Paul Lazar: A change of perspective

Sarah Bodony, Ohio State fourth-year, Dance

Oct 27, 2020

Dancers Paul Lazar and Bebe Miller rehearsing on an empty stage, as seen through a TV monitor

That moment of joy when you share a story with a friend you haven’t seen in a while, or when a new insight helps you reach a more liberating present. The juxtaposition of humor and radical identity. These are some of many themes introduced in the new version of Paul Lazar’s Cage Shuffle (2017), to be presented virtually by the Wexner Center on Sunday, November 1 at 2PM and 7PM. 

In the original work, Lazar tells a series of one-minute stories drawn from John Cage’s 1963 score Indeterminacy while he simultaneously performs complex choreography by Annie-B Parson. Originally a solo, this new iteration of Cage Shuffle includes movement and voice contributions from Ohio State Professor Emeritus in Dance, Bebe Miller. Each story lasts exactly one minute—each minute of text accompanied by a minute of movement. Every minute of text is different; therefore, every minute of movement is as well, adding to the work’s complexity. The new version of Cage Shuffle features choreography from Lazar, Parson, and Miller, all contributing their imprints and voices. I recently spoke with Lazar about his new work and the following represents some of our conversation.

Although the movement and the text support each other, the text is the driving force of this work, and bringing it into the foreground comes with a price: I asked Lazar, what does it mean to be telling a story that is not your own and what does it mean to tell the story when your positionality is different from Cage’s? “John Cage arrives at his point of view in relation to the world, based in part on his unique levels of privilege,” he responds. The world will treat him relatively gently as a white male, but what does it mean for a black woman to be speaking and embodying these words? Miller was brought into this project for this reason. With the racial reckoning brought about by George Floyd’s death, Lazar tells me the work required a new perspective. As a woman of color working with a white male, Miller and Lazar tell the same story in Cage Shuffle, but we hear different stories because of their positionality. A change in perspective is what offers such rich and introspective dialogue and Lazar suggests Miller’s contribution implicates identity and voice. This is where the unpredictable, exciting element lies in performance, as the viewers bring their own backgrounds and life experiences to the event, offering additional voices and perspectives.

"John Cage arrives at his point of view in relation to the world, based in part on his unique levels of privilege. The world will treat him relatively gently as a white male, but what does it mean for a black woman to be speaking and embodying these words?"
Paul Lazar

In the time of COVID-19, how does one capture this complexity, intensity, and utter humor of this work for folks watching through their computers at home? Lazar describes that videographer Eamonn Farrell has considered the audience in exactly this way. Instead of placing Lazar and Miller side by side, facing an imaginary audience, they face each other, two cameras between them, one facing Lazar and the other Miller. Lazar explains, the piece is fundamentally about sharing these stories with someone, but when there is no live audience to talk to, the altered camera angles provide them with this connection. I realize this is a remarkable change of perspective: a simple re-focus and re-framing of the camera further invites the audience to immerse themselves in this world despite our barriers while it gives the performers a new intentionality.

According to Lazar, the piece starts with individual close-ups of the performers; later we see the entire room. Part of the excitement of viewing this piece is the gradual revelation from isolation to shared space. I had a visceral reaction to this information: after months spent away from loved ones and disconnected from the physical world, we may all look forward to that moment when we are reunited to share stories and be harmoniously together. Consider where these thoughts are resonating in your body. How do they make you feel?

The concepts of race and voice act as two pillars for Cage Shuffle while the diverse perspectives and choreographic imprints interweave the spoken stories. This layered experience prompts me to ask: How does an individual find their voice? How do viewers find themselves in this new consideration of the dynamics of race on artistic license? Ultimately, the audience's active engagement with these pillars raises questions of social justice through the radical experience of the work’s movement and text.

That is the intersection of our world and Cage Shuffle. Two people with different identities and voices collaborate, telling “witty, inspiring, amusing, funny, playful, deep, and meaningful Cage stories,” as Lazar says. It is the juxtaposition of embodied humor and complex stories, each of us experiencing it while living in our own containers of radical race and identity, that keeps us on our toes and makes the work worth seeing.



This selection is part of Writing about the Performing Arts at Ohio State, an interdisciplinary student-led seminar during the 2020-21 academic year. With guidance from Department of Dance Professor Karen Eliot and the Wexner Center’s Alana Ryder (Manager, Public and University Programs) and Lane Czaplinski (Director of Performing Arts), students with backgrounds in dance, economics, math, microbiology, political science, psychology, statistics, and beyond will serve as ambassadors and advocates for the arts. As a cohort, they will approach broad theoretical and philosophical issues behind contemporary performance as well as questions about the roles of arts critics and of arts criticism, especially in the era of COVID-19 and racial equity and social justice movements.

For more information, please email Additional interviews and student writing will be presented online later in the academic year by Ohio State's Department of Dance.


Top of page: Paul Lazar in rehearsal with Bebe Miller; photo: Annie-B Parson

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