Talya Epstein on Simone Forti Workshops
February 7, 2017
In December 2016, Danspace Project and the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)’s Department of Media and Performance Art collaborated on an unprecedented Research Residency with artist Simone Forti, on the occasion of MoMA’s acquisition of Forti’s Dance Constructions (1961). During the weeklong residency, Forti, invited guests, and the public engaged in discussions and workshops to ensure that this work is brought to the dance community and the new generations who will carry it forward. Below, artist and performer Talya Epstein responds to her experience working with Forti:
We stand in a circle. We breathe. We follow Simone as she guides us through a qi gong based warm up. We hold hands and do leg swings. We disperse into walking around the room are told to find the spaces between bodies and move through those. This situation, which Simone calls a “scramble”, finds its own pacing and rhythm based on the specific people in the room. She gives us all the space and time so that our group dynamic can unfold without too much outside meddling. Every now and then she will add a directive, like “place a hand on someone as they pass” but this feels more like a suggestion and dissent is welcome. A playfulness enters the space as some people squirm away from the touch and then a chasing energy appears. Some people move from walking to running. The scramble swells and collapses and thins out and ends. Our collective body has ended up back in a circle. The stillness is agreed upon without anyone speaking. The end opens up space for another beginning.
I am struck by how familiar all of these structures are to me. I have been scrambling since my very first modern dance class without really paying mind to where it may have originated. (Technically, I didn’t ask Simone whether or not she invented this structure, I just assumed she did.) This type of training feels like the building blocks for a contemporary embodied experience. Just like I first did pliés in ballet class, I first scrambled in modern class.
I love the boredom I often feel inside of this situation of walking around a room with other dancers. To be negotiating non-dance pedestrian traffic on the subway and sidewalks only to enter St. Mark’s Church and do the same feels like the punchline to a joke I didn’t know I was telling. It makes me realize more consciously that I’m doing “the thing” in my day to day life without realizing it. “The thing” being navigating my individual experience inside of a larger group.
The St. Mark’s bell chimes and the workshop soon comes to a close. I am back out on the street. Standing. Watching the pedestrian-sidewalk-scramble trickle by. After taking a moment to observe the scene, I join in, letting myself feel anonymous in the crowd.