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Dawn Kramer in projection

A Choreographic Consideration of Water

May 31, 2011,
Photos from "Body of Water" courtesy of Dawn Kramer

By Frieda Klotz

Water has made the news a lot lately: Japan’s tsunami, Mississippi’s floods, but also Oklahoma’s drought. It wouldn’t seem likely we’d forget about water, but somehow we often do until it starts to affect us directly.

In a performance Friday and Saturday at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, the choreographer and dancer Dawn Kramer, an associate professor at the college, wants to remind us about H2O as an entity that both surrounds us and makes up a large part of our own bodies. The two-part video installation called “Body of Water” blends Kramer’s performance with footage from caverns and seascapes in Italy, Maine, and Kyoto. In one video section, she stands in a temple garden in Japan, so still that she is almost entirely camouflaged; in another, only her face is visible as she floats in a pool like a modern Ophelia. Later on, she wears a dress made up of plastic bottles. She says that as well as exploring water’s beauty “there are references to too much water—floods—and too little water—droughts and deserts. We’re bringing up all the issues of water, what a force of nature water can be and how too much or too little causes its own problems.”

The performance is a high-tech affair involving five laptops and five additional computers, operated by Kramer’s collaborator (and husband) Stephen Buck. They met in the mid-70s when they were both members of the Dance Collective (which Kramer co-founded, and co-directed for 30 years), and have worked together ever since.
Kramer’s first memory of dance is an early one, from when she was 5.

Dawn Kramer "I started dancing with my mom in the basement and I just kept doing it,” she says. As a teenager, she attended the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance on a scholarship, and when college loomed she was offered an award to study there. But she chose instead to attend Wellesley, later transferring to Sarah Lawrence. There she encountered the famous mythology scholar, Joseph Campbell, whose classes inspired an interest in Buddhism that pervades her current work. I was thrilled to be invited to be on a scholarship at the Graham School,” Kramer says. “It was a road to being in the company, which would have been fabulous. But Martha Graham was an incredibly powerful, dominating force. She had such a powerful artistic vision of her own that I might have found it difficult to find my own voice had I followed that path.

When she was younger, Kramer’s dances dealt with domestic life and motherhood. Now she is a grandmother of five, and says her perspective has widened. “When I was young and I had children, I did all kinds of things that dealt with everyday objects as metaphoric extensions of the body,” she says. “The experience that the work came from was more personal. Now I’m more interested in how I can be part of a larger world and hopefully get people to look at certain things—like water use, and like our human relation to the environment.”

Kramer’s students in the Studio for Interrelated Media include rappers and spoken-word poets. A grant from the MassArt Foundation assisted her travels to Japan, where she had access to three Buddhist temples in Kyoto. While the western and southern parts of Japan are not affected by the tsunami, earthquake, and nuclear-radiation leak, the tourism industry is suffering, Kramer says. Fifty percent of the money made from the “Body of Water” performances will go to the Japanese Disaster Relief Fund. “I don’t want to get moralistic,” says Kramer of “Body of Water.” “I want to look at the variety, the whole gamut of what water can be in relation to human life.”

Frieda Klotz is an Irish-born critic and journalist in New York City. She taught Greek literature and philosophy at King’s College London and is co-writing a book on the ancient philosopher Plutarch for Oxford University Press.

“Body of Water” will be presented Friday and Saturday, June 3 and 4, at the Pozen Center and Godine Gallery of the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, 621 Huntington Ave. (entrance on Evans Way), in Boston. The installation will open at 7 p.m., and the performances will begin at 8. General admission is $15, $10 for students and seniors, and free for MassArt students with ID.

For more information, visit Dawn Kramer’s Web site, and see the video below.
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