sarma Conversations in Vermont oralsite
Steve Paxton
Keywords, Vermont, 2001, 2019

Lecture, 2019

Steve Paxton Beautiful Lecture. There was a figure, me, in between two images projected on the wall. I was against the wall too and I was a three-dimensional object. My action during the piece was using my spine to worm my way down to squat on my heels. And then worm my way back up to standing. Up and down, as I saw fit. It was an undulation of the spine, not a big one. Pretty subtle, up and down, very programmatic. Meanwhile, to my right one could see Swan Lake danced by Ulanova at the Mariinsky Ballet, or whatever it was: big, white, glorious ballet and Tchaikovsky. To my left you had a kind of really sleazy pornographic film, the kind of where a delivery man shows up and the woman is enticing. And before you know it, they’re naked and going at it. There’s one beautiful shot: the two bodies just rippling together, a duet. In the moment of choosing the film, I didn’t think at all of pornography or sex. I just thought of the movement. But it was dirty sex. It was meant to be pornographic, which I think is naturally a dirty look at sex or a look at something we’re forbidden to see. I was just interested in that shot of the clapping bodies. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen it again. It is a very interesting movement. Where his penis was at the moment, I’m not sure, but you know, it wasn’t the issue. So, those two films were going on. A black and white and a black and white film. Two black and white films. One more black, one more white, one high art, one the lowest. And me in between, kind of in the middle. A middle figure. Scrunching along the wall.

When I wanted to perform Beautiful Lecture at the New School in New York City, I was not allowed to show the pornographic film. I made an alternative version, called Untitled Lecture. At the time there was a famine in Biafra. So, I called up the people who were running the information program, went up there and got a film of starving Biafrans, babies, mothers, and substituted that for the pornography. I told the audience what I had had to do and what I had chosen to do. They totally got the idea that sex was natural or humane, and that starvation was not. They understood that the school had made me substitute something that was good for something that was bad, or at least the representations thereof. It all gets a little bit murky when you try to decide how these images exist in life. Mentioning there was supposed to be pornography did the job. Famine and high art. It sort of changed the parameters of the piece a bit, but it was still an incredible scope of the best from the most classic dance to the most tragic of racialized, economically corrupt circumstances. I still did the undulating movement. I didn’t have to change myself. Nobody censored me. I was allowed to put my back on the wall.

I once more chose to use the lecture as a response to another instance of censorship. I had planned to do three versions of Satisfyin Lover, my walking dance with 42 people, at New York University: a mixed version, a redheaded version and a nude one. I found the redheads by an advertisement in the Village Voice for “redheaded people who could walk." I had four weeks of people coming up to me asking “Am I redheaded enough?” And then there was the nude version, just a way to let people see it as a different form of walking. And that one was forbidden by the NYU. Instead, I did Intravenous Lecture in which I am getting intravenous fluid needled into my body as a kind of metaphor for sponsorship in the arts and control of the arts. Just to make a big old complaint about being censored. I was dancing. I was moving. And I had a doctor, my friend Bill Summer, who put the needle in. I stood still for the actual insert, but then it was possible to move around and dance and speak adlib about how I had wanted to put my dance on stage and hadn’t been allowed to. And how sponsors shape what the arts become by their control.

The act of naming it, that it seemed to be in a kind of category in my mind, like the chemistry lecture, the psychological lecture or the lecture on punctuation and English. Delivering the attitude of delivering information. Even though in Beautiful Lecture, who’s to know what is meant by the title and if it is a lecture what has been delivered. It’s subverting the form. I’m not doing my best to educate an audience. It’s an event. It’s an experience. I never considered to call those pieces “lectures” because I performed them in schools, but isn’t it interesting that Beautiful Lecture was presented at the New School and Intravenous Lecture at New York University? There was quite some support coming from educational institutions in New York City. Not all of them, but the more liberal institutions were supportive. They were liberal, but there were still the bounds of good taste. I was willing to go beyond good taste.

I rely on historians for the sequence of my life, but Lecture on Walking that appears in Earth’s Interior in 1966 might be the first expression of what one could call a lecture. Trisha and I held hands and I lectured on walking as I walked. Trisha was to not cooperate with what I was trying to do by improvised dancing. If I set off to cross the stage, she could drag behind or she could go ahead or she could role on the floor. But we had to hold hands. She had to be interruptive. To be an impediment to my delivery. That same reflexive movement like Word Words. Now talking on walking while walking. Art made me do it.