By: Tarren Johnson
Lessons in Composing Chaos premiered March 21-23, 2012 in the Black and White Studio at CalArts. The interdisciplinary, multi-media performance piece for which I was choreographer, writer, and artistic director incorporated 15 collaborators. The initial inspiration was the concept of “smooth and striated space” developed by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari in their book A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (1987). Some of the dialogues that formed out of these concepts of space were questions concerning intentional and unintentional emergence of forms.
I’ve always had a strong interest in exception and mutation, what breaks the rule and re-organizes “the possible.” In other words, what redefines the relationship of the actual or pre-existing order to the potential or possible (what could be but isn’t yet). In those places–where existing ideas of reality fail and self-organizing forces restructure the limits of systems–I find the most inspiration and hope.
I was taking a class on the nature and history of Market Capitalism. Simultaneously I had been following the uprisings happening in Egypt and was specifically interested in flux, in the disruption and rewriting of the architecture of structures. Examinations into the processes of how systems establish, function, rupture, reassemble, mutate and disintegrate all became the foundation for the creation of the piece. I wanted to illustrate a variety of natural processes that emphasize the morph and decay of material form.
There were several ambitions. One of which was attempting to create a cohesive piece out of many moving entities that describe and embody non-linear transformations. How could the kinds of order/disorder found in organic structures inform a movement composition? Choreographically, I wanted to experiment with how bodies and movement could illustrate hypothetical conditions of space.
I was specifically interested in how the intelligibility of the body, the source of the body’s local autonomy, could rupture the conventional behavioral cues of the spaces it occupied. This idea was interesting to me in contrast to the traditional idea of protesting as a collective action that happens at a specific time. These personal revolts that reorganize the potential of what could be realized on the level of appearances merge dance and activism for me in an extremely satisfying way.
It came to me eventually, the image was a young rigid man sitting in a tub, slowly breaking, softening into malleability and becoming capable of change. I saw a strong vulnerability that I needed to illustrate with movement. There is something about an epiphany that is extremely disruptive and disorienting. I was looking for that kind of euphoric disruption in the bodies of the dancers. Together we would practice becoming capable of influence and affectation but remaining forceful agents able to take form and cause change.
Once the project emerged, I submitted proposals for funding to the School of Dance and the Provost’s Office, which offers Interdisciplinary Grant Awards. We received the funding, and I spent the summer researching, planning, and choreographing for the following semester. I chose dancers that stood out to me for a variety of reasons; I wanted people that were going to be comfortable with an unconventional way of working. We rehearsed regularly for about 6 months and were thrilled to share our work.
I wanted to make the experience of watching the piece very particular, so we utilized the experimental space as an installed environment in hopes of removing the inherent comfort of the viewers’ removed position and redefining their relationship to the dancers and the space. I was going for immersion. We had over 50 tree stumps arranged and scattered in the far corner of the room.
As the audience wandered into the space, there was nothing but a man in a tub with his back turned and the wood. It looked like an enchanted forest had been hacked down and all that remained were these stumps, 50 giving trees. I enjoyed watching how people reacted to sitting much lower to the ground and the confusion and discomfort they experienced having to sit much closer together than in a formal audience. Once the show started there was an ambience of motion that made it impossible to take in the entire room. The effect was a sense that you could miss something at any minute, with the intent that eventually each viewer would have to surrender to the limits of what can be seen at any one time. The piece was a long transition with no clear beginning or destination.
On to the next endeavor. For those interested and around Los Angles this summer, a team of artists and architects are building a discreet experimental art gathering place where the next series of work will be presented. For more information please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tarren Johnson is a BFA3 in Dance.