Laurie Van Wieren’s 4×4 = 100 Choreographers Dancing Outside

I was one of the 100 choreographers. I improvised movement for the duration. My experience was brief, internal and wet, but that is not what I will write about.

You say ‘grid’ and I think ‘Cartesian coordinates.’ Then: how human bodies are not straight lines or right angles but we find (or make) straight lines and right angles in (with) them. Then: that tension between bodies and lines, between meaty flesh and abstract thought, and of the mind in them both. I try not to get caught up in dualities and dichotomies, but I use them to tease out more hidden ideas.

1.  100 choreographers do not take up much space in one hundred 4′ x 4′ squares. But many of them will look for the loopholes, try to make themselves stand out or be heard, cross boundaries (spoken or unspoken), and/or push the rules (explicit or implied). (And thank god for that, really. Conformity can still be a useful enemy.)

2.  There was still a kind of front, a best view, although this ‘front’ could appear on any of the four sides (although maybe the slope and Ms Van Wieren’s initial position gave a little preference to the north side). But those in the middle will always be obscured (hello, mid-career artists!) And there are always rows and columns, or alleys and walls, within the grid. Relationships of all sorts become important. (Make a note of that.)

3.  So to me this suggests that the coordination among the movement will, for the audience, inevitably be one of those landscapes where what you see is what you get and those who want to find moments or images of synchronicity or coordination are able to. A table where ‘enjoying’ is on the same ad hoc committee as ‘understanding.’ But what about the bigger idea? Because as Mr Cage was keen to remind us in his day, sitting in your room with your window open and listening to the traffic was as valid an aesthetic pursuit as sitting in a concert hall listening to David Tudor play a prepared piano. Now that’s no longer the case. At least, not in the same way. Because when his thoughtful comparative gesture is encumbered by decades of interpretation and rationalization, it tends to lose its complexity and trickle down into the pseudo-postmodern half-baked dismissal that “everything is relative.” Certainly today many people can make a landscape or chance-based composition or a work in which all elements are designed to be on equal footing. But we no longer see these things with virgin eyes — even those who come fresh from some sheltered womb. Not because everything is relative, but because the dead can only speak with our voices. It’s all already changed. That’s pretty much what history means.

4.  Given that this took place in the Walker Art Center’s Open Field program, we know that no money changed hands, it took place in a semi-public space, and it was meant to involve a larger public: bringing people together by means of art production. (Huh. That didn’t get us very far.)

5.  Because I know of her, her history, her work, and her thinking, I’m pretty sure there was more going on with Ms Van Wieren’s 100 Choreographers than an experiment with relativity or throwing an art-party. (But even if I couldn’t tell Ms Van Wieren from a potted plant, I would think that it would be easy to come to the conclusion that there is more to 4×4. But who cares.)

6.  What wasn’t taken into account — or at least not taken into account in the same way as the construction of the grid and the arrangement of the choreographers — was the sudden and drenching rain. (I decline all invitations to impose meta-whatever significance to systems as complex and pervasive as the weather. In my experience, rain makes things wet. Beyond that it’s up to you and your personal deity to determine its meaning.) Nonetheless, this rain was a significant factor in the experience of this performance.

What did the piece do?
The grid did what grids do, impose an order. But impose what kind of order on what kind of chaos? (See, now we’re into another dichotomy that again arranges our thoughts into nice straight lines. And it can be so hard to retain them in unadulterated arrangements.)

100 choreographers. As acknowledged, there are well over 100 choreographers in the community. The grid provides a sample.  Sort of like an archeologist marking off a grid at a dig site, it provides a set of boundaries within which you investigate, explore, discover, analyze, move thinking along its path. In the grid, because it is theoretically infinitely extendable, you know you aren’t seeing everything. You have a sample — which may not even be representative, but is by design finite. The abstraction of the grid sets it apart from whatever occurs within it. It becomes a tool, distinct from the object — despite being intimately a part of it.

Choreography. There are not only a zillion possible movements, not only a zillion possible ways of moving, a zillion ways of determining how movement is generated, learned, taught, or performed, there are also a zillion possible fundamental understandings of choreography. Even had Ms Van Wieren’s piece lasted the full half hour, these possibilities could not be explored. So what kind of investigation, exploration, or analysis is possible with this arrangement of grid and choreographers?The grid helps us start to approach these multiplicities with a little specificity.

Possibilities. Certainly this is not a scientific exploration. And I would bet that any kind of direct- or single-correlative experience would fall short of being anything more than a personal idiosyncratic perspective. Here’s what I think: The kind of investigation, exploration, or analysis that Ms Van Wieren’s work here makes possible is:

1.  A space for resistance. Dance is infamously the underfunded rat under the arts table, scrabbling for survival. What does it mean to survive as a choreographer — as an artist? What are the expressions of artistic impulse? Where do play, disruption, and commentary (for example) speak in the multiple changing voices? Here on the hillside is a space where these resistances are made visible.

2.  An emphasis on relationships. Diversity (a fraught term already) is context-dependent. Within this grid it becomes possible to see the relationships not only between bodies, but between aesthetics, styles, identities, etc. Consequently it becomes possible to see whatever part of the community arises here not as a collection of individual voices, but as a complex of relationships among them. We can see the web, the net, that exists here rather than the multiple points where they are rooted.

3.  Surpass enjoyment as understanding. I’m sure 100 Choreographers was enjoyable. But in this space of resistance where relationships supersede the individual, it is possible to spend the time making choices about what to look at, to think about what you are seeing. Rather than stopping at a moment of awe or spectacle (“Wow. Look at all of them. I get to look at whatever I want to.”) this piece provides an opportunity to pay attention. To particularize your view, not only of the individual choreography you choose to watch, but also to particularize your view of the community and of choreography in general. Not relativity but attention.

4.  A demonstration. We’re living in a center of interesting choreographic work. There are always too many shows to attend. 100 Choreographers allows us to see what we might be missing — or at least to recognize and demonstrate to a potentially broad audience the abundance. Maybe up next will be a recognition that arrives with economic support for the grassroots.

5.  Support and promote individual choreographers. Given Ms Van Wieren’s history it is no leap of faith to recognize the role 100 Choreographers plays in promoting the presence of the individuals on hand. More than the temporary glitz of a showcase, this was part of a larger effort to give visible substance to the community. For the participating choreographers, meeting those you don’t know, re-acquainting yourself with those you had met, taking part in a larger world, seeing the community that due to the exigencies of survival we are too often too lonely to see.

6.  The experience of rain. It danced with us.

Charles Campbell

4×4 = 100 Choreographers Dancing Outside

Laurie Van Wieren

Walker Open Field

July 12, 2014


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