Tag Archives: coyote the trickster god

Looking through the window

1 Mar

A couple of days ago I attended Separate Panes, an MFA project by graduate student James Graham of the Ohio State University.  Of course I had no idea what to expect (and it’s always healthier to approach a modern dance with no preconceived ideas), but what I did know was that it would be an installation in Sullivant Library (which unbeknownst to me is going to be gutted and renovated!).  I have to admit, because of my mischievous spirit, installation type live art is…interesting for me.  I so badly want to take it personally as a challenge to see if I can distract the performers and make them laugh.  I’m the kind of person who upon seeing stilt walkers at a park, feel an insatiable urge to roll grapes along the floor, hopeful that I can get them to slip on one.  Sometimes I really am a horrible person although Coyote, the Trickster God of Native American myth would be so proud.  Nevertheless, to his disappointment, logic and sensibility inevitably suppress these impish urges.  One of the dancers told me she would have liked it if more audience members got in her face and told me I should have, but it was more than likely inappropriate, given the atmosphere.

That atmosphere I refer to had an aura that I described as being reminiscent of The Shining.  Empty hallways but instead of gushing torrents of blood there were paper airplanes scattered on the floor, hanging from the ceilings, piled onto a leprechaun-sized chair that was apparently in an elevator that would open at random intervals, with nothing else inside.  That last bit I didn’t see because it was up to audience members to choose what they wanted to look at and where to traverse, so inevitably there was always something to be missed.  It was pretty overwhelming at first but after walking through several rooms it was no different then the act of living itself.  Is there really such a thing as aware or naïve?  Or is the truth simply that we are simultaneously both and neither?  My conclusion was that the pursuit of omnipotence is completely inane.

The first half was listless and dreamy with a handful of dancers (five, if I recall correctly) doing minimal movements, like tearing pages out of a book or scribbling on the walls with charcoal.  There was a soundscape with no specific phrases of music.  It was unnerving as it was meant to be, although I found solace in one room with hanging windows and these peculiar tree branches suspended from the ceiling with piles of smooth, rounded stones on the floor beneath them.  It was stark save for these branch/stone effigies, that reminded me of that ludicrous phrase where one chants “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.”  I don’t know what idiot came up with that, but it’s so far from the truth (well, my truth) because in my experiences words hurt more than anything and while the majority of people learn the harmful effects of physical violence it seems less people understand the potential of their words.  Accordingly, those people choose not to take responsibility for the damage they cause.  The torn pages in that room were distressing, recalling all kinds of psychological pain people have inflicted on me.  I don’t like going to that place, but at the same time I’ve always believed that completely forgetting one’s history is the most foolish thing a person can do.  Physical scars are no big deal; in fact the only ones I have are ones I caused myself.  Obviously unintentional…a burn scar from baking blueberry muffins, a scar from when I stabbed my leg from falling onto a picture frame while I was jumping on the couch…you know.

At any rate, there were a lot of wonderful, unexpected moments and not just within the dance itself.  At one point, I was walking in one room that was divided down the middle with a line of book pages and in the very center of the room was a bathtub with a few votive candles.  While I approached from one side of the room, staring downward, so did another figure except from the opposite side, on the other side of the book page line.  We were both looking down into the bathtub and when we looked up, lo and behold it was my dear friend Svetlana.  It was really neat to experience such a serendipitous moment with her in an unfamiliar setting and in that moment I really felt a transcendence from audience to participant.  Later on this would be further emphasized when I was kicked in the elbow by one of the dancers…but I probably deserved it because of my Coyote-inspired thoughts earlier in the evening.  Karma’s no fool…but I am.

It was around that time that the dancers were divided into a duet and a trio, which again was the audience’s choice to view as they pleased.  I had no idea the trio was even taking place until the duet was finished so I only caught a few glimpses, before they all converged in the “window pane/branch-stone effigy room.”  There, the dancing became more visceral with familiar shapes and physicality.  The once scattered soloists that developed into a duet and trio had now found its apex in this room, dancing with strong relationships to each other by grasping hands and weaving between each other or lifting one another onto each other’s shoulders.  Chaos found a rhythm and at one point they formed a circle and my brain, which so naturally organizes things with meticulous detail had its “Hallelujah!” moment.  I also enjoyed the shadow play (thanks to great lighting design by David Covey), because not only did the shadows provide extra movement, what interested me the most was the contrast between stronger shadows and more diffuse ones and how that changes the relationships between the shadows and yet the relationships between the people remained the same.  One dancer, who I shall call the “destructive force” was intensified at some points by the monstrosity and strength of his shadow, while others were meeker.

I wish  I could recommend attendance of this event, but unfortunately I had gone to the last showing so it’s over.  However, one of the dancers told me that she and James will be performing a duet at the Judson Memorial Church (in New York) on March 22nd.  Other works will be presented and there is also a post performance discussion with Deborah Jowitt.  It’s free, so why not go?  I always love to see modern dances because they teach me just as much about myself as do the styles of dance that appeal to me with more ease.  As much as I love to indulge my sense of humor, it’s healthy to learn or remind myself of other emotions I can feel.

Yay modern.