Collier Schorr Learns How to Dance

In a special photo essay, the artist places her body ‘in the line of danger, admiration, rejection, description’

Collier Schorr is an artist and a photographer. She has no training in dance. She describes herself as ‘uptight, not flexible and dyslexic’, so learning any movement takes a long time.

She’s usually behind the camera, not in front of it. Taking someone’s photograph is a performance at one remove, the lens something of a shield between the artist and the world. Training in dance allows her to switch places and to join her subject. 

She wanted to work in a medium she didn’t understand, to turn the camera on herself in order to become ‘more of a participant’. She wanted to learn something about the difference between looking and being looked at. She wanted to ‘touch what she could see’, to ‘argue with elegance’ and for her ‘fetish or desire’ to be communicated by her body, not her eye.

She was inspired by Chantal Akerman’s meditative, autobiographical film Je, tu, il, elle (I, You, He, She, 1974), in which Akerman silently places herself centre stage. 

She says: ‘Chantal was an artist who spoke an idea with her own body, with confidence and vulnerability.’ She is currently working with dance notationist Carisa Bledsoe to translate scenes from the film into dance sequences.

From film to film. From body to body.

She wanted to become more aware of her body in space; to rediscover the complexity that lies at the heart of familiar gestures. 

She wonders: ‘How do you move a chair?’

She invited various dancers to perform in projects that she might enter as a co-performer. They all said yes. This was moving (literally and metaphorically). 

She says: ‘There’s a beauty in playing with an artform that you have no history with and that you know very little about.’

She realized that there is something comradely about dance: about learning to trust someone else, not just with your creativity and self-exposure, but with your safety, too. Dancing with someone is learning how to be intimate in a very particular way.

She discovered that she wanted to be ‘danced upon’. She wanted to be ‘lifted high’.  

Unlike when she takes photographs, when she dances, she can be passive, following the lead of the dancer. But this is not always the case. To dance means to learn how to let go of control, to dismiss perfection as an endgame. There’s a certain freedom in becoming an amateur: success is measured in nourishment, not accolades. 

A dance is a physical discussion about control. About who is weaker, who is stronger. About what you can demand of your body and what others can demand of it. About how your body interacts with someone else’s. To dance is to echo, to imitate, to repeat, to begin again and again. To learn how something is done and then to make it your own. To transcend pain. 

She wanted her body ‘to be in the line of danger, admiration, rejection, description’. She wanted to measure it in relation to others and to more deeply understand what scale means: how does our shape, age, tone and strength affect how we communicate with someone else?

She says: ‘It’s a miracle to move with someone in space. I can feel the gender of my movement, depending on who I am with. Traditionally, dance is about extreme difference – so, immediately, your own difference becomes evident. Performance and dance have a kind of rivalry and the photograph challenges the dance to maintain its content.’

She wanted to start from scratch. She wanted to improve. She wanted to create a self-portrait. She wanted to be directed.

– Jennifer Higgie, editor at large, frieze.

wendy whelan, Dancer and Associate artistic Director, the New York City Ballet

Wendy Whelan, dancer and associate artistic director, the New York City Ballet

VINSON FRALEY, JR., performer, Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company

Vinson Fraley, Jr., performer, Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company

lynsey peisinger, choreographer, performer and collaborator, Marina Abramovic

Lynsey Peisinger, choreographer, performer and collaborator, Marina Abramovic

sophia parker, principal dancer, Sidra Bell Dance New York

Sophia Parker, principal dancer, Sidra Bell Dance New York

lynsey peisinger

Lynsey Peisinger

katy pyle, dancer and director, Ballez

Katy Pyle, dancer and director, Ballez

This article first appeared in frieze issue 206 with the headline ‘A Proposal To Ask Someone To Pose’.

Issue 206

First published in Issue 206

October 2019

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