In terms of inspiration, texts, etc. the list is LONG. But I can say that Alex Ross’ Wagnerism: Art and Politics in the Shadow of Music was hugely informative to me. Once we landed in the late 19th century terrain of Wagner, the references to Spiritualism, the occult, Mesmerism, Charcot, hysteria, etc. all flooded in. Tarantism, though not of that period, also seemed topical. Through the course of the pandemic, I will admit that my ambivalence around dance flowered into new heights. While it is a vocation that I can’t imagine not doing, I also spent a lot of time during the early portion of the pandemic wondering what were doing. What does it means to make a work of dancing that other people will sit in a dark theater and watch? I wondered whether we would ever return to that, and yet, here we are doing just that.
I formed a cast for this work and began rehearsals in mid-February 2020. We found ourselves on Zoom roughly 2 weeks later. Nearly all of the 1st half of development for this work occurred on Zoom, which in itself is just insane when I think about it. When 3 of the 6 cast members left the project about a year later because they moved out of New York, left the dance field entirely, or got a full time job with Trisha Brown Company, it seemed impossible to integrate new people who hadn’t been through that period on Zoom into the work. All of the losses of that period had been writ into the work. So the missing dancers were in some ways a kind of ghost that haunted the project. It occurred to me that all this disconnected connection and Zoom meetings wasn’t all that different than 19th century Spiritualism, where they were seeking to communicate with someone who wasn’t physically there. The internet as the Ouija board of our time.
And I will finally say that, for better or worse, I see Wagner as a kind of forebear of immersive aesthetic experience. The desire to mute the tyranny of rational thought and to allow oneself to be swept away in feeling through music is both powerful and not new to our time. I am as implicated in that desire as anyone, but I have simultaneous significant ambivalence and reservations. The intensely problematic history of Wagner as arguably the western musical canon’s most problematic dead white guy serves as a warning. But Hollywood cinema couldn’t exist as it does without Wagner having laid the groundwork. And I would argue, neither could immersive aesthetic experiences. As Alex Ross so keenly points out in his book, the spectrum of artistic and intellectual movements that have been influenced by Wagner is wildly vast and seemingly contradictory. Wagner’s work has been appropriated in the service of movements that range from radically progressive to authoritarian fascism. I wonder today, with so much of our politics on the left and the right being fueled not by distance of analytic thought but by proximal emotion (even rage), whether we have already fallen deep into some of the same traps of history. All of that has informed my approach to this piece.