the concentration of mental energy on one particular person, idea, or object.
Note: I started writing this post a few days before the show. By the time performance day came, I had more of a glass-half-full perspective.
There is no doubt I am not alone in having had various blog post ideas come and go without ever committing them to paper. One of these I had a few weeks ago, as I was trying to better understand the quality of movement Merce Cunningham intended for his work. A lot of us get in trouble in class for “épaulement,” that divine and automatic head tilt associated with certain movements. This somewhat inane tradition of gazing at one’s hand or foot somewhat adoringly is, upon reflection, one of the things I love the most about ballet. In Graham technique, one of my favorite movements is the spiral, the subtle but powerful dissociation of the upper body from the lower, starting with the focus.
Thinking about épaulement, I came to realize that part of ballet’s entrancing (and therapeutic) quality for me comes from the cathexis of space, from that feeling of sculpting beauty first with my limbs, but also through a vaguely admiring gaze. I never stopped to consider this before, but one might conceive of dance as a form of self love, and ballet’s particular relationship to space might in part show how.
Although Cunningham’s work requires the dancer to use her focus differently, using less affect (vaguely adoring or otherwise), I have nevertheless been cathecting his movements just as much as I have ever anything else, if not more. I wanted my body to sculpt these new and intricate forms I was discovering, forms which had graced legendary bodies. The extent to which I had been cathecting of course became all the more clear to me when I injured my calf muscle and was no longer able to dance most of the choreography I had learnt and embodied. I have been trying to infuse that energy into the three sections I am still doing, but it isn’t easy. It feels like I am grieving those movements, grieving the feeling I had as my body carved them curvethrough space, as I pushed myself to be more precise and to better capture Jennifer, Meg, Neil, and Merce’s vision.
I had actually just figured out what I thought to be the perfect way to do those fast pas-de-chat type movements in my jig. Meg had been trying to coach me to make them fast and snappy, and by using the floor to resist and push off faster, I thought I had finally achieved this and was excited to show her. The day of my injury, I also got the correction to relax my arms a little more, which I anticipated would be a compelling challenge: to better strike the balance between arms that were held, but still relaxed and natural. More still, perhaps, I miss precisely what I was doing when I got injured: running and jumping across space in that triplet rhythm.
I write about this because injuries are a part of dance, and because cathexis and grief are a part of art. The act of (re)creating is an act that engages with death, and this project in some ways has been a response to the idea that Cunningham’s work may die. Needless to say, the experiment has been successful, since it has moved 17 students to cathect his technique and his choreography through our bodies and through our writing, thus allowing it to live on in new and rich ways.