A THR(3)E DIMENSIONAL TEXT
Writing for Dance. By Mike Czuba
“Art should not be different from life but an action within life. Like all of life, with its accidents and changes and variety and disorder and only momentary beauties.” John Cage.
Everything we explore at Dancing Monkey Laboratories – on the surface – has elements of experiments that have happened before: conceptually and in content. We do not claim to have invented or re-invented anything (Nocturology and the Night Play excluded). But underneath, in the swamp where the good stuff is, we work very hard to investigate the revolutionary concept of (be)ing human. Instead of reaching for the uniquely divine we wish to simply reach across the table and hold your hand (but only if you’re okay with that). Instead of grappling arbitrarily at complex social issues we wish to ask you how you’re feeling and to offer performances that let us (be) together with all of our (be)autiful neuroses.
The last two Dancing Monkey creations (SATELLITES and Karl Nimeni is not Dead –I Killed Karl Nimeni) were text heavy, were emphasizing Theatre and were built (sometimes loosely) upon a narrative structure. With We Must Collide we are rotating our ‘Structural Triangle’ and making Dance the initial language. This offers us a freedom from a linear narrative as well as new challenges of integrating text within the physicality without losing a continuity of expression. We Must Collide is conceptually described as “a high energy, kinetic, interdisciplinary piece exploring the violence of stillness against the explosion of a touch into the control and strength of a developed impression. With modern technology literally pulling us apart, we must physically collide into each other to be noticed, felt and seen.” Graphic language for sure – violence, stillness, explosion, strength, being ripped apart, physically colliding – the translation to dance seems straightforward if we were to go literal. But what of the other side of those words – peace, manic, caress, weakness, being held together and longing for touch? Which do we choose to demonstrate and how?
If we were only using music and dance in a traditional sense, this might – might – be a simpler equation. But we are using every point of our triangle and the balance of what gets ‘described’, through which element and where they overlap is the scientific material for the Laboratory. For writers, words are life, words are action. The written word is how we communicate our internal struggles with the world because speaking about those struggles would feel… wrong. As if when spoken whatever we were desperately trying to communicate would arrive at its recipient(s) as a half-truth or be misunderstood. As the Dancer needs to translate their struggles through the movement of the body and the Musician needs to substitute a spoken language through a series of notes, the Writer needs to put words on paper with pen and ink or on a screen with the tapping of keys. What arises out of this need is what we call (A)rt.
These words, on the page or the screen, are only two-dimensional. They are flat. They have the power to create imagery and worlds and emotions… but as text, they are still just bits of ink or pixels methodically/mechanically assembled to represent something – words – that are used to describe something else – images – but can never (be) that something. The experiment – which is on-going and nowhere near completion – is to figure out if there can be such a thing at a three dimensional text. A text that can be filtered through a dancer’s body and voice and (be)… something: something other than just a word. The first clumsy step in this unfinished journey was to remove an obvious narrative from the text and to instead think about the narrative in terms of poetry, separated into ‘scenes’, to create imagery instead of story, which led directly to an experiment of how and where to place the words on the page. And to repeat: this is not a new concept, but new for my own practice and the knowledge that these words could be ‘danced’ as well as spoken – I was entering new territory. This idea was lifted from how some sheet music used to be written and marketed with the shape of the notation directly influenced by the content. I wanted to place the dialogue where a dancer might be standing – the original concept being that the stage is surrounded with microphones.
Figure 1: Page 1 and 2 of We Must Collide
But this is only the first step within the first step. We, the scientists at Dancing Monkey, are also interested in not separating the talking from the dancing from the music but compressing and layering them so that all three are existing in the same space and time to create a single thought. How this might happen is still in the research phase but the possibility is very much a possibility. Pat Muchmore wrote an article called “Scoring Outside the Lines” where he discusses how modern composers are continuing to play with the idea of Augenmusik or Eye Music. He writes of musical scores as “not the music”, which means it is a thing both within and without (very much a Nimenist philosophy incorporated in the Night Play). He writes about how no performance of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony is the entire work:
“…in the end, I don’t think it’s possible to completely localize the phenomenon of Beethoven’s Seventh – it seems to exist as an impossible amalgamation of the infinite real and the potential performances that reasonably conform to the instructions of the score….The precise nature of the work can never be exhaustively realized and that is a wonderful thing.” (Muchmore)
It is the ‘potential performance’ that drives me towards a thr(3)e-dimensionality with the text of We Must Collide. Even if the complete, conceptual, constructed, theoretical ideas embedded into the creation of the piece are never consciously realized on the stage – the potential will always be there, within their intent. Theresa Sauer’s Notation 21 Project has collected examples of this philosophy and practice to the extreme. As someone who has a very limited understanding of musical notation I have no immediate idea how or even if these scores could be played, but I do see the conceptual intentions in their shapes.
Figure 2: Theresa Sauer – Notation 21 Project
Literature is not exempt from this experiment. ‘Pataphysics and Oulipian writings (OuLiPo: Ouvroir de la Literature Potentielle – or – Workshop for Potential Literature.) is described in Andrew Hugill’s ‘Pataphysics: A Useless Guide as an “…emphasis on potential rather than actual literature” which “…meant that the Oulipo felt no obligation to produce creative writings as such. Instead, many of the early publications were simply elaborations of method or manifestos”.
Figure 3: Luc Étienne Périn “’The Art of the Spoonerism’ Figure 4: Ernest Wright’s novel Gadsby – which does not include the letter “E”.
Figure 5: Organizational chart of the ‘Collège Pataphysique’ http://www.patakosmos.com/college-de-pataphysique/
What these experiments illuminate is that the concept of structure can be manipulated. I have been guilty of minimizing even my own finished scripts, calling them simply a blue-print for the final production – which on the theatrical surface is accurate – but I’m beginning to feel that this is short-sighted. Yes, a performance is much more than words on the page, but why can’t those pages be more than two-dimensional? Dancing Monkey Laboratories philosophy is that everything is a work of (A)rt, not just the finished unified product but each individual element.
(S)cientist and Choreographer Melissa Tuplin describes our process as having two distinct steps: Creation followed by Production. Meaning that we make the (A)rt, then we figure out how it will fit into the container we are lucky enough to be working with. This process also includes the exterior elements like the publicity and documentation. A show poster should (be) marketing and magic – functional and wonderful. We have begun making short films based on the performances, not trailers per-se but stand-alone works that complement the live performance. We also release (S)cientist Nathaniel Schmidt’s compositions as albums so that no matter which type of (A)rt a potential audience member might be drawn to, we can invite them into our Lab.
Our motivation is not entirely benevolent as we also create these ‘other’ works so that the life of the production can live on in other forms in other spaces. The question remains – Can you write a thr(3)e dimensional text? Two moments of ‘Ah-Ha’ helped uncover a potential answer. The first was the obvious realization that we are dealing with the subject of words and with language, so we need not only concern ourselves with the visual and can allow ourselves to be metaphorical with our third dimension. Textually speaking, basic two-dimensional text consists of height and length or width; how we see it on the page or screen. The third dimension when discussing thr(3)e dimensionality is depth and breadth. So if we become metaphorically literal, the third dimension is the depth of the words you have chosen and the breadth of your ideas.
For Dancing Monkey, those ideas are the epic-ness of banality, the intricacies of routine and the extra-ordinary. Word choice is not simply about the beauty of the word chosen but about the beauty of the intention of the choice. The words must be imagined (be)ing performed, (be)ing in action. So we must be ‘deep’ with our choices and to expand the literary devices into rhyme, we must give the breadth of the text actual ‘breath’ that creates sounds which creates the words. The second ‘Ah-Ha’ was understanding that I was writing words that would be spoken/performed – sometimes silently and in stillness – by dancers with music. This is different than traditional theatrical texts that are driven almost exclusively by narrative.
For a performative text, the Writer must leave room for the physical reaction to the words and not just the intellectual reaction; how a word is shaped, how it sounds, where is can be placed on the page to approximate a space on a stage. The Writer should watch the rehearsals and see how the Dancers move, how the text moves with them, and how it may get in the way? When watching a scene and seeing the movement and hearing the music – the text needs to figure out where it belongs. The text should learn to follow more than lead, letting the dance and music dictate some of the choices. If the composer is working with unresolved chords it would seem obvious that the choreography and the text should also be unresolved. When the choreography is particularly focused or energetic, the words need to only exist to say what the movement and music is not. When I say words are simply vehicles for images – I do mean vehicles. They must drive, corner, transport, lift, pull, push, speed and stop. The text creates a foundational intention, an underlying promise (potential) that everything we build upon it will be honest.
For the text, even within word-play and flourishes, will at its core be an easily understood truth. A thr(3)e dimensional text needs to listen; needs to fit within its width and height; needs to understand its depth (while not being afraid of the cliché); and needs to be aware of the expanse of its breadth careful not to fill in all of the open spaces to allow the creation as a whole to breathe – that breath is the back and forth, back and forth of Public (A)rt. *********
 Nocturology (a science concerned with deciphering what is and what is) is ‘Pataphysics (the science of imaginary solutions) mixed with the theatrical concept of Numinosum, which is Carl Yung’s expanded definition of Nunimous: that of having strong religious or spiritual qualities; hinting at the embodied existence of a divinity. In his essay Psychology and Religion ,Yung said Numinosum is “a dynamic agency or effect not caused by an arbitrary act of will. The Numinosum, whatever its cause, may be an experience of the subject independent of its will… The Numinosum is either a quality belonging to a visible object or the influence of an invisible essence that causes a peculiar alteration of consciousness”. Meaning it affected you not with random intent but with an external sensory intention out of your control.
 I AM I, directed by Larry Lamont, which began our practice in Montreal, was the precursor to where we are now by experimenting with text and music: actors and a the musician inhabiting the same space in(at) the same time. We were successful to the point that in our remount a year later, the musician (Tai Timbers) became part of the cast and had equal billing with the actors.
 The Structural Triangle of Text-Dance-Music is used to create a single wave consisting of the intellectual, the physical and emotional. This concept is similar to Josef Svoboda’s ‘Polyscenicness’: “…an expression of a free and many sided time space operation, in which one and the same action is observed from several optical and ideational angles… it means breaking up the linear continuity of theatre action, and its transformation in separate events or moments”. (p. 53 – Staging the Screen by Greg Giesekam)
 Whether the (A)rt is good, bad or important is irrelevant and missing the point. All (A)rt is important while it is being created because it is (be)ing created. Once it is out of the mind of the (A)rtist, once it has travelled from need to manifestation it becomes public domain. But I believe there is private (A)rt and public (A)rt. Private (A)rt needs no structure, no ‘skill,’ no reason to exist beyond the (A)rtist’s needs. It is the result of an open valve, a release that needed to happen for the artist to find the balance to continue attempting to navigate through life without continuously falling down. Public (A)rt, while it begins privately shifts slightly during and possibly before its creation and has a different purpose, an added purpose. Not simply a release but a conscious attempt to communicate. This needs some structure, some skill, some reason to be shared beyond the (A)rtists needs. Private (A)rt is a one way conversation – Public (A)rt goes two ways: from (A)rtist to audience and back and forth and back and forth and back and forth.
 Everything is a thing Nocturlogically speaking. Because an absence is a thing. So nothing cannot actually (be) nothing, because it is actually describing an absence. The ‘something’ described above is an image because words are simply vehicles for images, but what if text could be both thing AND image: Something and Something: “What is and what is.” (See footnote 1)
 Karl Nimeni is (was) a lover of music and could ‘see’ the shape of it – according to some reports based on e-mails sent during 2010.
 Theresa Sauer’s Notation 21 Project (http://www.notations21.net). Please visit this site. The examples of what can be done with a musical score are stunning and if you listen to the music, you can begin to see/hear the connections.
 Note the recurring concept of the ‘Potential’.
 Please visit http://dancingmonkeylab.com/academic-papers/ for recent examples.
 See endnote 4.
 Film scores have been using this technique to emotionally/subconsciously lead you to where you might not wish to go, almost acting as the opposite to the comfort of repetition where you jump ahead to finish the melody. Can repetition be unresolved? If something is unresolved, there is nowhere to jump.
 See endnote 4.