I started choreographing when Reagan was elected. My first solo dance (Lack of Entrepreneurial Thrift, 1980) was influenced by a carnival of radicalisms: in Judson Dance Theater, in experimental poetry & film, in the music of free improvisation, in the probes of radical theory. I wanted to anchor my choreography within a consciousness and push for political/social/artistic change—to continue exploring where I thought Judson left off, to dance through the doors that these radical artists had left open. I thought risky experiments, new artistic collectives, and fresh cross fertilizings of forms could happen again; something similar to Judson was possible again.
I wanted each movement I made to problematicize a social event, even within one body—to acknowledge that a body in tension, with holding patterns and social markings, revealed an intimate connection between the body and action in the world. I hoped to take to the limit some of how and what we could know with the body—to construct an awareness of the physical/material means by which meaning (and the pleasure of meaning or even nonsense) can be produced with movement.
There was to be little in the way of transition movements, easy filler, ‘logical’ sequence, ‘organic’ phrasing. Nothing was calculated to soothe or confirm a normalcy that inhabited the dance world and kept it colonized by the social world. The point was to unknow, to get beyond the skills and training that would predict the usual results. The body was working to represent the location, the transmission, the translation of culture—calm & settled, or dizzily shook up. Digested experience shapes muscle tone, I figured: after purposely subjecting my work (and myself) to them, all attempts at refinement must fail. I wasn’t going to plug into norms so that I could happily live with what I no longer had to think about. The social and the chaotic were to become the frontier. (Humor would help.)
Radiating around this political stance were some basic decisions informing my choreography for years to come:
* Units of movement would be presented with maximum juxtaposition—drastic collage jettisoned hierarchies.
* No steps, no counts—to make the movement itself becomes more ‘accountable’ instead of being derived from an overall flow or working as a ‘pointer’. Gives more interpretation to the dancer.
* No familiar stylized dance movement. Socialization and training should be a question instead of taken for granted as pre-codified information.
* De-emphasize pedestrian or repetitious movement. Gives more moment-to-moment interpretive pleasure to the audience. Boredom is reactionary.
Although now, 24 years later, it’s harder to imagine these ideas having the possibility of broad-based social momentum behind them, trying to build models for the expansion of creativity and unhabituated experience is still a part of my work.
The body is always yet to be composed.
Sally Silvers has made more than 60 dances for Sally Silvers & Dancers, written many essays, articles, and poems, co-directed two dance films, choreographed three musicals, and has been known to play the blender as a musical instrument. Her next performances are at St. Mark’s Church Danspace, June 10-13.