Embodiment Vs. Representation: Interview with Daria Fain

This article is in journal-style format with excerpts by an interview with dance artist, Daria Fain.

January, 2005:  I find myself interning for the downtown dance organization Movement Research, where I’m helping tech the “Judson Church” works-in-process series. It’s here that I meet a dancer working with choreographer, Daria Fain. After hearing that neurologists, psychotics, architects and European art audiences are fans of this French-born choreographer’s work, I’m thinking, “I have to study with this person!”

March, 2005: I begin working as an intern for Daria Fain and her Brooklyn-based dance company, Human Behavior Explorers.

August 2005: I’ve been lucky enough to begin working as a dancer and outside eye to HBE’s new collaborative dance project, “Germ.”
The work is a solo work with chorus that is designed “to trigger the boundaries of our perception and the power of germination.” The following question arose from trying to gain a greater entry point into the work which is highly experiential, improvisationally formed and working from a completely internal intention.

KO: A major aspect of your work is this ongoing investigation of perception. How does this work in relation to your investigation of germination, and in the way you perceive the body in general?

Daria: In general, I see the body as a receiver for perception and sensing, and a way to articulate language. And, it becomes very interesting then, when you set up a particular way to perceive, you notice that it manifests a different body.
“Germ” is about the observation of growth: how can I grow as a body, what does that stimulate, how do I initiate things when I think about that, and what system in the body am I using to do that? Is it a thinking process, where, for instance, I am sending into my body so many ideas at the same time that I’m overwhelmed? Or, is it about something growing very internally, expanding, but really staying on itself? Or, is it the perception of growing into a limit of space that is contained?
The process is totally empirical actually, investigating how the body becomes what the body becomes. I’m giving myself parameters or contexts and seeing how that affects the body.

From watching the piece form through weeks of improvisational exploration, my view of the body and how one chooses to interact with it is changing. Through a process of internal excavation, I’m seeing an artist who has cultivated a body/mind likened to a deeply responsive cavern.
I’m relating to it because I feel it’s a deeply feminine principal at work here, and that expansion is not necessarily exclusive to pushing external boundaries.

October 2005- production week: Coming out of “process” and into a state of “product,” I begin to see the challenges that this work may be proposing to the audience—mainly, that if a work is so internally based, how does that translate from a personal process place and into a performance framework. I wonder if asking about intention could break the barrier between the performer’s experience and the audience’s interpretations.

KO: Having seen your work, I notice that this practice promotes a shift from an aesthetic-based use of the body which may perhaps be seen as more externally-formed, into something that is more experiential… My question is then, when you see a performer “experiencing,” why is that interesting to the person sitting watching?
Daria: Well for me, when I see ballet, or jazz or Broadway or Indian dance, or contemporary dance, it’s all the same thing. If I don’t see the person experiencing what they’re doing, it doesn’t mean anything. When you see Makarova in Swan Lake for instance, she becomes the swan, she is fully experiencing being a swan, and that’s why it works.

KO: Yeah, but the thing that brings the audience into joining the performer in their experience is the agreement that a swan is being represented. They know what a swan is; they have a conscious filter of that subject so that is an automatic entry point into the performance. It’s like it doesn’t matter if they’ve never been in pointe shoes, they are identifying with the swan and can enjoy how the particular performer is interpreting that. But when you are performing an internal experience, what is that entry point for which the audience can connect to?

Daria: Well… the audience thinks they are identifying with the swan, but, they’re crying because she is dying. So, it’s actually not about what you know, or what you identify with, it is what is being experienced and how that touches you on an emotional level.
That being said, it can be very challenging to invite an audience to relate to a form that does not have a recognizable image or icon or context within this culture, at this particular time. If you’re interested in the changing perception of the body and what the body is as a form, you have to invite the audience to go somewhere sometimes ungraspable.

I could see that an audience, especially an audience of dancers, in order to enter into the work, would really have to shift their witnessing experience from a focus on aesthetics and into a place of active experiencing.
Loads of questions began surfacing… Questions that I feel probe through many assumptions concerning the making and watching of dance.

What if aesthetics had no part in making dance?

I am observing that there remains a hierarchal relationship between the mind and body that is still very present in contemporary dance.
In many instances the body is still regarded as merely a well-trained tool used to express some other system, - a concept, a narrative, an emotion, an objet d’art, etc. but, ultimately that “I” as the artist (“I” being identified with “mind”) am merely manipulating the body to show something. The “I” is still not located within the body and so the expression of the dance is formed from an external “idea”.
The process of observing dance within this frame work then becomes an experience of evaluating what the dance looks like externally, what the body looks like externally, etc. And the creative process for the audience is still limited to the passive experience of receiving what is being shown to us. The ritual of performance is reduced to: what is being represented here and does it appeal to my aesthetic sensibilities?

KO: How would you invite the audience to watch the representation of the body in a different way? Or invite a dancer to engage with the body in a different way?

Daria: Well… I look at the body like it’s a book. And I want to be able to manifest everything. That’s what my work is all about… connecting to this tool, the body, to access an infinite sum of memories, experience, and information. And the only necessity to the work is the engagement in what you do, and the precision of how you can experience what you’re doing. When you are as precise as possible and as engaged as possible into the experience, it is this that connects consciously or subconsciously to whomever is witnessing.

So, if we as dance artists are so concerned with “showing” something with the body, are we truly “being” the body? I believe “being” the body allows us to relate to ourselves in a way that perhaps transcends social patterning of objectifying the body.

What if we didn’t see the body as an object to manipulate, but rather as the “subject” doing the experiencing? The body, (unlike the mind which can be thinking of grocery shopping while the body is actually on stage dancing) is never separate from the experience. It is not represented in any way. It is.

That being said, there’s nothing like watching performers who have cultivated internal tomes of “books,” deep caverns of perception, and then, “show by example” that life can be felt and experienced and wondered on such a deep level, and upon such a colorful and multi-faceted palette.

Watching this, seeing experience so ultimately embodied is moving.
Nothing there is represented. It is alive- and that’s “beautiful.”
The possibility that opens up then is that choreographic intent can be there to create an entry point into embodied exploration. A structure can be created not to “show” this experience, but rather to act as a responsive system that encourages deeper perception and experience, for both performer and audience member, into the moment.