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Countdown to Gala 2017, Day 44: Excerpts from Issue #7 of the Movement Research Performance Journal

The 2017 Movement Research Gala on May 8 will celebrate 25 years of Movement Research at the Judson Church and 50 Issues of the Movement Research Performance Journal. As we count down the days until the Gala, we’re posting #50DaysOfMRPJ with Editor’s Notes and excerpts from each Performance Journal.

Movement Research Performance Journal Issue #7 was released in Fall/Winter 1993/1994. You can view the full Table of Contents here.

*The Movement Research Gala will take place Monday, May 8 at 6pm at Judson Memorial Church. For more information, to volunteer or to purchase tickets, click here.

#MRGala2017 #50DaysOfMRPJ

MRPJ#7: State of the Body

Editor’s Note

Editors: Cathy Edwards and Guy Yarden

As we begin a new season at Movement Research, we want to update readers on the resolution of our battle with the NEA, which began two years ago with the publication of Performance Journal #3: Gender Performance.

After being debarred from receiving any federal funding because of our refusal to return grant money used for PJ3, Movement Research was about to file a law suit in federal court seeking reinstatement at the NEA when a new administration seemed to look more favorably on forgetting the whole thing. From MR’s perspective, litigation would have been costly and most likely undertaken with very little support; from the NEA’s perspective, we can only assume that the less publicity over a publication such as Gender Performance, the better. We settled with payment of a token $225 to the NEA; consequently, MR was reinstated as eligible to receive federal funding. No one made any admission of wrongdoing, and MR as an organization has decided to move on.

This issue of the Performance Journal, States of the Body, is both a legacy of Gender Performance, and a way in which to continue a dialogue. As the issue took shape we thought about the fact that after Gender Performance was published in 1991, MR was classified by many (artists and funders as well as conservatives and politicos) as a fringe group that was pushing buttons without thinking of what the ramifications might be. We disagree, and unlike the NEA, we don’t want to forget that Gender Performance ever happened. We continue to feel that bodies come in many forms, and our willingness to play with them, experiment with ideas of gender, and stretch the boundaries of performance, are fundamental to dance and performance in the 90’s. We asked Holly Hughes and Bill T. Jones to contribute pieces to States of the Body because we wanted to reflect on the Gender Performance legacy and the debate that ensued.

Other contributors have written about specific dance techniques, about the metaphorical body politic, about differing cultural attitudes about the body, about human body cycles (i.e. death, age, and fitness), and about the relationship of dance as a body-dependent art to a technological and mediatized society. By organizing the issue around the title States of the Body we cast a wide net. Ranging from Hanya Holms’ spine to the intersection of body and technology in Trisha Brown’s work; from Scott Heron’s experience handcuffed to a table to Elizabeth Streb’s performance zone; from Jerri Allyn’s stories about her grandmother and disability to Wendell Beavers’ questions about the place of dance technique, we have assembled an eclectic group of perspectives on the body, art, and society. We hope you enjoy them all, and many thanks to all of our contributors.

Small

by Laurie Weeks

Mom & Dad go to Las Vegas for the weekend. I’m seven, I wander away from the house a few block to a forbidden zone where the kids are strange, like alien beings. They’re not friends with me and my friends, I don’t know them from school. There are lots of them in a couple of adjoining lawns overgrown with weeds. Twilight like blue grease slides down the bare backs of the boys. Over in some weeds under the clothesline David whose head is pale and large is doing things with some girl, Sally, who’s younger than me, maybe five, with short yellow curls, like Sally from Dick and Jane. It’s hot.

In a garage on the alley some of the big kids are clustered around. One of them has a bird, a robin, in his hands. I can’t believe it. I spend a lot of time staring at a wall of sparrows perched on an ivy-covered fence in our backyard, wondering if I could stun one with a pebble and take it to my room to be a pet. But the thought of hitting it with a rock makes me queasy. Can I look? I say to the boy holding the robin. He turns slightly toward me. Don’t touch it, he says, because it’s hurt. We’re going to operate and fix it up. He is big and dirty with blonde greasy hair. In his palm, the bird’s tiny beak opens and shuts like it’s gagging. I want to stroke it.

Just then, David rushes in, pushes me aside, and joins the circle of boys, who close ranks, swallowing the robin in their huddle. The garage smells of gasoline and dust swirls in the close damp air. Fan belts and bicycle chains hang from the plank walls, which are themselves strung with cobwebs festooned by moth torsos and large flies wiggling feebly in the afternoon heat. Are you going to do the operation now? I say to a wall of T-shirts, the boys’ backs curved above the invisible bird.

I have a nurse’s kit at home in my toy chest, in it is a stethoscope, syringe, and a bottle filled with tiny multi-colored candy pills. I like to take Anita Garner into the shed behind my house and give her shots, have her give them to me. It’s indescribable, another person’s hands sliding your pants down, the plastic shot tickling your flesh, having the injection site stroked by someone who controls you, the dread of being caught by Mom at any moment. Anita and I did this a lot until the day I murmured the usual words to her, under my front porch, Let’s play doctor. What? she whispered. Mom was behind the screen door in the living room and a few feet away a woman walked by on the sidewalk. Let’s play doctor, I muttered again. Anita looked astonished, ran out from under the porch, and screamed back at me, That’s nasty! The woman on the sidewalk stopped and I thought I would choke on my panic.

These boys in the garage are old, maybe fifth grade, and they bend over the robin, conferring, doing their best to ignore me. Are you going to operate right now? I ask again. David looks at me over his shoulder in annoyance. In the morning, replies the greasy kid. We have to get stuff ready.

I’m dying to save the little bird, maybe I can take it home after surgery and let it heal in my bedroom. It could go outside but it would still be my pet, it would fly to me when I called its name. Can I help? I say. The boys look at one another. If you come back real early tomorrow morning, says one, I guess maybe you could help. Anyway, you could watch. The robin turns its tiny head and blinks.

It’s impossible to sleep because in the morning they’re going to operate on the little bird. I suffer from sore throats and earaches, soon I will have a tonsillectomy, and tonight my eardrum in its cavern reverberates with a rhythmic molten ache. But Mrs. Stone, a leaden presence in the living room, won’t get me an aspirin, I’m “looking for attention,” I’m suffocating in the vacuum of my mother’s absence. Without her, anything could happen, and Mrs. Stone’s placid taunts are just a predictably malevolent phenomenon rushing in to fill the void.

Ever since I read the part in Little Women where Beth dies alone in her bed at dawn, going out “gently with the tide,” I’m afraid I’ll die in my sleep. If you lose consciousness, your moorings to life could loosen gently at their roots and pull free, to send you flipping slowly backwards into blackness, drifting away from earth like an astronaut with a severed lifeline.

I am of the opinion that if Beth’s mom had been sitting beside her, she wouldn’t have died; it seems impossible that you could die with another person, especially your mother, in the room, they would hold you back. Consequently, I find it unbearable to be alone after everyone else has gone to sleep.

But I’m too old to sleep between my parents; and once when Mom was away my terror ballooned until I felt I was being buried alive in the grave of my own bed, a horror that propelled me to the living room where I babbled a frantic confession to Dad. He looked up from the TV and his features twisted in contempt. He said Oh for Christ’s sake.

After that I kept my feelings to myself but began periodically creeping down the hall to my parents’ room when they’d fallen asleep, where I’d slide underneath the bed and pass out till dawn. When this started to seem too difficult to do without making rustling noises on the carpet, I’d simply lie down with my pillow on the floor behind their bedroom curtains. This worked for a while until it occurred to me that my father might get out of bed to go to the bathroom and, unaware of my presence, step on my head, crushing it. At this point I devised an elaborate process of dragging two chairs in from the kitchen table, carrying them stealthily one by one through the dining room, living room, and hallway to the foot of Mom & Dad’s bed, where, hardly breathing, I’d push them together to form a cot. Another trip to fetch my blanket and then I’d curl up on the chairs, safe from my dad’s towering weight. I invariably woke up in my own bed, apparently placed there by Mom, and my nocturnal excursions were never mentioned.

But tonight my mom is gone and the babysitter will sleep in her bed, my house and its familiar objects seem swollen with ominous potential, infected by the sinister aura of Mrs. Stone. Once my brother told me Mrs. Stone is going to get her arm sut off because of cancer, and that when she isn’t babysitting she sleeps on a bench in the park. The bedroom’s darkness swarms with images of casinos, prisons of concrete darker than the Nevada night, concealing within themselves a horror show of carnivorous orgies draining the blood of Mom & Dad until they wake anemic and aimless, unable to board the plane home. My ear canal throbs hotly and I get out of bed time after time to wash the germs from my hands in case I touch my lips while I sleep.

When I wake up the next day, Mrs. Stone and my brothers are still asleep. I grab my nurse’s kit and sneak through the silent house. Outside it’s already hot and a scrawny gray cat runs across the empty street. In the alley dust rises beneath my sneakers. When I reach the garage, it seems deserted and, thinking I must be early, I stare at the closed metal door, deciding what to do as insects drone narcotically around me. Finally I move around the corner and enter the garage through its side door.

Inside the spidery darkness I stop to let my eyes adjust, my nurse’s kit dangling by my side. My throat is dry and my stomach feels as if someone is slowly turning a screw into it and my first thought is Even its legs are gone. I stand there for a minute, then turn around and walk into the yard to see where all the kids are.

The backyard with its porch and clothesline is abandoned. Weeds along the garage wall make a rasping sound in the slow dry wind. Thinking only What did they do with the head, I move back inside and bend down beside the robin’s breast floating denuded, as if shaved, in its own bloody fluid in a roasting pan. It looks like a little turkey. A feather or two drifts next to the plump small mound of flesh.

Out in the alley powerlines buzz. I start to meander home but about halfway there I pass Christy Peterson’s house and she’s out in the yard playing with her twin brother Kip. I decide immediately to spend the day at their house without asking permission from Mrs. Stone. Christy’s mom Ollie makes us tuna sandwiches for lunch and hot dogs for dinner. When I get home at twilight, Mrs. Stone tells me that everyone’s been looking for me all day and that Mom & Dad will spank me hard when they get home, or at least she would hope so. I go to bed early, bathed in the blue hot light pouring through the window, an incandescence fevered by my brothers’ voices raised in the yard.

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