No Fixed Positions: A Dialogue on Yellow Towel with Dana Michel

Dana Michel is sitting on the grown, her feet tucked under her body and her knees pointing outwards, wearing a white sleeveless shirt with the front tucked up in the colour and dark pants. There are a number of objects including a dark, unclear object and a trumpet in front of her and she holds a white unclear object. Behind Michel is a white tarp. The whole image has a warm tone to it, and the top border of the image is seems burnt out as if from an over exposure. The top border is irregular with a rough edge that turns orange and then sharply white.
Dana Michel, Yellow Towel, 2013, performance. Image credit: Maya Fuhr.


Michael Nardone   It’s interesting to hear you cite wandering through grocery stores and pharmacies and engaging with the things in these kinds of places as you were starting to compose the work. Yesterday, I realized — as I watched you organize all the performance materials—that just about everything you use is a banal object from such quotidian commercial spaces — a roll of paper towels, a container of cream cheese, vacuum cleaner attachments, hair care products … It struck me because in Yellow Towel all of these things are charged with a wild oddness, with a kind of supernatural power. I also noticed that maybe you were a bit shy or hesitant about bringing them out of their suitcases —

Dana Michel   For sure.

MN   Why was that?

DM   Well, I’ve spent five years of being so particular about how these things are seen. I’ve been keeping the secret of these things. Like this, for instance! [Picks up a felt hat that has the face of a frog] I have this frog in my pockets, holding all of the rubber bands, throughout the show. And nobody knows! [Laughs] Does everyone get this kind of pleasure? I know it’s always been there for me for as long as I’ve been alive. When I was a kid, I would hide two of my McDonald’s fries under a napkin and, when everyone thought I was done, I’d be like, Nope! And I’d sneak those two little fries back out. [Laughs] I can’t believe how satisfying that was. I don’t know why. Perhaps it gives you something extra to bend around in the tedium of living? Anyway, I take so much pleasure in objects, in organizing them and thinking about them and dealing with them. Especially this set of objects. I’ve been allowed to fully express my desire to hide them and care for them over these years.

MN   This hiding you speak of relates to the choreography of Yellow Towel in an interesting way. There’s this thing where you hide your own virtuosity in the piece. Or, to put it in perhaps a better way: you hide your capability to do stunning and incredible bodily movements throughout the work. And then, in the moment it explodes out into the piece, you often cover it again, hide it.


Dana Michel Yellow Towel 2017 performance Image courtesy of La Biennale di Venezia Image credit: Andrea Avezzù
Dana Michel, Yellow Towel, 2017, performance. Image courtesy of La Biennale di Venezia. Image credit: Andrea Avezzù.


DM   I am often faced with this question from other people: Is it dance or is it not dance? Or: Is she an amazing performer or is she crazy? While I am hiding this and hiding that, I can’t say the same for my person. I perform well under pressure, and my intuition is sharp — I know that much. I know I can react well to a thing. And I know that I like jokes. It’s embarrassing to say it, but listen, I like to be funny. I like it a lot. It’s very important to me.

MN   I mean, Yellow Towel is absolutely hilarious at moments!

DM   I know those things are there for me and that I can rely on them. What happens with my body comes as a shock to me too.

MN   How do you mean?

DM   I think of it through the frame of raves and Caribana. They are places where my body moves and does things, and I don’t know how it does them. I realize: Cool, so I have some kind of natural ability thing happening but it’s not to a point where I’m like, “Oh, I am an amazing dancer.” In performance, I don’t often know what my body is doing. When I look at documentation after a show, I may realize that a certain turn, for instance, makes a good photo — and I’m not talking about this ego-wise, I’m talking about my choreographic analysis of what my body is doing in the work—but it’s not a situation where I’m doing all these moves and I’ve written them for my skill to appear at specific moments, no.

People can talk about it from the outside however they want to talk about it. All I can say from the inside is that I am working in a joke space and in a what’s-happening-with-my-body space. If something hurts, for instance, that’s going to affect the way I am going to do something. I don’t shut that down. I let that talk to the work. I let all of the things talk to the work and it produces something. People seem to express to me that it works. More importantly, though, I register from the inside that something intuitively makes sense about this manner of writing movement.


Dana Michel, So So Silky Silky Silk: Scoring Yellow Towel, 2018. From a performance writing residency in collaboration with Michael Nardone, SBC Gallery of Contemporary Art, Montréal. Image credit: Clara Lacasse
Dana Michel, So So Silky Silky Silk: Scoring Yellow Towel, 2018. From a performance writing residency in collaboration with Michael Nardone, SBC Gallery of Contemporary Art, Montréal. Image credit: Clara Lacasse.


MN   What struck me so deeply in seeing your work is the fact that it’s as if every movement and every utterance is constructed from layers and layers of history, histories. They are always partially obscured or in the process of becoming legible, and they are charged with new valences of meaning as you embody and intone them. How do you do that? 

DM   For me, it’s a matter of putting the body in at the very last second. When I was preparing the work, I was giving it lots of time, doing all kinds of thinking, and, as I said, spending a lot of time wandering. And when I’m doing research, I’m cloaked in an invisible velcro suit. Or a magnet suit. I’m in constant osmosis mode.

MN   Osmosis and velcro!

DM   You see where I’m going. I’m soaking everything up like a goddamn Christmas fruitcake. Soaking it all up. I’m touching materials, talking, thinking, getting super swollen with all the information. Then the emergency of the performance wrings out from me what is necessary. I set up very specific tasks for myself, paths, timings based on music. I know I work well under pressure—it’s when I have the most clarity.

What came out of Yellow Towel, out of my body, was exciting to discover because I knew I was increasingly interested in what came out of improvisation. But “improvisation” is still not good enough of a word. I knew I was most interested in how a body reacted in the time of performance after having worn this soaked fruitcake suit.



Excerpted from No Fixed Positions: A Dialogue on Yellow Towel with Dana Michel & Michael Nardone, featured in Issue 3.43 (Winter 2021). To read the piece in its entirety purchase a print or digital copy here.

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