We met visual artist Zoe Nelson at Peep Show in May of 2014. She saw us dance and dreamed up the collaboration that we have just embarked upon. Moral of that story – do lots of community cross-pollinating events! I can’t tell you how many wonderful collaborators we have met at informal showings, works-in-progress events, and open rehearsals. And on that note – this Sunday Nov. 9th at 2:30pm we have an open rehearsal and we can’t promise that there won’t be tears…
We will be sharing the space with Winifred Haun and Amanda Lower of Striding Lion Performance Group AND we will be introducing our new project with Zoe Nelson – an installation of art and dance asking questions about absence.
Zoe’s incredible paintings begin whole and end full of holes. She creates these incredible, door-sized, colored, cut-outs. Dreaming up a performative conversation between her pieces and our dancing, I had to create a choreographic structure that mirrored Zoe’s works, works that found completion in the poetics of their missing parts. The negative space of these cut-outs left space for our dancing bodies, but how would our dancing bodies also leave space for Zoe’s pieces?
We have just begun, but the solution thus far has been beautiful, stressful, striking, and terrifying. I have made a dance phrase and encouraged its demise. Usually when we create a dance we do everything in our power to remember it – we videotape, take notes, help one another with forgotten steps. This time, the phrase has holes and is still whole. I taught it too quickly and won’t let the dancers review. We perform it as it falls apart. For the dancers of the Leopold Group today’s rehearsal was a breaking point – frustrating, exhausting, and confusing. We like to call it ‘brain soup’ – when your mind can no longer retain choreography and you can’t keep up with your moving body. Well, Cara announced today mid-rehearsal that her brain was a nice Minestrone and Amanda responded that all she had left was some broth and a few noodles. I moved too quickly. I taught steps out of order. I refused to answer questions.
There are indeed choreographic holes. What’s left to-do is to convince these professional dancers that their performance is still whole. The subjective memory slips – standing frozen because you don’t remember the next step or repeating the same jump three times hoping the subsequent step will magically reveal itself through muscle memory – feel like failures to my dancers. The stutters and pauses, the stressed faces intensely, internally searching for the next move, the sudden and prolonged stillness is (in a sense) choreographed into the dance phrase. It is not a failed performance to forget the steps. But the feeling of failure was overwhelming. Today it became clear that the cutting away at a canvas is less plagued by ego than the chipping away at memory.
We had to end rehearsal with a group hug, or rather cuddle. We had to wipe away the tears (yes, tears) and remember that we are whole because of the holes. Visibility and absence. Identity and ego. Like I often say, “dancing is hard.” Today, not dancing was even harder.