Drunken Boat Interview

Just for starters, what brings you here to Marble House?

DAGES:  From the first, our process has been collaborative.  We both have backgrounds of formal dance training and were starting to unpack the ways in which we taught to navigate the deployments of authority and power in a performance process. We were both reacting against the ways we had internalized the authoritarian structure of our concert dance training, and were looking for more rhizomatic, feminist ways of dancing. We were both craving a way of bringing agency and voice to our practice, and realized that we could be performance clay for ourselves, and not just for another.

The dancing seems to pull in and out of moods and temperaments, kind of like a tide. Some of the moods seemed very machinated, dystopian and broken. Others were very human and slow, or ecstatic and erotic. Can you talk about moving your body in and out of these places?

DAGES:  We’re two European-American, white, athletic cis-women with 60 years of dance practice between us. We’re not running away from what we look like, but we do desire to complicate it with the understanding that women are not born but made.

In essence, we are dealing with materiality. The materiality of both of our bodies constitute archives which include our intra- and inter-personal memories, gestures, older choreographies, injuries, internalized and performed gender, race, class, age.  Life is a fleshy thing; we are spongy, permeable, breathing embodied intelligence. Our body is ecstatic, grieving, enraged, enraptured-- birthing beings, bacteria, viruses, being the landscape for myriad matter in our guts, on our skin –the human body is not just a human body. It’s always embedded in relationships that with sub human, superhuman, supernatural, supranatural.  How we can slip through wormholes and have experiences that are not quite human? Subatomic and supernoval? Where do we fit?

At times it seemed that your faces were performative, in keeping with the body’s movements. Because this was an informal rehearsal, though, other times your face seemed to be your personal face. How “you” are you in an unnamed role, and how much of that you is a performed you?

DAGES:  The face is the human locus of expression, and in our downtown dance milieu it’s very often erased –as if there is a neutral face or neutral expression! One of the things that attracted me to butoh was its courageous engagement with facial expression and letting effort show, letting the face dance.     

We’ve had personal conversations about gender as a performative act. I remember that we talked, for example, about traditional male and female roles in ballet. There were moments in your piece that seem quite sexual or erotic. In what ways does it matter or not matter that you are both female dancers?

DAGES:  What constitutes an erotics? There is a way in which our choreography of specific bodily shapes or movements are projected onto and read as sexy. Dance affords a framework in which to think/feel/move through/expand/question one’s own sense of gendered embodiment. Studio practice allows me to experience the phenomenological, sensate nature of my moving body without it having totalizing sexuality or with gender labels smacked onto it. Gender is constituted through reiterative performance (thanks Judith Butler) in daily life and made even more “real” through staged performance of gender. In performance practice, I question my own performance of gender-- what is transmitted, resisted, enacted? What is contained, contagious, caught in my acts of cis-female identity? How do I grapple with socio-cultural entanglements while expressing “myself?”

What does a dancer’s body feel like inside during a performance? Is it purely physical; would you say that at the moment of performance it is a non-intellectual experience? A non-verbal experience? Put me inside the body of a dancer during dance.

DAGES:  For me, it’s mostly a non-verbal experience.  Of course, my sensate, psychological, feeling body is always pressing expressively into language, but in the space of non-verbal performance, I feel a hyper-aliveness, a sense of being 100 percent present and making choices from a state of total immersion in my senses. Performance is also a kind of fecund opportunity to draw from memory; I can draw on memory in a different way when I know I don’t have to verbalize/analyze/detangle it. Some of the most thick, ambiguous, private, tender, intimate experiences in my life can be touched, reworked, imagined, integrated, in a performance-- in a performative landscape.  In my performance practice, I feel my most vulnerable, my least guarded, while simultaneously empowered and safe.

At the beginning of your piece, you took a moment to describe what the costumes will look like. Why does that matter?

DAGES:  In costume and onstage, I can flirt with embodiments that I wouldn’t explore on the street. This is where we interface with possibilities opened up by drag. Costume allows us to augment form the outside in. Like in a yoga practice, when you adjust the structure of the bones, you change the inner experience of the organs. You change the embodied feeling through altering the container-- as you change the shape of the container you change the feeling of what is contained.  

Some moments of your piece felt tragic, I felt genuine sadness inside my body. In a poem we try not to describe a feeling, we try to enact a feeling, be a feeling. Is that the same in dance?

DAGES:  We’re feeling it. Sometimes. There’s a contagion of our affect, and that’s part of how we connect as performers to each other and to the audience. We’re able to feel something and chemically alter the environments so that you’re feeling it too. It’s super manipulative. And yet, there are those real feelings felt while performing alongside performed feelings. We are feeling the people feeling us as well.

Some moments in the piece seem extremely yogic, and I know that you are both dedicated yoga practitioners and teachers. In fact, there was a distinct om-like moment. It occurs to me that dance is ephemeral; you can record it, but it’s not the same thing as a performance.

DAGES:  We are all ephemeral archives. We’re libraries that get contributed to as long as we’re alive, but some of the books can’t ever be taken out. I don’t think I ever forget that I’m a dancer-- a “dancer” might not be the term--but I’m always dancing.