There is no doubt that we live in a world today that demands a speed and fluidity of focus to participate to any degree with it. The human animal must now adapt to the habitat it has created for itself. To cope with this multifocused environment he must develop his multifocused facilities.
How can dance, so vividly visible in a psychologically dominated body, become the instrument of communication for such diverse forces of less than microcosmic to more than galactic dimensions? How can it transcend erotic-ladened gestures to represent forces beyond the eye? Painting, sculpture and music were potentially well suited for such a change into visual and aural abstraction. These arts were able to proceed without difficulty into their new contemporary visions.
But for the arts dominated by the exhibition of the human body, it was not so easy. The method for success was, by the use of choreographic and performing slight of hand, to distract the onlooker's eye away from the performing ego and the physical reality by making the body the instrument of other visions.
This process of shifting the onlooker's attention is one of decentralization. By this I meant the process of focusing one's dynamic force away from the self and egocentricity and allowing it to reach out and bring into control other variable concerns. This process presented a hornet's nest of difficulties. The idea of decentralization, invariably caused resistance, but perhaps by this way the dancer can achieve a basic discipline applicable to all forms of modern dance.
I recall an interview in which the reporter asked me about my outer space theatrics. We were sitting in a restaurant atop a skyscraper, and I told him to look out the windows. A celestial canvas of stars, moon and aeroplanes merged into the surrounding buildings, which, like the sky, were also dotted with glowing lights. Streaks of traffic lights merged with a cacophony of horns which accompanied the choreography of dark masses of people, flowing through paths in a multitude of directions. I told the reporter about my company performing in front of the antique temple of Bacchus in Baalbeck, in full moonlight the night the astronauts landed on the moon. I could see an endless stream of cars enroute from Beirut crawling up the long hill to Baalbeck. Periodic announcements about the moon landing were made during the dance intervals. There in front of the Roman Temple in the presence of a multitude of audience, my own visual concepts were magnified.
But the dimensions of time and place were even more exploded after our performance. We returned to our hotel, a small hotel in this tiny town of Baalbeck, amidst the gargantuan Roman ruins. In the guests' lounge we watched on television the first landing on the moon. I ran outside and stared up at that distant golden orb. My eyes filled with childhood visions of cheese and an old man with puffed cheeks, whose golden-white glow now cast moonshadows over the hoary Roman ruins. I ran back to the TV set and there were the astronauts doing slow motion jetes on a pockmarked surface inches thick with dust. I thought wistfully there would never again be a moon of cheese, or that jovial old man, just thousands of square miles of haunting, moonscaped loneliness.
The New York City multidimension of time and place below us was vividly apparent. The reporter reluctantly accepted this comparison to Baalbeck, but I don't believe he looked at his world, as I did mine and it was also difficult for him to comprehend his presence in a multi-dimensional environment. I don't think he realized he was part of the panorama, and that he had the skill to transform himself and become any part of it if he chose.
His next question was why did I choose to do such unnatural movements. This floored me. I began to think -- what is a natural movement? Unfortunately all I could come up with was bowel movement. At this moment I felt the thought was appropriate. I had a bright idea. I asked him if he liked ballet. He replied he adored it. I then asked if he thought dancing on the tips of one's toes in a steel-supported shoe was natural. He was perplexed and aghast. He never thought of that. I am always wary of people who bandy about the word "natural" so passionately.
Probably the most ridiculous incident in relation to this subject was an experience I had with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. A film was being made on the meeting of Gemini V and VI in outer space. I was asked by the film editor to create an electronic score for it. I watched all the rushes taken during this fantastic flight and agreed to create a score. After it was finished, the film editor took it to NASA for approval. He brought back word to me that they found the electronic score unacceptable: "It was too far out."
I realized that many people were unaware of the times in which they lived. Even as with NASA, their fantastic contributions to this vision of Time-Space dimension never wholly seemed to have occurred to them.
The kind of life participation demanded by our present time in history requires multidimensional foci. Through new inventions in travel and communication, we are transported and often hurled into seemingly unrealistic time-space experiences. We might sit passively in the Concorde or in front of our TV watching the space shuttle take off and land. At the same time we are haunted by a primitive fear of death and destruction, not only by a knife in the back, but by the threat of a nuclear holocaust. Our sensitivities swing constantly from in to out.
A constant state of pulling in, of centralization can be a refuge from this megalomythic whirlwind, but when it dominates all our responses it becomes as unreasonable as choosing New York City in which to live like a hermit. To participate in the knowledge of our time decentralization becomes necessary and that means extending out of our center, to decentralize.
Decentralization has offered us a huge advance in our freedom to experience. It also offers us little security but an abundance of thrilling unanchored adventures.
But first there was the phoney sacrosanct fixation about the violation of the body. This is a religious and sexual fixation rather than an actual fact.
The strongest force in centralization is egocentricity, and the strongest force in egocentricity is sexuality; therefore I felt it necessary in a classroom situation to break this down first.
Polarizing the male and female I felt was unreasonable. The act of greater masculinity and greater femininity stem from the long defunct need to increase society. Human behaviorisms in this respect are as forced as hot house flowers. The design of behaviorism, clothes, occupation, etc., are all capitulations to the outmoded gender role. The practice of this also increased the power of egocentricity.
Stripping down dance technique to a non-machismo and non-weak femininity state begins to reveal dance as an art. The battle of the sexes is no longer the essential, or only subject, for dance.
Breaking down the polaric distance between the male and female brought me to utilize unisex costuming (1953). This also allowed greater freedom in assigning roles in the dances. In most cases the male and female roles could be interchanged. From that point to this day I have rarely singled out the sexes.
Relieved of the overemphasis of sexual behaviorisms, dance could concentrate more intensely upon the motion itself. Motion itself could more easily become the subject rather than the adjective or predicate of dance. In working from this perspective, the most positive reaction was the emergence of a stronger definition of dance. With dance as the art of motion, one is immediately freed from literal subjects. Motion is no longer the servant of the individual, but becomes the master. The medium becomes the message.
The mind and body contain vast stores of knowledge, much of it predating the birth of the individual. This knowledge is the well-spring and major force in the shaping of the individual's life and the nature of his primary behaviorisms. It is a constantly flowing force. Automatismic dance is an affirmation of the existence of this art force.
However, what this force is remains undefined, despite the many confusing and conflicting explanations, practices and experiences which permeate the metaphysical jargon of myriad cults, religions, mystical and philosophical beliefs.
If life is motion, then motion must be the life force. The force derives from an undefined vault of life information from which, if one develops the necessary facility, one can make selections from this life knowledge and reveal it through a medium or combination of media. Whatever else it might be, the content of this life stream is unique to the individual. Like a mountain stream, although its water is water its content varies according to its source and of the various substances carried in it, all of which are gathered from the landscape through which it has travelled. This content extends in knowledge far beyond the actual life span of the individual. Flowing into a genetic memory bank, the life encounters of the individual very often throws all sorts of obstructions into this stream, causing deviations, dams, overflows, diversions into tributaries, pollution and stagnation.
I watched carefully as I direct class activity. The process was to implant a motivation and then to examine very carefully the route to the outcome. After summating the results, I initiated corrective activities to clear the path of psychical interference or unresponsive body parts -- all very simple as an idea but discouragingly difficult in achieving. The centralizing "me" factor is extraordinarily powerful, and performers are reluctant to relinquish the exhibition of self in favor of the act. The "me" was always prominent.
In searching for a new technical approach I gradually developed my definition of dance. I also began to conceive of a new creative direction for myself.
The major objectives in my new exploration were identifying the role of the dancer and the nature of his motivation. Then followed the search for the manner of teaching and developing this technical ability of the body as the instrument.
Unlike painting and music, the dancer bears with him a potent force in the literal presence of himself. It is not only his physical presence, but also his psychical force and the strong tendency to force his psychical presence upon the onlooker.
The more closely I tried to observe motion of the body, the more impatient I would become with the ego intrusion upon the action. I found myself trying all sorts of devices trying to eliminate or at least minimize the ego dominance.
The German theories lent themselves well here, particularly the Laban concepts of dimension, which were mostly serviceable in the correctional process. Like Laban, I conceived of the body as a three-dimensional entity empowered by the mind. Looked at this way, a simple abstract motivation such as forward, backward, up, or down quickly revealed dereliction of any body part, or the whole body to fully engage itself in the event. Mannerisms, negative idiosyncrasies, timidities, aggressiveness, and all other hindrances in executing the act were quickly revealed, and corrective processes were initiated. The Laban theories were precise ones of centralization out of which there were specific architectural radiations. Despite this centralization it partly furnished a fine corrective basis for technical study. Its precise architectural devotions revealed very clearly the students inadequacies in controlling the union of intent and achievement. Consequently it offered a discipline which lent skill to executing the varied dynamics of decentralization.
Notation also was a great aid to looking at motion objectively rather than subjectively. Consciousness and clarity of dance structure was increased.
By this time the Henry Street Playhouse which housed my school for twenty years was attended by hundreds of children to be taught dance. The four to eleven year olds accepted and were enchantingly eloquent in their creative experiences. Goldilocks and the Bears were not essential. These youngsters who were not yet in puberty and not bugged by sex, found no difficulty in exploring abstract motion as an event on its own merits and subjects for dances. Their direct doing helped insure me that the automatismic gesture still existed within us however sophisticated our society had become. Children before puberty have no problem in being involved in abstraction and non-literal things. Puberty is the classroom of centralization and sexual fixation from which many do not graduate.
Relieving oneself of centralization allowed motion, free of its bondage to the psyche, in the literal sense, to open up a vast new area of metaphoric expression. Clearly this was my path to travel. I found this new world of extended dimensions, beyond the seeing eye, was truly a contemporary world to be experienced on its own terms.
Eventually my conclusion was that the message existed in the motion itself. My definition of dance was now fixed. Dance is the art of motion -- not emotion, and it carries its own intelligence within itself.
In 1953 we presented our first concert in this new vein of releasing the focus from self and self image. It was called "Village of Whispers." It was composed of many pieces -- group works, solos, and duets -- which were prepared in composition classes. The main suggestion was those images which rested beyond or behind the facade of a village.. The titles were Glade, Creech, Dark Corner, Styx, Hex, Gemini. Tournament, Tensile Involvement, Evil Eye, Monarch, Lorilei. The endeavor in this work was concisely summated by the new York Times Dance critic John Martin, who visited the Playhouse to observe classes and rehearsal. His wife Louise, a teacher of Boleslavsky method of acting , made a comment to him which I did not hear. He replied, "No dear, Murray (Louis) is not someone in a dark corner -- he is the dark corner." And so it was with all the events on this concert. It was an attempt to enact the entire statement in the structure and not pursue it through characterization or situation. Its concept, therefore, was much more in the musical than the theatrical sense. I was fully aware that this process was a familiar one in acting. But there it was a device to develop characterization and my attempts were to clarify abstraction and abstract choreography.
But I was not wholly satisfied with the dancers' success in decentralization, which was just being things other than themselves.
This first step of decentralization refuted several early theories of motion that had their origin in the region of the solar plexus. With these new realization one could place the origin of force on any surface of the body, even a pinpoint of flesh. Such a concept quickly developed into a new potential of motional coloration. Its main advantage would release the choreographer/dancer from the centralized gut pain which strongly chained the dancer and the subject to character and situation.
Decentralization raised praise and interest but also equal amount of negative response from the establishment. The criticism came particularly from those whose self-identification with the dance archetype found no peg upon which to hang their own ego.
Cries of "dehumanization", "coldness", "puppetry", and "mechanicalness" arose. The outcries are reminiscent of the early days of abstract painting. With no figurative or representational vision as a portal into the understanding of the painting, persons with literal minds and with low Rhorshak response failed to get the message. Abstraction requires a multifaceted and lively frame of reference from both creator and viewer alike. Depth of aesthetic perception is measured by the degree to which one responds to the abstract. The detail and summation of the abstract components in a work aesthetically defines the quality of a work. One can be educated to perceive structure yet not be sensitive to the creators qualifying substance, which validates the choreographic form.
In this vision of decentralization, the less aesthetically oriented person is left in a dither because the obvious external form, the personality presence, is subdued.
Unfettering the force of dance from its centralization allows the smallest kernal of force to appear on any point in or on the body surface. It could also cause a force to arise from any source in the space surrounding the body. It was not a matter of eliminating the center but of relocating it to other parts of the body or other points in space.
No one art, compelled by a socio-dynamic force, is alone in seeking out a new venture. Music for hundreds of years had developed a highly sophisticated technique on the basis of tonality. Music, like dance, started without regimented pattern. The sound, innocent of preordered form and dependent upon its direct impact, was the magical thing. It was undoubtedly as innocent as the cry of pain before the word "Ouch" was invented. Symbolic representation removed the event from primal utterance into the practiced "How Now Brown Cow" stage and pressed sound into a formal protocol. The major formalization revolved around the creation of a musical "Do," the first tone of the diatonic scale. The "Do" became the pivotal point around which harmony and melody evolved. It was in a sense the egocentric vortex. It was the magnet to which all the ensuing events related. The well tempered scale arising out of the "Do" then gave rise to complex rules of harmony and melody. Developed over centuries, it served the art nobly until the vitality of the system as a contemporary expression no longer sufficed. It had a Rolls Royce elegance, but could not take to the air, let alone outer space.
In the early part of the turn of the century, attempts were made to break away from this system. Schoenberg was a notable example. His twelve tone musical technique allowed a greater choice. The tonal scale, consisting of twelve half-tone pitches, as in the old system, progressed in ascending sequence. Schoenberg devised a system whereby a scale could be formulated using the twelve notes but not in ascending sequence. One invented his own progression and relate his melody and harmony upon that structure. The system was labeled "Atonal". It was anticentric but still bound to the twelve well-tempered notes. In this way it conformed to the structure of Western Instruments and system of notation. It was in effect a new tailoring and style on an old structure.
Also during this period there were attempts to adopt the scale of exotic and antique cultures. The need to break away from the tonal system was strong, but not until "Music Concrete" was there a complete freedom from relying upon earlier structures. Music concrete was the theory of making music from a choice of any sounds capturable by the human ear: from the clanking of automobile spare parts to the roar of planes: from cricket chirping to crowds in riot. Here, as in my theories of contemporary dance, the selection was unique; the entire responsibility of choice and arrangement was left to the creator. Nothing was pre-orderd or arranged. This took a new kind of ear both in the creating and listening. Just as in contemporary dance, there was a lack of known patterns which usually gave the unadventursome a foothold into the new creation. No map or guideline existed. The listener was totally on his own. With the advent of tape music and its potential for manipulation, another large contributor to the evolution of music appeared. Now the demand upon the listener became essential, and challenging.
Painting, too, showed a similar development. From using a center as the dominant focal point of interest the new creations burst from any a central point and equalized the visual force to cover the whole canvas; the corners and sides became as significant as the middle, and one looked with equal interest upon the entire surface.
Accepting such a principle of decentralization does not necessarily mean abandoning completely the centric event. The idea extended choice and release into a new area of dance experience.
NOTE: This extension is apparent particularly in the works of Murray Louis, whose total training was in this area. This is apparent mostly in his solo choreography where his ability to grain his motional concern, fluidity throughout his body is remarkable. He rarely devotes himself to decentralization, yet in his centric work his range and detail of action are always evident and is almost always noted by dance writers. In my own case I vacillate frequently between the two highly different points of view. Yet it is when I am strongly in a decentralized vein that the reaction of the onlooker is most absorbed or disturbed.
In releasing oneself from bondage to the centric self, a vast arena of life stuff is made accessible. In the act of decentralization, the archetypal figure is abolished. Motion is no longer a secondary event which functions as an explanation of that archetype.
In the concept of decentralization, motion does not explain other things -- it defines itself. In a sense, it returns to the primal automatismic motion, but on a new plane of life stuff.
Only when one is released of centralization is one more completely aware of an infinite environment. Decentralization is a flexible network of itineraries into this vastness.
With personality and ego made transparent, the dancer now is able to merge into an environment of which he is a part. He finds himself a functioning kinsmen rather than a dominating dweller within. Space is not just a hole in which to kick into or spin about, it is an architecturally fluid companion. Time is not a metrical reiterated beat to discipline the dancer's step. It is, rather, a malleable measurement adapting itself to the shaping of the art subject, flowing with its needs rather than forcing the action into rigid, metrical guidelines. Motion becomes the stuff of the human structure not a classical decorative posture or a skillful movement cadenza decorating the figure.
Shape is not just a static attitude or pose. It transcends its literal function to become whatever vision the choreographer proposes. It can become a mobile calligraph.
I am well aware that the practice of decentralization seems to contradict the very core of personal assertion and even to practice it. Performance, after all, makes a high demand upon the human ego. Yet the artist must go beyond himself. The great performers must often transcend themselves and live within the substance of someone or something else.
In decentralization he goes even beyond this point. The head often may not be a head, or the arm an arm. They may give up their identity totally to place themselves at the service of something that has no resemblance to their physicality but by the magic of motion illuminate the poetic substance of some other thing even a non-thing.
Shaking off the shackles of the fleshy identification, the body may become the eloquent motional spokesman of all things within the reach of man's most mystical visions. He may then inform us of things beyond ordinary vision and comprehension and tell us of the wonderment of life itself beyond any visions previously felt or observed, or even beyond vision itself.
Painting can tell us of this through color; sculpture through three-dimensional form and music through sound.
However, only dance can tell us of these things through motion -- motion channeled through the limitless, fantastic orchestrational capabilities of the human body.
One of the methods to achieve this transformation is through graining.