MFA Monday: Amanda Jackson

How lucky we are to have Amanda Jackson back for her third entry on MFA Monday.  Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy…she even shares a choreographic exercise with us.

Amanda Jackson holds an MFA in Dance from Texas Woman’s University. She is a performer, choreographer, educator, stylist, and avid cooking improviser. Her work has been presented across Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Louisiana with a notable experience at Harvard University with collaborator, Matthew Cumbie. Amanda is Co-Director of Big Rig Dance Collective in Denton, TX and Adjunct Professor of Dance at Tarrant County College Northwest. www.ajdance.orgA Jackson - Photo by Jesse Scroggins

MFA: Little and Big Things

Part 3 – Absence: Nothing equals something

By Amanda Jackson


For my last blog entry I had every intention of sharing some experiences of my life after graduate school centered on working as an adjunct professor. Weeks ago, I even reached out to some very respected colleagues to assemble some of their insights into this line of work. You see I graduated with my MFA this past May, so I haven’t been away from that intense graduate school environment for very long. Immediately following graduation I began working as an adjunct professor at a local community college – working with brand new groups of students along with faculty whom I truly admire but rarely see. I also recently moved to a new city that is just far enough away from most of my grad cohort (who stuck around the North Texas area), making a regular commute to socialize and create with them more challenging. Basically, I feel like I’ve been dropped into a new world. A world that is a bit lonely and less rigorous compared to the processes I was involved in as an MFA student. I reached out to my respected colleagues with these words: I am just feeling a giant shift… I feel stale, uninspired, and without a close support group. Has anyone else felt this way? What are some strategies you use to feel fulfilled as professional artists while working with new student populations in new academic environments?

What I have been feeling is absence. I recently stumbled across the concept of absence in a creative discussion with my brilliant friend Matthew Cumbie, who shared his MFA Monday arc just before me. Matt and I created a duet together in 2010, presenting and performing the work in several different venues across the US. He is currently developing a few ideas from our work in a new solo that he premiered a couple of weeks ago in DC. Over the phone, Matt expressed that it didn’t feel quite the same to perform without me. I then suggested: “Why don’t you incorporate a score of dancing with me? I’ll just be absent.” Simple enough. We all might have played with similar scores choreographically or in a performance context… But this thought stuck with me. Absence. I think it stuck because of my current transitional state between student life and professional life. I’ve been feeling an absence of fulfillment as an artist. Things that were readily available as an MFA student that aided in my artistic fulfillment  – rehearsal space, close collaborators, deep critical inquiry, nearby faculty to provide insight and feedback – well these things don’t easily exist outside of graduate school. All of these luxuries quickly vanished once I graduated and it feels a bit like a divorce… I grew accustomed to a certain way of life, a certain way of creating, and I suddenly lost it all.

I want to note that I do not necessarily equate absence with loss… I believe absence to be temporal; a state of being where we can regain what we feel is not currently present. To shed some positive light on a word with negative connotations, we can say that nothing does equal something. The absence of ___________ is the presence of ___________. Although I am straying from my initial intentions for this blog, I feel compelled to do a little brainstorming about absence. The absence of my initial intention is the presence of this investigation of absence. Rather than trying to over analyze or structure my new investigation, I’ll offer you some questions and threads of thought that are currently stirring in my mind:

There’s something in the air. Or, there’s something not in the air. I’ve had the same discussions with other artists, friends, and family about feeling like something is absent from our lives. Lots of people feel it… the desire to streamline, simplify, give it all up and start over, run a bookstore, run away, work at Whole Foods, experience every sunset, develop quality work, live a quality life, and breathe in something that seems to be absent. Maybe in this state of absence we are becoming more open to possibility and change. At least that’s how I prefer to look at it. Perhaps we are waiting for a jolt or impulse to re-enliven our present situations. Waiting. Does waiting only imply passivity? Can waiting also imply listening? Maybe this sense of absence is the jolt, jolting us to listen to our desires of simplicity, quality, or what ever it is that we deem as fulfilling right now.

To conclude my arc, I want to share an exercise developed by choreographer Meg Stuart found in her book, Are we here yet? This is an exercise that I’m dying to try. Maybe you want to experience it with a partner as well. You might even allow your imagination travel through her prompts. Either way, we can appreciate the inherent melding of absence and presence here.

Remote partners in contact

Hug your partner for an extended period of time. Imagine you are saying goodbye to each other. Don’t speak. Begin to explore proximity to each other, allow distance between you, then come close to each other again, but don’t touch. As you stand very close to each other, imagine that you are very far apart. Stand on opposite sides of the room. Try going behind objects in the room so that you can’t see each other. Move around the space not looking for each other. One person stays in the studio while the other goes into the dressing room or outside, all the while both stick to the agreement that you are in a duet. Spend a long time away from each other in separate parts of the city, town, or place you are in. You can go and have a coffee or run an errand but the experience is completely informed by your partner who is not there. Remain in metaphysical contact even as the physical distance between you grows. Write down your experiences and share them with your partner when you meet again. 


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