Choreographer, Dancer, Performer
Liam Clancy is a choreographer, dancer, and teacher at the University of California, San Diego.
My work resides on the outskirts: on the border of dance, theater, poetry and performance art. Most of my training, the overwhelming amount, is as a dancer. I’ve been teaching dance at University of California, San Diego as a professor since 2005. Over the last few years I’ve been taking my art making practice out of the studio and my performances out of the theater, placing myself within the perceptual potential of anyone who happens to notice the work. By doing this I want to ask, what can live performance do in the world? How can performance offer a space for conversation while it is happening?
Intuition resonates with me as an art maker. It has more room in it than instinct or impulse. I also work from those things, but when I trust intuition, there’s a space that opens up, that expands my sense of time. I can shift my orientation to the world within the space of intuition. For me, intuition is a kind of listening. One of the definitions of intuition is “the ability to understand something immediately without the need of conscious reasoning.” As a dancer, or someone who privileges movement as a way of knowing — a way of being in the world — trusting intuition opens up the possibility to perceive the world on more than one level simultaneously. As humans, we are sophisticated. We can track all kinds of things in the moment. There is an opening up to varying frequencies that the environment offers information through. I can notice things that I don’t normally notice. It’s about patience too. It’s a trust around relationships in general: with your thoughts, your own history, with the people that are around you, with who you think you are and who you’d like to be. Relationships are always multi-layered, but intuition opens a space to track all those layers in all the ways that humans do. In the space of intuition, I have access all the way back to my ancestors, what they knew about the world and how they experienced it.
An innate human ability
The philosopher Alva Noë, says in his a book called Strange Tools: Art and Human Nature (2015), that what we are good at as humans is organizing. So if I am making a performance, I could organize it in the following way: it starts here, you go across the space at this rate, etc. We are good at that. But what we are sophisticated and truly excellent at is recognizing organization that is already there and responding appropriately. So for me, how can I set conditions for the performance where the audience and I can recognize organization that is already present, and we can discover things in the performance at the same time. How about we make some conditions that have interest, and allow for space: for the audience’s intuition, for mine. So things can unfold in a way that feels really alive.
On following intuition
This space of intuition seems vital in softening what feels like harder and harder lines between people. It’s time to not judge but rather to feel, sense, and experience something first. Feel, and be in this thing in all the ways that it can register. How long can you keep the space open to not know who someone is, or what you think something means? How long can you not know? John Keats talks about negative capability, “when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.” For me this notion encourages me to come at things anew, with a sense of rediscovery.
When I am performing out in public I don’t decide how my work is framed. Technology allows viewers to capture what interests them. The agency this gives them is interesting to me. I offer the work and they take as much or as little of that offer as engages them. Technology allows me to experience my own work differently in turn, literally through another’s eyes or sensibility. For a long time, audiences didn’t have a lot of agency: you have to sit down, and shut up, and watch. There is an old quote from Peter Brook’s 1968 book called The Empty Space about making theater: the difference between audience and performer should be practical, not fundamental. Each does different work but each is fully prepared and skilled at their work. It’s not this idea that through what I am doing as a performer, every bit of meaning is going to come through me and what I alone do. Rather, can my curiosity as an artist create conditions where we can notice together what’s already happening all around us?
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