“And it is in this ugly shell of my head, in this cage I do not like, that I have to reveal myself and walk around; through this grill I must speak, look and be looked at; under this skin I will have to rot. My body: it is the place without recourse to which I am condemned.” Michel Foucault.
“Dancers also develop an image of the idealized dancer they strive to become. By submitting to this image they compete not with other dancers but with their own image of what they might become.” Susan Leigh Foster
My body is an image. There are things I can’t change about my body: the fact that I look vaguely Asian, that I am aging, etc. There are many things that I don’t like about my body and which cannot be changed. My body is a statement I can’t always escape.
When I lend my body and the image it conveys to the context of the stage, I am symbol.
I can give the impression that I am at ease in space, self-assured, even if this is not true. My body is an actor: it has been trained to communicate emotion, it is the place where others can project ideas of freedom, power, grace, love, beauty, but also of loneliness, estrangement, weakness etc.
Where and how I position myself is a statement. My body is never neutral.
In real life, how I dress it, veil it or undress it is a statement. I apply make-up to cover imperfections, or to enhance certain features. I watch what I eat to remain reasonably fit. None of this is innocent.
What I put on my body tells you who I am: how much I make, to what social class I belong, if I believe in god. Because of the experience of the stage, I may be more aware of this than most.
I strive to remain in control of my body, and the image it gives you. I have spent years refining the physical messages that I send. But each passing day guides me back to the inevitable cage of its growing limits.
Michel Foucault “Le corps utopique”, radio broadcast by the Institut National d’Audiovisuel, Paris, 1966.
Susan Leigh Foster “Reading Dancing, Bodies and Subjects in Contemporary American Dance” University of California Press 1986
I am what I remember.
I remember movements from classes, many classes: Cambodian classical Dance, ballet, jazz, Horton, Graham, Limon, African Dances…
I remember my teachers, even if I only took one class with them: Pornpimol Kanthatham, Matt Mattox, Thierry Boyer, Pepsi Bethel, Carol Freed, Julio Rivera, Christine Wright…
I remember performing pseudo Bollywood, French Cancan, Meg Stuart, Elisa Monte and more…I have recurrent dreams that I have to perform Audentity*, without rehearsals. I am either too fat and out of shape for the white unitard, or I don’t remember the choreography, or the stage is abnormally raked or small, or David, my partner, is missing… Anyway the curtain raises and I panic…
I remember the people I danced with, Retna Laksmiwati, Raquel Aedo, Vernon Scott, Misha… I miss them. I am happy to still be dancing with Keith Sabado.
I remember seeing performances of Carolyn Carlson, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Bianca del Rey, William Forsythe, and more…
These memories are part of me.
Some people experience hearing musical loops in their heads. This is more likely to happen when there is a loss of hearing. The music they hear is music that they have heard before, and it is reproduced exact to the beat, as if the sound came from a real outside source.
I have had the experience of going through choreography loops in my mind, dancing the same 4 to 5 movements repetitively over and over again, keeping me awake at night. Maybe, when I will be too old to move, I will dance entire concerts in my mind.
Oliver Sacks, Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, Knopf 2007
*Audentity is a dance by Elisa Monte, music by Klause Schulze (1987)
Each day I start over, it seems almost from zero.
Today the legs are stiff, today the knees are weak, today muscles are tight…Each morning is a re-appropriation of my body, reconnecting with how one limb moves in opposition to another, struggling to find verticality. Each day the sensations are slightly different, depending on what happened the day before. Each day adding to the passage of time, imperceptible yet inexorable, my back less and less pliable, my movement less and less accurate and refined, preparing for the final tension of rigor mortis?
Yes, each day the same, at the barre, 10 am, refining Pliés, Tendus, balances and coordination: I am Sysiphus.
“I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain. One always finds one’s burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night-filled mountain, in itself, forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.” (Albert Camus)
I am a happy Sisyphus.
Albert Camus. The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays / translated by Justin O’Brien. – London: Hamilton, 1955
I am Daughter Mother Wife and Sister.
As stated on my identity card and passport, I am female.
Emmanuele ending with e.
Biologically I am XX, dependent on the influence of the hormones estrogen and progesterone, which cause and regulate my menstrual cycles.
I am programmed to nest: progesterone = pro gestation.
Psychologically, these same hormones influence my mood, making me more prone to emotions and to tears depending on the time of the month.
Anatomically, I have a vagina, breasts, my frame is relatively small, I have little facial hair (none on my chest). My midsagittal corpus callosum cross-sectional area is more developed than it is in men. This is because I use both hemispheres of my brain. As a consequence my intelligence is both analytical and intuitive. I can multitask.
Socially, I have fulfilled what my mother and entourage expected of me since childhood: I grew up liking girls’ games (hopscotch, the elastic game, dolls). I married, had a child. I like clothes, shoes and bags (uterine pockets?).
My status is not the same depending on where I am: Cambodia, or Europe. I am happy I don’t live in Saudi Arabia.
I favor exchanges, communication and intimacy. To do so, I use words, mimics, and the gaze. A deep voice in a man is… very attractive! Oscar Wilde writes in The Picture of Dorian Gray:
“We women, as some one says, love with our ears, just as you men love with your eyes…”
As a dancer, what differentiates me from a man:
My hips are large, giving me better stability and balance. My joints are more flexible, allowing more stretch in the legs as well as faster and more detailed leg work. The presence of breasts already causes my spine to curve when I stand, so my back tends to arch backwards more naturally.
Body fat ratio, smaller muscles and looser joints make for weaker jumps, my movement cannot be as boisterous and explosive: testosterone, the male hormone, is a hormone for athletes. Instead, I tend to be more detailed, or mannered, depending on how you look at it.
John Gray, Men are from Mars, Women from Venus, HarperCollins 1992
Jean-François Bouvet, Le camion et la poupée, Flammarion 2012
This entry is the result of conversations with Dr Bernard Cordier, head of the psychiatric department at Foch hospital (Paris) and Sun Xiao Jun, ballet dancer and teacher extraordinaire.
A la manière de Roland Barthes:
I like: pasta, cheese, bags, jewelry, coffee, pork, mangoes, money, my dog Doodle, airedales, free socks in airplanes, Thai mussel omelets, spicy food, white wine, clothes, travelling, the color blue, generosity, French perfume, Comme des Garçons, Debussy, Boccherini, West Side Story, sticky rice, baguettes, Romain Gary, Pagnol, Amadou Hampâté Bâ, American TV shows, Myst 1 and 2, humor, Le masque et la plume podcast, receiving flowers, New York, Bangkok, Meg Stuart, Joel Pommerat, Peeping Tom, shopping, cooking, warm weather, spinning, going across the floor in ballet class, working with people etc.
I don’t like: girls who scream, sardines in can, snakes, rodents, pink, the smell of patchouli, Hermès silk scarves, Versace, Paul Auster, Anna Gavalda, speaking in public, speaking on the phone, French movies, Belgium, buying toilet paper, pointed shiny derby shoes for men, spineless lips, susceptibility, getting old, feeling ignorant, bad breath, etc
But, to come back to Barthes:
“I like, I do not like: it does not matter to anyone, and this apparently has no meaning. Yet, in this anarchic foam of tastes and distastes, a kind of listless blur, gradually appears the figure of a bodily enigma, requiring complicity or irritation. Here begins the intimidation of the body, which obliges others to endure me liberally, to remain silent and polite confronted by pleasures or rejections which they do not share.”
Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes, Seuil, 1975; University of California Press, 1994.
My mother came from a poor background. She grew up in a large family of 11 kids, an Italian immigrant father who liked to drink too much and a tired mother. They lived in the city of Metz, in the mining region of Lorraine (France), in the immediate aftermath of the war. It was an unhappy childhood.
One day in class, the teacher pulled a map of the world: today they would study the colonies. This was the start of an imaginary escape from the cold, the gloom and the loneliness. She started dreaming and fantasizing about the far away kingdom of Cambodia. In her autobiography she writes what she imagines:
“Here people live in serenity – they know nothing of the words spite, regret, woe. »
Years later, when she met my Cambodian father in Paris, a student in medicine, she fell in love immediately. Of course it wasn’t love for the man himself, but rather with what he represented, the fantasy of her childhood.
I never met him.
My father is the kingdom of Cambodia.
-Pierpaoli Yvette. Femme aux Mille Enfants – Paris, Robert Laffont, collection “Vecu”, 1992.
– Chau Seng. Les Elites Khmères- Phnom Penh, Preah Sihanouk Buddhist University, Culture et Civilisation Khmere, 1965?