Ma Process

Quick, what’s Ma?

Ma is a performance where dancers inhabit a world between presence & absence, practice & performance, certainty & the unknown.

This project originates in a choreographic questioning of our compulsion to make dances (art) even with the inevitable impermanence of the work and our selves.  Can this dance celebrate ephemerality? Can we embody the bittersweetness that is part and parcel of making dances and living life? The title: Ma refers to a religious-aesthetic paradigm in Japanese culture that illuminates meaningful intervals and gaps of time and space.  A revealed world “emptied and filled anew in each moment, nothing abides.”


What is the basis of Ma?  Let’s interrogate this seemingly futile compulsion to make something that by nature, disappears.

In a cycle of searching, finding, then losing ideas physicalized in and through the body, whether it through moments of never repeated improvisation, or movement material carefully generated then later tossed out, a dance is in the constant state of disappearing. Then, there is the anticlimactic finality of performance. I try not to be too dramatic, but in the absence of dance’s corporeal existence, I begin a process of lamentation. I mean, “what happens to all that work?!” Dance after dance, I go through the grief cycle and find my way to acceptance. I go on, in the only way I know how, by going back to the studio, compelled to start something completely brand new, but inevitably find myself coming back to familiar ideas with revised language. I realize in these re-visitations and re-imaginations, there are lasting impressions made from the disappeared, lamented dance. Sometimes the traces left are invisible, leaving ways of knowing, of recognizing, of being. Sometimes they are visible and physical, leaving their marks through new predilections for moving. The beginnings and endings start to blur. And another process begins to unfold.

What language emerges from all this?  Words that linger from these thoughts.  Spectrums.  In betweeness.


How does it all connect back to Ma?

Intervals (“Ma”) in Space and Time: Foundations for a Religio-Aesthetic Paradigm in Japan by Richard B. Pilgrim

“As a paradigm in Japanese culture, it affirms the power and meaning of intervals and gaps in time, space, and being that – when properly experienced reveal a rich reality of presence and place, a moonlight shining through the cracks and gaps in the gate, a world in between.”

“The realization of impermanence is the realization of the absolute relativity of all things as they arise and fall in consciousness moment to moment.  In such a realization the world is emptied and filled anew in each moment, and nothing abides.”

“This negative space/time is therefore anything but a mere nothing awaiting the positive space/time; it is a pregnant nothingness that is ‘never insubstantial or uncreative.’”

Ok, we experiment physicalizing these ideas.  Now what?  Try turning them into rituals.

Warming up into presence
Solo and nosolo
Absence gestures
Holding space for no one

And then write notes to ourself or someone else to prove it all actually happened.

Dear Leslie,
It might not get any easier.  But maybe you can carry it with the pleasures & recognition of that effort.  That very particular effort that’s only to carry that burden, that loss.  I remind myself it’s not about forgetting.  Love, VD

You can stay where you are and enjoy the surroundings.  Or leave for something new that refills you.  It might change you.  I hope you can be comfortable with that.

Hey Dear,
The sky is blue today.  And the sea is orange.  There is only one place to go.  A place of space and dawn.  The cabbage is roasting for you.

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Closing Thoughts: after the show

When I’m completely honest with myself Ma originated from my own grief process.  It had a lot to do with ideas of physicalizing absence. As dancers we naturally put most of our attention into our presence: how we project energy, how we fill up ourselves.  But what is presence without absence? What is life without death? I began to ask myself, why can’t we celebrate absence instead of mourning it? How does absence cultivate space for presence?  So much of this came from a personal need to do something with an energy I can only describe as deep and achy, somewhere between paralysis and restlessness.

Every dance that is performed, in the traditional sense of a rehearsal process that culminates in an event that is witnessed by others, feels like a death.  The performance itself is anticlimatic. It quietly disappears, sometimes unnervingly so. I’m not sure what I’m expecting, instant gratification? No, not really.  Somehow it just doesn’t match up with whatever expectation my physical and emotional body is anticipating. It never feels great, but it also feels like a good practice.  Do I dance to practice for my own death? I think I dance to feel alive too. These two things are blurring for me, which is a revelation. I’m running with it.