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  • Going Bird Meets Cougar-Asleep-on-Tree-Branch
  • Douglas Dunn (bio)

In November, 1992, I had the honor of participating in a symposium on interdisciplinarity at the University of Virginia, and was asked to submit for publication some version of my thoughts under the title “Theater as a Paradigm for Interdisciplinarity.” A few months later I found myself at Portland State University with a mandate to make a performance merging my Dance Company with members of the music, dance, drama, and art departments. Adding one fortuitous circumstance to another, during our residency a powwow featuring Native American dancing from around the country was taking place in the campus gymnasium. A young Cherokee named Cougar-asleep-on-tree-branch, whose goal is to keep dance rituals alive by providing forums for practicing and sharing them with other tribes and with non-Native American spectators, heard about our project and was interested in our task of trying to get university departments to cooperate. He requested a meeting with me, and I told him of my desire to produce a document on the very subject he was interested in. He agreed to frame our talk accordingly. We hadn’t spoken long before he nicknamed me Going Bird, a reference to a “voluntary officiator” of the Green Corn Ceremony during the 1930s. The name fit: I was indeed flying around campus from one department to another gathering and shaping resources for our show.


What do you think about interdisciplinarity?


Isn’t all knowledge one? I understand breaking the search for truth into manageable units, but look out, they easily become rigid and self-enclosed. Of course we want focus and hard-headedness. But attention to what we don’t know, why we’re studying, and what happens when you juxtapose questions and findings of various disciplines—these are pursuits of obvious value. Schools should add Departments of Generalized Truth where popular writers who take speculative risks are invited to hold forth. In order that these wide-ranging intellectuals remain driven by the profit motive of their book sales, which is widening, rather than by the narrowing, though equally valuable, motive of tenure, they should come and go frequently. [End Page 73]


How does interdisciplinarity relate to your work as a choreographer?


Using mind as interpreter of a reality we posit outside ourselves, modern science has been effective in its rational exploration of the universe, with the resulting useful inventions. The goal of my dancing, on the other hand, is to enter the stream of reality with an artifice that creates a gap in perception, tears a hole in the fabric of mind through which something unexpected might appear.


You mean, not using mind to go further, but changing mind to go . . . is this religious art?


If you like. Right lineage, but on the personal, not the institutional side. On the side of wondering whether or not to take consciousness for granted. The ground the work grows from is the arrogance and impossibility, the seriousness and silliness, of a single human being wanting to know.


How do you proceed?


You start by trying to unwire the “insatiable-need-for-control” unit of the rational mind. This task requires a new set of tools every time you go about it, as the unit looks one day like a carburetor, the next like a hub cap. Then you make a call to the unconscious, only to find that it’s moved, has the phone off the hook, or has taken an unlisted number. You wait, work on craft, worry what others are doing, lose concentration, begin a different piece, give up, write a fake review full of praise for a dance you never made, decide to open a small business, no, try for a job in a university, start upstairs to jump off the roof, have an idea and go back to the studio. In other words, you walk through a mined field toward an imagined treasure hidden behind trees the person you respect most is telling you you’d better not harm in any way or you’ll be killed.


Can you...

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pp. 73-86
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