Thursday, November 11, 2010

Chalmers Fellowship: memory, rejection, Butoh, the Titanic

In a Butoh workshop a couple of weeks ago I was reminded of dancing at Phil's and Club Abstract in Waterloo during my university days. About how I learned more about myself as a dancer on their checkered dance floors than I did in the studios sweating and crying my way through ballet classes. (Might sound weird to be reminded of this in a Butoh workshop, but maybe not so if you've ever taken a workshop with Denise Fujiwara/Fujiwara Dance Inventions).

So viscerally I remembered how I used to feel dancing. It was all simmering and I was on the verge of art, of making real art for the first time. Some voice was at the cusp of me. Or I was at the cusp of my own voice. I was totally unconfident but I still felt promise and belief stronger than insecurity.

Shadows came in. People close to me died. I moved to Toronto. I lived with my best friend from high school who, for me, was a swirling cloud of everything I was not and thought I wanted to be. I started in the Professional Program at the School of Toronto Dance Theatre, scared to not be in school anymore when so much else in my life was changing. I dated a much older man in whom I placed great faith in his wisdom, simply because he was older. I was sick and refused to see my sickness for what it was. I clung to my former anorexic state in denial of the more erratic state of my eating and my body.

I became my own ghost.
I stopped going out dancing.

I thought the creative possibility I had needed to be sculpted into a Toronto Dance Theatre-type dancer, that it needed to pinned down, described in terms that existed already. I was scared that I wouldn't know what to do with it if i couldn't hold on to it somehow.

I couldn't let the current run through me.
That thing that kept on the dance floor in Waterloo, experimenting and not caring that there were no words for it got squashed.
I was afraid that the current -- if I let it out truly -- would be Isadora Duncan, the way I perceived her: fat, slovenly, lazy, over-wrought.

I have always wanted to be 3 dimensional when dancing and yet I worked to streamline access to my body. And at the same time I was afraid of technique. Afraid that I might work and work to no result. School of Toronto Dance Theatre suggested we part ways and I pursue dance recreationally. They didn't even suggest I choreograph. They suggested I was not emotionally or mentally made for dance.

My way in as a dancer has always been through emotion and imagination. I spent my first 3 to 5 years in Toronto trying to shed that. You can't shed your own skin. Unless you are snake. And even then the same patterns re-emerge in the new derma.

"Let go let go let go" someone yelled at me in an intimate setting. And I couldn't.

But no one ever said, no one has ever said to me, "Trust how strong you are." No one. Not directly anyway.

That buzz, the promise, that visceral being on cusp of everything just died in me for awhile. I had a hard time letting go of the "Stop" that I heard from School of Toronto Dance Theatre. I knew in my heart that someday I would look back on that rejection moment as a good, necessary step in my evolution but for a long time I didn't want to say it out loud. (Happily, I am creating something on the students there this year and so I guess we all have to call a spade and spade and say the bitterness is over.) And it was a good, necessary step in my evolution. My fire came back but that sense of promise never really did. I have made work and stretched and grown technically and intrinsically. But I have felt frustration with myself for not reaching the full potential of my self as a performer. For not feeling as creative as I did dancing for 3-4 hours a night on the dance floor in Waterloo in my little batik skirt and perpetual black t-shirt with waist-long messy hair flying into other people's faces.

While I was pregnant, I could feel it again. After Pablo was born and I was in the studio, I could feel it again. Vibrations. Cellular excitement. The body so ecstatic to speak, the imagination belligerent with sources, the heart huge and strong vascularly and emotionally. Maybe it was because I couldn't get a good hair cut and lived in my batik skirt and perpetual black t-shirt for the first few months?

How perfect that I got to revisit the role of the Titanic/the Ship in Theatre Rusticle's "April 14, 1912". In 2007 when I was first involved in the show I started chopping through my own inner icebergs to reach something more authentic and less about Lucy the noun, more about Lucy the verb (forgive the paraphrase from Tyra Banks). I was able to be a performing body strong, solid, powerful, large, muscular. Nothing was thrown away. Fire in the belly with little stokers heaving coal and a captain up top pushing to 24 knots. I have always known I was lucky to work with this company and revisiting the role in the spring of 2010 was no exception.

I felt the possibility simmering in every moment, even while sinking, a doomed ship.

I have been also lucky in receiving a Chalmers Fellowship this year (administered by the Ontario Arts Council) which has made the process of writing such things as this a necessary part of my day. I have been typing this, elaborating from rehearsal notes, while my 16 month old baby has been crying in his crib (you know -- extremely tired by unable to admit it). He is now silent and I too have run out of cries.

These shadows were cast. That time was lost in a deadzone. I will not draw on them directly but trust that they are in my cells and will surface when it's time to express shadows and angry sadness. Life is titanic, even if you are just one small animal in the great green cacophony.