdog’; specifically British Columbia First Nations Artists.  Are their actions genuine and laudatory or cynical and sinister?  And what are the personal motivations and internal desires which are being played out in these philanthropic actions?  I seem to have been left with more questions than answers and hope that indicates there is still room for compromise and genuine generosity on the part of those with means and power as opposed to opportunistic and shiny endowments to those who struggle to bring their creative works to light.

Response to blog post:”Splendours of the Cloth” by Judith Roche

I was overwhelmed by our visit to the Maiwa Handprints atelier. You gave voice to the richness and sensuousness of the experience of being surrounded by the textiles in that space. Not only were those textiles rich in colour and texture, but they were rich in history, in community, in identity, and in the deep skill of their makers. Where Morris was concerned about the de-skilling of mass production, Charlotte’s business model supports the re-skilling of the artisans with whom she works. It should be noted that she is not merely interested in training artisans to duplicate traditional work, but is specifically interested in capturing the authentic, culturally specific handwork that communities have lost or are in the process of losing. This is perhaps why we both felt the strong need to examine, to handle, and to drape ourselves in those exquisite pieces – could it be that Benjamin’s aura was calling to us?

I concur that Charlotte has done an admirable job of navigating “the treacherous shoals of humanitarian work while forging a business” (Roche, 2017). I pondered this at length and the word that most occupied my thoughts was “generous”. A spirit of generosity runs throughout their enterprise. We were told that the atelier functions as a library for the general public, that the books and textiles are available to be handled and studied. Charlotte and Tim were generous with their time and knowledge during our visit, speaking at length about their work and responding to our inquiries with a refreshing transparency. Charlotte’s openness to error, to experimentation, and to taking the time needed (needed to learn, needed to meet community demands, needed to reach for the sublime) are all extensions of that generosity. I even see the workshops offered through the atelier as an extension of that generosity. I will acknowledge that the cost of the workshops place them above the means of many, but I respect that they are priced in line with the expertise of their instructors. Looking through the catalogue of classes, I see the care that Maiwa takes in seeking artisans with extensive skill and knowledge. I also see a generous number of inexpensive or free lectures and events that offer the interested public an opportunity to learn from the artists themselves. I agree that Maiwa’s success could/should be used as a framework for duplication – I don’t believe I would feel this way if I had not experienced that spirit of generosity in action. Thank you for helping me think through this experience Judith.

Listening With My Feet: Wen Wei Wang’s Dialogue

Wen Wei Wang’s Dialogue made its debut in Vancouver on May 25th, 2017 at the Scotiabank Dance Centre. I wrote sixteen pages of notes during the opening night performance. My notes are messy, with inconsistent spacing, overwriting, and oddly large gaps between lines. My notes look this way because I could not tear my eyes away from the performance, for fear of missing something. The performance was overwhelming, the sheer level of activity onstage was difficult to apprehend.
I sit in my seat and gaze out at the performance space. The air is slightly sweet and reminiscent of the smell after rain – I assume it is related to the smoky haze that hangs in the air, presumably the result of a recently run atmosphere machine. The performance space is black, with six black chairs lurking upstage in the shadows. Set amongst the chairs are five spotlights. I focus on these because they are difficult to assign a name to – they are at once obvious as spotlights and yet also strongly reminiscent of old fashioned dryer helmets. Six dancers, Ralph Escamillan, Andrew Haydock, Arash Khakpour, Tyler Layton-Olson, Nicholas Lydiate, and Alex Tam, enter the stage, dressed in black.
The piece was 75 minutes in length and so rich with movement and action that I cannot begin to articulate, differentiate, or even transcribe it all. I will describe one moment in this tapestry of movement that moved me. The music pulses with a beat that reminds me of rave parties and dance clubs – the pounding bass driving the body to movement. The lights become more lively, I remember green and purple, flashing. The dancers seem most free during this segment. I can almost believe they are improvising, swaying, stomping, jumping, flapping. Their arms and legs and hands and feet are in control yet move with abandon. I notice one dancer’s eyes sweep the audience and stop, move on and then return. I wonder if he is meeting the eyes of someone he has danced with like this, in a place no less filled with people but far more filled with movement. I am struck by how greatly my own body wishes to move and I briefly consider what would happen if I stood and gave myself over to the beat. That pounding beat is loud in my ears and loud in my chest and loud in my feet.
I remember that music later in the performance when there is no music at all. I am struck by how magical and mundane the quiet feet of dancers are, how they slash through the air but land without almost no sound. For the most part, music disguises that throughout the performance and only in the quiet moments do I find myself appreciating the work in that quiet landing. I wonder about the sound my body produced, when I jumped and swung and flapped and spun to a throbbing beat.
I have been a dancer focused on the noise made by my feet. For sixteen years the shoes I wore while dancing dictated how my feet met the floor. In my soft shoes I landed with a whisper and with my hard shoes I landed with a crack. I think I was so taken by the dance club segment because it was only in my own similar moments of dance could I forget the sound I was supposed to make and instead enjoy how the sound made me feel.

Andrea Leveille

Final Project Abstract

Embracing the Subjective: Using Embodied Criticism and Autoethnography
as a panacea for the evaluative model of Art Criticism

This article aims to explore how embodied criticism and autoethnography can combine to offer an alternative to the traditional evaluative model of art criticism. Contemporary art criticism appears to be poised for radical change, with traditional print mediums being increasingly obsolete and the rise of social media and online platforms contributing to a glut of opinion with little depth. Embodied criticism offers the opportunity to situate the body as the production centre of knowledge, allowing multiple participants a position of authority when engaging critically with art. Autoethnography encourages its participants to look inward for political, social, and economic entanglements and then to shift their gaze outward to situate themselves within the larger context. Involving the potential arts audience in this process of meaning-making encourages non-experts to assume a role of authority, with the primary goal being an increase in the participation of the community in arts consumption and criticism.

Inspired by the form of Robert Mizzi’s “Unraveling Researcher Subjectivity Through Multivocality in Autoethnography” and the challenge put forth by Irit Rogoff, the author presents a vignette encompassing her embodied response combined with a mulitvocal autoethnographic exploration of her visit to the Audain Art Museum. Interspersing evocative narrative with the politically, socially and economically attached voices of Student, Spectator and Critic(al), the author is able to reveal the ambiguous, contradictory, and deeply vulnerable process of meaning making in critical art engagement. Afterwards she traces the roots of this critical approach from Walter Arnold, through Susan Sontag to modern scholars Peter Dickinson and Irit Rogoff.

The author includes an analysis of the benefits and challenges of this approach to art criticism. It’s non-traditional approach runs the risk of not being seen as legitimate in the conservative scholarly community. There is a risk that the audience will refuse to engage with the art, particularly if the critic is writing from a place of unpleasant embodied response. In the end, the benefits of a reciprocal dialogue between critic and audience and art outweigh the possible challenges. In presenting the deeply personal, the author concludes that an appetite for increased art consumption and engagement can be fostered.

Link to article

Andrea Leveille