The Maya Project is an improvisational dance filmmaking project that attempts to equate the ephemeral experience of dance improvisation with the permanence of video. This project endeavors to demystify the existence of the camera frame in the room, potentially revealing it as just another compositional tool/stipulation. We employ a democratic process of both space and composition: we are all potential “framers” at every moment: picking up the camera is a choice available to all, and all of the space in whatever room we are in is valued, not just the space being framed by the camera.

Between January and April 2008, we experienced 10 iterations of this project, evolving deeply each time. “Maya’s A-J”.

By the fifth iteration, Maya E, we started to develop a technique and codify a score, which we continue to specify.

Every day we entered the space (eventually without speaking) and started with a meditation, connecting to our breath, harnessing our awareness to the four main points of focus for this piece:

ATTENTION (breathing, meditation, consciousness, presence, awareness)

SPACE (proximity, connecting to distance, understanding how much room we take up, relationship to the air)

GEOMETRY (personal and interpersonal body shape, spatial and body arrangement, angles, moving and static)

FRAME (our eyes as frames, the camera as a frame, the shapes in our bodies and in the room as frames)

After some active practice in evolving these concepts and finding deep understanding of them in our bodies, we would start working with our developing improvisation score.

This included stipulations such as movement vocabulary developed over time as influenced by the body language necessary to hold a camera, when to pick up or put down the camera, and designated spatial relationships to work toward making happen at certain times.

It is also important to note that we were only performing in the sense that we are fulfilling a determined score with our actions and choices. We are really ourselves, really in this room, really making shape and space and time choices in our immediate composing. This idea is not exhibiting or abstracting ideas through movement, or any suspension of disbelief, but rather the opposite: focused, attentive, immediate movement composition with tools of camera, motion, shape, proximity, etc…

Some Key Points that have guided our investigation:
-breaking down the paradigms of “in” (in front) and “out” (behind) the camera

-Approaching the space that is the world inside of the camera as just another “stage”

-Incorporating body language required to hold the camera steady or focus on the image there into our composition as just a part of movement quality designated by the score.

-The concept of “Reveal” (certainly as influenced by Maya Deren’s work) and how it is available in a different way when working with cameras

-Creating a distinct sense of the life in the space outside of the frame (the camera’s “backspace”)
To do this, we incorporated such tools as reflections in the floor and the mirror,
experimenting with and being very comfortable with bodies not being on screen for long periods of time, or camera shake when bodies are moving but not seen.

My collaborators and I consider that there is an inherent power structure and politic imbued in the camera frame, its exclusivity in its pointedness at an “object”, and its potential permanence in comparison with many dance experiences. It is an often singular and often male eye discerning what belongs in the frame and what doesn’t. As a group, we are investigating how these structures can shift inside of a process in which cameras are a part of the exploration just as much as our other tools of improvisation. We wonder about the possibilities of subverting the power of the frame by using the thing in a different way.

Much of the value in this work, I think, requires sitting with it for a period of time. I’m comfortable with that. I’m interested in how it develops as you watch it. In many ways I think it is actually about the development of each iteration in time. 

This is deeply influenced by the work of Maya Deren, early collaborations between Merce Cunningham and Charles Atlas, and may be in conversation with concepts being explored by Margaret Westby in “technofeminism” and also the “humane technology” movement.

I dub this project ‘Maya’, hoping for the influences of Mayas Angelou, Deren, and Lin, in honor of poetry, frame, and landscape.

Maya is an investigation of improvisational filmmaking and the demystification of the making of dance films and the camera lens by incorporating the concept of the camera frame into the creative process from the very beginning. We ask questions about the philosophical nature of having the camera in the room. What does it feel like for something you’re doing to be recorded? Can we learn to use the camera frame as only a choreographic tool, demystifying any psychology we personally have attached to it, turning it into a frame, an opportunity, and not a matter of pretend? Can we train to compose within this frame immediately, the same way that we compose immediately through improvisation on a stage? Can we come to know this digital frame so well that it is just another form of space? What is it to bring forth our knowledge (make immediate choices from our embodied histories) through movement in the moment in the interest of the future (the film)? Can we consider all of this time in our bodies at once? What happens if we try?

This concept is becoming. We are developing it each minute and many of these ideas are wrong or bad or won’t work. I’m looking very much forward to the neurons we’ll gain by the failures we’ll experience.

“Indeed- you might ask yourself what it is that makes good improvisation.”
“Eschewing “product-hood” and resisting commodifications, improvisation emphasized presence and change.” (Vida Midgelow)

We calculate distances as if they referred to our own bodies”
“Any tool and its precise manipulation presupposes the space of the body.” (José Gil)

“The direction we take excludes things for us before we even get there.”
“Lines are both created by being followed and followed by being created.” (Sara Ahmed)

“When you see what you want, you’ll recognize it, but it won’t be entirely yours. It will belong to the material you’ve trusted.”
“Try breaking the rules on a ‘need to break the rules’ basis.”
“Nothing is ever wasted.”
“Choose people and trust them implicitly.” (Jonathan Burrows)

Rehearsal 1_ 1.17.18

Cameras are in the space from the start. We bring awareness to them. One only is running.

We name the cameras ‘Aye’ and ‘Bea’.

We four dancers take time to re-discuss the concept, hopes, and goals of this project. We sit in our bodies, breathe and notice ourselves in space. We open our eyes and consider how much room we take up. We walk and consider our relationship to space, our size, the distance between us and the walls, floor, ceiling, other bodies. This develops into a movement improvisation. We reflect on our improvisation, the feel of the camera frame on us: the yucks and the yums of this opening.

We do several more timed improvisations, relating to one another, considering the frame of the camera. We move the cameras to different parts of the space. We reflect on the difference between the feel of one camera and many and what it feels like when they are in different parts of the space.

What happens when we have the agency to move the cameras?

What happens when a camera is moved to focus on what we are doing?

From whence comes the instinct to make the decision to change the camera frame?

How much do you consider what you’re doing and how much do you consider what you are seeing?

Is the camera “downstage?”

What can we do that the camera can’t?

What can the camera do that we can’t?

What can we all do?