Sarah Maxfield proposes An Alternative

Abigail Block with son Milo, photo by Pauline Kim


Creator and curator Sarah Maxfield uses poetic structure to explore gentleness in performance.

Abigail Block with son Milo, photo by Pauline Kim

An Alternative
by Sarah Maxfield


Gentleness takes great strength. It is not a weakness.


That is a platitude.


Platitudes are overused, but not untrue.




I am learning. Now. I am learning to be gentle. Deeply gentle. Not just for a moment, or because of a situation, but always and always gentle. Even when it’s difficult. Especially when it’s difficult. I am now a mother.




No. Don’t say, “Oh” as if it isn’t worth your attention. Why are you so much more interested in ferocity? I hear you. All the time. “FIERCE” you say. It’s a high compliment. The highest.




What does it say about us when we emphasize ferocity over kindness? Why is our goal as performance makers to “blow people away?” What if the goal was love?




That’s exactly what I’m talking about. Gentleness is not fragility. It is not simply too dumb to know any better. Gentleness is savvy, worldly. Gentleness is wiser than ferocity, but we rarely see wisdom on stage. We prefer youth and vigor.


Now you’re just being bitter.


Bitterness is a balancing flavor.


I thought you were selling sweet.


Gentleness is not the same as sweetness. Sweetness occurs. Gentleness is a choice – and an active one. It is not giving up. Regardless of what Dylan Thomas would have you believe.


Poetry isn’t gentle enough for you? You’re fighting a losing battle.


Not everything is a battle.


Yes it is.


No it isn’t.


Yes it is.


No it… Oh, I see what you’re doing. You caught me. Fierce.


You’re giving up?


No, I’m just giving. There is a difference. That’s what I’m trying to tell you.


Sarah Maxfield investigates contemporary performance and its history through practice, discussion, and critical theory. She creates live performance and, with equal focus, creates structures for viewing and discussing performance and its context. Maxfield’s work has been presented by The Chocolate Factory Theater, P.S. 122, and the Museum of Arts and Design, among other venues in NYC and beyond. Maxfield has contributed writing to The Brooklyn Rail, The Performance Club, and the Movement Research Performance Journal/Critical Correspondence, and she was a Context Notes Writer for Dance Theater Workshop’s final season. Maxfield currently serves on the New York Dance and Performance “Bessies” Awards committee, curates two ongoing series (THROW and One-Shot), and is a co-producer of the WestFest Dance Festival. She is also developing a festival to honor the work of performance artist Tom Murrin and an oral history of experimental dance and performance, which will be compiled into a book titled Nonlinear Lineage.


Click here to see all articles by Sarah Maxfield.

Alexandra Taylor
3:00 pm
August 2, 2013

I feel justified, relevant and confident with this piece. So clever. So gentle.

Deep breath.

Thank you.

Nicholas Croft
4:55 pm
August 2, 2013

One can find every emotional quality under the sun in the arts. So what would a gentle world look like? Let’s experience a piece or two, or three, then find out if that kind of quality is sustainable for a whole culture.

There’s more of the same in the arts if one looks, really looks and attempts to understand why a work was created in the first place. Then, maybe it’s possible to be satisfied with the way things actually are.

Variety is the spice of life.

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