Copy Right

There comes a time in every artist’s life when they have to face the challenge of justifying their inspiration. When we are art school kids we learn about this history of innovation and find out that the most successful idols are the ones who have a unique vision matched with a strong business sense when it comes to promoting their work (sans the auspicious enterprise of posthumous talent). It is our job to learn the rules and then bend or break them. Besides the outside-the-box repertoire of the avant garde, there is not a lot that has not already been done before.

The advent of copyright is something that is augmenting rapidly in the culture of art and the art of culture. The dissemination of intellectual property is a heated debate that has become the subject of many landmark lawsuits across the world. What one creates belongs to them and cannot be shared, in some new version of political claim. Somehow in this day and age if an idea is inspired by another one is considered theft.

Every choreographer today has to struggle with the rules of fair use when it comes to creating new works of art. It is commonplace for us to steal work that is honestly just a derivative of what we have learned or seen in the past. Since the beginning of dance, music has been the driving force behind the art form. Without the work of classical musicians, dance would have always been this droll, soundless visual effect without much merit behind it besides the traditional forms of folk dance.

I have turned to using a different platform to show my work after being hounded and censored by the popular YouTube website where it is more impossible than ever to watch something or post something that you do not have the legal rights to. How did this happen?

Art in all genres is an homage to something…a time, a place, a story, another piece of art. We would not have the great masters of the past if they were not permitted to use the musical scores of the composers that inspired the composition of movement and stories. While many choreographers are dead set on using original music for their work, modernity affords the artist a never ending source of inspiration to artists creating music today.

One of the most prolific and influential artists working in pop music is Beyonce. Her new music video for the song “Countdown” is a prime example of walking the tightrope between inspiration and blatant thievery. In the video she makes obvious references to Audrey Hepburn and other cultural icons, which is indicative of her work. Beyonce is no stranger to this Quentin Tarantino-esque style of regurgitation, having spent so much time and energy paying homage to Bob Fosse (the biggest influence of my work), Bettie Page, and legendary Josephine Baker.

I always experience an inordinate amount of pangs in my heart when I see Beyonce’s work. We have so much of the same taste and inspiration that it is hard not to pine away about the thought of being able to work with her. Sometimes it feels as though I am watching something that I wish I would have thought of or perhaps I already did, wallowing in the adage about great minds thinking alike.

I don’t know what I would be without the things I have learned and I worry that one day I will be altogether restricted in what I am allowed to create without suffering legal repercussions. It is against the law to use a piece of work of another artist in a matter of profit, this I know and lucky for me, my net gross has not ever been in existence when I have stretched the rules a little bit past their limit. I can’t help but wonder what is the point of the controversy and the legality of it all. It is a tradition for artist to use art to be inspired, no matter how closely it relates to the original work.

This past winter, one of my favorite photographers, David LaChapelle, sued Rihanna for using his signature S/M works as part of the storyboard for one of her music videos, an inspiration for the work in a varying visual interpretation. The irony of course is that LaChapelle is infamous for his use of exploiting and recreating popular works of art through skewed visual imagery, plus he worked with Rihanna just 3 years prior on a photo project for MTV. To me, this is baffling.

Lady Gaga was sued for her work “Judas” that bared similarity to a song from another band. And despite repeated accusations of trying to become the new Madonna, she uses the inspiration from Madonna’s most controversial works to produce the video for “Alejandro”. This I thought was a ballsy move on her part, but again, a comment on the value of inspiration.

Before laws were made to protect the artist from what the government considers theft, there was a free range on creativity. Many musicians (especially) struggled with the ownership of their original music and in some twisted fate of marketing hierarchy, the best man or woman could come out on top no matter if they created the original content or not.

Beyonce’s newest album, “4” was leaked on the internet prior to its release date. Beyonce, in a humbling statement on her Facebook page, thanked the fans for their zealous anticipation of her new music and then in true superstar fashion with the intelligence and power to navigate through this new technological world of music, teamed up with the corporate giant Target and sold exclusive content through their stores.

I did sneak a peek at her new album but was nonplussed by much of the work. It all just seemed so disjointed with the over produced tracks and the random guitar riffs thrown in hither and tither. I was not surprised by the success of “Who Run the World”, that song is rife with convolution but it has a great beat to dance to. In the video she references Fosse again with choreography reminiscent of his brainchild Cabaret the Musical. The choreography is transcendental in a way, bridging the gap between contemporary hip-hop and classic jazz dance idioms. There is nothing she can do wrong.

This new video for “Countdown” took my breath away in a different way altogether. After watching it several times (like I do with ALL of her videos) I became more and more entranced by the content and then I became wildly envious. She can get away with anything. I was most impressed with the notable amount of modern dance that was in the work and I read later that she was inspired by German modern dance. The idea made me a little sick. Then after more research I found this, a rant about the glaring similarity of her work as compared to the Belgian contemporary choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker. This is what she does.

The song in itself is a poignant statement about the challenge of surviving a superstar, diamond encrusted relationship (yeah, I feel for you girl). The actual lyrics to the “countdown” in the song are great, but though it starts off as sentimental, it quickly turns into one of those hip-hop boasting tangents that seem a little less appreciative than what the song was meant to be. Perhaps the inspiration was a little too close to home.

I would be hard pressed to find a piece of mine that was completely original. In my satirical dance theater ballet “Man Bites Dog” that I showed last summer, I referenced one of the greatest moments in dance history. Based on Paul Taylor’s “Seven New Dances” that premiered in 1957, in one of the pieces I had two women come on stage and stand completely still (in their respective poses) for one full minute, staring at themselves in the mirror, and then they left the stage. It was an abrupt moment of commentary within the sporadic moods and pace of the entire show. I doubt that there was anyone in the audience that knew about the reference, though the original piece prompted one of the most historical reviews in The New York Times. The critic left a blank column in the newspaper with only a reference to the name of the performance.

I am always flattered by imitation. When I see my work being copied I admit that I get a little bit upset at first but then realize that ideas are meant to be shared and we cannot create without an arsenal. The artillery comes from life and the flora and fauna that it provides. With dance, movement is the same as colors on a palette to a painter, the same as notes on a staff to a musician, the same as words to a writer…I remember I was completely floored when I saw a recent performance that was choreographed by one of my dancers (that shall remain nameless) and there was an inordinate amount of a certain stylized technique that is something very specific to my work. It was like I had given birth to a baby and I was breathing new life into something beautiful. It hurt, of course, but I was proud to see the growth of another artist who found something special in what I had given them. We are all responsible for creating history and remembering the importance of it.

Bob Fosse

Bettie Page

Josephine Baker


Self = Portraits…part two

Like every hyperactive boy with an overactive imagination, when I was growing up I wanted to be everything. Instead of settling on something like Fireman, I dreamed of being a teacher. Later that changed into a myriad of different things but after I had my first chance to be on stage at the age of 10, I knew that dancing and performing would be part of my goals.

I grew up during the birth of MTV where music videos were these unprecedented advertising tools that were effective in drumming up business for music and for delivering subliminal messages to Generation X. Most importantly, they were works of art.

By the time I got to high school I was poised to some day become a famous video music director (as if there would ever be such a thing). I found the medium to be valuable to the needs of my interests and that I had the well-rounded capacity to perform the tasks required to create alluring short films used to expose the image of a band or song. Fast forward ten years and the music industry has taken on a whole new structure. Thanks, internet.

I gave up on the dream because there was no money in it (haha, I am still an artist so I guess the joke is on me). MTV is now a channel taken over by heinous reality TV shows that have replaced the need for actors, dancers, singers, musicians…anyone with talent. I still strive to work in this arena and I had a chance to choreograph and assist with production design for a young up and coming band a few years ago for their music video.

It is such a compelling art form to me that has so many different disciplines rolled into one, but they have become somewhat obsolete, and I fear that the demand and exposition of this craft has already seen its heyday a long time ago.

I hope to be able to use this editing technique while utilizing other subject matter and perhaps with original music. I find that the self-portraits work best with this theme. I like the gritty intimacy of the devices I use and in an attempt to do this choppy time relapse structure with other subjects has been lackluster in my eyes. Perhaps with the right equipment and the right talent, I could make something more full fledged that isn’t totally reflected on myself.

Here is the rest of the background information for the rest of the series…

9. Guest
This video was taken at a friend’s house in Amsterdam. I was fortunate enough to get in touch with him before he left (in a funny twist of fate, he was coming to Berlin for the weekend) and he met with me on my first day there to give me the keys to his flat so I could go to a job interview the next day and spend the weekend exploring Amsterdam. There was a certain loneliness that overcame me when I was in his apartment. Though I have grown accustomed to this gypsy, couchsurfing lifestyle and it is fun and exciting to be exposed to these different environments all the time, I was starting to get homesick for a home I couldn’t remember since it had been so long since I had one of my own. In this video I am getting in touch with that longing for domesticity and a place to hang my hat along with my heart. The song I chose is one that resonates deeply with me. Juliana Hatfield is one of my go-to artists as she has this very admirable openness in her writing that stems from her bipolar disorder (something that she has never kept a secret). The act of doing something so familiar to home in the home of someone else is all too common for me and it creates this uneasiness.

10. Staples (Part 1 and 2)
These were the most difficult to edit and I spent the most time on these videos. I am still not happy with them. I made part 2 first and it was one of the first “on location” shots that I had done that was in a very public place (the grocery store) but had a very intimate feeling. Though you are surrounded by people when you are shopping, you are in this bubble…concentrating on what you need for your life, trying not to forget anything and then getting distracted by what you want, not just what you need. I was a little bit shy about making a video of myself in front of other people but I remembered I was in Berlin. The carts at this particular market had little raised baskets in the main area of the shopping cart, so it was easy to set up the iPhone in a place where I could capture my actions and have no major impediments in view. I had way too much footage and it took several cuts to get it down to a comprehensible length. In the end I added much more footage of the bottle recycling because it was such an important aspect of this film entitled “Staples”. My staples in Berlin consist of peanuts, pretzels, cheese, yogurt, coffee, wine, cigarettes and sometimes deli meats. These are the tools of my survival here, and I thought it would be an important self-portrait of me to make because eating is such a vital thing, and I do it sparingly these days. The footage in the kitchen was at the time my new place to crash. I had choreographed this great scene of me organizing the groceries according to their respective locations (a product of my OCD) but in the end, it was just too long and I had to cut it because the amount of light wasn’t helping. There are many things I would have done differently in hindsight, but I think the message is still there and it captures another moment in my nomadic life.

11. Scribe
One of the best things about being in Berlin is that I have more time to do my writing. Though I do so many other things with my life, I would be nothing if I could not be a writer. Most of my days are spent creating things with words and though my outward facing career as a writer is still in the embryonic stage, it is my Life Force. It would have been silly for me to have this series without capturing the artistic process of writing. This took place in an apartment of a boyfriend of mine whom I have been dating since my second time in Berlin. He was letting me stay at his place for the week. I have always felt comfortable at his home and with him, so it was easy for me to navigate my way through inspiration being there because it is where I spend a lot of my time anyway. I could have staged it to look like I was writing a story but I didn’t want to fake it too much. I was actually in the middle of writing a story when I wrote this and instead of planning it out too much, I made the writing part a natural act. I did have in mind making the beginning the end and vice versa, and the smoking and the drinking had to be incorporated because these are normal parts of my writing routine. My favorite part is when I am deleting (it was not a dramatic act, I was genuinely disenchanted with what I was writing). I was worried that you would not be able to tell what I was doing visually, but in the end, I got the point across.

12. Rest
This is my favorite film in this series and I think it is a favorite of viewers as well. The idea came instantaneously when I entered the room. This took place in London, the day after they detained me at immigration and held me in some weird terrorist jail for the night. I was there for the weekend and I fell in love with the design of the room. Ideas were shooting through my brain and it all came together perfectly, with the styling, the action and the music. I have spent a lot of time in hotel rooms, so it was only natural that I make a film about it. I was so traumatized when I made this film that it was important for me to somehow put that into art. I NEEDED to make art. It was all I could think about. I knew right away I wanted to work with the stop motion photography that I used in “Clöses”. “Rest” is a good play on words and I knew that the music would be perfect to set the mood for the video. I wanted to exhibit this longing for innocence as I felt as though it had been stripped away from me at the airport. I wanted to be young and playful and cheerful again. At this point, it seemed so far away.

13. Compose
Another place, more inspiration. Whenever things are going bad for me I have the overwhelming urge to create. This place was another place to crash (by the same friend that let me stay in Amsterdam). It had been too long since I have been in the studio and I needed to work out and also I needed to come up with some choreographic ideas for a piece I am considering making into a film. It was simple for me to make this film, choreography is such a repetitive and grueling process that takes a lot of time, energy and focus. The reverse effect in this is subtle, and at the end I wanted to add this abstraction of the desire to jump out of the window. I don’t know if that came through clearly or not, but I didn’t want it to be too dramatic, so I guess it works.

14. Clean
This video was shot on the same day I made “Compose”. It was one of those moments where I decided I just had to escape. This is one thing that I don’t do often, and I miss the relaxing comfort of taking a bath in my own home. I was not in my own home, I was not drinking my own wine or using my own towel or robe or soap. It was this necessary moment to coerce zen and it worked quite well. These days I have this formula where I spend one day freaking out about my life and the next day doing my best to worry about nothing and to be careless. Sometimes the line blurs and it is impossible to separate the two. In this segment I was longing for some peace, but for me, peace is chaos, and the most chaotic time of my life was circa 2006 when I was running a Burlesque show, playing House with my then husband, raising pets, having a daytime career, trying to make-it as an individual artist, and all the while making time for a social life and time for myself. I think that is thinly veiled in what I tried to encapsulate here in this reverse striptease.

15. Voyeur
Being in Europe has been like traveling down this long road of self-discovery and sexual awakening. Having grown up in a pious, militant family, shedding the guilt of expressing myself is something I struggle with in the art I produce. It is not rebellious or for shock value to take off my clothes in front of an audience or make a video of it. In a way it can be a little self-indulgent but the actual mission of these glimpses into my nakedness is an exposition of my character. I am showing everyone what a lot of people already see in me, but I am abstracting it in a way that is a narrative of how I feel people want me to represent myself. Here in Berlin, in this slutty playground where it is easier to get sex than it is a good slice of pizza, I am objectified more than ever. I came to this city because here I am unique and exotic and somewhat of a marvel. Like Josephine Baker and her Paris, I want to seduce this whole town. It is not so much about desire but it is the challenge that comes along with it. I have found such a new part of myself, so many parts of myself and in that I have lost a lot of who I used to be. It is nice to grow, but to escape can be somewhat demeaning and exhausting. We all spend so much time looking out the window, looking for all those cliché greener grassier pastures. We want the cheap thrill of seeing life on the other side. To see the life of someone else. This is the media, this is television, what is entertainment is something that is real or so unreal you are forced to believe it. I met a guy at a bar and he was from another country and we spent the day together and it was wonderful and I got to get to know him and he got to get to know me and we slept together and I awoke and we became friends and then he was gone. It was a nice glimpse into an impossible reality.

I again find myself in a new place. I don’t know what will come of the next video I make, but to keep this chronicle going, it is imperative that I make a film of every new environment I find myself in. I don’t know how long I will be here before I move on to the next place, so I should get moving. Or maybe sit still for a moment.

For the complete collection go here.