Saturday, September 15, 2012


[Intro/Disclaimer: this is a little recap of my experience in Deborah Hay’s SPCP 2012 wherein I was one of 20 dancers that learned the solo “Dynamic.” It’s for myself, for patrons of the solo, for other “dynamic” practitioners whom I hope are writing their own accounts, for those interested in her work and I’m sorry that it reads a little bit like, dear diary. . .  but I’m out of practice with writing.  It may at times sound like insider jargon.  Again, my apologies.  To the one random stranger who reads this, feel free to get in touch if you want more info.]

w h a t   y o u   t h i n k   y o u   n e e d

I’m already skipping parts:  the taking seven kinds of transportation to get there, the turbulence that almost made me vomit coming into Scotland, the breathtaking bus ride, welcome night at the pub, the first night of quiet deep sleep. Advance, advance, advance.

We meet at Universal Hall (I manage to get a little lost on my way of course which seems impossible in retrospect) and begin a tour of the village, given to us by someone named Ian that I immediately felt I knew from studying Community and Environmental Planning at UW.  But no, he was an American or Canadian about my age with the same sort of obscure background.   Familiar just because.

It’s raining lightly and fellow participants open umbrellas for one another to stand under.  I think, I’m from the Northwest, but am so happy about this gesture and the huddling together with strangers on the same path. We step into the singing sanctuary made of stone that is evolving over years by hand and Deborah asks us to sing a little song and try to find unison.  We land on a note sort of like ohm and she laughs, that was just one note, not really a song. 

I think I laughed nervously. The work of opening up the barriers, the tension and the anxiety, the letting go of whatever crap that has gathered in the center of my throat and voice has begun.

To more imagined than actual chagrin, Ian informs us that the hot tub is out of commission because the whiskey barrel construction is faltering and being replaced.   We run out of time before I get to ask about the Living Machine, the complex system of organisms that eat the village waste.  I owe it to CEP nerds everywhere.

* * *

Left up, right down.  Get what you need or think you need.  The length of time varies and then Grass-ee-us followed by a hand squeeze.   

The opening circle is simple.  Our name and where we are from.  I'm speaking too slowly and deliberately sort of like I don't know if anyone will understand me. I’m from see-at-tul in the you-n-eye-tud states.

Deborah asks us to share something truly unique about ourselves. Blankness.  She says that she always looks at the clock at a certain time. Asher says he kind of is annoyed by his belief in astrology. Detta says she has strange lumps on her feet. Aura that her whole family is dancers. I can’t think of anything at all (I’m a tiny bit blind in my left eye?) Miguel says with seriousness that he can see people as they were as children.  Antonija says she worked in a gold mine in the Yukon.  Little mythologies formulate in my mind.  These people are truly magical. Maria doesn’t need an alarm clock to wake up. Matthius was in the airport with David Hasselhoff. I get bloody noses frequently, I say.  Deborah follows up to say that the last person who said that also had a tail.  A real hair tail.  Now that’s unique. 

Sometime during this inaugural day the administrators and partners orient us.  There are so many!  It takes so much to make this happen! (Shout outs to Independent Dance in London, Bodysurf Scotland).  As Deborah introduces them and hands it off to the organizers she dedicates SPCP to Gil Clarke.  There is a long pause and the air gets heavy.  I don’t know that much about this woman except that was integral to this gathering and she passed away in November (I was later filled in by Becky, the filmmaker* at SPCP, that Gil was the co-founder with Fiona Millward of Indenpendent Dance).  She is a stranger to most of us but her absence is felt.  It’s like the breath emptied out of everyone and also the room and it’s very still. I’m surprised that even my eyes blur momentarily.

Then we get logistics.  Some warnings about wandering into the dunes and getting lost (did I mention we are on a Bay and by the Sea?!). Reminders about planning our departures, eating, doing kitchen patrol/party duty (fuck, sorry).

As Fiona is greeting us she smiles warmly and continuously.  Then she and Iris from ID hand us the written choreography for “Dynamic.”

Deborah begins, I thought we could read this through. I mean, just for the record, this is the worst title I have ever had for a piece.  It was called A Figure A Sea originally and then one day. . . She goes on to tell us how she discovered dynamic.  We joke about different ways to say it--kind of dramatically, like you have botox, etc--and a week later decide to officially add the turning of the fucking head to the title (more later).

We read through the choreography and I’m psyched.  Anticipating. Already practicing. Thinking I somehow have already grasped it.

We break for lunch—a spectrum of greens and purples splayed out in oversized bowls and casserole dishes.  I’m taken back to Green Gulch in Marin just north of San Francisco.  I’m immediately comfortable.  I know that there will be a separate table for butter, soy sauce, and maybe even yeast flakes (no, but peanuts and seeds!).  I know to look for the tea and coffee station.  We get this everyday for lunch.  Spoiled.

After lunch the practice begins.  The whole body at once is the teacher.  It’s not linear so there are no goals except to shorten the distance between perceiving and dis-attaching (not detaching) from the seduction of the experience.

As I partake and observe, I’m intrigued and also have the judgmental thought, we look like dancers trying not to dance.  Hands in the air sort of zombie like (this is me describing myself mainly) slowly walking through space or else doing a sort of cut-jump A.D.D. slightly frenetic thing.  I’m not letting anything take hold or saturate which makes me initially feel that I am not having a sensual experience.  I’m trying really hard not to follow desire.  I bring this up in the discussion that follows, when she asks how it’s going.  It is one such question of many of the ‘are-we-dancers-trying-not-to-dance variety?’ (over time this will start to become a pointless question). 

I’m curious about what role desire plays in this practice, I say in a veiled attempt to say I feel like I can’t do anything I want to do or know how to do and I can only try to do the opposite (i.e. move like a dancer trying not to dance –zombie hands, weird weight shifts, etc) but I’m hoping it sounds smarter, like I’m deep or something.

Deborah looks at me squarely and says, my sort of smart aleck remark to that is it takes too much fucking time.  Desire is linear. 


Christopher and Aura follow up with more straightforward questions about training and doing dance moves.   Deborah elaborates.  Don’t ignore your training, just enlarge your experience.

We begin learning the score for “Dynamic” and I’m immediately reminded of bits of No Time To Fly which I had seen in Berlin a few nights prior.  I love this! We are doing "singing the sea" when she stops us and asks us to form a circle to practice together.  Christopher, just you sing, she says and I’m filled with terror that mounts as she lets his song go on and on but am also overwhelmed over by how beautiful it is.  Then Emily with another long and beautiful song.  Then, because fear had probably become the second most palpable thing in the room next to the beautiful voices, me. 

Air stops flowing, caught in a silent sob.  I wonder if it is possible to fake my way through singing a beautiful song and then run to the bathroom and release it.  But no.  It will have to happen here. Deborah waits unyielding but gentle.  Somehow the energy of the group collects and softly coaxes a far away sounding voice past the spasm in my chest.  I do not die in the process. Anotonija follows her voice crystal and throaty and resonant.  I’m okay.  I’m embarrassed.  I’m getting hugs and support.  I’m still embarrassed.

We gather that evening at Deborah’ to tell our stories of patronage.  I’m reminded of the 82 people who are supporting this growth.  The opening up of the throat chamber.  The process of learning without thinking.  This is my lesson of the first day:  This is not a solo.  

*Deborah decided that 2012 would be the last year for SPCP and so this year's program was documented by Dance Videographer and Filmmaker Becky Edmunds.   Embarking on this practice with a camera around was an interesting variable to throw in to the mix, at first making me too self-conscious to stay true to the tasks at hand.  But Becky quickly became an essential part of "the lab."  She explained that she was rarely recording when she was shooting.  She was practicing with us.  This seems like such a practical and fruitful way to approach bringing live performance into documentation in some sort of truer form.  Lookout for the film.

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