The Missing Shade of You: A Dance Dialog Between L.A. Paul & Marcel Proust
an evening of movement, music, and the spoken word with a post-performance panel discussion
March 4–5, 2017 at 7 pm
Presented by The Tank, NYC
151 West 46th Street, 8th Floor
Purchase tickets here
Framed as a dialog between the contemporary philosopher L.A. Paul, who explores the difficulty of making a potentially life-altering decision that will plunge you into the unknown, and the late-nineteenth/early-twentieth-century writer Marcel Proust, who maintains that art alone enables us to see the world with utterly different eyes, The Missing Shade of You is an evening-length collaboration between dancers, musicians and philosophers that allows audience members to witness a series of creative interpretations and explorations of the transformative powers of art. The performance comprises five movements. Read after the break for a full description.
Created and Performed by
Barbara Gail Montero (Associate Professor of Philosophy, City University of New York)
Theresa Duhon (Artistic Director, Duhon Dance)
Patra Jongjitirat (Designer, As the Crow Walks)
Gregory Kollarus (Dance Instructor, The Studio of Commack)
In Collaboration with Performers
Dean James Beckwith, dancer
Nora Fox, vocalist
Richard Inkyu Kim, violist
Priscilla Marrero, dancer
Jules Salomone, spoken word
Sammy Slater, guitarist
Lutin Tanner, dancer
And Featuring an Original Score by
Dmitri Tymoczko (Professor of Music, Princeton University)
THE PHILOSOPHY PANELISTS
Saturday, March 4
Elisabeth Camp (Professor of Philosophy, Rutgers)
Nick Riggle (Assistant Professor of Philosophy, University of San Diego)
Sunday, March 5
Kyle Bukhari (Professor of Dance, Sarah Lawrence College)
Lydia Goehr (Professor of Philosophy, Columbia University)
I. Allegory of the Cave: Echolocation and Flutter
Choreography: Gregory Kollarus and Barbara Gail Montero
Dancers: Gregory Kollarus and Barbara Gail Montero, with Dean James Beckwith, Patra Jongjitirat, Priscilla Marrero, and Lutin Tanner
Music: Dmitri Tymoczko, original score
Could a sighted person ever understand what it is like to navigate in utter darkness via echolocation? And what is it like for a blind person to suddenly obtain vision? Inspired by Marcel Proust’s view that through art, “we can emerge from ourselves and know what another person sees,” two dancers investigate these questions.
The first part, Echolocation, is an attempt to understand what it is like to be a bat and identify predators, prey and potential mates based on the sound-shape of their echoes. In it, the dancers interpret a series of repeating musical gestures which represent bat chirps bouncing of the walls of a cave and returning transformed. Is echolocation an entirely auditory process? Or might it also provide visual information? Or is it felt in the body, as is suggested by Fiona Gameson, a rare individual who began to echolocate after losing her vision during childhood? Look and listen for the different sound-wave frequencies that enable bats to distinguish central targets from the clutter of the periphery, as well as signs of signal interference. Can you can identify the “terminal buzz”?
The music for Echolocation was composed in large part via an analog of natural selection; by poring over an enormous number of melodies that were randomly generated on a computer, only the fittest were permitted to survive. And in them we find echoes of not only bat calls, but of the composers Webern and Babbitt as well.
During the second part, Flutter, the dancers leave the cave of darkness and step out into the world of illumination, experiencing vision for the first time. Though no longer “more destitute of human qualities than the cave-dweller” referred to by Proust, the bats’ world nonetheless appears as a flutter of confusing shapes.
The music, inspired by the revelation of becoming a parent—an experience, as Paul explains, that changes you in a fundamental and unpredictable way—takes the flutter of an infant’s heartbeat as a metaphor for this experience, capturing it in the various unexpected transformations of its ostinati. The the revelation of parenthood as well as the bats’ escape from the cave then serves as a metaphor for understanding reality, or the true essence of things—what Plato refers to as the eidos.
Music, Proust felt, is able “to assume the inflexion of the thing itself.” In the ostinati of Flutter, is it possible to experience the eidos? And do the dancers ever come to understand the illuminated world? If so, can they ever convey this discovery to those who remain inside the cave, in the dark?
II. Red is Like the Sound of a Trumpet
Choreography: Theresa Duhon, with the dancers
Dancers: Theresa Duhon, Patra Jongjitirat, Gregory Kollarus, Priscilla Marrero, Barbara Gail Montero, Lutin Tanner
Music: Richard Inkyu Kim, live improvisation on viola
[I]n many ways, large and small, as we live our lives, we find ourselves confronted with a brute fact about how little we can know about our futures, just when it is most important to us that we do know. For many big life choices, we only learn what we need to know after we’ve done it, and we change ourselves in the process of doing it (Paul, Transformative Experience).
Is it possible to convey the experience of seeing colors to someone who is colorblind? According to L.A. Paul, verbal descriptions can only go so far, since without ever having seen color, one’s understanding of it would be as impoverished as that of the blind man, discussed by the philosopher John Locke, who likens the sound of a trumpet to the color red. The blind man’s statement is true. Or, at least to our Western eyes and ears, red, in its boldness, does resemble the sound of a trumpet. But, in Paul’s view, learning that this is true of red, or even reading all the descriptions written by scientists about color vision, still leaves a cavernous hole in one’s knowledge of it. Might the nonverbal communication of dance fill in what words can’t do by providing a visceral sense of the experience?
Red is Like the Sound of a Trumpet explores the degree to which color experience can be brought to life through dance and the larger question of how a missing life-experience affects one’s ability to make rational choices about one’s future actions. It begins with one dancer improvising movement inspired by a specific color, which will have been chosen at random from audience member suggestions. Other dancers, not knowing the chosen color, will watch this improvisation and then try to capture and replicate, in their own improvisations, the first dancer’s movement quality, or (as it is often referred to in dance terminology) the “color” of her movement. And, within this responsive step, a second layer will be added, as a violist improvises a musical accompaniment to reflect the dancers’ movement qualities. The aim is not so much to illustrate how color experience can be conveyed through movement, but to reveal, as Proust claims only art can, one individual’s subjective experience of a segment of the world.
For Paul, the difficulty of knowing what it would be like to see color without ever having had the experience of seeing color illustrates the relevance of one’s past experiences on one’s future life-altering choices, choices that lead to what she refers to as “transformative experiences,” which are experiences that not only teach something you were unable to know before, but also change you as a person. To explore the informatory nature of transformative experiences, the dancers’ color improvisation transitions into a structured improvisation that illustrates the dancers’ experience of approaching chosen tasks as “transformed” individuals. During the rehearsal period, dancers were placed in the position of making choices about unknown futures, choosing individual improvisational themes from a number of options, unaware that they would be assigned specific limitations that would affect how they could move and therefore how they could address their chosen themes. The experience of dancing with an imposed limitation can be interpreted as representing the changed self that results from a transformative experience. Audience members, then, witness the result of the dancers’ adjusted approaches to their initially chosen themes. How do the dancers, changed by their restrictions, kinesthetically experience their individual movement themes? How does this experience affect their attitude toward the original choices they made? With this hindsight, would they have made different choices?
III. As it Grows Fainter
Choreography and Dance: Patra Jongjitirat
Music: Antonín Dvořák (Rusalka, “Song to the Moon”), performed live by Nora Fox and Sammy Slater
My love for Albertine was gone from my memory, but there seems to be an instinctive memory in the limbs, a pale and sterile imitation of the other memory, but one that lives longer, just as certain non-intelligent animals and vegetables live longer than man. Our arms and legs are full of sleeping memories of the past (Proust, Time Regained).
How can implicit memories stored in the body enter the conscious mind? Through choreographic experiments into recreating movement phrases that are no longer fully recalled, this piece investigates how an experience can affect what one does and how one feels even after the memory of the experience fades and is turned, as Proust puts it, “to oblivion.”
While L.A. Paul ponders the difficulty of understanding what it is like to undergo experiences we have never had, Proust illustrates that even past experiences may fail to provide a basis for future decisions. In thinking about a lost love, you will remember that your heart was broken, but you can no longer voluntarily relive the feeling of pain and weep again. Nonetheless, aesthetic pleasures, Proust suggests, may spark involuntary memories, such as the flood of recollections that come to the narrator in Swann’s Way upon taking a sip of his warm tea mixed with the crumbs of a madeleine. As conscious memories of one’s past grow fainter, can the aesthetic pleasure of dance uncover the implicit memories that have taken quiet residence in the limbs? When movement opens the floodgates of memory, what pours forth? Is it a precise action or feeling, or rather the impulse behind the original experience? What is preserved and what has been reinterpreted?
As it Grows Fainter explores how the instinctive memory of the limbs may bring back choreography that has been explicitly forgotten. It was developed over the course of an extended experiment, during which one dancer choreographed a two-minute phrase of movement and then attempted to recollect the phrase one month and then two months afterwards, videotaping each version. The piece presented here is a sequential reconstruction of the original choreography and each of the two recollections (which were re-learned from the video documentation). Strung together, they reveal how memory of the limbs, though sometimes faithful to the original experience, is filled with lapses, reinterpretations, and utter inventiveness.
In tribute to Proust’s assertion that art allows us to understand “what another person sees of a universe which is not the same as our own” a universe, as he goes on to say, that “would remain as unknown to us as. . . [the landscapes] that may exist on the moon,” the sequential reconstructions of As it Grows Fainter are accompanied by the aria “Song to the Moon” from Dvořák’s opera Rusalka. And the setting for the piece is inspired by a passage from The Guermantes Way, wherein the narrator—whose name, we can infer, is Marcel—is attending the opera, yet rather than paying attention to the magnificent scene on stage, his gaze is arrested by the Duchess de Guermantes, a “goddess turned woman,” who at one point, much to his delight, waves to Marcel from her box seat with her white-gloved hand.
IV. Café Proust
Choreography and Dramaturgy: Gregory Kollarus, Barbara Gail Montero, and Jules Salomone
Performers: Gregory Kollarus and Jules Salomone
Text: Marcel Proust (excerpt from Sodome et Gomorrhe)
Music: Richard Inkyu Kim, live improvisation on viola
Just as a sentence that had presented no meaning for as long as it had remained broken up into letters arranged at random expresses, if the characters find themselves restored to their rightful order, a thought we will not again be able to forget (Proust).
The narrator in Proust’s Sodom and Gomorrah, lamenting the fate of Oscar Wilde— “one day fêted in every drawing room and applauded in every theater in London, and the next driven from every lodging, unable to find a pillow upon which to lay his head”—ponders, in one fantastically intricate, provocative, yet playful sentence, the fate of the homosexual and the Jew in society and questions the distinction between straight and gay, female and male, virtue and vice. What kind of social transformation would the evisceration of these distinctions lead to? What is it that the narrator talks of as being “sometimes beautiful, often hideous”? And might Proust, who was himself both gay and hereditarily part-Jewish, be a forerunner of the type of intersectionalist politics promoted by the feminist theorist bell hooks, who maintains that the various forms of societal oppression are linked (and who has said that “being oppressed means the absence of choices,” a condition which, of course, cuts off the prerequisite for making the kind of transformative choices that Paul thinks have the potential to bring an enormous amount of meaning to our lives)? Admittedly, given the labyrinthine structure of Proust’s 856-word sentence, it is not easy to tell. But through movement, music and the cadence of the sentence in the original French, Café Proust aims to provide some insight into the two performers’ interpretation of what it’s all about.
V. Imbricated Paths in the Chapter on Hats
Choreography: Barbara Gail Montero
Dancers: Dean James Beckwith, Theresa Duhon, Nora Fox (as L.A. Paul), Patra Jongjitirat, Gregory Kollarus, Priscilla Marrero, Barbara Gail Montero, Jules Salomone (as Marcel Proust), and Lutin Tanner
Music: Dmitri Tymoczko, original score
One of the most important games of life, then, is the game of Revelation, a game played for the sake of play itself (Paul, Transformative Experience).
Following a custom which was the fashion at the time, they laid their top hats on the floor beside them. . . . [The historian] assumed they must be embarrassed . . “we shall soon be able, like Aristotle, to compile a chapter on hats,” [he said], but in so faint a voice that no one heard him (Proust, The Guermantes Way).
If you’ve never been a vampire, you don’t know what it will be like for you to be one, and you can’t know unless you try (Paul, Transformative Experience).
In Time Regained, the final volume of In Search of Lost Time, the narrator tells us that “life is perpetually weaving fresh threads which link one individual and one event to another, and that these threads are crossed and recrossed, doubled and redoubled to thicken the web, so that between any slightest point of our past and all the others a rich network of memories gives us an almost infinite variety of communicating paths to choose from.” This concluding movement of The Missing Shade of You takes the sometimes accidental and sometimes deliberate switching of hats that occurs in The Guermantes Way as a metaphor for how one’s identity can change over time depending on which life-path one chooses, a change which is in part determined by the thoughts and actions of others. In it dancers explore through overlapping improvised patterns two approaches to decision making: Paul’s suggestion that when faced with a transformative choice, we should decide what to do based on “whether we want to discover who we’ll become” and Proust’s suggestion that aesthetics can serve as a guiding principle, as well as the narrator’s warning in The Captive that “we cannot know at what forms of perversion. . . [a decision may lead to], once we have allowed our choice to be dictated by aesthetic considerations.” Can you identify anyone in the piece who might be—as Proust says people often are— “discovered long afterwards to be the opposite of what was thought”? Do the actions of the dancers in any way illustrate Proust’s contention that “there is a sort of compulsion upon us to value what we lack at the expense of what we have”?
The music for this piece lives in the intersection between minimalism, fugue, and the improvisations of Vijay Iyer. While observing the dancers enact overlapping movement themes that recollect the past, listen for repeating musical themes, overlaid on top of each other, that represent Proust’s crossed and recrossed threads of life.
Illustrations by Marcellus Hall