On the heels of a March retrospective at Bryn Mawr College in Philadelphia, Susan Rethorst will visit San Francisco, hosted by Hope Mohr Dance’s (HMD) The Bridge Project. This initiative situates Mohr, an ODC resident artist, in the hybrid role of choreographer and curator, as well as community gatherer, since this year the project mobilizes Bay Area artists Katie Faulkner, Christy Funsch, Aura Fischbeck, Erin Mei-Ling Stuart, Deborah Karp, Phoenica Pettyjohn, Peiling Kao to perform with Mohr in Rethorst’s Behold Bold Sam Dog. This performance will share the bill with Mohr’s new work Failure of the Sign is the Sign (May 3-5), thereby framing Mohr’s dance by that of another artist.
Reading this essay about Rethorst, which quotes the artist writing, “Pleasure and rigor are not mutually exclusive,” I’m reminded of conversations discussing Bay Area dance with colleagues from other locales. I’ve heard the criticism (and generalization) that while the density of artists in this city generate a lot of new work, sometimes it “lacks rigor.” Referring to improvisation in performance, I’ve heard mutterings such as “Why would I want to watch someone make something up onstage?” While much of the time spontaneous performance is structured by a movement score worked through during rehearsals developing tools for such live occasions, I’ve been at times engaged and other times dissatisfied by the result. Rigor is not always visible in performance. What is the value of process versus product?
Rethorst weaves her thoughts regarding rigor of the mind as it relates to her body-based practice in her essay, Dailiness, which can be applied as much to watching dance as making dance. She expands on process in a Dance Magazine interview, which queried Rethorst about norms in the U.S. versus Europe:
“In Vienna, Amsterdam, Berlin, Brussels, where I’ve been most involved, the language around dancemaking has a lot to do with “research”—and “transparency,” meaning that your research question is visible in your finished work. Reading a lot of theory and philosophy is often considered as important as studio time.”
The pairing of Failure of the Sign is the Sign, Mohr’s work developed with Julia Kristeva’s ideas about language and selfhood, with Behold Bold Sam Dog, by Rethorst who uses writing to scaffold and mediate her creative process, offers a layered mode of absorbing the shared bill through the body and mind, movement and linguistics.
Mohr contextualizes her dance through the people landscape of The Bridge Project and her own associated writing, the artist’s voice. She offers the threads of her process on her blog as well as the text she’s written as part of the sound score heard during the dance – at times in darkness, allowing the words to stand spaciously alone, and other times to be associated and juxtaposed with the kinetic visual snapshots created by her dancers. Here, pleasure and rigor is also expressed in the product:
The soft blue sculpture intertwined with performer Tegan Schwab’s limbs. Pleasure.
The calculated structures of bodies tethered and released in balanced support. Rigor.
In considering the pleasure and rigor of dance making, I think as audience members we should also participate in the pleasure and rigor of watching, which requires a similar attention and presence practiced by the choreographer.