40 Dancers do 40 Dances for the Dancers

During the year of 2012, I both lived the life of a dance-maker and, simultaneously, studied it, acting as an embedded ethnographer in my dance community. My study included fieldwork (actually making dances), case studies (one-on-one meetings with everybody involved in the creative process as well as a few audience members), and visual documentation. A large part of the year was spent working on versions of 40 Dancers Make 40 Dances for the Dancers. 40 Dancers brought together an eclectic group of colleagues to construct performances and
build a community, based on The Pronouns: A Collection of Forty Dances for the Dancers a book of performance instruction poems written, through a series of chance procedures, by my father, poet/composer/multi-media artist Jackson Mac Low.

This experiment in community led me to... connection. Physical connection, emotional linkages, philosophical relationships. The we in the I, the I that is always a we. Time spent in the wordless state of "being-with" weaves connections through sharing physical space, through touch and weight and paying attention. This is a site of connection. It is a journey through the connections made in and through the 40 Dancers piece--the people, the theory, the practice, the analysis and synthesis of observation and experience.

Connection lives in our physiology, and builds up on a molecular level. It starts the moment we're born, in the flood of nonapeptidesOxytocin is a peptide of nine amino acids (a nonapeptide). Its systematic name is cysteine-tyrosine-isoleucine-glutamine-asparagine-cysteine-proline-leucine-glycine-amine. Vasopressin (cys – tyr – phe – gln – asn – cys – pro – arg – gly – NH2) is also a nonapeptide whose sequence differs from oxytocin by two amino acids. that binds us to our caregivers, and flows through us as we grow and form our social circles. Touch and talk and hanging out release hormones and
neuropeptides that act on our system as a social glue , creating an invisible network of bonds and love, envy and conformity, in-group and out-group. Family.

The Eros of Collaboration

40 Dancers was a social experiment that used The Pronouns to investigate how art-making forms communities and families.
The 40 "dancers" were selected from all parts of my artistic life over the past 25 years. To begin making 40 Dancers, a copy of The Pronouns was distributed to all the participants. They were asked to pick the poems that resonated. People who picked the same poems worked on interpreting those dances together. A programmer created an algorithm that distributed all 40 poems across the three nights of performances, using a methodology similar to the one used to create the poems. Schedule conflicts, childcare and other life circumstances provided a further randomizer. The structure of the piece was a combination of all these factors. Though the performances took place on three distinct evenings, the piece took place over the course of the three nights and none of the nights were alike.
This project is part of an ongoing investigation into how we mediate and create intimate connections. Here, I am combining my decade of creating situations where the social relationships are essential art materials (the piece doesn't exist without interaction) with my long experience as a dance-maker and performing artist. In this meta-performance, the entire process of the artwork is privileged, and interpersonal interaction becomes the art material.
40 Dancers was not so much an esthetic product as an esthetic by-product of a social situation, where the provisional community that sprang up from the project was as important as the performance itself.
It was also a celebration of Jackson’s 90th birthday, a love letter to my dance community, and a recreation of a child’s-eye view of the 1970s New York “avant-garde” arts world.
When I was a child, all the artists around me worked together, often mixing artistic disciplines promiscuously and bringing the kids to work. I have followed this path in many ways.

All the people involved in 40 Dancers.

Move across the page to make your own connections.

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If you want to know more, go here

In Motion

Touch creates connection.
Field notes, 8.4.12:
Close-up = intimacy with subtleties in movement and the particularities of the body's shape and texture, the way it fits together (tendon sliding over bone pulls a muscle into a new shape; hands holding; belly to belly and shoulder to shoulder). Making clear the slide and grasp and lean and lift of weight and touch.
All original photos by Ian Douglas c2012

Field notes, 8.19.12, at Anna Azraeli's birthday party
From behaviors you observe to people's words to artifacts you collect or manufacture, anything in the field could end up becoming data in your ethnographic endeavor.

All the people
The people listed here are the people who were originally on the list of people that I asked to be part of this work. The number of connections measured is clearly highly subjective, as it measures how many of the people I know within this dance world know each other, not their overall life connections. The data gathering methods were also rather haphazard. Some of it is self-report. Some people didn't have the opportunity to self-report and some of these people, while they were asked, never actually were involved with the piece. Still, it has a certain overall accuracy, so I include it here.

Excerpts from the book