“Artistry in the everyday”: Ann Carlson’s The Symphonic Body – tonight!

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“A kind of post-modernism that allows chance and randomness to play a part.”

The theory is that choreographer Ann Carlson‘s The Symphonic Body, which will be performed tonight at 8 p.m. in the Bing Concert Hall, is entirely self-explanatory.  You should be able to walk in cold and appreciate what you see onstage.

I don’t buy it, at least not entirely.  But then, I’m not a “hang loose in the moment” kind of guy.  I like to have a little background about the artist’s intentions.  So consider this a public service for others, like me, who are high-information art-lovers.

Here’s a start, from the Stanford website:

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Carlson

The Symphonic Body is a performance made entirely from gestures. It is a movement based orchestral work performed by people from across the Stanford University campus. Instead of instruments, individuals in this orchestra perform gestural portraits based on the motions of their workday.  These portraits are individual dances, custom made for each person, choreographed from the movements they already do. The particular choreographed gestures themselves become part of a larger movement tapestry within each performer and within the piece as a whole.  By engaging with this performance practice members of the Stanford community come together in concert to expand, renew and re-experience the artistry embedded in the everyday.

A visit to the Bing Concert Hall rehearsal yesterday brought its surprises.  Scattered among the 50 or 60 performers were some very familiar faces: Debra Satz, associate dean for the humanities and arts; dancer Aleta Hayes, a lecturer in the Drama Department; Charlie Junkerman, dean of Continuing Studies, and  Philippe Cohen, executive director of the Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve.

According to Peggy Phelan, professor in the arts:

The body that Ann has orchestrated in tonight’s performance is composed of students, researchers, staff, faculty, deans. Some are athletes; some are musicians; some are tree cutters; one is a Classicist; some are administrators, some are continuing education students. Some are seasoned performers; some have never been to a symphony or performed in one before. All of them rehearsed and entered into an act of collective creation. They are unlikely to have met before this occasion and they are unlikely to work together again. They created this body through a network of recom- mendations. They were named as people others found inspiring. Ann approached them and invited them to join. The members of this symphony are united by the gesture of saying Yes, the most vital word in Stanford’s vocabulary. To be the auditors of this Yes requires patience, attention, and relaxation. Strum your fingers, tap your toes and hear those everyday sounds as your own symphony. Use their music as a way to enter your own. Carlson’s makes Yes the chorus of an expanded soundscape; watch closely and you’re sure to hear it.

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Ann Carlson conducts

Ann’s visit coincides with Anne Carsons residency at Stanford, where she is a Mohr Visiting Poet – the two Annes are friends.  Unfortunately both visits occurred during a very busy month for me. The whole shebang would have blown by me entirely, had it not been for Florentina Mocanu-Schendels persistent beseeching, telling me that both Annes are people I absolutely must meet. Florentina, assistant director for The Symphonic Body,  was, as always, right.

I went cold into the rehearsal and meeting with Ann, at the Bing Concert Hall.  She was small, bright, energetic, wearing incongruous, brand-new sneakers – at least they looked brand new – and carrying a heavy-looking bag. I look forward to meeting the second Anne tonight, at the performance.

The poet Anne’s credentials are stunning: she’s received the Lannan Award, the Pushcart Prize, the Griffin Trust Award for Excellence in Poetry, a Guggenheim fellowship, and the MacArthur “Genius” Award.

This from the Poetry Foundation website:

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Poet

Anne Carson is a professor of Classics as well as a poet, essayist and translator. “In the small world of people who keep up with contemporary poetry,” wrote Daphne Merkin in theNew York Times Book Review, “Anne Carson, a Canadian professor of classics, has been cutting a large swath, inciting both envy and admiration.”Carson has gained both critical accolades and a wide readership over the course of her “unclassifiable” publishing career. In addition to her many highly-regarded translations of classical writers such as Sappho and Euripides, and her triptych rendering of An Oresteia (2009), Carson has published poems, essays, libretti, prose criticism and verse novels that often cross genres. Known for her supreme erudition—Merkin called her “one of the great pasticheurs”—Carson’s poetry can also be heart-breaking and she regularly writes on love, desire, sexual longing and despair. Always an ambitious poet whatever her topic or genre, Merkin wrote of Carson’s The Beauty of the Husband, “I don’t think there has been a book since Robert LowellLife Studies that has advanced the art of poetry quite as radically as Anne Carson is in the process of doing.”

Sudden fame. (Photo: L.A. Cicero)

As for performance artist Ann, she’s been keeping the 50 or 60 Stanford students, faculty, and staff on its feet. What’s in it for the performers?  “It’s fun, there are no lines to learn, some one else is directing/conducting, all I have to do is sit there and follow the program, no pressure, and it looks like it’s cool to watch,” said drama professor Rush Rehm.  “Art with little effort, using personal gestures and movement, and shaping the ‘commonplace’ by playing with time, groupings.  Sound like he’s taking it easy?  Give him a break.  He’s been rehearsing Beckett’s Happy Days, “which is the just about most demanding, meticulous play ever written, diabolical in its specificity.

“The Symphonic Body is like recess for me!” he said.  “It’s part of a kind of post-modernism that allows chance and randomness to play a part.”

During the rehearsal, one of performers, Matthew Tiews, Executive Director of Arts Programs, obeyed the impromptu spirit of the moment and handed me a live mic to address the performers with a question. I was caught offguard.  “What do you get out of this experience?” I asked.

Mary Nolan, Stanford grounds supervisor, responded in a beat: “Notoriety.”


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One Response to ““Artistry in the everyday”: Ann Carlson’s The Symphonic Body – tonight!”

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