Ma Process

Quick, what’s Ma (the project) about?

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?

Where does the word Ma come from and what does it mean?

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.’”

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 origin of Ma (the project)?

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 the idea of Ma?

This idea of Ma proposes these gaps, which we initially perceive as places of absence, emptiness, nothingness are in fact rife with the fullness of presence, invisible phenomena and meaning. I fell in love with the spaciousness of this word, the way it encapsulates the broad and subtle details of life.  Ma feels naturally relatable to dance, where as dancers we endeavor to discover, embody and express the spectrum of lived experience from our individual and collective lives.

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

Warming up into presence – 20 minute regular practice in which we warm up into being seen, locating our own agency, and energizing the space.

Solo and nosolo – a solo with music, then repeated without the dancer.

Holding space for no one – a solo practice with 2 witnesses that may move about.  Repeated without the dancer.

Gestures of absence – discovering shape/form for what is not there (any longer).

Pigeoning – group score with word association in predetermined migration pattern

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.

IMG_20180120_132729      IMG_20180204_121017 (1)

Closing Thoughts: after the show

When I’m completely honest with myself, Ma originated from grief, the processing of it, and my own silly ways of trying to make sense from it.  It began with ideas of physicalizing absence. As dancers we naturally put most of our attention into our presence: how we project energy, how we fill ourselves up, so that we can be seen and felt.  But presence is never without absence.  In those moments of grieving, I profoundly felt absence.  It’s potent, invisible residue.  Out of a pursuit for healing and attempting to do something with a deep, linering achiness, came some questions. How  can we celebrate absence rather than  mourn it? How does absence cultivate space for presence?

The aftermath of making Ma feels akin to a sad sunset. It’s disappearance is jarringly peaceful and yet somehow painful. I’m not sure what I’m expecting to feel. The mood is best described as optimistic melancholy.  It never feels great, but it also feels important to feel. In order to practice for the next…thing?  Do I dance to practice for my own death? I dance to feel alive, too. These two things are blurring for me, which is a revelation for me. So I’ll sit with that for now.

Photos: Marcia Davis

Dancer: Linsyanne Owen
Dancers: Vanessa DeWolf, Linsyanne Owen, Hendri Walujo
Visual art: Tara Tamaribuchi
Dancer: Vanessa DeWolf
Dancer Hendri Walujo