You can’t see it, but dark matter accounts for the majority of all gravitational pull in the universe. For Bebe Miller, this also is a fair analogy for a creative work: Its strongest influences cannot be directly seen — only observed by their effects on the end result.
Miller, a distinguished professor who teaches in the Department of Dance, took that analogy to examine her own creative process in her new e-book, “Dance Fort: A History.”
“Dance Fort,” which also features multimedia works, was a collaborative effort by Miller and members of her eponymous dance company: dramaturg Talvin Wilks and dancers Darrell Jones and Angie Hauser.
Dance is Miller’s medium, but it’s also become her subject — where “Inception” had multiple layers of dreams, “Dance Fort” has as many layers of self-scrutinizing metaphysics.
The e-book archives the creative process of a dance piece named “A History,” a 2012 composition by Miller which explores the creative development of dance.
The beauty in solving a problem might be what attracted Jones and Hauser to be dance subjects for the book. Miller said the duo’s chemistry has a sense of mystery that she finds attractive.
“They bump off of each other. They are both invested in that alchemy that happens in solving a choreographic problem, solving a physical interaction, the transparency that they are working at it,” she said.
Miller said beauty can be found in human interaction, as well as the distinct moment when the minds of a viewer and artist converge.
“There is such a fundamental humanity in these interactions between dancers that we all recognize. Watching someone solve a problem is beautiful. If they have a certain transparency in that moment that allows the audience in, and if I can frame that transparency of thought and process of realization, that is what I’m after,” Miller said.
Wilks, who also works as a playwright and director, added that Jones and Hauser are the “best generators of Bebe Miller vernacular.”
“They carry the essence of Bebe’s vision. They have a real core understanding of what Bebe means and intends in the room,” he said.
Hauser, an assistant professor at Smith College in Northampton, Mass., and dancer and collaborator with Bebe Miller Company, said she thinks Miller’s artistic vision and process value high-level collaboration.
“I am a choreographer, I make dances. That’s what my whole career has been about. But often I’ve done that as a collaborator that’s a part of a group, and that’s exactly what we do in Bebe Miller Company,” Hauser said.
“Dance Fort” include elements ranging from drawings to audio and journal entries to rehearsal video, a process that provided more opportunities for Miller’s self-analysis. To condense a wide variety of media into a unified text, the group had to first figure out how to narrow down its information in order to communicate its message.
“At the beginning, we were thinking of a web-based product. It was a little vast. How do you just narrow that down? Over time and the development of digital books, the idea of, ‘maybe it’s not so much everything but very pointed looks at particular aspects of our process,’” Miller said. “By this time, we were working on (the dance piece) ‘A History,’ which premiered in 2012, and it seemed this was the connection.”
The e-book, Hauser said, exemplifies that collaborative characteristic.
“We are all generating content of the work and we are all aiming towards something in the middle. Particularly with ‘(Dance Fort:) A History.’ (We) came together with the specialties of what we do and we took on our individual roles, but we really made the works together,” Hauser said.
An excerpt in the digital book includes an audio recording of Miller discussing the importance of timing, but she also said she finds beauty when the perfect timing is missed.
“Every artist you talk to says, ‘That happened by mistake and it was really cool,’” Miller said. “Part of my job choreographically is setting up these vectors of approach that maybe will miss and capture that experience.”
Wilks said “Dance Fort: A History” is a portal to the creative process and the information dancers carry in their bodies.
“We weren’t creating a dance piece. I was very curious as the dramaturg. My process is very invisible. I am behind the scene behind the scene. I was very invested in this idea of collecting my collaborative history, a series of templates and archives and documents that I amassed over the years,” he said.
Wilks said the search for dark matter, or unseen influence, is similar to the process to finding the necessary beauty, and the digital book highlights the actual way of working, not just what is written on the paper.
“(The reader) can really figure out and see our exchange, our conversations, our language,” he said.
As a magician reveals the secrets behind the tricks, “Dance Fort: A History” reveals the inner workings and artistic thoughts of the creative process — this creates intimacy for the viewer, Miller said, using a chapter titled “Angie-ness” as an example.
“It is intimate and it brings you to Angie in a way that watching her perform is not the same thing,” Miller said.
Wilks said the sense of process is also revealed by the intimacy between members of the group, and this sense of process wouldn’t come through if the book was executed in a critical analysis format.
“Although it is a technical tool, the content itself is not technical. The content is very personal and observational. There’s a whole scene in ‘A History’ based on recordings of conversations of stories that we tell over and over again that convey a lot about how we make work, which you wouldn’t get from a critical analysis,” he said. “Our goal and our hope is that ‘Dance Fort,’ as an access, would convey that essential quality that you wouldn’t necessarily think about.”
Wilks said he thinks “Dance Fort: A History” will be a useful tool not only for its readers but also the authors themselves.
“(The book) triggers thought and rethinking and a type of creation that hopefully will become even a more effective tool down the line,” he said. “In some ways, it is the closest thing we have to capturing what it is that we do and it now exists. It will continue to be useful in our questioning of that and understanding that.”
“Dance Fort: A History” was published Monday for free download on iBooks for all iOS devices.