From Mariel — Following Pleasure

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I’ve been thinking and reading lately about pleasure as a radical tool.

Many of us can relate to the feeling of not belonging somewhere, of putting ourselves in places that were not constructed for us. That feeling can obviously vary widely based on our identities and contexts, but the essence of what I’m trying to say is that often we feel hopelessly subjected to our surroundings.

When I feel this, it’s easy to give into grumbling. Coping mechanisms for feeling stressed, out-of-place, tired, trapped, bored, etc. include losing focus, closing off physically and mentally, and wallowing in mental agony and self-pity. Never am I more aware of this than in a particularly dull morning lecture in which I feel subjugated by the clock, forced to endure the remaining minutes.

I mention all this because one of the wonderful surprises about the construction of Gaga movement is the simple notion of allowing pleasure to guide one’s movement. Inspiration and novelty can wane, but pleasure is the river flowing in a steady stream through us — it will always tell us a step forward if we are present enough to listen to it. And in the times when I feel I am following pleasure, the notion of endurance withers. My attention is effortlessly sharp. It’s the equivalent to laughter breaking out — the joy of it snaps me to my senses.

Perhaps most excitingly, pleasure gives me agency in any context. Whether in the studio, the classroom, waiting in line, driving in traffic, or any other situation in which I’m aware of time passing, tapping into pleasure gives me power over my surroundings. Rehearsals can be long, physically taxing, and challenging, but even during moments of effort, Saar reminds us to find the pleasure driving everything we do. In seeking out the pleasure, the effort itself lessens. It’s for this reason that these rehearsals, though initially a daunting time investment, have become havens for me. It takes work to stay focused and present, but the rewards have been more than worth it. I step into the studio, put up my hair, and take off my watch. With no mirrors, phones, or clocks in sight, I’m swept up into the daily rhythm of my body much more easily.

From Mariel Pettee:

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I couldn’t help smiling in the last couple rehearsals as we discussed letting information travel through our bodies — the timing with the recent discovery of gravitational waves was too perfect. In the scientific world, I’ve been thinking about the implications of our bodies being squeezed and stretched due to unseen ripples in spacetime, the effect of masses far and near. In the studio, I get to translate this sense of rippling, of gaining information through touch and proximity, into a practical tool to make my body more accessible to new movement.

These Gaga warm-ups leave me with a fantastic kind of soreness. I often hear many small pops in my joints during the first hour of each class all over my body, much more so than even in a yoga class. By mixing movements in my joints and keeping my back very fluid, I feel as if I’m opening every space between vertebrae and other bones in my body. That warmth and pleasant pain helps me feel a deep activation and preparedness for receiving choreography. I definitely hope to take this sensation with me beyond this semester.

A fascinating element of this experience for me has been noting the similarities between our rehearsal environment and the environment I’m more used to in the context of a theatrical rehearsal. Authenticity is key in guiding our research here and serves as the external validation for movement. Much as in a play rehearsal, we constantly ask ourselves, “Does this feel natural? Does it make sense?” A director might give me a note to deliver a line as if I were speaking to my little brother on his prom night, say, to ground the scene in something personal and authentic. Similarly, Saar’s directorial aesthetic consists of giving us ripe visual and visceral metaphors to play with: “grow cherries from your palms,” or “taste some honey,” or “move like a fish darting out of the water.” This idea of a consistent internal logic is deeply appealing to me as both an actress and a dancer. It requires a sincere self-awareness and commitment because halfhearted movement won’t read as effectively to an audience.