Thursday, June 14, 2012

Susan Rethorst: A Choreographic Mind

I've just finished reading essays by a dancemaker who, while pressing words to fine use, celebrates quiet, visceral intuition over verbal, intellectual modes of being that are usually more highly prized. Susan Rethorst's A Choreographic Mind: Autobodygraphical Writings (Teatterikorkeakoulu: Kinesis 2, 2012) takes her readers deep into the sensibilities of an artist who chooses to embrace "not knowing, not quite controlling," honoring what her body tells her and what the dances she makes tell her, too.

The book presents two strands for us to follow: Rethorst's life-altering experiences in youth and her application of personal transformation to creative process. In a custody dispute, her father kidnapped her and her brother Johnny when they were quite young. Two years later, he kidnapped the boy again and, this time, she would not see Johnny until he was 21. I get the impression that while Rethorst must relate this disturbing history--which left her, into adulthood, disinclined to speak but inclined to watch people intently and read the subtle currents and language of bodies--she does so only to set the stage for a calm exploration of how dances are made, how they reveal and present themselves and how they might best be perceived by maker and witness alike.

Rethorst's discussions could benefit fellow choreographers; clearly, she hopes to share her ideas with young artists who frequently stumble over treacherous piles of shoulds and shouldn'ts--what this favored artist does, what that prominent critic appears to reject or champion, what Teacher says is the right thing to do, what's trendy among peers or presenters this season. To these artists, she offers her trust in the unconscious, the body, the ongoing conversation with the dance itself.

The mainstream dance critic, picking up this book, will feel his/her ears burn:

Basically, they tell you what they want to see, and how the piece before them does, or does not, answer to that. It is rare to hear people try to cut through their own taste to try to examine what the dance maker is doing with the form.
Elsewhere, she writes,

What it, the dance, is doing is a door to see what it is valuing, what its goals are, how it functions. Talk about dance is too often, in my opinion, full of implied lack, and the lacks reveal what the particular talker desires to get out of dance.
For someone who grew up not caring to talk much--and, in this and in Rethorst's talent for intuitive perception of people, spaces and things, I strongly identify with her--she certainly enlivens these pages with an impressive, persuasive voice. But, she advises, "don't take my word for it." (Word. There's that word, again....) Yes, your mileage may vary at times, but the journey will take you places you could never anticipate.

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