Stories are compasses and architecture; we navigate by them, we build our sanctuaries and our prisons out of them, and to be without a story is to be lost in the vastness of a world that spreads in all directions like arctic tundra or sea ice. Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby
Like building stones, stories constitute the scaffolding of our being. They help make sense of the world and can even become the resources needed to flee life-threatening situations. Consider Scheherazade, the virgin of the One Thousand and One Nights, who talks her way out of a death sentence by recounting a story to king Shahryar each night. Similarly, in Giovanni Boccaccio’s Decameron, ten young aristocrats flee the plague-devastated Florence, where an estimated 60% of the population will perish from the “black death,” in order to find refuge in a nearby villa. During their retreat, the seven women and three men pass their time by telling each other a story on a specific theme every day. The collection of 100 tales constitutes The Decameron, written between 1348 and 1352.
The Decameron’s harrowing scenario of finding refuge from the plague resonated with Brenda Way: “It was an escape from a disease-ridden moment of culture and a retreat into nature and into the narratives that we tell each other — the stories that give us joy or make us laugh — basically a retreat from the circumstances into the personal.” With its multiple narrators, the Decameron also provided the perfect framework for weaving four choreographic voices and juxtaposing vignettes that investigate the variety of human interaction.
Told and retold over and over, with subtle shifts, the stories shared in The Decameron belong to the collective cultural heritage. Similarly, some of the choreographic material from Up for Air is sourced in already existing works and reinvented for the purpose of the dance performance. The work constitutes a wandering into the imagination. For Way, “the invention of any art form is a retreat into what is not concrete and gives us strength to deal with the concrete.” Kimi Okada adds: “It is not just about escape, it is a kind of retreat that is ultimately generative, it is something that gives you the will.” The will to continue to create, exist and participate in a collective context despite the ills of the world.
“Up for Air” is presented at ODC Theater as part of Summer Sampler. For tickets, click here.