Shaping and Being Shaped by our Surroundings : ODC/Dance Downtown Program Notes

ODC/Dance. Photo by RJ Muna
A particular familiar object has been around for twenty-five years. How many centuries will it be before it disappears? I have changed. This just isn’t normal. Objects should at least take their share of the responsibilities. That is all I have against the inanimate world.

- Jean Baudrillard, Cool Memories

In tragic-comic fashion, French philosopher Jean Baudrillard exposes our uncanny relationship with the objects with which we surround ourselves. Acting as containers, objects hold a part of our history. As markers, they help map our lives in recognizable and meaningful patterns. Baudrillard’s lament also discloses how the durability of objects reflects the vulnerability of the human body, pointing to the possibility that our need to accumulate things may have to do with a futile attempt to deny mortality.

These reflections are embedded in Brenda Way’s What we carry What we keep, a piece inspired by the New York Times review of The Keeper, an exhibition at the New Museum dedicated to the act of preserving objects, memorabilia, and images, and to the passions that inspire this understanding. Prompted by the question “What is it with the relationship between people and things anyway- this human drive to have more and more?”, Way sent out a questionnaire to research what people around her keep and collect. Their responses triggered phrases and movement vocabulary that formed the architecture of the dance. In it, bodies give shape to memories or become objects to amass, arrange, or be freed from. A vessel for the emotions, habits and relationships we hold onto, the body inevitably serves as the archive of psychosomatic hoarding.

The challenge to access who we are and who we can be individually and collectively, lies at the heart of Nelson’s Blink of an Eye. Nelson’s meditation practice and the six-week walk that she took on the Camino de Santiago last summer, served as fertile ground for the creative process of this work. Since the Middle Ages, pilgrims from all over Europe have been walking the trail to the shrine of the apostle St James, located in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Northern Spain, as a practice in self-reflection, simplicity and spiritual questioning. Walking the trail offered Nelson the chance to consider how our deeper selves may surface over time and our ability to transition.

Questioning how we are defined and changed by our surroundings, Nelson and Way invite us to ponder the construction of our identity and the possibility of moving beyond the inherent restrictions of our social and cultural make up.

KT Nelson’s “Blink of an Eye” and Brenda Way’s “What we carry What we keep” are presented as part of ODC/Dance Downtown at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (March 23-April 2).