What is perfection? Is it by nature undefinable, as to pinpoint it is to freeze in form a notion that ought to shift and grow across changing tastes and circumstances? Is perfection found in the grandness of the divine or the divinity of small, humble actions or moments? Is the human quest for perfection ultimately futile? This past Saturday, a group of audience members met for a SpeakEasy, an informal post-performance discussion, to engage with a few of these questions, brought forth by Morgan Thorson’s “Heaven.”
For a number of participants, Thorson created a version of heaven, brilliantly white and ordered, with muted musical tones and a perfect central circle. Peering into this world, audience members commented on communal bonds, both performed at the piece’s opening and seemingly necessary for the work’s execution. Yet this balanced harmony disintegrated as the performers struggled with the confines of their heaven. Dancers moved from meditative sincerity to portray moments of curiosity, uncertainty, and even wariness, problematizing the initial constructed order and revealing heaven to be both an ideal and a spectacle. Even in heaven it seemed one could not escape behavioral expectations or personal conflicts brought on by the mundane perpetuation and performance of dogma. Repetitive movements blurred the line between indoctrinating the mind via the body and physical action, release, or exhaustion as a process of earnest (spiritual) practice. For some, Thorsons’ white cube came to resemble a padded cell wherein the recurring motif of bandages became ripe for interpretation, aligned variously with healing and care, constriction or binding, or the androgyny of Heaven’s population.
The piece acknowledged the power of communal fervor, yet led to debates about the place in Thorson’s “Heaven” for the ecstatic individual, ostracized or perhaps unrepresentable. This element revealed religion as a cultural practice, where even ecstasy, with its undertone of the frenzied abandonment of self, must adhere to acceptable manifestations. While much discussion revolved around undercurrents of spirituality, Thorson’s program notes tie the work to the “elusive nature of perfection, both in religious practices and in the act of dancing.” In this respect, is perfection, as audience member Tim Cameron suggested, akin to the archaic basis of the word “pretend,” associated with ascension or worship? In other words, can perfection be attained by “faking it until you make it”? If this is the case, how does one know when perfection has been achieved, or is perfection in the process itself?
Thorson’s “Heaven” may be likened to the utopia, that mixture of eutopia (the happy place) and outopia (no place), a spatialized perfection that can be actualized only in the imagination. Yet, despite the seeming impossibility of enacted perfection, inspiration and meaning are often found in the energy and practices devoted to its pursuit.
Thank you to the audience members who gathered Saturday and contributed their thoughtful insights. The above paragraphs highlight portions of our discussion. Whether or not you were able to join us, please feel free to add your own comments and questions to continue and expand the discussion in this online forum. Please join us on April 24 when we will meet in the McGuire Theater’s balcony bar to discuss Saburo Teshigawara’s “Miroku.”