to my daughter Bea, who never ceases to move or move me
A more than obvious turn of phrase: let’s put movement at the beginning of it all. Before movement, there is a movement, a change or an intensification that leads to movement. A turn to movement or the turn for movement to be. I am interested in this noun, this concept, this inscription, “turn,” that bears the trace of an action, the trace of a subject and a body that has already disappeared in its becoming word, a subject and a body that perhaps disappeared in the act of turning: I turn. Of course, in English, the subjects multiply, proliferate, become a community: They turn, you turn, we turn. In Spanish, I am left to turn alone. In English, the action of that community also contains a command, a suggestion, or perhaps an invitation, that comes before or simultaneously with the action: hey, you! Turn to movement, let’s turn to movement, together. Of course, I turn to movement now, today, as a return: I was a professional dancer for thirty years, I moved through classical ballet in Puerto Rico, to modern and jazz in Boston, to postmodern dance in New York. I specifically refused to turn to movement as a critical discipline: movement was what I did, the careful action of my body dancing, the alert tuning of my body, the necessary submission to the discipline, the agreed acceptance of becoming a dance with others, paradoxically becoming more and less myself, less and more free through the process.
So the idea here is first to define the conditions of this turn to movement, with words. That is to say, to define the specific movement of dance, to lay out the questions that arise when we think about dance and movement, and then, to consider its extension unto the page and the archive, the appearance of dance in literature and the possibility of dance’s afterlife in its documents and ephemera. These are the questions that ground my course “Gestures, Movement, Literature” in NYU New York, and the questions that our contributors to this issue of Esferas have considered in their writing, drawings, photographs.
When we consider the phrase “Turn to movement,” we are not immediately aware of a body, or a subject. Indeed, in this phrase, the subject and the body are seemingly “not there;” they are purposely disengaged to give visibility only to movement, to consider the possibility of its existence without the subject. Now, this possibility is real: movement exists everywhere without a subject. This displacement of the subject is paramount: let us first take the subject out of it, let us consider, for an instant, the possibility of the subject not being, of the subject not being first. Why this move? We want to free movement from the subject, we want to allow it to be freely in space, even to question its location. In the poems “Meditación sobre la violencia,” by Áurea Sotomayor, and “Fracaso del ojo” by Juan Carlos Quintero Herencia, we witness movement’s being as a becoming everything and a becoming nothing, either disengaging itself from the body (Sotomayor), or, indefinite, marking on the page the very impossibility of the mark (Quintero Herencia). Áurea Sotomayor also gives us, in “Lección de estética: el salto,” the body that is and weighs without being there, the materiality of its sense.
And we want to free the subject from a specific movement, so that the subject, deciding to dance, may decide to move, or decide to remain still, to move forward or to turn, to suspend itself before deciding to turn to movement. So that the dancing body may have the potential to make decisions. Artist Viveca Vázquez speaks in “Error” from this difficult place of freedom: the need for an “atrevimiento” (audacity, daring) that poses the error as the ultimate contingency of singularity in movement. When movement is, and when movement happens, what is the relationship of the subject to this movement? In some instances, movement is what the body does; in others, what is done with or to the body. As we turn to the movement of dance, we want to remember this precarious connection of the body with movement, of the subject with movement. There are several degrees of involvement, investment, and attachment, of the subject and the body in movement, several degrees of agency, several degrees of appropriation of movement, and of the movement of dance.
This disengagement of the subject that turns is absolutely temporary, although we can make it last as long as we want in our discussion, and bring it back later. We can also keep it out, for the moment, to mark the unquestionable ephemerality of the art of dance: in the performance of the art of dance, the body appears in movement only immediately to disappear: Peggy Phelan tells us that this disappearance is the very ontology of dance. So when the words “turn to dance” appear, the dance has either finished or is about to begin. The word turn, on its own, signals this disappearance: for with every moment of the turn, there is an aspect of the body that disappears from sight. As a consequence, the word turn also implies a transformation; at the very least, it marks a change of view. This ephemerality, and the question of the archive, is the main question that Charalambia Louka addresses in “José Limón y el movimiento fotográfico”: What is it that we photograph when we photograph dance? It also drives our interview with Cuban dancer Caridad Martínez, whose exquisite performance of Dolores Santa Cruz with Ballet Nacional de Cuba, and, indeed, the entirety of the performance of Gustavo Herrera’s turn to dance of Cecilia Valdés, has been lost seemingly forever and only remains in fragmented archives that demand to be reconstituted.
Turn to movement: As a verb, turn brings back the subject into our space. In the present tense, it marks the here and now of movement, the absolute certainty with which I, you, we, or they, turn. It makes time visible as duration. All these subjects, taken with or against each other, define the ultimate paradox of the undecidability of the subjects in dance: the subject in dance is at the very limit of being most itself and least itself, of being most alone, and most with others. Dance is not, by definition, the coming to be, the formation or the transformation of a subject. It is, however, its coming into visibility, alone, or with others, depending on the dance. It is also not, by definition, the formation of a community. However, it allows for its formation and formulation. So we bring the subjects back to have a discussion about their identity and their coming to be alone or with others.
As a command (even if expressed as a fun suggestion), turn to movement makes discipline appear. And rules. The command calls out for a motion to occur. A certain kind of motion: “Turn,” I tell you! Of course, this command signals a commanding voice, and a subject that accepts the command in order to attain the discipline of the body and to perform the movement. Of course, considered historically, the bodies enter into movement with varying degrees of subjection, and this is why dance and dance movement are often used to talk about the subjection, not of bodies in dance, but of bodies in history. Seen within the reign of dance, the command implies the presence of a choreographer who sets the language of the body, its discipline, its motion, within a certain style, a certain aesthetic. So the command makes history and the history of aesthetics appear as a relationship between a leader, a choreographer, and a body or a set of bodies. As a command, then, turn to dance calls into question the very possibility of freedom. As an aside, my answer to that question: the mark of a true dancer is the potential to enter into movement or take movement into the body and make it movement, no matter the style or the cultural marks present in the body. That is to say, to achieve only movement, to make movement visible as movement. I understand the dangers of this proposition: the history of dance and of dance criticism have been grounded in their relationship to history and politics, and certain types of dance have been used symbolically, must be used, to represent varying degrees of subjection or body control. So, for example, modern dance “frees” the body from its entrapment in classical ballet; postmodern dance “frees” the body from the illusion of modernism and its “erroneous” detachment from reality, and avails itself of stasis and suspension as a way to comment on the drive towards movement of modernity, at the expense of movement itself; improvisation “frees” the body from the commands of a scripted choreography or even from the self that dances. I understand the dangers of our proposition: by guiding movement to a potential disengagement, we are not seeking a naïve reading or a de-politicization of the field. Our introduction does not seek to deny the possible articulations that may be found between styles of dance, history, and politics; what it seeks to do, however, is to detach dance styles from an inevitable conclusive critique.
Of course, once we make these bodies appear, and command them into movement, we must agree that these bodies or sets of bodies are visible and marked by their history (their race, their gender, their time and place). So, of course, we may think of their movement historically, and politically. What this means is that we may look at the presence of dance historically as a way of tracing the definition of bodies in history, their coming together in movement, and, specifically, in the movement of dance. We may question the inevitability of their marks (their race, their gender, their time and place), or find places where movement makes these marks most visible. Or, seeing their marks, we may see in these dances through history the place where movement reigns and the marks disappear, or cease to have the same import. Or we may look at dance as that which allows for bodies to come together, politically, either to accept a command or to resist. In the work of Alicia Díaz, and in her essay “Deep Listening” where she talks about the making and performance of the improvisational piece “Deep Listening” (done in collaboration with Puerto Rican percussionist Héctor “Coco” Baez), we witness the process of articulating a body that explores the very existence and meaning of these marks of race, gender, and identity, and understands those marks not as a given, but as part of a process of attention and consciousness. In Caridad Martínez’s interview we witness both the paradox of a body that feels most comfortable defying gravity in the moves of classical dance and the easy accessing of the rhythm of the clave to “speak” the specific role of the ex-slave Dolores Santa Cruz in Cecilia Valdés. And in Nina Chausow’s “Hombres en faldas” the markings of gender are set under erasure as Chausow ponders the contradiction and the contra-traditions produced by flamenco’s bailaores dressed in skirts.
Turn to movement: All of my thoughts thus far reflect on current theories of movement, of the movement of dance. We chose the title of our issue as well as a way of marking what appears to be the turn to movement, and not just movement, but dance movement, in philosophy and criticism. From Alain Badiou, to Giorgio Agamben, to Jacques Ranciére, to Marie Bardet, to André Lepecki, to Andrew Hewitt, to Mark Franko, to Peggy Phelan, to many others, contemporary thought seems to have turned to dance and its movements as a way to define thought, subjects, bodies, objects. Each of these thinkers has turned to movement, and to dance, differently: Badiou is interested in tracing the place where movement as intensification meets with thought, following the philosophy of Nietzsche and the writing of Stéphane Mallarmé. Giorgio Agamben seeks to define the very word “movement” and to define its place, as a condition for the understanding of politics and political movements and the relationship of movements and gestures to their ends. André Lepecki has delved into many of the intersections of dance with critical thought, and as he continues to write and edit books about dance and criticism he poses serious questions about subjectivity and subjection, absence, presence and the ephemeral, stasis and motion, bodies and objects, as key questions to think politically about dance. Indeed, Lepecki moves through and beyond dance permanently to bind the political to the kinesthetic:
[…] the choreo-political question remains, of identifying what forces and apparatuses, non-metaphorically and daily, choreograph subjection, mobilization, subjugation and arrest; of figuring out how to move in this contemporaneity; and of understanding how, by moving (even if still) one may create a new choreography for the social. As long as these questions remain relevant, dance will remain a crucial practice and system of critical thought within the aesthetic regime of contemporary art (André Lepecki, Dance, 2012).
We are particularly fortunate to reproduce in our journal the work of two of these thinkers, André Lepecki and Marie Bardet. André Lepecki’s work, “9 Variations on Things and Performance,” is important given the turn to materialism in criticism and the always precarious condition of the subject. Our translators into Spanish and Portuguese (Edgardo Núñez and Carlos Veloso) make evident from the beginning of their translations what appears to be an intentional paradox in Lepecki’s writing: even as he seeks to establish the relationship of bodies and objects in dance as a possible way of working through the “apparatus” of history, politics, and economics, he starts and ends his work talking about our “investment” in objects. What are we to make of this verbal economy? We were interested in performing this translation as a way of showing the movement inherent in the act of translation itself, and the presentation of movement as an unveiling of sense. Nicole Duffy Roberston, in her article “Léonide Massine and Joan Miro’s Jeux d’Enfants: Children’s Games as Radical Reinvention,” tackles the relationship of bodies and objects in space to reveal what at the time was a kind of violent relationship seeking to undo the integrity of subjects and objects. Not a child’s game, after all. Or is it?
Marie Bardet stands in my view as one of the key philosopher/dancers of our time, without whom no thinking about dance, philosophy and literature is ever complete. In the article she offers to Esferas this time, “Extensión de un cuerpo pe(n)sando,” Bardet extends the discussion on weight and thought present in her book Pensar con mover (first published in French in 2008 and then in Spanish in 2012) by studying the relationship between the choreographer and dancer Mathilde Monnier and the philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy. How to measure weight, and the weight of sense, or the sense of weight, in the relationship between dance and philosophy? How can we measure the approach and distancing inherent in the relationship between thought and movement? What is the sense of bodies in motion? How do we understand gestures as neither interior nor exterior, but rather a form of “outsiding?” Marie Bardet verbalizes what all dancers, moved by attention to attention, simply know.
Turn to movement, in literature: the quest is not only to think about dancing on its own terms, but about the movement of dance unto the page. My belief is that there is yet a history of dance in literature to be written, and that this writing will allow us to find new readings of history and politics. My belief is also that to think about dance and movement in philosophy and literature may provide an alternative or a clarification to the current studies on materialism in literature. So I turn to movement with my scholars in class, and they accompany me in what I feel is unchartered territory. Alice Blumenfeld, an NYU alumna and flamenco dancer and teacher, presents an intellectual autobiography of her relationship between words and movement. Zainab Kazmi explores the question of identity and dance in Miguel de Cervantes’s La gitanilla. Luka Douridas pierces through dance and ethics in Almodóvar’s Hable con ella. Veronica Carchedi’s second chapter of her thesis on Andrés Caicedo ¡Que viva la música!, which appears on the section reserved for this year’s honor theses, explores the relationship of dance to gender and violence. And as we work on the intersection between dance and literature, I am delighted to be able to share an interview with choreographer Oscar Aráiz, initially published in Página 12, that details the turn to dance of Julio Cortázar’s short story “Torito,” and allows us to understand movement and gesture in Julio Cortázar otherwise.
I save for last what is perhaps my greatest debt. The cover to our issue—as well as one of the texts in this section—belongs to visual artist, writer, and dear friend Eduardo Lalo. Many of you may know Puerto Rican Eduardo Lalo as the winner of the Rómulo Gallegos prize (2013) for his novel Simone (2012). The drawings that accompany his text are part of a new project on which he will be working throughout this year, of drawings on the pages of an agenda book that has already been marked with writing. The drawings, done with fountain pen and ink, embody the very notion of writing as the movement of the body to the page, dancing on the page, which, in the text that he offers us, shows its inevitable political pulse.
I have not spoken about the gaze: I will leave the gaze out. You, however, will not. Marie Bardet, Viveca Vázquez, Eduardo Lalo, indeed, all of our writers, in one way or another, address the gaze in, of, at movement. Turns complicated, doesn’t it?