Response to slowdanger’s new work ‘VLX’
Installment Number 1: November 17, 2018
About this series of writings:
slowdanger is working on a new piece, VLX (working title), set to debut in 2019. This work began in 2018 with the first public viewing on October 6, 2018 at 937 Gallery, Pittsburgh PA. I witnessed this performance and asked them if I could review it as my own creative interpretation (as I have done previously with their work), and if I could do this 12 times, approximately one each month, for the next year. Leading up to the time the work officially debuts in its final form and following after it. This type of creative response is a way for me to stay connected to their work as both an artist and collaborator.
Watching slowdanger perform becomes — for me — a type of meditation into other modes of thinking, language, vision, dream, and prophecy. What I “see” can be a mixture between my own imaginings and their actual bodies in space. This type of sight is where I become most inspired and aware/awake. It is a great active-dreaming space that makes me appreciate and experience dance as the highest muse for my own practice, the greatest connection to the profound mysteries that art has to offer.
About this first installment:
This first response is directly informed from my experience watching their first performance of VLX on October 6, 2018. The following is culled and taken from the notes and drawings I was scribbling into my notebook as witness.
Performed at: 937 Gallery, Pittsburgh PA on October 6, 2018
Directed by: slowdanger (Anna Thompson / Taylor Knight)
Featuring: Ru Emmons, Roberta Guido, Taylor Knight, Simon Phillips, Anna Thompson
Sound Design: slowdanger
LED Light Ring: designed, programmed and fabricated by ProjectileObjects
Live Projection Design: Char Stiles
Performed at: 937 Gallery, Pittsburgh PA on October 6, 2018
01. First, I “see” Ru inside a snow globe, forever spinning. Have we placed ourselves inside these spaces or were we placed inside of them? Does that matter? There is a wall of glass to protect Ru, but Ru is still not safe.
Ru is still not safe and neither am I. We are not safe here. We have never been safe here. The snow globe is so desperately beautiful, seemingly protective, but we are not safe here. Is that why we spin? Do we spin to shake off the disease that the outside world so ardently projects onto us with strange and confusing breath and breath after word after word? We are not safe here.
No amount of glass will protect us. Ru continues to spin. Ru spins. Earth spins.
It is reassuring to remember we are spinning because the earth is spinning.
Are we spinning at the same frequency? Are those who are hurting us spinning at the opposite frequency? The snow globe collapses. Ru keeps spinning. We are not inside or outside. We are on all sides. Spinning.
02. Four bodies. They shield themselves from what I can only call a SHIT STORM. Maybe it’s not tangible but you can feel it. The wind is heavy and fierce, comes from some direction, maybe every direction. I see these four bodies become one body become one shield. A shield of bodies, the Shield Body. No longer inside the Snow Globe, the Shield Body is moving out in the real world now, dancing.
03. Taylor, forever brave. I begin to cry. Are you safe? Yes. Taylor, on the outside, parading around. Narrating the introduction. Bringing people in. Taylor, forever brave. His own shield. He is not completely safe while away from the four other bodies, the Shield Body, but Taylor will always be protected. The people who are arriving, the audience he greets and brings to their seats, they are his shield. Taylor, forever brave, walking the tightrope. Eyes wide open. Facing it. Calling it out. Naming it. Forever on and on we go, Taylor says to us all. We must go through it. Come with me, I am going through it with you. Come and sit down. We are OK for now.
04. Dance is a language that takes place between the audience and the dancer. In that open space between us an entire language is born and then vanishes. A temporary bridge between two worlds that communicates the profound wisdom of our shared humanity. We are their witnesses. What do dancers need? Witnesses to behold them. Beholden to them. Be hold. Be held. We must hold each other and be held. We are beholden to each other and we are held. I cup my hands in my lap and imagine holding their five bodies in my palm, sacred as a small pool of clean fresh water. I will not let a single drop spill. I will carry you forever.
05. I am reminded of the way I see dance as a form of “Wild Clarity”. As an act of seeing that is defined, under the invented vocabulary of my artistic practice, “Wild Clarity”. I can say something like this: I see you with a “Wild Clarity”. Specifically that means that I would like to collaborate with you somehow as two artists together, ideally using my camera to frame you and hold you and support you and share you. Intersections, horizons, all vision.
I let myself imagine I am shooting this performance and I have at my command five cameras that circle the five bodies. Each is static, on a tripod, except for one. One moves with the dancers. It is not fixed it is moving, it is connected to the body of a cinematographer. Maybe that is me. Five cameras, in a circle, encircling the dancers. They shoot continuously, either on film or video. We do these performances on public sites and public land. State land. Federal land. Parks. Public land, which is stolen land, which was never intended to be anyone’s land specifically. You cannot own the land. But we do these movements on this types of sites and we set up the cameras in these ways and we see what we see when we see with “Wild Clarity”.
06. The Wind becomes a central character while watching the performance. The Wind. The deep breath of Wind. The ever-present air. The ever-present ego. The ego in The Wind. Can it be blown away? Dance comes as close as anything has ever come to blowing that ego away from us, past us, behind us. Dance liberates us. It liberates the body and brings us face to face with the energy of the universe. The Wind is its messenger. It comes as the earth’s breath. The Wind. It blows around us, I feel it all over my body. I see it on the five bodies.
07. Roberta becomes The Mime. We are all each other’s shadows and light. We are that element. We are that mood. We bring shadow to eclipse the light. We bring light to distill the shadow. We are each other’s shadows. Seen and Unseen. We are each other’s shadows. I lean into this. Not exactly sure what it means, but it is a strong signal, a loud idea. Roberta and Ru transform into other species. Is light a type of species? For a moment we are all going to be fine, and I feel a tremendous sense of relief.
08. The performance is like The Wind. It is like a big gust of strong Wind, blowing in from somewhere. Then, as suddenly it arrives it departs. There is a vanishing. It almost makes a sound. It reminds me of why I want to attempt to document these performances as their own short films. Because they leave as quickly as they came, but they exist before me like a rare, natural phenomenon. Like seeing a comet fly through the sky. A triple rainbow.
A whale do a flip in the middle of the sea/air. I probably could never film any of this correctly but wouldn’t I want to try? Or is it better to say I saw that, and it was something inexpressibly beautiful.
09. I hear the soundtrack of my mom’s Heart. Her Heart. The Heart. Beat.
I hear it beat 500 miles south of me in a house under a roof in a state called Virginia. The Wind pushes its breath into my heart. It reminds me that we are all beating one beat. Spinning one spin. It’s all the mother’s heart.
10. Simon is the space traveller and becomes focused in the lens of my eye. Watching him move, or land, I see Sun Ra in the corner of the room, nodding his head in obvious enjoyment and approval. Landed down to see this show from Outer Space. I see Simon as the space traveller. He has landed in his own Black man myth, he carries his own astronaut’s suit, he is his own space traveller. What does he see? He moves so fast. He is like a comet. I see Sun Ra in the corner, nodding his head in approval and enjoyment. We are all here together now.
11. Anna wears a mask. She walks backwards on the earth. She did not just land from space, like Simon, no. Instead, she has been stalking the land like a slow moving bull. But now she and Simon can share this space. And that seems important, necessary, urgent.
12. This is what I understand: We need masks. We need masks and we need to rip these masks off. Both. I understand that we are under this orbiting circle of light. It illuminates and distorts. We use it as a guide and it can also be a trap. We are still spinning like Ru in the snow globe. We are still not safe. We make each other safe.
13. The five bodies, the Body Shield. The Shield Body. They protected each other and the whole audience over the course of this performance. There was an outer space landing, an orbiting, fierce Wind, and a calling to earth. There was a walking and stalking of earth. There were masks and no masks. Heartbeats. A circling cycling light. The end arrives, everything seems to vanish at once. The five bodies bow down, and we bow down to them.
The sound of applause brings you back to earth, and you realize you have been on the edge of your seat this whole time, scribbling into the notebook, unaware you were even that close to the edge.