Journal

From Notes Transcribed in the Dark (BeginAgain) Apr 3, 2014

by Eric Olson

Due to the fact that Tessa Hulls is cycling around Ghana on a grand adventure, it is my task to find a worthy co-responder for the next couple of On The Boards performances. For zoe | juniper’s performance BeginAgain, I was lucky enough to have Sierra Nelson (poet, performer) agree to help me. To set the stage for our collaboration, Sierra referred to the Wonder Twins: “I'll be form of an ice cube/words. You be form of an eagle/drawing.”

Much to our surprise, the twin prompt fit eerily well, albeit somewhat tangentially. After discussing our awe of the stage and lighting design, we went on to discuss different aspects of the performance that resonated with us the most.

Sierra: The idea of twins kept recurring -- in the way the dancers often paired up to mirror one another, playing with shadows and symmetry -- and echoed by the twinning silhouette patterns in the set’s backdrop. (It wasn’t until afterwards that I realized the cathedral-like part of the set was actually made of intricately cut paper and silvery lighting. Here Mandy Greer and I admire some of the related artwork in the entrance to the theater.)

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When I say mirror I mean near-mirror: the paired moves were sometimes perfectly in sync, at other times drifting organically farther and closer to one another but not quite matching, and at other times each dancer had her own rhythm but still seeming part of the same fabric or psyche. In the pairs sometimes one dancer would seem in charge of the other -- potentially a kind of spirit guide, or the bossines of a sister -- a familiarity both sweet and rough.  At others there seemed a deep longing for closeness and sameness between the figures -- mirroring our frequent human desire to find a missing other half, the person who understands us (whether a soul-mate lover, or a mirrored sister, or a spiritual guide from beyond, or a voice within our own head). Sometimes lit behind the rippling curtains we could glimpse another dancer: at one point this dancer moved furiously while two dancers in the foreground moved with trance-like slowness, making me think of the hidden id dancing wildly in the subconscious, while the ego and superego attempt to maintain a calmness through repetition closer to the surface.  At other points the dancer behind the screen seemed to mimic the actions in the front -- a kind of Jungian shadow self learning from observation.

Not that this was the intention of BeginAgain, but the idea of a vanishing twin came to my mind: the phenomenon when early on in a pregnancy with twins, one twin is sometimes mysteriously absorbed into the other and only one child is born -- but that one child may contain separate DNA from the shadow sibling along with his or her own -- another self hidden within.

Combined with the twin images was the slower, larger, beginning-again cycle throughout the piece of what seemed to me like hatching: encasement in a body/chrysalis, and then breaking free. (Though as Eric and I talked about it afterwards we found you could read it in multiple ways: the plaster casting of the body could be like death as entombment, and then the spirit breaks free -- or perhaps the dancing existed in some spirit space between lives, showing us what is learned or experienced or mirrored there -- and the casting of the body by slow and quiet accretion was a return to physical life or form, plus the alchemy of singing.) Not to mention the larger projected images and sounds (swarming birds, molecules, crickets) speaking to larger forces we become part of and drift away from as individual and collective patterns. 

Eric: Sierra’s description is so inspiring, it makes me question whether or not I can add anything to the discussion... For me, what originally resonated most was the tension subtly built up between the different forms in the performance. The stage to the dirt, the separating screen, the performers against a striking paper cut out background. A force propelling the dancers towards synchronization while occasionally performers splintered away from the dominant movement.

These dualities reminded me of those that exist in the creative process. An idea and its actualization. Its possibly neverending cycle of revision, distillation, and rebirth. A searching for an end or a new beginning, the interrogation of the works importance, or the questioning whether to give up making art all together. Indeed “the demon underfoot is me” as Sierra put it.

Speaking of ends, when Sierra and I met to discuss the performance we finished a year-long photo scavenger hunt that had traveled from Seattle to the Catskills (New York) to a number of San Juan Islands, then back to a meeting in the middle.

By that I mean the exact midway point between our two studios, as an actualization of the Art Assignment: “Meet in the Middle”. This is the scavenger hunt list we were meeting up to complete:

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As an act of new beginnings Sierra created the following poem from her notes of the performance:

From Notes Transcribed in the Dark (BeginAgain)

dim where we are
but not without hope
an unheard clap

no mistake that there are two of us
electric guitar of spine

starlings, murmuration of
now palaces of diaphanous

     from the shell emerges
     a new solo self
     a film reel unspooling
     (do touch!)

a swarm in the head
shining symmetry

     not tender and not untender

your waves are really
light beams across curtains
are really birch trees

     the demon underfoot is me

          give the sleeper
          a jacket for a pillow
          roll up your sleeves

shadow stares at what we cannot see
beyond her hands—her hands
molecules spread out

     smell is almost kiss
     then cheek
     bark fight sister

girls turn round and round in night
at the end of each other

          your hands sing falsetto
          as surprised as any of us

(SN)

As an act of my own new beginning, I created a series of drawings in response to Sierra’s notes transcribed in the dark. Each earlier iteration erased with a correction pen:

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