Last year, I decided to make some porn.

After a pretty traditional education in ballet and contemporary dance, and a number of years working in that field, my interests led me to explore the field of somatic work. Somatics could very briefly and incompletely be described as movement practices coming from an internal place of perception or sensation rather than (as in some more conventional dance techniques) producing external shapes or images. I also started regularly studying conscious sexuality practices, such as Tantra and BDSM, and found all of these body practices to be merely different manifestations of the same process.


Porno Shamans

In my view, there are two essential games we play as performers: One is the ability to enter intense states, to completely lose one’s self in parallel universes, and in so doing, shamanically invite a viewer to partake of these states as well. The other is the ability to analyze our position in time and space and be conscious of the infinite number of ways our actions can be read by those witnessing our performance.

The consummate performer is someone who can be simultaneously in these two modalities, lost in trance while at the same time very much aware of the qualities their presence evokes.

Working with sexual energy and desire is especially interesting to me in regard to this subject, as it is such a powerful force and something that easily overpowers all other modalities.

The integration of conscious sexuality practices into my choreographic work began when I started organizing a number of parties at my home, which I saw very much as a choreographic process, since in my view, choreography has to do with opening up spaces. Besides being play parties (which they also were), I also considered these gatherings to be an intentional and essential part of my “serious” artistic research, a series of interactive performances with constantly shifting roles of audience and performers. The impressions and the atmosphere of these gatherings led me to make a dance film, that I suspect may be the world’s first contemporary dance porn. Quintet – a choreopornographic experiment – premiered at the Berlin Porn Film Festival, and has been touring since. It used conscious sexual practices as somatic practices, to enter certain states and generate material. The challenge was to remain aware of composition and aesthetics while simultaneously dealing with such a potent energy and the desires it elicits.


The Erotic Body

Our skin emerges from the ectoderm, the same cellular tissue of the embryo that develops into the brain and the nervous system. It is both the first boundary between our selves and the outside world, in fact defining what we consider to be inside and outside our bodies, and also our primary means of connecting to that world. Skin is surface, but at the same time far more intimate than muscles or bones.

Our digestive system – mouth, esophagus, stomach, intestines, anus – is connected to nourishment, both on a physical as well as a spiritual level. It is also connected to boundaries and decision-making. How far do I allow food, information, ideas, people, to penetrate? Do I take something into my mouth at all, and if so, do I spit it out again, or swallow it? If so, do I vomit it out after partially digesting it, or do I decide to allow it to become part of myself, process it, and use its components to give something back to the world?

Most commercial porn creates a kind of hierarchy of body parts, in which faces (where many might locate identity and consciousness), and genitals (where many locate sexuality) become the stars, and the skeleton, organs, glands, and other systems recede into the background.

Following the great advances of recent years in portraying multiple sexualities, physicalities, orientations, and genders in porn, I am currently extremely interested in working with the different systems of the body. As a bodyworker and workshop facilitator, I believe this can lead us to a more embodied awareness of our sexuality and our selves, while as an artist, I am curious how this affects the erotic images, situations, and relationships we seek to portray.

My generation (I was 12 the year the World Wide Web went live) may be the first to have experienced pornographic images so ubiquitously, making them, for many of us, a prominent part of our sexual experience. Considering how much of a force sexuality is in may people’s lives, and how intricately it is linked with questions of identity and empowerment, I find it imperative that we do not leave the production of erotic images to those whose main interest is to use them to make as much money as quickly as possible, but rather include those who take the time to reflect on the process behind these images, the ethics of their production, and the aesthetic and political discourse surrounding them.

While some “serious” artists may perceive themselves as working in a field completely separate from that of pornography, it is interesting to note that artistic choices never happen in a vacuum. There are, for instance, some fun parallels between developments in post-modern dance in the 1960s and ‘70s, through the Judson Church Group and others, and developments of the past 30 years in what we might call “alternative” porn, often from a feminist and/or queer perspective. To name some:

– A democratization of the form

– providing space for different bodies and diverse experiences to be expressed and seen. A move away from “virtuosity”.

– A desire for “authenticity”, honesty in what is being shown. Choreographer Yvonne Rainer’s “No Manifesto” includes a “No to spectacle”. Coherence between what the performer is experiencing and what the audience is seeing. In the same vein, a move away from “costumes”, whether they be tutus, or what the audience may expect an idealized version of a particular gender to look like.

– Consensuality, ethics and safety in production, and awareness of the political and social context the work is happening in.

These are some of the many levels of my interest in working with the erotic body choreographically, charting the presence of the entire body in explicit imagery – muscles, bones, organs, not simply faces and genitals. A larger intention and hope is to expand the legitimacy and acceptance of conscious erotic practices such as Tantra & BDSM as powerful artistic & somatic work.


This piece was first published with POV Paper


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