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

Score, 2001

Steve Paxton, Jag vill gärna telefonera (I Would Like to Make a Phone Call), 1964, printed paper, stickers, ink, gouache collage on paper, dimensions 45-3/4 x 24 x 4-1/4", Collection Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Gift of the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, 2013.

Steve Paxton So what am I…I’m just to bring up all thoughts that pertain…is that? Score. I wonder about its source. I wonder what…I have no idea what language it originated in. But I look at that “o-r-e” in it, and I think of gold and I think of…I think it might be a word that comes from minting coin and something to do with striking an image. I mean, to score also then…if you scratched something, you have scored it. So it has all to do with image making, and maybe something of iconography, something of the icons that we use for graffiti, or for coin…

Well really, dance still doesn’t have a written procedure, although we have a couple of great obscure notations. But we have become a literate art in this century and also we have of course the help of the [inaudible] and other image making things. But it occurred to me that there could be a dance score, and I think people have worked especially with video to make that happen.

When I was making the photo scores, I was trying to leave spaces in between the poses. So the dancers had short bursts of events they had to do very precisely, and in between those were sections that they could either… I generally asked them to do it efficiently, to go efficiently from one position to another. So I was not looking for how much of themselves they could put into the space between events. But nonetheless it was themselves. As opposed to what? As opposed to a self that they were assuming, I guess. So clicking back and forth between kinds of self. And when I’ve done the scores, I can feel that “clickage.” And when you hit one of those poses it’s very much an icon in your mind, it’s very much like the profile on the coin or the recapitulation, the rescoring of… I guess in the arts we mostly use scoring for music, don’t we? What an enviable thing they’ve arranged. Cause there…it achieves…they achieve the printing capability through a true voice, except for a few pieces that have to do without. I used to worry that video and film were going to make dance obsolete, because it’s actually quite a chore to go to the theatre and see a piece. And space is expensive. But the more I think about an art using space, the more I see it can’t be replaced. It can only happen in space. And if the other scores are two-dimensional and ours can only really happen four dimensionally, really…three dimensionally in space.

When you hit those iconographic moments in the photos, you have this question of how do you face them. So here is a spatial question. It has to do where the audience is. But also, where you are viewing it from. So, are you going to reproduce it as you have seen it as a photograph or are you going to put yourself into that person’s body and reverse the image in a way? Or are you trying to get the audience…are you trying to position the things so that the audience sees it as you saw it when you first looked at the photograph? I don’t know if that’s clear. Anyway, it’s a question, which disconnects the dance from the architecture, and connects it to being seen from a point of view. And so it’s…say you have several of those photographs to hit and you’re moving in space as you do it and you are facing different directions… How does it work? From your own point of view, there is always the question – and I think it comes up with every photo – of whether you are reading it as a mirror image or whether you’re reversing that image and being inside it and presenting your front in that way. When you…oh, I know what it is. When you look at the score, the score is up on the wall and you’re doing the movement and you look at the score, you got your back to the audience. If the picture in the score is facing out, presumably toward the audience, you’re looking at that score and mimicking it, right, that means reversing the actual position and you got your back to the audience. So you learn it all that way, and then you turn the whole thing around, the whole dance around, all the positions, which – as I understand it at this moment – reverses all the imagery that you have learned in terms of what the audience sees. The relative sizes of the images indicate how close or far to the audience you are. So there…sometimes a small photograph next to a large one means that you travel quite a bit to make the change, to get from one moment to the next.

Somehow in that is the kind of nut of the dance. Somehow in those choices, whether you reverse, whether you mirror the dance, whether you decide to learn it the opposite of what you looking at frontally and then turn it around, how you decide to handle the spacing forward and back, how the different steps just by an efficient change work into one another, it determines the space of the dance. It has a very odd look in the space, I think. I think all of this creates an odd patterning to the movement, and an odd sense of who the performer is, cause your mind is going back to the original performer, and coming back to yourself and back to another original performer, you know, in the photograph all the time. So it’s personation, impersonation, and somewhere in that is the central unit of the…of what is interesting to me about the work. The way people choose and how those… And one person may do one and one another of these possible choices, so that the dance… I can have dance movements reverse themselves for what I have seen before of what I thought it was. So my preconception of the dance is… I’ve got one dance that’s flowing along as I envisioned it, and in the other one all the wrong arms and legs are being used. I thought it went the other way around, my reading of the score. And then I just look and see if it’s worth keeping or I should make somebody reverse, or what, you know. But in those choices amazing things happen, a kind of slippage, just at the point where the choreographer begins to see the point where things can be revealed about the materials. I think of course as much about the score that I’m making as I can, but it’s so interesting to see there is always more. Just in the simple kind of symmetry that there are for each reader to flip. Always more possibilities coming out of that.

It was an attempt in making the scores, over the years, to just find a way to think about movement. I mean, I’m proposing on the stage definitely a dance, but I’m proposing in my mind’s eye as I’m creating the score all kinds of my own transitions between one thing and another and it’s like a mental dancing to work with the photos. One gets very intimate with the photos. I mean, I don’t know how long it takes to…when I do the cut-out photos, I don’t know how long it takes me to do it, but it’s like fractals. It gets ever more intricate as you try to follow, you know, the difference between one shade of grey and another around a curve of a finger or a piece of a costume. That seems to be about that.