Philosophy of body

A Certain Beauty/a poetics of body

L. Martina Young is interested in the concept that we don’t pay enough attention to our backs and what’s going on behind them.

L. Martina Young is interested in the concept that we don’t pay enough attention to our backs and what’s going on behind them.

Photo By David Robert

The amber-colored wooden dance floor adjacent to the organized but busy “living” side of L. Martina Young’s artist’s loft apartment embodies the paradox Young sees and writes about in dance, body and life. Pilates equipment and a couple paintings (one by Young’s father) are all that take up space on the north side of the open room. The south side is full of the signs of habitation: a collection of teapots, tea-filled teacups on top of a dining table, a lived-in sofa, bookshelves full of books where the majority of titles contain the words unconscious, consciousness, goddess and mythology. Both sides of the room are brought together by windows that reveal the Truckee River and the cobalt Sierras, and by Young, who moves fluidly from one extreme of paradox to the other.

Young calls her home her ashram. Its more official title is The Lighthouse/Studio 502, and it is the site of Young’s upcoming, entirely improvised dance and dialogue performance, A Certain Beauty/a poetics of body.

“As an artist, I live with ambiguity and paradox, and it’s about holding that tension and being OK with it, being totally comfortable with it,” Young says.

Young has always resided close to her psyche. When she was 3 years old, she had a dance teacher who implanted in her the idea of knowing and experiencing the world through the physical body. Young’s path as a dancer and choreographer has always kept her near the body, in both a physical and spiritual sense.

“There is a certain beauty about the body at every stage of life, and it is constantly expressing it if you just listen.”

Young’s dancing comes from what she calls “depth movement experience.” Delving into depth movement ended up leading to an interest in depth psychology, and Young now has a Ph.D. in the combined disciplines of philosophy, aesthetics, psychology and mythology.

“Depth psychology is the study of the soul,” she says. The soul, if you look at any culture, is that place that connects us in the human experience … The soul, the psyche, when met on its own terms lives almost in the very same kind of fluidity and time sense as art-making.”

For Young, dance is an intriguing art form. It is one of the only arts, most similar perhaps to music, where images are there and then gone. Unscripted dance—the kind that Young has practiced often via the African American dance tradition—is even more ephemeral than dance that has been choreographed. Young compares dance, in this sense, to Buddhism, a practice of letting go of attachments, of always living in the moment.

Improvisational dance is a meditation; it is being completely aware of being safe in your body and in your movements while putting the ego and mind on hold. The mind wants familiarity, which means it must be suspended for true improvisation to take place. Young’s performance of A Certain Beauty comes from this philosophy.

“When you listen to Miles Davis or John Coltrane or Dizzy Gillespie or Ella Fitzgerald, this is a tradition, and they are all unique. There is a specificity of uniqueness that is able to also come out in improvisation. It is that human being’s voice and no other. As a dancer, that’s also what I am going to be putting on this stage, and that’s a certain beauty. It’s its own voice. It’s its own sense of knowing. I am going to be led along just as the viewer is."