Fragments: Reflecting on Choreographer's Evening 2018 through Bodies and Memory
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Fragments: Reflecting on Choreographers’ Evening 2018 through Bodies and Memory

Choreographers' Evening 2018 artists. Photo: Bobby Rogers

To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Here, artist and educator Maija Brown shares her perspective on this year’s Choreographers’ Evening.

How to write about Choreographers’ Evening 2018? (Pause and deep breath.) I feel a pressure to write a linear narrative of this event—to find a coherent theme that weaves all the disparate pieces together into a unified whole. But I’m not going to do that. My lived experience of viewing both performances on November 24 in the McGuire Theater and coming back the next day to write from memory is a reminder that memory is, at best, partial and moves between the past event itself and the present struggle to remember the past. The structure of this writing offers fragments of my memory and a gratitude for live performance.

Choreographers’ Evening 2018 | Curated by Pramila Vasudevan

Fragment #1

The dancers walk s—l—o—w—l—y.  No, the dancers walk  s————l————o————w————l———y. They walk with one another, alongside one another, beside another—elongating Time with each shift of weight and movement of the heel, ball, and toes. They are held together by the force of walking forward in their bare feet. The dancers’ gazes shift occasionally but always seem to miss the opportunity for connecting. The lights move, too. A bright flash of light punctuates an exact moment as if making a visual record for the audience’s memory. But the movement doesn’t stop, and the dancers keep walking undeterred, breaking apart. My gaze follows the four dancers moving diagonally upstage. I follow the placement of the hands of one dancer on their hips and the outstretched arms and splayed fingers of another. I am completely present.  Valerie Oliveiro | THE STANDARD | Performed by Non Edwards, Sam Johnson, Valerie Oliveiro, Morgan Thorson, Chitra Vairavan, Arwen Wilder

Body Fragment A

Entry way, white walls. Welcome desk, white walls. Stairwell, white walls. As I navigate myself towards the McGuire stage, I am moving through the whiteness of the Walker walls: a ubiquitous whiteness that I associate with a postmodern aesthetic of form, minimalism, absence, and stripping down of meaning. Between shows, I enter the bathroom stall. I am again surrounded by whiteness. Floor-to-ceiling doors ensure that even in the most private and closed spaces, performing the rituals of bodily abjection are aestheticized.

Fragment #2

In darkness, I hear the crinkling of bags opening. The sound score is tactile. The two female dancers of color sit on a couch mindlessly consuming images on the television while continuously eating  junk food. Legs splayed, they melt and slide off the couch as if the force of gravity is pulling them down to the floor, only to crawl back up to the sofa to continue again. I laugh. I interpret this depiction of gratuitous consumption as a critique of unhealthy behavior, but I laugh with them because their exaggerated movement of melting into the floor embodies a familiar feeling I can relate to. I can’t remember the last time I laughed out loud at a dance performance.  Amal Rogers + Anat Shinar | Coping Mechanism 1 | Performed by Amal Rogers and Anat Shinar

I laugh with the burlesque drag performer who juxtaposes their sad clown face with the playful seduction of a strip tease and tasseled pasties, executing scissor kicks upside down on a chair and showing off a long, outstretched leg in high heels and red tights. It seems like the sad clown face and sexiness are incompatible, and yet they also seem to suggest that performing one’s gender and an affect of sadness may be interrelated. I think about whether I have ever felt sad and sexy and ways I perform my own gender and affect. I wonder how this queer burlesque performance acquires a different meaning on the Walker stage. The curator’s opening questions come to mind, “Whose communities are present? What communities are missing?” As a straight transracial Asian American adoptee, I ask myself what are the ethics and intersectional possibilities for me to share my laughter and pleasure in viewing this performance?  Jäc Pau | SadSex | Performed by Jäc Pau

I laugh with the green balloon clad dancer and dancer dressed in a blue onesie unitard performing the same repeated pelvic thrusts into the surface of the floor as if they are two dimensional characters in a video game, stuck in an endless repetition of unconsummated mechanical desire.  Chris Garza | Garza used Charm! It’s not very effective…| Performed by AP Looze, Theresa Madaus, Chris Garza

I can’t remember the last time I laughed out loud at a dance performance. When I laugh with the performers, I am reminded laughter is important for survival. I wonder whether the performers and I are sharing a mutual meaning making moment or if my laughing may be misinterpreted by the performers and other audience members. Laughter can wound, but laughter can also be a response that affirms and supports. I laughed with the performers tonight.

Fragment #3

Wait for it. Wait for it. (Hold breath and exhale.) The dancer lowers into a deep-seated squat in a low grounded position, elbows at their side, fists clenched. Brace yourself. Brace yourself. They strike the blow to another dancer, standing tall. The punch is audible. Witnessing the force of a person hit another is an intimate form of violence. It is possible for intimacy and vulnerability to come from stylized and repeated gestures. I feel a deep sense of sadness, although I don’t know why. I hold onto this story as though it is a part of my body.  Valerie Oliveiro | THE STANDARD | Performed by Non Edwards, Sam Johnson, Valerie Oliveiro, Morgan Thorson, Chitra Vairavan, Arwen Wilder

 Fragment #4

(Squint eyes.) The stage crew moves in the darkness, the outlines of their bodies are barely visible and never illuminated. Their movements are defined by their tasks and labor. They push the sweepers. They bend down to move sofas. They crouch to roll up the cloth. They become visible only in the spaces in-between. Like the tech crew, I work in darkness trying to preserve in writing a feeling, a movement. (Tighten grip on pen and write furiously.) Scribbling in the dark, I trust that what I think I’ m writing is what I am actually writing.  Stage Crew: Karen Sherman, Carl Shoenborn, Joanna McLarnan

Fragment #5

The image of the planet earth seen from the perspective of a camera in outer space zooms to a dancer covered in a blanket who slowly crawls across the stage. A dull humming sound gradually becomes louder and louder, ominous.  When the dancer emerges from under the blanket, she is wearing a silver unitard and red goggles visor. She is humanlike, but her costume marks her as different. I vacillate between reading the dancer’s body as a foreigner or as an alien. In Orientals: Orientals: Asian Americans in Popular Culture  (Temple University Press, 1999), Robert G. Lee defines the “foreign” as that which “is outside or distant,” while “alien describes things are immediate and present yet have a foreign nature or allegiance.” I think about location and national belonging and how migration and citizenship take place through geography.  Zoe Cinel | You Are Here | Performed by Kaya Lovestrand | Virtual reality operated by Sishirprithvi Bommakanti | Music by Maryam Houshyar, Preston Drum, Zoe Cinel | Video by Maryam Houshyar and Zoe Cinel

Body Fragment B

My mouth is dry. Bone dry. It’s distracting, and I can taste my bad breath. My head aches slightly and my eyes feel red and itchy. I need water and caffeine to make it through the 9:30 pm performance.

Fragment #6

A feeling of comfort and trust. “What is your communal history that brought you here today? Do you know the artists?” Pramila Vasudevan, the curator, asks the audience. I met several of the Choreographers’ Evening artists/dancers as a performer myself in The Parking Ramp Project. 

Warming up together, moving together, sweating together, eating together, committing ourselves to the work, and supporting one another with random acts of kindness cultivated an intentional space for the intersectional communities that made up The Parking Ramp Project. After Choreographers’ Evening, I wander into the lobby to congratulate the performers. Will they remember me from our shared experience of dancing together? People remember things differently, and memory is partial. I run into dancers I haven’t seen in many years. There is hugging. Connection and reconnection are affirmed through touch and shared experiences of dancing together.

Fragment #7

Two bodies: one present, one absent. The image of the dancer’s body is contained on the visual screen as she initiates mundane games. Jumping on her bed, she appears restless, but she does not leave the bed. I think about the permanent image of her body on screen juxtaposed with the absence of her living body on stage. The lights dim, and I think about the visibility/invisibility of the Asian American body on stage.  Katie Ka Vang | In Quarantine | Performed by Katie Ka Vang and Trinity Kablia Vang

Fragment #8

(Squinting.) I make out a brown body, barely visible, curled on the floor. The audible sounds of water sliding over rock make me think of geologic time imperceptibly eroding. A sequence of rectangular projections illuminates and obscures different parts of the dancer’s body, slicing the dancer into light and darkness in a jarring sequence. Her movements are barely perceptible, but I can see her toe as she pushes herself in a slow circular pattern on the floor. As she finishes, she arches her back, her head touching the floor, her gaze piercing the audience as if to remind us she is still here.  Chitra Vairavan | One Removed | Performed by Chitra Vairavan | Audio and video by Tia-Simone Gardner and Rini Yun Keagy

Fragment #9

A black female dancer kneels down and lays her hands on a book. She runs in a circle—faster and faster, her arms pumping, her brow sweating. A sequence of images is projected against the back wall that appears to trace a family genealogy, but it is through her choices of Africanist-inflected forms that a lineage of movement also appears. I think about the work within the context of other American choreographers of color who trace their family stories using auto-ethnography.  Leslie Parker | Crossways/Gateways | Performed by Leslie Parker | Video projections by Zoe Cinel | Soundscape/remix by DJ Verb

Body Fragment C

I haven’t started writing yet. I am at the YWCA literally walking in a circle. It’s been 12 hours since the end of the last performance. I am almost ready to break a sweat. Movement does inspire the writing process.

Fragment #10

The seven all-female black performers stand in a diagonal. Accented by the music, each dancer takes a turn isolating their chest movements to the beat of the music. For me, it is a moment that anchors the dancers to one another and celebrates the power of the female black body. At other moments, the two dancers who wear white hijabs whip their heads side-to-side while executing full torso undulations and holding a deep squat. I experience this piece within the context of black female empowerment which questions the ways Muslim identities factor into intersections of race within coalition building.  Al Taw’am | Essence | Performed by Iman Siferllah-Griffin, Khadijah Siferllah-Griffin, Mimi Solis, Jaylen Franklin, Desare Cox, Lydia Jones, Zhane Jackson

Fragment #11

A meditation on form. (Don’t blink.) The strength and grace of the Asian female dancer’s body is captivating and virtuosic. I notice the accentuated arch in the her lower back and the ever so audible sound of her pointe shoes on the floor as she executes glissades, relevés, and arabesques. I am reminded of a statement by a panel speaker who once said, “Hegemony is like a reed; it bends and sways without breaking.” I think about ballet as a hegemonic dance form and ballet dancers who bend and sway without breaking, even when their toes are bleeding. I wonder if this is the first time I have ever seen a ballet piece on the Walker stage.  Yuki Tokuda | Aria | Performed by Yuki Tokuda

Fragment #12

In close proximity, I am sitting in row F now. I can see each pop and lock articulated into a seamless and continuous movement phrase. I think about the black male body on stage and ways this Africanist-influenced urban street form punctures and offers moments of stillness, moving between tension and grace. The dancer reaches up towards the sky with his arm and hand and gradually makes his way to the ground on his knees. I don’t know his narrative for the piece, or if there is a narrative, but the dancer’s expressivity holds me in the present.  Khary Jackson | Excavation Pt1 | Performed by Khary Jackson

A Parting Thanks

When curating community, it’s all about the people. I am thankful for the stories and bodies (artists, performers, and audience members) that showed up and became a part of the Walker’s institutional memory. Thank you, Pramila and Kayva for bringing people together.

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