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PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art 23.1 (2001) 62-68

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Annual Letter

Douglas Dunn

The following is Dunn's annual letter to those who have shown interest in his work.

February 2000

Dear Friends,

Grazia and I deserted Sparkie, Chiara, and Ciccio three times last year, twice for work and once for weather. At the beach we gathered shells and sorted them into three groups, by shape. Empty suits of armor. If broken in more than three pieces, out. If fewer than three, nothing missing, in.


As a child I collected knives and arranged them carefully on a small table. My sister would pass by and disarrange them, just a little. When I grew big enough to beat her up, attacks on my domain became less frequent and more desperate. One day she tried to break my 45-rpm hits. No go. Plastic.

The shape of a dance is the result of ordering as much disorder, inner and outer, as I can perceive, absorb, and accept while working. I'm after a stylized imprint of being in movement, one that resolves my confused dissatisfaction with intaglios other dancers have taken the trouble to cut and print.

Celeste (1979) took shape from practicing "don't repeat." Connecticut College, first on lawn, then on stage, 23 performers, many un-dancerly behaviors, skydivers known only to collaborator Tal Streeter. All of us wild, aroused, freed in the breadth of the work's wide embrace. A reviewer: "too diffuse."

Disorder is outside, order the needs, desires, and ideals inside that yearn to fix what's out there. Or vice versa, order in, disorder out. Or, two conflicting orders; or disorders. In any case, as inner and outer approach balance, we expect stress and urgent activity to diminish. But they don't. "Nervous system."

From my point of view, order in Lazy Madge (1976/99) comes from the customized moves I make for each dancer, and disorder from my allowing them to use the moves when and where they want to. For audience, order is whatever happens. But inconstant personas and ragged phrase-ends hint at disorder. [End Page 62]

Unrest (1990) had the order of appearing in the conventional format of modern plain dancing, and the disorder of that surface being broken by volcanic outbursts of half-ironic emotional nonsense, as well as by Bill Cole's reedy cacophonies and Mimi Gross's diagonally-aligned gauzy waterfall and canopy.

The more I planned or imagined what might happen on our first date, the more my intestines entwined. We met. It hit me. Nothing specific had to happen. My tummy untied. The itinerary? Doing whatever, together. The pleasure I felt at being released into this immediacy was immense.

What odd mind is this, that knows, that knows it knows, but won't know all? Uncomfortable living blind, we endorse "curiosity." Why isn't consciousness congruent with what is? Or is it? If motion is mind's MO, why do we yearn for resolution, why are we capable of fixed ideas? Are they mis-takes?

There's your personal sense of order/disorder, and there's the order/disorder within the conventions of dance languages. But isn't every next moment unknown? Entered as such won't it offer up innocent originality? And won't this expression be the picture connecting all your and the world's nerve-ends?

One dance says, This is a disorderly ordering of naked motion for your stupefaction. Another, This move means this, that that, and you should feel thus. The distinction measures neither the quality nor the generosity of either piece. The first falls to struggle in substrate, the second aspires to Culture.

I can now get through the day leaving the bed unmade. What's the meaning of this? I enjoy the act of making order. I enjoy the result, too. If I don't take control won't nothing good happen? Maintaining my hold will I miss feeling what I'm gripping? I'd like to surrender, but when, to what, how much?

Dance training involves the paradox of building strength and coordination...


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