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.
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.
This spring/summer I created a new piece called “Whispers to me; Shouts to me.” It is the first piece in over a year that I have created to perform myself, rather than for Manifold Motion. I hope it is the start to a renewed period of personal creative work along-side the company work.
I created “Whispers;Shouts” specifically for the Stillaguamish River where it runs through Smoke Farm near Arlington, WA. This past weekend I performed it there, as a part of the Smoke Farm Lo-Fi Arts Festival: *Not to Scale.
The piece was a solo dance performed in a bright red/orange/yellow dress with an extraordinarily long train.
Three musicians stood on the end of the train as they played a spacious percussive piece. I began with the train wrapped around the musicians, crouched between them. After a slow rise and unwrapping of them, I moved away from the musicians and into the river. A bright trail connected us, a brush stroke of color through the greys and blues of the rocky river’s edge.
I found that the china silk, and the amazing design and construction of the dress by Christy Hirschman, was strong enough for me to put a fair amount of my weight into pulling away from the shore. The train became a literal support for my movement at times, a restriction at others.
The silk floated just below the surface of the water, picking up color from the river, but remaining a saffron trail. Occasionally an air bubble would get caught underneath it and travel the length of the train. If I moved sideways in the right way the fabric would billow in the water, capturing it and becoming a huge resistance to my movement. The train and the water became even bigger shaping factors to the piece than I had thought they would.
One by one the musicians stepped off the train and moved into the forest, as their song became louder and denser. Set free in the river, I gently glided down with the current and out of sight, with a bright trail of silk behind me. The music echoed through the trees, the last bits of my dress disappeared and the piece came to a close.
During both performances cows in a distant field began lowing when the bass drum echoed through the river valley. As the musicians faded out, we were left with the lows of the cows! Incredible.
I’d like to share a bit about my thoughts behind this piece. Performance (all art) extends well beyond the intent or thoughts of the artist and is necessarily shaped by the viewer experience. So, this is not necessarily what I wanted to communicate to the viewers, but what informed it for me during my process and performance. Quoted below is an excerpt from my proposal to Smoke Farm:
Conceptually, this project is about place. How does our past, through the places that have shaped us, support who we become? What happens when home is lost or taken away from
Practically, it is no-tech performance created specifically for a remote location. My goal is to create unexpected, striking, beauty within nature.
Personally, it is a meditation on my recent experiences of loss of family and place; an expression of my search for understanding of where I come from and how to move forward when I desperately want to hold on to what once was.
The piece is specifically designed for Smoke Farm, which holds great importance for me in the Pacific Northwest. It reminds me in many ways of where I grew up in rural New Hampshire, yet has particular beauty and meaning distinct from my past.
In examining my ties to my present and past through place, Smoke Farm and my childhood home stand out. As I process the unavoidable reality of distance and eventual loss of that past home, I find a need to mourn and create a testament to the places that were a part of becoming who I am. I would like to memorialize that connection in a place that is a part of who I will become.
In the process of creating “Whispers;Shouts” I thought a lot about place. I began to wonder what this piece, created for a distinct place, would be like in other places. How would the meaning change? The movement (certainly if it is not in water)? Would performance experience be different?
So I decided to make it a three-part piece. Smoke Farm last weekend was Part 1. Part 2 will take place in the open desert at Burning Man. Part 3 will be a part of the NEPO House 5k Don’t Run on September 10th.
Starting in Occidental Park, NEPO 5K DON’T RUN transforms an ordinary 3-mile, walk-able route through your city into an unforgettable journey (really), integrating site-specific performances, interventions and installations along the way.
“Whispers;Shouts” will transform into a traveling performance for the 5k event, a journey through a city.
Photos to come, I’m sure.