Spring has me thinking about dancing outside again and the wonderful two day visit Jennifer Monson made to us here in Ohio. It also has me wanting to create a new artist walk in the Ohio prairie. My family and I spent a morning up at Larry and Elaine Smith’s prairie restoration project in Butler County again this month. It is always an oasis for us and this time they needed volunteers to help with the prairie burn—a process that will renew life and allow for important seed germination and regrowth. Each time I’m there I feel inspired to give more people a special sense of this place and other sites of what Frances Moore Lappe calls “solution stories” amidst ecological crisis. The Smiths' work to restore native prairie supports an overwhelming abundance of life that is palpable the minute you step on the land.
And as artists we can also create solution stories. I think this is why I find myself drawn back to Jennifer Monson's creative residency last year with our Humane Technologies group and her work with iLand. Her visit left a treasure trove of ideas and inspiration for connecting with ourselves and our life worlds. The residency included a Dawn Workshop in which the prompts were simple yet powerful.. We spent an hour cycling through different sensations, outside, together but spaced out so as to be really alone. I also picked up a few tips from Jennifer’s example: have a good practical coat and keep a small notebook in a pocket for insights that pop up. And enjoy the light, whatever it is, the shifting landscape of light available. The dawn dancing made me think of the artist James Turrell and long for the desert even as I savored the verdant mid-western green. Give time after dancing outside for dancing inside and see what’s there. I found all manner of subtleties, odd rhythms and connections were possible that I don’t normally create. It was magnificent and Jennifer made lots and lots of space for the subtle ecologies to evolve.
Jennifer Monson's visit was an affirmation of what I know deeply but still somehow forget--that Improvisation and bodily research is so exciting and that the more we can use our expertise to open up spaces for collaboration and connection the greater the potential for delight. In her artist talk she started with the assertion that "improvisation is an important tool for understanding uncertain times," a notion that I find echoed in my own work and in that of many other dance artists today including other collaborators we've been working with over the past two years: Michelle Ellsworth, Noa Zuk and Ohad Fishof. Monson calls on us to "exceed the human in order to create ethical kinships and shared language around perception that moves across scales in an associative rigor, a poetics of knowledge." A few more snippets of wisdom gleaned from my notebook include Jennifer’s interest in “bio and geo-ontologies” and her practice of “folding and unfolding life and non-life”; her call for an ethics of care that is more than human; her assertion that intellectual triggers are bodily and that each time we engage in research “all we can do is propose a belief system for the amount of time we are working in”; her suggesttion to trying making seasonal performances (let's do it) and to measure sites with your body parts; references to Tim Ingold’s meshwork, Phil Orton on resiliency and Jodie Byrd on indigenous ontologies; the notion that facilitation of other people’s work magnifies your own; the fact that orientation is always in place and that in migration, movement itself may be more home than the landing place; the suggestion to dance outside in order to enhance your own perception and that the senses are the systems of the body; and at some point she said that “dancing is a conduit for bacteria” which I just kind of love. My main take away from our time together is to avoid fetishizing the site (think system not site) and that we need more parameters to ‘better understand a site (or system) as an equal collaborator. People define nature as trees and grass instead of seeing the continuum…dance describes an important experience with nature. When dancing outside you are changing your sense of time and space and the functionality is not mediated in the same way.”
Jennifer recommends we “bring our expertise to being a beginner.” And her main advice: hire great dancers. Join us outside for a dance?