What follows is a description of my experience of Every Other, written almost entirely in the week or two following the show. I had intended to write more- maybe to unpack some of the ways in which I thought this piece worked, or to delve more into content connections, but since many months have passed and I have not progressed, I am posting my narrative without the extra asides. Perhaps a description can allude to these other questions as well.
Image courtesy of Aniccha Arts – aniccha.org
I was struck by the expansiveness of this piece- the sense of atmosphere, of immersiveness. I stepped into the space and it hummed- it was hushed, it was a whole world unto itself. It was immense and spare, both filling the space and narrowing in to tiny actions or scenes. I had a strong desire to telescope in and out of the piece, and since the installation was in the several-story-high atrium of the Bottling House, I could. I wandered up to the balcony for a bird’s-eye view, stood on the ground-floor edge and viewed the piece on horizon, and occasionally ventured into the midst of the performers.
I found myself welcomed into this installation, the grid of people stationed at light bulbs, each absorbed in a minimal head choreography. The light bulbs hung from the top of the ceiling, accentuating the height of the space, the 3-dimensional-ness, while underscoring the 2-dimensional grid. The lights were focal points, locations suspended over small navigational circles. The geography of the space was further sculpted by the many props positioned at each station. At various points I read both land and sea- a map filled the small navigational markers, an ocean of people swirling and displaced, isolated and tossed together by turns. But there was nothing chaotic in it- the piece spoke with a restrained, highly composed demeanor.
In the abstract, this piece invited me to notice that cool composition- the austere layout, the many small scenes that happened simultaneously- and to notice where my eye was drawn, how my attention was gathered or held. I was very aware of where I wanted to stand (and how often I could not reach the place I wanted to view from in time to see the thing I was viewing. This was not the thrust of the piece, I felt, but perhaps important to it nonetheless.) The grand scale and duration allowed me many perspectives.
My initial experience was one of abstraction, aesthetics, environment and atmosphere. But a context was brewing- the performers shifted out of their small tasks – space was newly delineated when a large white square fabric was laid out and one of the performers became entangled. I don’t know exactly how it began (collateral of having so many foci) but she was in the center, standing, circling around herself, and her the motion of her feet on the sheet caused it to swirl and envelope her. It became all-consuming, anguishing.
This was when content chrystalized for me- a moment of narrative drama in the sea of abstraction. I saw a whirlpool, the fabric swaddling and constraining her. Did she cry out? Or did the sound score do it for her? Simultaneously lush and austere, the sound had a huge impact on building the atmosphere, the sensibility of the piece. The lights, too, were integral, and the lighting and sound technicians were performers as well, laid out in the grid with all the others, equally horizontal, equally viewable, each fixed on a light bulb star. Before this (or was it after? My sense of time bleeds) each performer stood in front of their light bulb, gesturing around it as if they were each nurturing their own little sun, hands dancing in a space between magic and science. I felt they were masters of alchemy, conjuring in their individual labs before it was broken into a larger swirl of life.
I had noticed upon entering that most of the performers in the space were people of color, or people I perceived as non-white and this affected my reading of the piece, heightening narratives of colonization and displacement. The cue was in the title- Every Other spoke of otherized bodies, of individuals and multitudes, of community and exile.
The performers began to swirl through the space then, becoming a parade, continuing to manipulate their props, breaking into new scenes. They felt like pilgrims, carrying the burdens of their shapes. At some point a lesson formed in one corner, with one standing performer vocalizing or gesturing to the group of seated performers watching them, rotating who was standing in the space of expression. Others grappled with tubes, reframed spaces with a makeshift arch, and re-inscribed notations on the floor. I had the sense of boats, resources being shipped around the world. I thought briefly of globalization, of colonization, of explorers celebrated in textbooks. I saw movement that read as work. Another set of performers seemed to be marking the constellations with their bodies and gestures. The lighting performer swept through the space, disturbing the grid of light bulbs into a swinging net.
A couple of dancers became birds, feathered in discarded folding cardboard shapes and structures. Their dance had the air of a cock fight, a competition of chest puffing and intimidation, while two groups formed in the corner, facing off for a human conflict. The stand-off between two closed communities diverged from my expectations when they melded, no longer in a face-to-face combat, but interwoven, still maintaining their own vocabularies, yet enmeshed. At some point the sound score included words, but I heard the voices as texture rather than substance. Though I didn’t catch full sentences or meanings, my consciousness was colored with ideas of identity, race and language.
This evolved into what I perceived to be a collective ecstatic euphoria, but the performers returned to their light bulb stations and a choreography of light began as they switched on and off the light bulb that hung in front of their faces. A pattern that started with a solitary performer in the center of the grid and made its way outward. For me the lights flickering on and off indicated a failure of communication, a break in language, and were as much about the flickering of light as a choreography of sound. The clicks of the switches resonated like the frantic tap of a telegraph wire, the lights appeared like the frenetic signals of fireflies.
The light and sound divorced when the central figure disconnected the power source and we were left with the cacophony of empty clicking light bulbs in the darkness.
by Theresa Madaus
Every Other -Aniccha Arts
Grain Belt Bottling House -May 7-9, 2015