Of late I have been endeavoring to understand dance. A review of Mark Morris‘s “Socrates” at BAM helped me some with its inclusion of a quote about…butts.
This led me to the quote’s original appearance, a passage from The New Yorker writer Joan Acocella’s book on the choreographer:
“I love to see their butts,” says Morris. That love is not erotic, or not mostly. If it were, their butts would look sexier, and presumably the men’s buttocks would be more in evidence than the women’s, which they are not. No, what he is after is the thing that is underneath, both literally and metaphorically. The buttocks are an innocent, hardworking part of the body — soft and round, the seat of humility, the place that gets kicked. To Morris they seem to represent something modest and tender and unacknowledged, the body’s vulnerability. At the same time, what they represent in dance terms is the body’s dignity, for they are the motor of action: they contain the pelvis, from which the movement originates. So in both senses the buttocks harbor a fundamental truth, and one that in Morris’s eyes is validated by the fact that it requires exposure. For him, truth is always hard to find. Veils have to be dropped. Once, describing to a journalist why he loved conducting choreographic workshops, he said, “It’s like we all pull our pants down” — a telling metaphor. In one of his dances, Striptease (1986), the performers do pull their pants down.
What I love so much about her language here is the way she slips readily between double entendre, metaphor, pun and joke (“It’s like we all pull our pants down”; “the seat of humility”). What I love so much about this passage is its acknowledgment of the body as crucial to a medium I’ve long struggled to understand. The bodily nature of an art form whose medium is almost entirely bodies was not exactly surprising — but dance is an art form so refined that low down talk about that medium often seems to be elided, avoided, absent.
Below a video about the deep connection Morris sees between these bodies and the music which guides them.
And finally, let’s stop where we begn — with a wordless rendition, arranged by John Cage, of the piece to which Morris choreographed “Socrates.” It’s by Erik Satie. It’s called “Socrate.”