PRINT Summer 1973

Notes on Batya Zamir

BATYA ZAMIR STRUCTURES TO THE finest detail everything that goes into her work with the exception of the end product, the dance itself. For her, “Dance is a nonobject art . . . its fluidity in time, its transitoriness, its thereness in terms of the moment is very appealing to me because it seems to exemplify the ultimate in terms of change.” What one might see during a single performance is an outgrowth as well as an exploration of the particular material she is involved in working with at any given time. Nothing is preset or fixed; the statements within the work have developed as a result of bringing particular elements into focus and defining them in terms of movement. Unpredictability is inherent in this process because, as she has stated, “improvisation for me is like setting up immediate ongoing situations and structures but right there and then, and pushing them to their furthest point until something else establishes itself.”

Batya Zamir, born in 1942, received five years of formal training in modern dance at the Henry Street Playhouse, under the direction of Alwin Nikolais, beginning in 1964. She has performed her own work in New York since 1966, and, after leaving the playhouse, has developed her choreography on her own. One strong connection that she has felt between her work and another choreographer’s has been to Trio A from Yvonne Rainer’s The Mind is a Muscle, performed at the Anderson Theatre, New York, April 19, 1968.

She hasn’t wanted to develop a style or set way of doing something. “If the emphasis on the movement switches to another area the technique is going to have to support it and that has to be worked out.” The technique is constantly subject to change and transition; it is not a factor which is isolated from dancing. The technique that Zamir has developed is her way of dancing. Having accumulated information and developed a sense of any given movement area, walking, falling, turning, or whatever, her awareness is coordinated with esthetic considerations with respect to the movement in terms of time and space at that moment, as well as the sense of the dance as it has existed in time and space. She controls the extent to which a given situation might go on, how in or out of control of it she is interested in being, and where she might attempt to go with it, or where it seems to be taking her.

She began with walking, “. . . a tremendous learning process for me . . .” which literally went on for years. She noticed that the walk is affected by whether one uses the leg at the outside or the inside of the periphery of a turn while making a change of direction. She later labeled these “open and closed turns” and added leaning the torso away from the vertical axis of the body while turning to create centrifugal and centripetal force. She enjoyed experimenting with physical laws, discovering what they are in relation to the body, and how they affect the body in movement.

The change of focus of a movement affects the timing of what is done, the space in which it is done, and the quality of how it is done. “If I keep spinning and turning and focus on my head leaving the vision of the focus pulled down, then the nature of the turn—the timing—is going to be completely different.” Focus could be on an isolated part of the body, the energy source for a given moment, how one part of the body connects with another, the relationship of the movement to floor, ceiling, or the walls. Focus could also be on how the movement connects or remains unrelated to the music, which she has begun to use in the past year (David Bowie, Philip Glass, Paul McCartney, Van Morrison, music from the Middle East). The music could be an outside source dictating action. For example, she explains: “. . . I like playing around with different sounds, I like seeing how I can work in between them or on top of them, or underneath, maybe follow one instrument and then switch to another.”

Expanding this process involved forming a workshop, begun January, 1969, composed of professionals from other fields in the arts, primarily painters and sculptors, who were sympathetic to her work, and whom she found receptive to her ideas (Richard Van Buren, Bob Duran, Kenneth Fishman, Angela Frascone, Gay Glading, Thomas Henner, Alvin Loving, David Novros, Nelson Richardson, Edwin Ruda, Jan Sarkisian). For the workshop she chose deliberately physical things that were fun for people to do: gamelike activities, climbing, falling, running. She was interested in finding out what movements people enjoy, those they feel uncomfortable about, and why. She expected performers to follow their own impulses—the need to watch, talk to someone, or the need to stop—but in relation to the actual material she encouraged them to trust their own time sense and abilities. There were no traditional performance standards. Zamir avoided creating an illusion of smoothness, slickness, seeming to be on top of things, preferring rather “. . . to be so completely there that you could deal with making decisions immediately .. .to be open enough to perfect that as a possibility . . . to see a huge person turn and spin in the space, that’s grace to me.”

While the dances created for the workshop generally focused upon exploration of a given movement area, Zamir set up the possibilities of the arrangements of the performers in the space beforehand and worked out with them a set of rules. The performers, however, exercised their own judgment over the timing of what they did, in what order, and with whom, and determined the variation within the individual activities. Working over a period of time,the performer begins to develop an intelligence about what he is doing, and to make physical discoveries. Eventually one’s physicality can be trusted to respond to different situations along with one’s capabilities at any given time and one’s esthetic sense. This physicality develops uniquely in the process of doing whatever the situation demands, and builds out of that experience.

In The Crawling Dance, consisting of 12 or 13 sequences, as people fed into the space certain spatial arrangements spilled out over the performing area. Some movements used more energy than others, and thus took up more space than the others. All of the activity was designed to be close to the floor—the weight of the body suspended in a variety of positions on all fours, rolling, or sitting in such a way that the hands had contact with the floor.

The Carrying Dance combined the relationship of body to floor with that of one body to another body in nine sequences. At times, one person carried another; two carried one; and finally, three and four people carried one. In one sequence, a group arranged centrally in the space on a vertical line moved from side to side with a sliding step along a horizontal, keeping the front of the body facing the audience. A person from behind could jump on one of the performers’ backs while he was moving, directly affecting the performer’s timing and capacity to maneuver in the space. No one knew whose weight he or she might have to deal with as the performers switched around behind, having the option to pick a new performer each time. “There was a tremendous humor in this piece . . . the juxtaposition of bodies, the incongruities of the physical relationships of one body to another.”

Gravity Falls had to do with losing control: letting a run backward or forward in the space reach its ultimate in terms of momentum until control was lost. “You could just release to the floor . . . it was a very exciting thing to witness visually, different landings would occur, the arrival points of each person were different, and the shapes that they landed in were different, depending upon how they landed . . . .” Trio Releases and Exchanges involved more complex decision making. One of three performers could run anywhere in the space while the other two had to catch up. Halting suddenly, the runner indicated by spreading out his arms the intention to fall at that point in the space; the other two moved in at either side of him to support the fall.

In Slot Exchanges there were four vertical columns, and four performers participating, who moved back and forth in the individual columns with walks, runs, or open and closed turns. At any time a performer in one slot could exchange slots with another performer by moving to a point in his slot where he could be seen by the other performer. The idea was to exchange slots simultaneously and have no more than one person in any given slot at one time.

Zamir’s watching waves in the ocean inspired Laying Down Rolls. The dancers worked very close to the floor, rolling sometimes side to side, or in an elongated line with attachments hand to ankles. She was interested in how one basic movement, rolling, could change visually depending upon how many people were doing it, and how they were linked to each other. At certain points in the dance, one whole unit rolled over other units of people linked together and rolling in the space forward and backward.

Direction Changes was created for the workshop in which the performers started at the periphery of the space, using it as a resting point. However, once the performers entered the space from horizontal, vertical,and diagonal paths intersecting the space at the center, “. . . it became like a network of energies . . . .” People rushed and passed through the center, coming toward each other and rushing back again. The performers continually encountered the unexpected, moving about in the amount of space provided by the movement in the space of the other performers.

For an eight-month period during 1970 Batya Zamir collaborated with Judy Padow, a choreographer and dancer. They explored forward and backward walking in space on straight and curved paths, and developed ways to exchange paths as in Slot Exchanges. In this work, however, the exchange was between circular paths in space. Curved backward walks in space developed as well as the “shoulder follow” in which one dancer keeps her shoulders in a fixed relationship to the other dancer’s shoulders, while moving in a circular path. To keep the relationship constant, both the size of the circular path and the speed of the dancer’s walking constantly readjusted as the dancers wove in and out of proximity with each other, leading or following, falling behind, overtaking and responding to the other’s change of direction.

Most recently Zamir has continued the workshop while working on her own. She has admitted that she no longer walks backward and forward anymore because “Movement got into my legs, my arms and into my torso.” One particular problem that she worked on for a long time concerned balance, the different placements of weight on the ball of the foot, or the heel of the foot. Balance predetermined how the arms and head and torso moved. Zamir found out in what way a change or slight shift could create a whole other feeling, and satisfied a need to explore an area closer to her own capabilities in terms of control.

Batya Zamir collaborated with Judy Padow again in a spring, 1972, concert at the Paula Cooper Gallery. The focus was not so much on moving out into the space as on extending energy and information to fingers and wrists. The dancers chose to dance naked together, dealing in intimate proximity of one body with another, but in a context outside the usual sexual or theatrical entertainment connotations. Zamir wanted to present her image exactly as it is, showing the muscles and ligaments, where movement originates, how it travels through the body. “Clothes reflect people’s fantasies about themselves, the kind of style they experience themselves to be in . . . I like the feeling of air on my body, wind changes, heat and cold . . . .”

Since that time Zamir has been working with more complexity—not just the legs when she’s working on legs, but on being able to handle several elements at one time, joining the leg work and the foot work with the torso and the arms, separating out certain things, and getting clearer how the energy from one movement can be redirected into another, and how it relates to the linkage of the parts of the body. Her most recent work has expanded to incorporate the sculpture of Richard Van Buren. One reason she identifies with his sculptures is because they are composed of material (polyester resin fiberglass) which has been subjected to gravity by being put into different molds. With these works randomly placed in her performance space, Zamir has found that various parts of the body can move around and through them. She described her experience: “Catching a movement, throwing it off again, making the decision one way or another as to whether or not you’re going to lose it, you’re going to let yourself lose it, you’re going to go almost to losing it, and then balance it back again.” Discipline marks Batya Zamir’s work and for her, “Discipline doesn’t have to be about restriction, it can be about freedom, it can be about openness, it can be about more rather than less.”

Lucinda Childs