Am I just getting old? For twenty years I have nourished an excessive distrust in anybody who and every thing improvisation. Fought it on endless battlefields, dismissed it categorically or even worse. I’ve been called names, and not only just a few because of this obsessive campaign like I was some sort of McCarthy of dance bingbong or a wahnsinnig dictator with a jazz beard [donno where that jazz thing came from but don’t you think a dictator with a jazz beard must be the worst of the worst] ready to lose every and all of it just to get improvisation out of my precious, and now and now and aging grey I’ve turned so weak I can’t carry my arguments, so grandfatherly my arguments have turned into withered parchment, soft ass and afraid of losing my last associates, last comrades, that I have given up on my dicta, lost sight of my tight ass arguments and gone yellow. Probably, but in the mean time…
One more time, there is a hell uf a difference, between liberty’s rigor and liberty itself, there’s light years between openness and the open. Liberty is easy peasy Japanesey and gives the subject opportunities of going on as if nothing has happened. Liberty in this sense implies nothing else than a tiny expansion of what was already possible, even and especially in relation to what already was possible, voila liberty is the expansion of the already available, in other words it feels great or at least good but désolé liberty is just fine, and like plaster in a stimulating pastel color. What needs to be considered is not liberty itself but what consequences new or altered forms of liberty necessarily produces. Liberty’s rigor is the pursuit of necessity in relation to altered circumstances of navigational capacities. We must not understand liberty as an open sexual relation, meaning, yeah now I can expand my territory to include the plumber, James Franco, Penélope and somebody with red hair [that would be really sweet and smiling], on the contrary liberty must be taken far more serious, way more serious, in the sense that it is not an expansion but rather an entirely new territory, it’s not another map, it’s an all together different map if at all a map. The introduction of some or other kind of liberty, through whatever means, is not the establishment of new opportunities, not at all, it’s rather the emergence of new forms of struggle, and new forms implies new means, new weapons – not simple change like flip siding whatever and continuing to do the same, no no liberty is or should mean the unconditional transformation of change itself. Liberty’s rigor in other words implies a process of becoming foreign to oneself and or to ones territory. So no, a rigorous open sexual or whatever relation, is not a yippee boogie-woogie time, essactly not it is instead a means to question the “essence” of sexuality itself. Liberty’s rigor in this respect might just make you not do the horizontal with any of them. Not even a little bit Penélope? Perhaps, just to be tedious yet another option could be to consider the difference, liberty is a probabilistic and it’s rigor implies a transference to contingent differentiation.
It’s obviously no accident that our current Western society is all up to liberty understood as expansion or the already available, it’s after all hand in glove with neoliberal governance especially with the addition, that seems currently ubiquitous, that liberty always is a concern for or of the subject, the individual. Who the hell today, would bother to care about the liberty of something grander than the subject – oh shit I forgot there is nothing grander than the subject, no bigger cause than subject. Oh no no, don’t misunderstand, the notion that the subject is the shit, that the obsession with certain modalities of subjectivity in our current predicament is in any way synonymous with being ego-centered, selfish, a rotten ass hole don’t give a shit about others and so on. No no these forms of subjectivity, this addiction to the subject is rather a state and corporate sanction to us all – and therefore democratic – to be absolutely and endlessly occupied with one’s own participation in the world. We live in a world where excessive self-obsessivity has become has become the preferred mode of care of the self, or even better where compulsive identity boosting has become a generous gesture.
Improvisation appears on the map somewhere in the mid 60s, sure thang dance has always been free and open mindedly executed but the circumstances for freer dance either Isadora D or whatever mystical nude shit they did in Germany at the wrong moment and with an American west cost thing as a precursor it is first with the 60s that improvisation coagulates into a terrain of practices and gains a sort of autonomous vocabulary [both in the sense of dancing but also and perhaps more importantly in language]. That improvisation appears at this particular historical moment is obviously not an accident, but correlates to all kind of emancipatory or liberation movements appearing here and there, especially in the US, from the early mid 50s, make that Cage or Pollock, Miles Davies or Allen Ginsburg in the arts and at least a handful in respect of subjectivity and life – women’s, educational, sexual, black and a general emancipation form a hyper homogenized America society, with hippies, self-precarisation, freeish education on a farm somewhere and organic life in the bush. These are the circumstances for the elaboration of dance’s relation to improvisation.
One would thus think that practitioners active in the time was like deep in a critical practice but were they? Or even better perhaps they have modulated their responses to what it all was w in order to produce enough mystery around themselves to still be relevant. In a panel discussion with Steve Paxton a few years ago, I made the slight mistake of asking him about exactly above and the circumstances for the NYC activities at the time. If those kids were discussing and actively questioning the epistemology of dance and it’s relation to other movements of emancipation, or even the politically necessity of an emancipated dance field. The expected or not intellectual articulation however was cancelled out by Steve responding: “Nah, you know we were just imagining stuff, like little fluffy clouds, mystical landscapes and rainbows.” It’s certainly beautiful and charming for sure, and hopefully just Mr Paxton who doesn’t want to stand out like some smart ass dude that wasn’t just body and more body. It’s indeed insane how deadpan he performs in the films form the 70s, producing a body seemingly void of subjectivity and this is perhaps what makes his response exiting, not mentioning rainbows and shit in the sense of enhancement of the subject or the self, but rather sort of psychedelic motive as a means of vanishing all together, of an annihilation of the subject.
But Paxton a side and with him his anti-locational response, an etymology can be traced. Improvisation in the late 60s and perhaps a decade or two further towards our own time had a job. A job which was to emancipate dance from a double violence. First a job to free the dancing subject from the hyper striated expressions of, either Balanchine, Cunningham or Graham, i.e. to free the dancer from the prison of generalized technique, hierarchical decision makings, choreography etc. and so on. It was a matter of emancipating the dancer from the hardship of choreography. Secondly and expanded this emancipation correlates to society in general, the emancipation of the dancer from choreography equally implies the emancipation of the subject, the individual from the, or some, homogenizing characteristics of the society at hand. Improvisation becomes a means to free the human, the person, the subject from his own chains.
This is all great and superbly lovely, improvisation totally had a job and I believer it did it successfully. Improvisation as concert dance, as display, further become a form of expression of “pure” creativity. This was obviously important in a world homogenized into so to say The Society, or where creativity must be understood as a scarcity. To attend a performance of improvisation dance implied to go check out a promise of other kinds of life, of other kinds of relations to one’s body, to augmented opportunities for being an individual, a woman, a sexual being that could surface desire and lust. Yes, even dance improvisation combined with some contemporary wkd-ish music, or like holy bananas a dancer improvising next to, through, between and in association with a double bass improviser could go through the eye of the needle of the aesthetically acceptable. Think about that, yes, think about that twice – and it was phantastic. It was a time where one could say the word exploration without being deadly ashamed or apologizing afterwards – “Oups, that came out wrong…”
Dance at this time prior to identity politics was also something that at least initially and with a certain ignorance could be experienced as autonomous, as something that was not comprised in language and not all the way embedded in text, signification and meaning production. Life was lovely and dance was somewhere hooked up with potentiality. At this time liberty itself was totally d’accord, whatever liberty proposed was a liberation to forms of recognizable resistances. To be creative, to fantasize was in itself an endeavor, something worth the trouble and that didn’t come easy.
And yes it was our obligation to practice open relations, sleep around and insist on experimental sex. A multiplicity of sexual partners, the denial of sexuality coagulating into family formations were in itself creative, emancipatory, a political necessity. Then, when you had braids and we didn’t know about men with longer hair life was amazing, and we went home together free and real. We improvised and could pride ourselves of Marxist ideals all the way to the boogie-woogie.