Entry by Daisy Thompson:
Henry plans to begin initial choreographic investigations for John Cage’s ‘Haikai’ (1986) in January 2012. As research assistants, Nancy Tam and I have begun our own research on the use of the I-Ching and chance methods by Cage and choreographer Merce Cunningham.
Our work will involve looking at influences and correlations between these two men; how audiences interpreted their ideas in the 1950’s and 60’s; why they were looking for alternative means to create work; and especially how religious/philosophical ideas inherent in the Buddhist tradition became relevant to art practices at that time. What is most exciting for Nancy and myself is the fact that we feel as if we are actually in conversation with both Cage and Cunningham, engaging in lively debate about the direction of their ideas and artistic choices.
These two men, and many others at the time, were trying things that challenged the ‘norm’ in their respective disciplines. Cunningham sought to overcome strong tendencies toward narratives or stories in dance, as well as emotionally expressive movement that seemed burdensome to some audiences, and an overly dependent relationship between music and dance. Under the influence of Cage, Cunningham used the I-Ching to ‘produce something that his own experience might not’, allowing an ‘otherness’ to make compositional decisions about the order of movement phrases and spatial arrangements. He also worked with visual artists such as John Jaspers and Robert Rauschenberg (among others) who were also challenging established methods and approaches within their medium.
Nancy and I also talked about our own pursuit of ‘otherness’ in our work, in the sense that we are interested in methods and approaches that lead us away from the ‘normative’, which of course leads me to ask the following questions. What precisely do we see as normative in this second decade of the 21st century? How is my own work as a young choreographer and performer categorised or viewed by others? Am I as a graduate student circling back on ideas already formed and tested by history? And if so, what can I add to the discourse on dance and music that is different?