In continuing to work, I was asked by our lighting designer to provide visual images. Generally, when working in collaboration it is a good idea to have multiple points of reference from which to speak and clarify. Language is often fleeting and personal. Images and sounds, even text, can be more concrete examples of ideas.
Up until this challenge, this work was based purely on text and my impressions. There were no visual images... until I looked deeper into myself and my research.
The obituary page.
The obituary page is a very interesting page in the newspaper. In the past, it was a series of grids, with words in small columns. Now, it oftentimes contains pictures. From a spatial and structural perspective, this outline became important. Each obituary is a different length; the columns are not equal in size, but similar in shape. Try this experiment: look at the obituary page. Fuzz your eyes a little so you cannot read the text, but only see shapes. To me, these shapes for a sort of skyline. From a philosophical perspective, I became angry that a life could be shaped into a small box with limited description. It seems as though I have spent a large portion of my life "thinking outside of the box" and not "fitting into the box." I wondered how many of the people who lay before me in black and white spent their years doing the same, only to be relegated to a box as the only public evidence of their life.
The Philadelphia skyline.
The images of the obituaries led me to this particular picture of the Philadelphia skyline. The buildings form a sort of grid pattern. They suggest that people live there, and that people have their stories, there. But there is no actual evidence of people in the picture. The sky is hazy and casting a pastel hue over the buildings. The moment is soft and almost nostalgic, but devoid of evidence of human life itself. Against the green tree tops, the builds are harsh and cold. In truth, this could be any skyline. It is particular to me because this is where I call home and this is where I see an absence of humanity.
Photo by Marcia Lippman in Dance Ink.
I love the essence of this photo. It is soft and elegant. We see bodies - female bodies? We see arms reaching, fingers clasping, touching, feeling. I experience a sensation of warmth, safety, comfort. Yet, they have no heads. We do not know who these people are, just that they are people, and they need people. They need each other. They are close - physically, but I sense emotionally, also. They could be anyone and no one.
In a very different sense than the coldness of the obituary and the skyline, this picture ignores the personality of the individuals by negating their faces and their entire body. As I express in my earlier entries, what are we without our bodies? (No matter what those bodies are, we are our bodies.)
As a society, we negate the personhood of an individual all of the time. Granted, sometimes we must for personal safety, security, and sanity - but when did this begin? When did we have to start negating people to protect our own personhood?
My female dancers wore tunics in deep red, brown, and a yellow-green. The tunics were embroidered around the neckline in the same color as the rest of the dress. In this way, the detail was difficult to see without looking closely. Space between the threads and the flow of the fabric allowed the dancers' skin to peek through. Watching the dancers move, I am aware they have something under the tunic, but I cannot gleam what.
My male dancer wore "diaper pants." These are pants that the dancer wraps around him/her self, tying in the front and in the back. The pants are loose and allow for movement of the front and back panels. This also allows the dancer's skin to peer through the costume.
Like the pictures, the costumes allow for the viewer to see pieces of the human skin. Although covering the individual, the costume allows the viewer to catch glimpses of the living breathing entity under the fabric.
Each of these also contains elements of "old." When discussing these with my dancers, I scattered the elements in a tight space on the studio floor. In a previous rehearsal, I asked them to write their bios for me. Many of them listed the traditional facts bios contain. I added these to the pile. The dancers observed that the objects looked like they belonged under glass in a museum exhibit. Like a museum exhibit, these objects looked like they one contained or helped define a life with stories and laughter and tears. However, scattered together, they looked empty and antique.
My dancers also noted that with the addition of THEIR bios, these objects became part of THEIR stories. And then some of them became very angry that their stories were relegated to a small space on a studio floor. That any one person's stories could be relegated to a small space under glass.
My working title for the piece became "through the glass."
In developing much of the movement, I gave my dancers the assignment to draw their names with their bodies. I asked them to draw their names with their heads and noses, with their upper bodies, with their lower bodies, and to create a phrase that traveled, used their entire body, and spelled out their name. We manipulated these phrases with time, space, weight, and breath. I hesitate to dive more deeply into the hows of the movement because through the course of the eight weeks, the intention became more important to the development of the work.