Moving to Multiple Senses of Spectatorship in Rosé Porn

  • Zoja Smutny, Rosé Porn, 2015, dancer: Zoja Smutny. Photo: Aundrea Bell, courtesy of Dancemakers Centre for Creation
  • Zoja Smutny, Rosé Porn, 2015, dancer: Zoja Smutny. Photo: Aundrea Bell, courtesy of Dancemakers Centre for Creation
  • Zoja Smutny, Rosé Porn, 2015, dancer: Zoja Smutny. Photo: Aundrea Bell, courtesy of Dancemakers Centre for Creation
  • Zoja Smutny, Rosé Porn, 2015, dancer: Brendan Jensen. Photo: Aundrea Bell, courtesy of Dancemakers Centre for Creation
  • Zoja Smutny, Rosé Porn, 2015, dancer: Victoria Cheong. Photo: Aundrea Bell, courtesy of Dancemakers Centre for Creation

[En anglais]

Moving to Multiple Senses of Spectatorship in Rosé Porn

Zoja Smutny, Rosé Porn
Dancemakers, Toronto
November 5–7, 2015

Upon entering the performance space, audience members for Zoja Smutny’s Rosé Porn were instructed to find a spot on the floor and lie down. While there were also seats available along the walls for those who might prefer, most of us abided, carefully spreading our bodies throughout the warm and dark room. Feeling my limbs against the floor, as an ambient drone produced by musician and DJ Victoria Cheong resonated around me, I couldn’t help thinking about the yoga studio I regularly visited while living in Montreal. That studio, founded by a couple, of which one was a musician, featured a similar soundscape in its classes, and the association was inevitable.

This connection was affirmed moments later when an amplified voice began instructing us to focus on our breathing, filling the abdomen, then chest, with every inhalation, relaxing naturally with every exhalation. In her book I Love to You, feminist philosopher Luce Irigaray observes that in “certain traditions of yoga … the body is cultivated to become both more spiritual and more carnal at the same time.”(1) This seems a particularly good point of departure for Smutny, who, in a text for Dancemakers explains, “I am looking to become occupied with filling up.”(2)

Eventually, our still disembodied instructor invited the audience to open our eyes, and move around the space. Our first tentative steps were accompanied by a gradual suffusion of pink light. As the music became more energetic, Smutny and fellow performer Brendan Jensen began to circulate through the room, placing and repositioning an assortment of potted plants and benches, and marking lines on the floor with bright pink tape. These actions worked simultaneously to delineate the performance space, and emphasize its fluidity. Indeed throughout the performance, the dancers continued to relocate objects, re-performing the room’s porousness, wherein any area could equally host performative moments or spectatorial positions, all the while glowing pink.

The work progressed through choreographed scenes. At one point Smutny and Jensen moved through the space, intermittently approaching individual viewers and dancing in close proximity to them. In another particularly engaging moment, Smutny faced a salt crystal lamp against a wall, repeatedly swinging her torso and arms from side to side with something akin to the abandon of a late night reveler. And while these choreographic segments developed interesting gestural and conceptual propositions, the almost episodic structuring sometimes felt rigid, interfering with the fluidity that seemed to be a central tenet of the work.

In another section, Smutny and Jensen moved around the space, uttering short phrases into microphones. It eventually became clear that these phrases were derived from lyrics and titles of love songs, and while the moment of realization was amusing, the conceit faltered once the source material had become obvious. Instead of supplementing the intimacy that so much of the work aimed to foster, this gesture toward witticism flattened the speech acts – an emptying out of meaning, rather than a “filling up.”

There was another point in Rosé Porn when Smutny and Jensen held their microphones, ambulating again, this time uttering short phrases directed to the second person, “you.” The statements were generic in a distinctly twenty-first century register. They echoed the sort of thing you might find in popular media articles listing the purported trademarks of young urban adults – being broke, liking good coffee, etc. And yet, they also seemed vaguely personal, like observations that a friend or acquaintance might make. The dancers’ speech, then, conveyed a relationship at once distinct and diffuse, and this ambiguous rapport was extended through looking. The performers turned their gaze to audience members, making eye contact, holding it intensely or lingering seductively with it, until they moved, looking elsewhere. Indeed, this emphasis on the gaze evokes a specific valence of viewership and voyeurism, alluding to the title of Smutny’s work, which suggests both pornography and Japanese erotic cinema known as Pink Film.

These dynamics of looking and speaking to the audience evoke Irigaray once again. She writes,

I love to you means I maintain a relation of indirection to you … The ‘to’ is the guarantor of indirection. The ‘to’ prevents the relation of transitivity, bereft of the other’s irreducibility and potential reciprocity. The ‘to’ maintains the intransitivity between persons, between the interpersonal question, speech or gift: I speak to you, I ask of you, I give to you … The ‘to’ is a sign of non-immediacy, of mediation between us.(3)

Irigaray’s text resonates with Smutny’s intention to engage an “intimate audience, where people are invited to circulate – to sit, to walk, to lie down, to close their eyes, to take pictures, to check out, etc.”(4) Indeed, Smutny’s choreography seems to work toward constructing an experience of spectatorship with and through Irigaray’s “to.”

Of course, in a work that says “I ask of you”(5) to the spectator, there is always the risk that this asking might become a demanding: “I order you or command you to do some particular thing, which could mean or imply: I prescribe this for you, I subject you to these truths, to this order.”(6) Yet, in the repeated “to” of her multiple proposals for the spectator (to sit, to walk, to lie down, to close their eyes, to take pictures, to check out, etc.), the choreographer circumvents this potential problem.

It is notable that in Rosé Porn, the fluid dynamics of spectatorship surpass the visual. Throughout much of the work, Cheong’s music, with its heady, pulsating beat, encourages everyone in the room, viewer and dancer alike, to groove with it. Even if many viewers remain relatively still, whether for comfort or decorum, the music sonically structures the space around us, creating an environment in which we are invited to move, to dance. The work ends with Cheong performing a song, pacing behind her instruments and equipment as she sings vigorously. Our relationship to the music modulates, shifting from something like a dance party to something like a concert. Cheong is an enthralling performer, and the audience viewed this final display with rapt attention.

Indeed this finale proposed yet another iteration of intimacy and proximity. In her essay “Afterword, After Phelan: Notes on Love, for My Students” performance scholar T. Nikki Cesare Schotzko cites Paul Schilder’s work, which she suggests “allows for the possibility that our bodies might extend out into the world … through our voice.”(7) “The sound produced by me is not completely independent of me,”(8) Schilder writes. “It still remains a part of myself, and we are again dealing with the spreading of the body into the world.”(9) The impact and interventions of such diffusion in Rosé Porn may not always be clearly defined, but even so, the work productively proposes a wide range of sensorial and spectatorial relationships, exploring the intimate dynamics they foster. And all the while, it glows pink.

Notes
1.Luce Irigaray, I Love to You (London and New York: Routledge, 1996), 24.
2."Zoja Smutny – Rosé Porn," Dancemakers, 2015, accessed November 8, 2015, http://dancemakers.org/zoja-porn/
3.Luce Irigaray, I Love to You (London and New York: Routledge, 1996), 109.
4."Zoja Smutny – Rosé Porn," Dancemakers, 2015, accessed November 8, 2015, http://dancemakers.org/zoja-porn/
5.Ibid.
6.Ibid.
7.T. Nikki Cesare Schotzko, "Afterword, After Phelan: Notes on Love, for My Students," in Learning How to Fall (London and New York: Routledge, 2014), 186.
8.Ibid.
9.Ibid.
 
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