My friend Purvi comes with me to Enclosures at The Chocolate Factory. We have our marked-up copies of Sylvia Federici, Fred Moten, and badass Audre Lorde. My festival experience so far has been extraordinary and to use Ni’Ja Whitson’s word, I feel armored, prepared, and what in Detroit we used to call “geeked!” I can’t wait to engage and hopefully embody these texts with new people.
I stop short when we get to the space. My apologies if I missed it somehow, but it seems completely physically inaccessible. There is no handicapped ramp to enter the space and, more intense, it seems to lack an elevator. The only way up to the bright, warm discussion area and Liliana Dirks-Goodman’s lovely houses is a set of steep, rickety stairs. The only way down to the restroom is those stairs plus another flight.
As a person who has performed in multiple inaccessible spaces, I’m not trying to get up on a high horse. Rather, my recent reading on disability aesthetics and especially my friendship with brilliant queer black disabled dancer Barak adé Soleil has made me more woke. Barak’s recent, gorgeous performance “The Politics of Space” with Mikel Patrick Avery and Nikki Patin investigated these questions: “Who is welcomed? Who is deserving? Who is allowed?” I think again about the shape and quality of invitations, the nature of community inclusion.
Tobin Seibers writes: “Aesthetics tracks the sensations that some bodies feel in the presence of other bodies.” Which bodies are present? Why and how? What is the default dance community? movement research community? reading and responding community? How can we anticipate better the disabled dancers, readers, responders who would roll up in wheelchairs or stroll up with their devices if they were allowed more access?
I make this note, then climb up the rickety stairs. Randy Reyes greets us with a rose and a hand written note. I recognize Randy from the workshops and feel close to him, although I don’t know him at all. I’ll come to feel this way later about Jonathan Gonzalez and Lily Bo from this very event and the next night’s revels, although I know them even less, having never danced in a room with them. This feeling of closeness comes again from the intimacy of sharing moving/ reading/ writing/ healing space. It has to do with being present in the room together. This is why we have to get as many folks in there as possible.
Presence can happen in many ways. Sarah Maxfield sent the notes and roses in her stead when she unexpectedly how to bow out. Her presence became these presents for us, sumptuous bunches of orange, yellow, and lavender roses. It was great to be greeted with a gift, something special and personalized (“To: You / From: Me”). I felt welcome, as if my presence, my being there, was really valued. The curators opening statements also extended this feeling and I loved the acknowledgment of our presence on occupied, indigenous land.
The presence (absence) and roles of various community members were a big part of the readings and the evening’s overall dynamic of responding. Federici and Moten ask us: who does what kind of labor where? Lorde models creative vision as poetry as liberation. At the same time, why do the performers mainly move while the discussants mainly speak? Have we been hard-wired to perform in this way? Is there a way to rewire the dynamic?
The event cracks open when Rihanna’s “Work” comes on and we all dance and later when the performers enter into the circle and speak. How can we keep flipping our scripts, replay our roles differently? Holding a rose close to his face, one black man asked about fugitivity: “What are you actually running from? What are you really trying to avoid?” The flip side of the questions: what are you trying to build? The you is me and us. I left with a lot on my mind.
The next morning, my friend Zetta and I walk together in Prospect Park. She is not a performer and is horrified when I describe the practice of authentic movement in Marissa’s workshop. What do you mean you have to move with your eyes closed while someone is looking at you? That sounds like a nightmare. I try to explain that you are not there to entertain the person and the person is not there to judge you, but rather that person is there to witness you, hold your energy, and keep you safe in the room. Hmmm, she remains skeptical.
It reminds me that however much I think of myself as an outsider, particularly in the downtown New York dance world, I am still inside the room. I am able-bodied in key (although not all) ways, a mover, a performer, a talker, and a person able to hold the gaze.
My festival invitation came to me by wire, not as a hand written note. But still it came. I was on that Movement Research e-list; I can bring other folks into the fold. How can we rewire our networks and forward our invitations even more? How can somatic healing, interdisciplinary connections of reading, writing, moving and making connect with even more people?
I give Zetta the beautiful hand written note from Enclosures. Later, she posts this on Facebook:
“I can feel a migraine coming on but I’m so grateful for this morning’s walk in Prospect Park with Gabrielle Civil! She passed along this note from a fellow woman performance artist, which is just what I needed to hear today since I feel myself sliding into a period of deep reflection: “I wanted to be with you tonight. I am not there. I sent this. In my place. It is a moment–a breath suspended between inhale and exhale. Life and death. Held in your hand. Inside your shoes, there is skin on the soles of your feet. Inside your feet, there is blood in the marrow of your bones. The work you are doing is enough. You are enough. <3”
It got 22 likes and a number of comments. My forwarding this note and Zetta’s posting it on-line allowed the festival to cross from one world into another. Beyond the initial moment, Sarah Maxfield’s words offer widened enclosure around movement research. Hand written note(s) can still offer beauty and solace in these terrible times.
I offer thanks for this note, for the rose and real talk of Enclosures, the brilliant performances there and the next day, the workshops, and overall for the three full days of festival events that nourished, inspired and challenged me.
I offer special thanks to Aretha Aoki, Elliott Jenetopulos, Eleanor Smith, and Tara Aisha Willis for all their hard work. I am an honored witness of their authentic movement(s). I especially appreciate them letting me, a virtual stranger, share my verbose thoughts as festival writing. Often folks work hard and don’t receive much feedback, so hopefully these thoughts can feed the archive and serve too as a thank you note to them.
Hand written note(s) has become a compendium of correspondence with multiple authors, palimpsests and enclosures. Before and beyond, I hope we can keep rewiring and forwarding, exchanging the radical, healing energy of this experience further and wider.