some things steve paxton said

In mid-January 2012 I went and listened to Steve Paxton at Goldsmith’s University in London. The evening was, in many respects, a moving tribute to Merce Cunningham, and Paxton was eloquent, smart and funny. Below is a small collection of some of the things he said:

on accepting versus understanding:
Regarding Cunningham, Paxton described how it took him years to accept, let alone understand Cunningham’s central idea of “just doing the movement”. He described how any question (the thing one is proposing) is amplified when confronted by an audience, but what if you are proposing nothing? He described this as “the Cunningham void”.

on pleasure and Judson:
Paxton remembered, more than anything, the pleasure of the company of the Judson Church group (and also his gym team earlier on). He mentioned Judson’s rule: “Don’t copy other people’s work”, and he also said (of Judson) that “some of the work was crap” but that “it’s long gone”, and and there is “no evidence”.

on contact improvisation:

It’s a virus.
I hope it’s doing well.
I hope it’s being used to explore movement.

on standing still:

Standing still is the wrong term

I recognise that this post might be a little mysterious if you aren’t an improviser, or aren’t aware of Steve Paxton’s work, but I thought it was worth sharing these brief notes because they hint at the breadth of Paxton’s thinking.


4 Replies to “some things steve paxton said”

  1. Very interesting, thanks Simon.

    I feel like these days ‘What if I am proposing nothing?’ has almost disappeared as a concern- Or rather its evolved to the extent that we don’t ask it anymore- Artists have begun to assume the approach ‘What I do is what I am proposing.’ (I pinched this from Amanda Prince Lubawy, here: – old blog but good). In other words, there is no concept to the work that is separate from the doing of it. Action as concept…

    Nice to see the beginnings/roots of this in Cunningham and Paxton, though.

  2. Thanks Charlie. Yes, I was so struck by Paxton’s storytelling with respect to Cunningham. Very humble, and passionate too.

    As for the *proposal* thing, I think “action as concept” sits well with a certain type of practitioner (it might be fun to name the dance houses that fit here as well), but I wonder to what extent that might resonate with someone interested in theatre, or even transformation in performance?

    Not sure really, and I certainly haven’t thought too deeply about it (as a response).

    Thanks for the comment.


    1. True- it might not be relevant at all to theatre practitioners. Although I would see theatre practice as having evolved from a totally different place anyway, even if it might share some aesthetic/stylistic similarities to where dance has found itself. Not to say there aren’t some interesting conversations to be had across borders! Just think the distinct genealogies of performance practices are important to acknowledge (in our practice of them and how they are spoken about). I would wonder at someone arriving at a theatrical approach through dance. When does a dance practice become a theatre practice? Why would it want to? What was ‘dance’ not offering? What about just practicing and calling it dance?

      As for transformation, I’m not sure I’d see it as mutually exclusive to an action-as-concept approach. What about transformation in dance? What about action-as-concept-as-transformation?!

      Thanks for the food for thought- look forward to some exciting conversations in September 🙂

      Charlie x

  3. I guess I was thinking of two things (but didn’t explain very well):
    – regarding *transformation*, I meant in terms of performance being a transformative experience for audiences. So, how might an action as concept approach take into account the experiences of audiences?

    – re theatre – I meant people interested in making *dance theatre*. Say Lloyd Newson (he makes dance theatre right?). Perhaps it relates to the thing about experiences of audiences, or how work is *read*?

    Yup, September.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s