blind-written notes from SOMETHING OF THE ECSTATIC

blind-written notes from SOMETHING OF THE ECSTATIC

Plastic wrap coiled to spring or melt, spiral script in white against the marley’s black ground: a synthetic glisten tightly wrapped around Jumatatu Poe’s pelvis, ass, thighs, genitals, and up the chest, faulty at the shoulder and with a loose end needing constant re-tucking. Hip-drop on the unexpected syncopated next beat. I notice, entering the theater, his brow furrowed in focus; I empathize and wonder at once about the effort to sustain that attention, the choice to furrow the forehead, looking down at the task at hand (both the plastic to be wrapped and the hip slip rhythm to be maintained). The expression on his face seems both a coherent decision on Poe’s part and a necessary byproduct. Hold the roll ever gently and wait for the next move to mesh.

Squeak and squawk at once, pull back and forth; let a small part loose against the soft pallet (how is it that sometimes watching dance I can see the invisible happening in bodies?); and in the throat gutter it becomes babytalk (“yes little mama” “aren’t you just…”); fast, fresh, so fresh-a, hands on plastic hips, hips like a lullaby; feeling the fight in the moving, call it in with your feet, then vaudeville, then articulate/dislocate. The phrase “deep black somatic praxis” comes strongly to my fingers while watching.

Mining these notes scrawled on a program during May 15th’s BETWEEN THE NO LONGER AND THE STILL TO COME, I’m reminded in retrospect of Jaime and I’s conversation as we generated ideas for our co-written post, “notes on what we’re doing here.” We talked about the possibility of a THIRD, between-ish way of watching performance, other than watching as an audience member with an eye to the piece or watching as a critic/reviewer with an eye to the piece as it might be translated, comprehended, or transfigured into language later. That THIRD way: watching as writing practice, watching the dance with your pen and paper in the dark, the performance jumping through your fingertips into language at that moment, not for or towards a “later.”

This is something Megan Bridge pointed out in the Placing Performance discussion. Those notes in the dark, written over, scribbled, double and triple layered onto themselves, often indecipherable, tend to produce far more interesting and quixotic descriptive language about performances, which is to say, they tend to produce a more complicated relationship between the dance and its textual response than description produced afterwards, or even written while the house lights are up and the page can be glanced at as you go. This has been on my mind: this blindness to words as they are made, as a mode of seeing.

Something else that was said at Placing Performance: making art is making universes.

Some notes from The Medicine of Art workshop with Dr. Stephen Cowan:

is faith or belief the decision to rely on what you don’t know, to step out of the narrator mind that constantly wants to make clear, ordered sense of things, to find reasons, explanations, and causal trajectories for things? relying on the fact that you don’t know.

what would a literacy of the wordless be? how to teach it? how to teach comprehension beyond “about”ness?

Walking into the back room at Tandem Bar feels exposed and enfolded. Pink clip lights throw party and night out and show around the small square room, and everyone hugs the walls to leave the center open for performances. But we’ll move back and forth between each to one side or the other as requested, and everyone will gladly pick up their bags and drinks and relocate: we are here and in it and eager to be both.

Swift sweeping arms cut the projected video of, maybe, cityscapes and motion, motion, motion, through which Lion and Kia Labeija move side-by-side and deeply ON POINT, occasionally trading or invading each other’s space sharply, lovingly, then moving on to the next thing. Their bodies like the realist of ghosts in the flicker, confused with their shadows and the pound of the music. When the projection and music go out, their everywhere-rhythm goes on steady and alone, then drops away, rising delectably, slowly again into speed. The sound of All Stars brushing the floor is everything. There are only arms moving, only these two dancers looking dead at each other in the dark, creating something solid in the air between them.

Antonio Ramos is always PERFECT with the music’s break/drop: the glorious quantity of high kicks, his hair, exploding with spectacular relief into its release from the mirror-ball helmet he was wearing, becomes (in my eye’s memory, filled with glitter and spinning lights) like a dipping weight at the other end of his always flying leg, giving all of it, dropping dropping, and sometimes withholding just enough of the beat from us in his body, beguiling grin and ecstatic glow, he throws it all down when the moment is right without ever seeming to have held back and we are there completely, unable to not love and love and applaud.

Two nights in a row I’ve seen Dana Michel languish on the floor, a languishing that goes on and on and becomes a way of life or being. Slithering through the doorway like a slug leaving a residue of crumpled white bread:
what is loose? what hangs and breaths low to the ground? what carries everything with it, what is a lump, what is limp, what is heavy, what is lumpy and losing grasp and holding on for dear life without urgency? what sinks and slips and gives up while going on? what is actually survival and what is it to be that debauched, desolate, destroyed ongoing thing that just does its thing and chuckles to itself?

the white wrap around her locs pulling off is a less dramatic release tonight than last night, quick like a band-aid tug
digging in the black tent, she sits in it, it is part of her body, she is part of it
hair flies back, breast out, again and again to properly place each thing
this walk/saunter/fail requires proper placement of parts
the mess she made
coke cans, bread, halogen lamps, debris, cups, containers rising up like so many growths from the ground

You’ll notice I don’t know how to write about music performances, like the evening of Tongues in Trees at Barbes, or this second performance by Sunny Jain now with Samita Sinha. It’s simply all around/in/beyond the bodies and the room, and it soaks in until we’re drenched.

I did not take a picture of the sweat line that made its way down my shirt like an elaborate necklace while dancing to DJ Rekha, but the next day it occurred to me that it would have been better evidence of the ecstatic than any text I might write here.

legible/illegible, beyond the space of identity:
This “beyond” at first made me uncomfortable when I saw the Festival announcement. It’s dangerous territory and the word incites a tremor of protectiveness in me. I’m accustomed to calls for getting over, beyond, away from identity being laced with equal parts good intention and dismissive disregard. But then again, the space of identity is just as treacherous, if not more so. This is a Festival in which that “beyond” – that moving past – is not a dismissal but rather a gesture of healing, a reparative space for looking out over the legible/illegible nature of identity, the ways “we fear/fail to see an-other,” and attend to the “unseen, unheard of, misconstrued, inchoate, messy, untidy, unpackaged, and missing.” These are all words from the curatorial “CLOUD OF IDEAS” in the Festival brochure. And in moving through the Festival itself, I feel deeply grateful to have the words these three curators produced together, especially their open description of their curatorial process. Chatting with them off and on at events, I am struck by the particular love they’ve developed for each other and the way it has shaped a not-simple space: I feel surrounded by their caring, careful thought at each event, a space available for being unsettling/unsettled as needed as a practice for healing.

Descriptive writing about experiences is like skywriting – pushing words into the air of the event. But sometimes I want to just hold it all in memory without changing the nature of it – not so much out of resistance to working it through in words or language (I roll in those all day, willingly), but because I don’t want it to change its form, how it lives in the after-dregs: it’s a matter of what kinds of ephemera we want to have and to make. The blur of discourse around and including the thing. The experiential recollections are part of that. But sometimes I don’t want to produce any other part of the blur than the one I hold already. “The ether of the day,” as I described it to Jaime in our friend’s car on the way back to the city from Mt. Tremper Arts upstate for the final day of the festival, THE WILD BEYOND/FINAL CLEARING. And then I wrote that phrase down. My notes from that day consist of jotted feelings about having to write about the day, but nothing about the day itself. This “clearing” is like the “beyond” in the festival title, and the other half of the “opening” of the first night at Judson Church. It is energetic and it is literal/geographic: Mt. Tremper feels like an open, surrounded world in the woods, and we spent the last moments of the festival in a silent circle in a grassy clearing just up the hill.

I found myself blinded by the sun and holding my arm up into it, playing the light along one side of my limb’s skin and surface in a starkly gradated fade towards dark on the side in shadow. The fingers moving against the blue sky, the fearlessness of the shape, and the freedom to move it strangely, like an unknown quantity or quality in the air.

—Tara Aisha Willis

  • May 23rd, 2015
  • Spring Festival

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