Solitary and Together in Diary of an Image
DD Dorvillier, who has been making dances in New York City since 1989, has created two projects in one as part of Danspace Project’s PLATFORM 2014: Diary of an Image. The first is a new solo by the same name. In Diary of an Image, Dorvillier holds a steady gaze and hovers around the space in a constant state of motion. The movements, which are permutations of heel-toe tappings of the feet, are not quite repetitive. Rather, they gradually create an impression over time. True to her long history of artistic collaboration, Dorvillier will create and perform the work with composer Zeena Parkins, performer Katerina Andreou, lighting designer Thomas Dunn, and visual artist Olivier Vadrot.
Dorvillier’s second piece is A catalogue of steps. When I asked her about this dance, Dorvillier remarked that it “offers a chance to study or observe choreographic behavior, or a kind of tendency” in making work. Audiences can visit any of catalogue’s four performances at St. Mark’s Church and, “as if opening a chapter of a book,” see the choreographic snippets from Dorvillier’s oeuvre in many iterations and locations.
For catalogue, Dorvillier consulted 18 videos containing 15 years’ worth of her own choreography (1990 – 2004) as source material. The videos were V.H.S., MiniDV, and Hi8 format, and not all easy to find. From these often grainy videos, Dorvillier collected and narrowed down the movement fragments—some extended phrases five minutes in duration, other performative moments as short as six seconds—for dancers Katerina Andreou, Oren Barnoy, and Nibia Pastrana to learn and perform.
“If you have three different, interesting, and smart artists doing the same movement, you’re going to learn something about it,” Dorvillier noted when I asked about the experience of seeing bits of her choreographies come together. During each three-hour performance, the fragments will be combined, repeated, shifted spatially, reordered, and alternatively shaped as trios, duets, and solos so that we have a chance to see the movement from multiple perspectives.
Over the past two years, I have experienced Dorvillier’s work ethic and procedures for creating work from a few different vantage points: I interned for her last summer, and before that I took her MELT workshop at Movement Research (Touch Move Talk Write). We experimented a lot with our own habits and instincts when making dance, which allowed us to cultivate our own unique practices. We did authentic movement and collaborative work and even wrote in each other’s notebooks, but at the same time, we were always encouraged to depart from the group and honor inner drives. I could engage with my own findings while also experiencing others’ experimentations. The environment felt like an entire ecosystem built from choreographic procedures. What I experienced in the workshop was a kind of solitude made possible only by the fact that all of us were so active and present in the space.
A week ago, when I sat in on two of Dorvillier’s rehearsals for A catalogue of steps on Governor’s Island, I observed this same blend of singular attentions and togetherness.
Dorvillier changed into shiny, neon purple leggings to settle into a rehearsal mindset. Some time between 5:50 and 5:53 p.m, she changed back into a tailored skirt and blouse before running out the door to make the last ferry at six.
After an extended moment of tension—having answered emails about photos, phone calls about travel, and rehearsal questions about performance order all at once—Dorvillier requested five minutes to put her feet up on the wall in silence. Then, she was back to work determining the precise amount of time that each fragment of choreography could be repeated. A calculator was involved. Each second was accounted for; seconds were never rounded to minutes.
“If a fragment is 33 seconds long, but very intense, one person can’t repeat it for 15 minutes,” Dorvillier noted later. “Well, they could. They could take another 33 seconds to rest, and then they could start again.”
On a break, the dancers refueled on water and nuts as they talked. Dorvillier produced a banana. She ate it slowly, as if it were the most nutritious piece of fruit on earth.
All Dorvillier needed for rehearsal was in the studio space, and nothing was placed there arbitrarily. Notecards for each catalogue movement fragment were ordered in four columns on a long table, next to which the aforementioned (very bruised) banana and a box of peppermint tea were kept. Dorvillier’s computer hard drive, housing all the videos, was nearby. A couple of Mac laptops, used to review video material, floated around the space. One of the laptops ran on less than 10 percent battery. I wondered how that was possible, as it was in constant use, and I couldn’t see a charger anywhere.
On the first day, 75 percent of the studio mirrors were covered with an opaque cloth. The following day the cloth covered the mirror entirely. Also, there were more self-care items in the space: knee pads (used for a hyper-physical movement fragment in which the dancers throw and are thrown by each other all over the space), a muscle roller, and a small rubber ball to combat muscle knots in necks and feet. A window stayed open, bird chatter and the occasional sound of helicopters filling the room.
A suitcase packed with rehearsal tools, including a pair of worn-down shoes the dancers used as fans, lived in the space for the duration of the residency. From my time as an intern for Dorvillier, I have a vivid memory of the choreographer carrying her suitcase with her onto the ferry. It seemed like a whole lot of effort to lug the thing from her apartment in Brooklyn down to the subway, onto the ferry, and then finally onto the island. But then as now, there was never any question of Dorvillier doing what she needed to get done. She simply does it.
Instead of going back to her apartment after rehearsal, Dorvillier was off to Blick to buy paint for costume experimentation. Only as we were getting off the ferry did she realize she needed to run yet another errand after that, and stop by the Danspace office in the East Village. She seemed to make a mental note as she said to herself, “Okay—so I’ll go to the office.”
It seems as though not bringing a suitcase and not going to the office after the paint store after a full day’s work and not requiring five minutes of silence after a moment of tension would not even enter into Dorvillier’s brain space. Hers is a brain space better used for decision-making than second-guessing, tinkering until she finds what she needs instead of accepting what is only good enough.
A dance of the “other choreography”
When I asked her about the process of learning choreography that has already existed in the world, Dorvillier made note of the “other choreography” that underlies what we identify as being the actual choreography when it is originally made:
It’s not like the dancers are just imitating some solo I did when they learn the fragments. All the initial negotiations you have to make in choreographing—using your elbow for leverage to get up onto your feet, for instance—are in a dance for a reason. However, I didn’t actually think: ‘Put your elbow down in order to get up onto your feet.’
Each movement was part of some larger intention I had, or that was already in the piece, that I was trying to live inside of. That intention is what produced the movement, with its particular tonus of the body. It produced a certain structure, which had its own meanings: nervousness, gentleness, quietness, sadness. But if you take the piece itself away, you still see the movement that comprised it. What remains is this other choreography.
Along with her dancers, Dorvillier has created a taxonomy for A catalogue of steps which defines the kinds of movement sources and spatial strategies she used in a fragment of choreography. In the taxonomy, a movement is defined as “kinesthetic” when the dancer “negotiates gravity, speed, momentum, force, rhythm, and music, outside of thinking formally or in linguistic terms, and uses the full body as her instrument of navigation.” Of the 40 terms and definitions housed inside the taxonomy, this feels like the most authentic descriptor of Dorvillier’s rehearsal process, her undertaking to craft the “other choreography” embedded in her dances into a new project that produces its own meanings, and of the artist herself when she is at work. Dorvillier, with the dances she makes and the strategies she uses to make them, is her own best instrument of navigation.
Diary of an Image runs:
June 6-7 [Fri-Sat] & June 12-14 [Thu-Sat]
A catalogue of steps runs:
Wednesday, May 21, 12-3pm
Friday, May 23, 7pm
Wednesday, May 28, 12-3pm
Wednesday, June 4, 12-3pm
Wednesday, June 11, 12-3pm
Saturday, June 14, 7pm - 8 pm
All at St. Marks