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.