This is the story that wants to be written. It will not escape me, despite all attempts to re-embody another memory. So therefore I must question why these readings have birthed this recollection. What does post-modernism have to do with a childhood memory?
It is dark outside, and I am siting in the backyard of The James Geddy House in Colonial Williamsburg. I am eight years old and alone, waiting for the rest of the cast to arrive. A mixture of fear and freedom washes over me and in my waiting I feel alive. This place is both exotic and comforting, a strange juxtaposition of sensations. A few hours later I am in the midst of yet another performance of Christmastide at Home, a series of short plays scattered throughout the historic area. Audiences walk from place to place, stumbling across enactments of families celebrating the holidays. I am Nancy Geddy, a spirited child who will not follow the appropriate decorum expected of a young lady. I am suddenly overwhelmed with the urge to improvise my lines. I can not, will not say the exact thing again. So I play, remaining in the scene, but responding in a way that feels unrehearsed; I am no longer acting.
This is my postmodern break, the beginnings of my very own NO manifesto. No to Broadway, National Tours, and repertory companies, no to long stints of the same performance. Since Christmastide at Home, I have never performed the same work more than a handful of times. To this day, I have the same impulse as the early post-modern choreographers of the sixties, let me perform the “one-night-stand” (Banes xxvii).
This radical no changed my relationship to my work as a historical interpreter. I began to see the interconnectedness between my life and the life of an eighteenth century child. I was no longer acting. In that moment, I not only embraced the spontaneity and liveness of improvisation, but I also experienced the difference between representing and presenting. I dropped Nancy Geddy as a character, the scene as a fictional situation, and instead followed my impulses in the moment. In other words, I ceased to view the work as a theatrical drama but as an extension of life.
Karen Nelson said that in order “to learn contact improvisation, you have to go through the invention of it.” As I read Banes’ introductions I realize that in many ways my progression as an artist has mirrored the trajectory she has outlined. The history of postmodernism resides in my body. I have rebelled against the specified, technical vocabulary of ballet, an art form I trained in for years. My transition from ballet to modern dance was ironically the work of Merce Cunningham in a class taught by Brenda Daniels at ADF. Over time the weird postmodern dance I saw that summer began to call to me as I became disillusioned with virtuosic dancing. I was sick of doing and seeing arabesques in all their many forms. I began to seek out performance opportunities in nontraditional venues, where I danced in my own clothes and was pushed to reconsider what dance could be. My current solo work in many ways reflects the spiritual and healing function that many artists sought in the seventies as I make sense of my mother’s cancer diagnosis. Yet, in all my many memories dancing, that cold December night when I was eight years old sticks out the most. It was my departure point into postmodernism because my approach to art making shifted, I began a process of questioning, a reconsidering of how and why things are as they are.
This paper is a postmodern act; a written dialogue with my lived experience in order to make sense of the term. Like the artists of the eighties, I have used my story to consider the complexity of contemporary dance. My meditation on postmodernism is driven by a memory I could not shake, a defining moment in my career, a radical No and a slide into a new way of thinking.
Written in response to:
Charles Jencks, "The Postmodern Agenda," in Jencks ed., The Post-Modern Reader (St. Martin's Press, 1992) 10-39.
Sally Banes, "Introduction: Sources of Postmodern Dance" and "Introduction to the Wesleyan Paperback Edition," Terpsichore in Sneakers: Post-modern Dance(Wesleyan UP, 1987) 1-19 and xiii-xxxix.
This is a blog of processes. Through the sharing of media and writing I am following my impulses, teasing out and unpacking, translating, solidifying, and making concrete my investigations into something that can be shared.