‘Marine Venus II’: Improvised Dance. Dalhousie University campus, Halifax, N.S. Nov. 18/2018

From “Mental Notes before/after a dance improvisation: Nov. 18, 2018”

On November 18, 2018, I asked my childhood friend (and now accomplished Halifax-based dance artist) Jacinte Armstrong to join me for an improvised dance at a very special site on the Dalhousie University Campus: the campus’s ’embarrassing’ statue called ‘Marine Venus,’ pictured above. A few months earlier, Jacinte kindly performed there at my request for my father on father’s day; he returned this time to witness the second Marine Venus performance. It was a cold day in Halifax, Sunday morning; the campus was mostly empty. It was, as ever, good to dance. These are the notes I made after.

Today I dance my ‘precarious’ self; I feel time accumulating in me, and with it a whole history of loss, calcified in my joints as vague tension, a register of fleeting youth. For a moment, I am afraid. I both want and do not want You to see me. Will You look away or hate me because, like everyone, I grow old and die? Will You turn away from me if I expose the reality of this body to you? My body is not an ideal, but an ever changing course of living ideas, a constant archive of discovery and loss. This body is strong by times, frail by times, foundationally dependent on circumstances beyond my control, as it was in the beginning and will be in the end—I am, after all, strung between birth and death and try not to forget it too often. In between, I enjoy this brief illusion of independence, supported by the comfort of a whole philosophical and legal tradition based on the illusion of a solitary, heroic self, acting “on” the world.(1) But my ‘independent self’ feels particularly illusory today; it is cold outside, I am walking across my old home town with my father, and I feel both memory and the weather acting on me. I am exposed. And soon, I will perform, for You.

And who are ‘You,’ anyway, that I should, in this moment of imminent exposure, put my life in your hands? I will of course cover up, as I do inevitably every time I try to ‘appear.’ Even after years of experimental performance, I can never quite dare a full exposure…Behind every imminent exposure lives in me the (inherited?) fear of censure, the fear of deviance—and with censure, with deviance, ultimately the fear (however vague) of exile or confinement.(1) Will the polis cast me to the ‘wolves’ or lock me in a dungeon? Certainly, this happens to bodies in various ways even to this day, often backed up by the force of ‘legitimate’ law. Certainly, the law has inscribed itself on my body in such a way that I ‘know’ without thinking about it how I am and am not permitted to move.

Despite these myriad inscriptions, my body partakes today in the privilege of relative freedom. Today, in the rarified space of ‘performance,’ I can move, really, any way I want to. Desire, for these moments, is free to initiate movement in any direction. Can I use this freedom to dance for and with an imagined community of exiles and prisoners? Probably not. Better, today, to dance for and with ‘myself.’ No cause to protect me, just this precarious little self that wants, in spite of everything, to ‘appear,’ to ‘perform,’ to ‘express’ more than to ‘be seen.’ This desire is, maybe, an act of power and a protection against my own precarity*…. And so, despite the risk, I walk out into the cold stage we have chosen for our performance today, beside a strange sculpture on the Dalhousie University Campus. Walking out on this ledge that is not a ledge, hiding behind a snowbank with my dance partner, my body decides in this moment to dance anyway. It is fitting that, for this dance, we have an audience of “only” one. We dance for ‘You.’

Notes:

  1. I am in law school, and the collective faith in a single, unitary ‘lego-juridical’ subject is hard for me to ignore these days; I am ever-aware of the ghosts of philosophies past that cling to this ‘subject,’ and militate adherence to its reality.
  2. I read Foucault’s Madness and Civilization this past summer, and his thoughts on confinement have clearly influenced me here, allowed me a way, maybe, to articulate the fear of confinement and exile I have kind of always felt. My friend Adra and I read Madness and Civilization together, meeting once a week on the deck of the local rec centre pool to discuss. Foucault’s images of madness (and its even madder management) are forever mixed in my brain with images of ‘here comes everybody,’ in bathing suits, in the delightfully democratic environment of the rec centre pool. Here is a photo of us at ‘reading group,’ with the resident plastic octopus sculpture that served as our own ‘ship of fools,’ as per Foucault’s reference in the opening chapter of M & C.
Adra and Kristen at the pool.
  1. I was reading, incidentally, Nietzsche in the days immediately preceding the performance, and Judith Butler in the hours immediately following it. These clearly influenced my thinking. The tension between a Nietzschean act of self-overcoming and a realization of my own fragility and incapacity to perform that over-coming in moments in time are clearly at play in my pre/post thoughts here. As for Butler, my first exposure to her work (which I am still digesting) came after this performance; her thoughts on performativity and precarity are only coincidentally/tangentially related, if at all, to my own–though I probably used the word precarity here in part because of reading her on the flight home. 
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