Sunday, May 17, 2020

Artists Reach Out: Paul Singh

Dear friends,

Welcome to Artists Reach Out: reflections in a time of isolation. I dreamed this series of interviews out of grief for my work both as a documenting arts writer and curator of live performance. In this time of social distancing, we are called to responsibly do all we can to safeguard ourselves and our neighbors. It is, literally, a matter of life and death.

But there's no distancing around what we still can share with one another--our experiences, thoughts, wisdom, humor, hearts and spirit. In some ways, there are more opportunities to do so as we pull back from everyday busyness out in the world and have time to honor the call of our inner lives.

So, let me introduce you to some artists I find interesting. I'm glad they're part of our beautiful community, and I'm eager to engage with them again (or for the first time) in years to come.

--Eva Yaa Asantewaa, InfiniteBody

Paul Singh

Paul Singh
(photo: Andrew Jordan)

Paul Singh earned his BFA in Dance from the University of Illinois, USA. He has danced for Gerald Casel, Molissa Fenley, Jane Comfort, Risa Jaroslow, Will Rawls, Douglas Dunn, Christopher Williams, Kathy Westwater, Faye Driscoll, and Doug Varone and was featured in the inaugural cast of Punchdrunk’s American debut of Sleep No More. While abroad, he was a dancer in Peter Sellars’ opera The Indian Queen, as well as for Peter Pleyer (with collaborators Meg Stuart, Sasha Waltz and Jeremy Wade) in a large-scale improvisation work in Berlin. Paul has had his own work presented at the Judson Church, New York Live Arts, Joe’s Pub, Dixon Place, La Mama E.T.C, Center for Performance and Research, Dock 11 (Berlin), and in 2004 his solo piece Stutter was presented at the Kennedy Center. Paul has taught contact improvisation around the world, leading intensives and advanced workshops for teacher training purposes and beginner studies. He currently teaches varied technique classes (partnering, floor work, contemporary technique, contact improvisation) for Movement Research, Sarah Lawrence College, and The Juilliard School.

Above: Paul Singh with Justice Hatch
(photo courtesy of the artist)
Below: Singh with Jack Blackmon
(photo: David Gonsier)

Do you have a current or planned project whose progress is affected by the pandemic?

Of course. I was supposed to be in Paris right now co-hosting a queer contact improvisation festival. That is one of six CI festivals I was either headlining or teaching in that have all been canceled because, as you can imagine, incredibly close proximity partnering is just about the most dangerous art you could be practicing right now.

I also had a few small commissions for my choreographic duet work with my dance partner Jack Blackmon. And, of course, the evening-length work I’ve been chipping away at for a few years now. But, in truth, it’s my teaching assignments at The Juilliard School and Sarah Lawrence College that I’m missing the most. We were really getting somewhere. But, I’m still looking forward to teaching at Lion’s Jaw, if it happens, starting two new podcasts, and co-facilitating a virtual queer CI lab and jam for Earthdance later this month.

Briefly, tell me about how you got involved in the arts and in your particular practice.

I went to college to be a doctor. What else does a smart, brown, first-generation child of immigrants do? When that didn’t make me happy, I slipped into music performance (voice and clarinet). It’s the only other thing I knew how to do. Then, one end of semester, a dancer friend put me in her thesis work as a comic relief character; the department saw me and suggested I audition. On a whim I did. I’d never taken a ballet class in my life.

A few weeks later I was sitting in my dorm room wearing a tuxedo, about to sing in my juries. I had just gotten a phone call saying a family member had died and, a minute later, the dance department called to say I was accepted. So, death and dance are always inextricably woven together for me.

So, I switched majors one more time. (I took my first ballet, modern, and contact improvisation class all on the same day.) But, to this day, I’m still not sure why I did it. There are two great mysteries in my life that I can’t explain and shouldn’t. Becoming a dancer is one of them.

In a more specific way, what are you practicing? And what are you envisioning?

The words “personal practice” have been on my mind well before this all happened. It shifts for people, chapter-like.

At the moment, I’m reading a lot of queer theory to get ready for that queer lab/jam I’m co-leading. It’s challenging because the academia behind it all is intense. But so is being a queer person in this world.

I‘m practicing self-forgiveness as I try to navigate a routine-less existence. I know people want to make schedules and need them for purpose. I want my purpose to find me instead of hunting for it.

This is my day to day:

I wake up. I crawl out of my bed on hands and knees. I’m staying in Michigan in a house with amazing carpeting. It’s plush, so I crawl. I tip over to sitting and massage my feet. I make them ready to support my weight to standing. Then, I have some coffee, which I’ve started drinking.

Then, I take a ballet class (every morning). It feels violent, like an assault on my body. I take class out of guilt that I need to make a schedule, practice something, stay in a shape. But I also need to be told what to do right now. I find myself changing the exercises, improvising when the teacher is speaking, literally trying to break free from it. That makes me happy. It feels like purposefully-instigated resistance, and I want to remember what that feels like. That is a practice for me now.

Then I either read queer things or work on two podcasts I’m creating. Then I run. Not because it’s freeing. It’s more of a challenge. Running is also a little violent in a way; cutting through space, feet jarring the pavement, moving towards an attainable distance but also wondering what you’re trying to escape from.

Also, I’m a brown man running in Michigan and that is on my mind every time I see a truck go by. I say a little prayer for Ahmaud Arbery every day I turn out of the driveway.  Then, I eat dinner, watch something on Netflix, and get excited about resting.

I want to try shattering all my habits for a bit, queering my routines. But I’m not quite there yet. I’m still too much a slave to some kind of imposed normal. I did start Insta. I’m waiting to impress myself with it. Not likely. Twitter may come next.

How does your practice and your visioning align with what you most care about?

I want to be on the side of forward thinkers. I do agree that the way things were was not working. And I want to help change that--or, in the least, help bring light to problems and possibilities.

I like my day to day. It gives me room to dream and off-road.  I’m excited about the podcasts. One of them is recording conversations with great thinkers about social justice, sustainability, and embodied somatic practices. Big themes, yes, but so many lenses to address them with.

The other is a walking podcast. I want to make sound scores for people to listen to as they locomote. Hopefully I’ll have ones for different times of day, different states of being, ones for solo and duo adventures. It’s basically the sound of my voice creating imaginative worlds for you to bloom into while you move through space. It just feels like we could all benefit from taking advantage of one small sense of stability, one of the few things we can control--talking a walk.

How does your practice function within the world we have now?

My practice has been carved out of the world we have now. This new regime has created it. I have handmade my existence to make this world function for me.

We are such slaves to time. We fight it mercilessly for gain. I think I want to use the way I’ve become to befriend time. Create a new mythology about myself. Use that to engage with the world again. But in truth, I think I’m one of those weirdos that is thriving a bit in this state. I like the space to re-create, make space, catch-up, etc.

I think my practice right now is making me ready for when we can be together again. I guess that means I’m indirectly practicing hope. The heart-break of no contact improvisation is chipping away at me though.

Briefly share one self-care tip that has special meaning to you now.

My self care tip: Crawl on your hands and knees. Pause a lot. Lie down on the floor in an X and stare at the ceiling at least twice a day, and then follow the body to find your way back up again. (Don’t plan or pre-fix any pathway, just follow.) Get out of bed really slowly in the morning. Let the day come to you as it starts. Fight with time; let her be an ally some hours and your instigator, others.


DISCLAIMER: In addition to my work on InfiniteBody, I serve as Senior Curatorial Director of Gibney. The postings on this site are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views, strategies or opinions of Gibney.


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