Gregory Holt

Gregory Holt is a Philadelphia choreographer, improvisor, and performer. He studied Linguistics and Dance at Swarthmore College, and Movement Research and Performance at the Institute for Dance Art in Linz, Austria, where he teaches dance theory and research methods. He was a 2011 Live Arts Brewery Fellow through the Philadelphia Live Arts
Festival.
 

More from Gregory Holt

Boards, Geometry, Choreography

Boards, Geometry, Choreography

As part of the Day of Dance we played with an interactive installation Boards, where long wooden planks disrupt a projection of a still figure aimed at a flat wall.

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Postcards from a dance

Sometimes the dance becomes more than itself, not because it means anything or represents anything, but because it can give an experience of the connections between different kinds of awareness.

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Spread the word

I WILL CHOREOGRAPH THIS ESSAY! 10 movements for Susan Rethorst, all in a line.

By Gregory Holt, January 10, 2013
The meaning of choreography has transformed from referring to a set of protocols or tools used in order to produce something predetermined, i.e. a dance, to an open cluster of tools that can be used as a generic capacity both for analysis and production. - Mårten Spångberg
 
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1)      never write sitting down
2)      start in the middle
3)      rearrange it at least twice
4)      repeat yourself
 
I'm standing in front of my computer balanced on an upturned waste basket on top of a table in a house in Toronto watching the snow fall outside. This construct is the result of the choreography I am making out of writing about Susan Rethorst's process and up-coming work at Bryn Mawr College's Performing Arts Series. Why am I making a choreography out of writing? What do I think will happen, what is informing this process, and what does it have to do with Susan Rethorst?
 
 
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I met Susan two years ago, in a choreography workshop titled, like her recent book, 'Choreographic Mind.' She was not being abstract or esoteric- this was a very literal choice of words. The very first exercise we did was meant as a concrete, even didactic illustration: With a partner, and an assortment of objects we found at hand, we moved one object at a time, in turns.
 
“I see a lot of ideas here,” Susan responded, “ideas about space, relationship, use etc. This pen taken apart is an idea about construction. This aspirin bottle in a hat is an idea about humor.”
 
It's a simple observation- this is what happens when we move things around. This common experience forms the basis of choreography- but what makes the observation more than trivial?
 
This thinking is emergent.
This thinking is possible because we can move.
This thinking is occurs in collaboration with the environment.
 
 
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Susan's work has emerged at a time when research in psychology, linguistics, and cognition supports an understanding of cognitive processes as doings of the body operating in its environment- both in the accomplishment of immediate time-pressured mental tasks, but also in employment of spatial and movement schemas to solve speculative and counter-factual problems. Cognitive processes are spread through overlapping 'internal' capacities and the environment in which we find ourselves- making strategic use of the scaffolding available in that environment to distribute cognitive loads. The simplest example of this is writing things down- a blank piece of paper represents an opportunity to encode information for later reference. Another example is a well-arranged kitchen where you can just reach for the thing you need most often. Another example is the way we track information- choosing a block from a group of all of the same color offers different solutions for processing information than choosing from a group of blocks of all different colors.
 
Ok, so my environment is full of information, and it suggests flows of information. I can use strategic points of that to both minimize what I need to process and to track developments/changes. I know what I know because of experiences I had through my perception, and metaphoric extrapolations from those sensational experiences. Further, I use mental constructs which mimic my experience of space and movement to deal with complex problem solving. What does this mean for choreography? What happens when the environment and the process are both the movement of human bodies?
 
 
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Susan's process suggests that the cognitive utility of space and movement is also a creative utility, a sensorial experience with more complex possibilities than simply efficient information processing or memory storage. So space and how we use it can be expressions of movement principles for their own sake, a dance of the inherent affordances of relationships and previous encounters taking on a life of their own to create knowledge- the understanding of information in application.
 
When creating a dance, Susan isolates a certain range of _______, and begins to experience the internal structure of those parts moving against one another.
 
 
When I choreograph my writing, I recognize that my writing is a literal extension of my body, my body's processes have extended themselves to fully incorporate this virtual page- I make this page an organ, a limb. Like my entire body, like all my senses, like my ability to think/imagine/feel- the movement of these creates their capacity to bear meaning, but movement itself will resist any attempt to mean something.
 
If I apply choreographic principles to the production of this non-dance writing work, I am forcing a more-than-practical relationship to my situation. I am searching for a way to re-experience writing, to change the way my body is moving, to network new relationships between my words. If I know that my thinking is embodied, and that it relies on the movement of information in its environment, can I apply that knowledge not in the service of the smooth operation of this process, its disappearance, but apply that knowledge in service of an aesthetic visibility?
 
I'm alert, active. Rocking my weight. I get tired, I decide to lie down. I'm distracted, disrupted in my task, but at the same time present. There is never a time when I don't know where I am writing from. This has put me in a ridiculous position.
 
 
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We create what we're doing by doing it.
 
One thing that interests me in the mind of Susan Rethorst's work is the emergent nature of her creation of material, the idea that her material enacts itself into a kind of order simply through her practice of returning to it. 
 
Dance does, acts, affects. Part of how it does, acts, affects is how we act on it... the perceiving changing the thing perceived. We invade it by watching, bringing all of our selves to it, as we do that, it affects us; it does something by being something... a tree can do the same, can do something to us in the ways it does and does not resemble us, in the ways our culture has made stories about trees, in the way our mother looked at trees, in the way we did or didn't have trees in the yard.
 
The history of science has shown that the study of anything has to simultaneously create the field which is studied- there is no objective material out there passively waiting to be described by an observer. Nature, my anatomy, my sex, physics- none of it exists in any meaningful way without the social and political consolidation of that material. With choreography as a medium, a consolidation has taken place that changes the field in which the production of choreography is occurring (choreography opposes the movement of movement). The environment has taken on certain characteristics, and these change what it is possible to do. In order to better understand this, Susan employs a number of strategies to unsettle the material she is making, force it to tell her more about itself, separating herself from the material, but not to effect a disappearance of her role as author, but to locate herself and her intentions in relation to the possibilities offered by the landscape she is generating.
 
Distance, distancing, distance, distancing, distance, distancing, distance, distancing, distance, distancing, distance, distancing.
 
Susan's process is full of distancing techniques- not so much Brechtian methods for instilling in the viewer a sense of the foreign, but more methods for keeping herself as an author from trying to take over the dance that she is making.
 
Regarding it with modesty, always modesty, taking a back seat so it can reveal itself to you… getting acquainted. Your state of mind is heightened, alert, watchful, respectful, sitting on the edge of its seat.
And all the while perceiving it... It's not a well lit activity, decisions happen in the semi darkness... Staying with nerves of steel in that poorly lit place... not in spite of its lack of light, or any other lack, but for its own singular reality...The job is to get the distance required to perceive, to divorce things from whatever initially informed them or made them.
What is interesting about the dance is how the dance reveals its own internal operations, but Susan needs to be present for the dance to emerge. Susan's “wrecking”- the process where she invites other choreographers to take her material over for a period in the middle of the process and rearrange everything- does not attempt her own erasure; rather it creates a critical distance, and 'newness,' even a foreignness to her own material that allows it to be seen again and to reveal its operations more clearly.
 
We create what we're doing by doing it.
 
 
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I keep editing out my repetitions, I guess out of some loyalty to efficient expression, some embarrassment about stating ideas logically and clearly. When dancing, I've tried to learn to experience each movement newly even through thousands of repetitions, because its more exciting to do when the dance is the movement revealing itself. Here, I am searching for a way to re-experience writing, to network new relationships between my words.
 
Sequence is more than an ordering of unchanging entities. Sequence is a cooker, an alchemy...
 
 
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I consider this essay to be choreography, not only because I constructed my movement in order to execute it, not only because I used movement and spatial schemas to put my thoughts in relation to one another, but also because it is a set of organizations, steps, and instructions for the movement of the reader. This choreography directs a dance which comes into being because of the shared space of the virtual page where we meet, and where the movement of thoughts, disjointed in time and space, becomes visible.
 
 
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The dance comes into being because we know how to look for it. It wasn't 'already' there, and the intention comes from the making space for intention.
 
One has to know and not know, prefer and not prefer, empty oneself and acknowledge one's fullness, be passive and charged. It has to happen to you and from you.
 
I see in Susan's choreographic strategies an exposure of the active, moving ecology of meaning- where the production taking place is acting on the maker, and also the invasion of the maker is acting on and redefining the environment of the dance. This function has broad political suggestions, and a society increasingly defined by movement demands a turn toward understanding how choreography occurs in a wide range of disciplines and living structures.
 
Dance training has shown me that my anatomy is a technology- my anatomy has been carefully crafted in highly specific environments for various uses (usually not by me). My senses have also never been passive 'givens' that simply reveal to me what is around me- my perceptions are also evolving performances that have developed in collaboration with my environment, politics, history, and me to bear many different kinds of meaning.
 
Susan's work, humbly coaxing shadows of meaning out of nothing more than simply this, creates a space where knowledge can be enacted in radical ways. As a practice, as an emergent quality which is channeled by its circumstances, yet which also acts on them, these dances reveal a changing network of choreographic principles which underpin human intelligence, and our capacity to share space.
 
A single decision/response can feel inconsequential and arbitrary... But if you watch yourself make 500 decisions, you will see interests and patterns and issues...which is the intuitive imaginative self interrogating and making a world, using equal parts circumstance and choice, responding to and being effected by, what is found there and what is internal, both.
 
 
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