Traveling down Main Street, photo by Wendy Johnson
Yesterday I performed the third installment of “Whispers to me; Shouts to me” as a part of the NEPO House 5k Don’t Run.
After performing it in its originally designed setting at Smoke Farm, and then again at Burning Man (more about that later), this city-centered version was quite an experience.
Both the Burning Man and Seattle versions were without music and performed over a long time. The Smoke Farm performance was designed with a set starting time that people arrive, watch, and leave. These two later versions I designed as performances that people encounter, experience for a however long they choose, and then move on. No one was expected to, or did, see the whole thing from start to end.
In an ideal world I might have asked members of Titanium Sporkestra to accompany me on the two latter performances as well, but not only would we have to figure out an endless song for them to play (Smoke Farm was a slightly altered version of a song they already play), but each of these performances occurred when the band was at rehearsal (BMan) or a gig (NEPO). Performing to the ambient sounds of these two locations was actually quite nice, so I don’t have any regret about not having the band.
Traveling down King Street, photo by Carrie Clogston
This version of the piece lasted the longest, traveled the farthest, and was a very different experience than the first two.
In all three versions, I dealt with a lot of dirt, on me and on my dress. However, the only one that was disgusting was the Seattle version. While Smoke Farm brought me mud and Burning Man provided playa dust, Seattle presented me with soot, gum, rotting food, litter, dog droppings (curb your dog!), urine (both canine and human), and who knows what else. (I can guess, but prefer not to.)
I expected as much, but it was still revolting. There were stretches, especially under the I-5 overpass, that reeked of stale urine stronger than I have encountered before. I’ve walked that stretch before, so I assume it was the lingering time I spent there for the dance that really let it sink in.
As I have written in the past, this piece is all about place. So in a way, dragging along and picking up aspects of Seattle was perfectly àpropos. I started out with a dust-covered dress from Burning Man. That slowly wore off and I gathered blackberry brambles, leaves, trash, and general city gunk. I wish I could have dragged along the views of Elliot Bay but such is life.
The Seattle version was so interesting. I got to see a lot of the art installed along the route (amazing!), and the faces of nearly every participant as they approached and passed me (beautiful!). I danced to stunning views from the 12th Ave bridge, curious pets and children, occasional spontaneous applause, inquiries about what is going on (I made a choice to stay in character and not respond to conversation), and cat calls (a lot!).
One homeless man chose to stand on my train as I crossed the street. Two blocks later, another homeless man exclaimed “oh! you need help carrying that!” and ran to grab my train, carrying it off the ground for me until I, and my dress, was safely on the other side.
And that was how most of the day went. For every gross cat call, someone appreciated the piece. For every spat of applause, a confused or antagonistic gaze. For every NEPO 5k participant, half a dozen others with no idea what was going on. Photos taken out of car windows, old men dashing out their store fronts to gawk, thugs exclaiming “hell yeah,” and a pausing cop, who seemed to take a while to assess the situation but finally decided to drive on.
It was also hot and exhausting and exhilarating. I am so glad I did it, and so glad the NEPO 5k happened. It was such a cool idea that really manifested beautifully.
I began my performance at 18th Ave & Massachusetts, and danced the route shown below to the starting point of the 5k (I did not have a map of the route with me, so I messed it up a bit at the end, forgetting to jog over to Yesler for a bit).
As you can see, after reaching Occidental Park, I went over to the International District Station. I did not perform on this length, just gathered up my skirt and walked.
From the station I took light rail back to Beacon Hill (thanks to the ORCA card stashed in my bra).
From the light rail station I performed again, back to my starting place, covering the end of the route as many of the participants arrived. Quite a few of these people saw me earlier in the day, and then again on Beacon Hill, always coming from where they were going. I imagined it must have been a bit confusing to meet me again that way — how was I always travelling towards them from their destination? — and I heard a few people posit theories about it as I passed.
All added up, I danced 2.4 miles (3.9 km), and walked 0.5 miles (0.8 km), for a total of 2.9 miles (4.7 km) traveled on foot. Including waiting for the train and the 7 minute ride, the whole endeavor took me about 2.5 hours. That was about how long I expected it would take, which was a wild guess! Just walking the route would take about an hour, plus, say, 15 minutes for train waiting and riding.
The dance was primarily slow however. In some parts I was simply walking, but at a very slow pace. There were places that I stopped and danced for a bit, and places where I broke into a short jog (it was a “don’t run” after all!). Speeding up was really nice to get some wind into the train or cross a street quickly (crossing time takes on a whole new dimension with a 30 foot train behind you).
Today I am sore in strange places, and have whiled away the day on the internet. A necessary day of rest I suppose. I am happy to have completed the third of three installments of Whispers, and am wondering what to do next. I’m diving into some studies and development of a new show for Manifold Motion, but what of my individual work?
Whatever happens, I’ll write about it here, as well as giving a recap of my Burning Man performance experience. I’m hoping I can find some photos first, which is why I haven’t done it yet.
Edited to add: Carrie Clogston, who shot the second photo of me above, wrote about her experience of the event as a participant.