Part Two- Growing Our Own Gardens: A process for falling in love

[The following is Part Two of a series of writings about my experiences within the process of making Growing Our Own Gardens, directed by Associate Artistic Director Matthew Cumbie. This writing reflects on our most recent residency, held at Dance Exchange in January 2017, in preparation for a return to this process during Dance Exchange’s Summer Institute. Join us for a showing of this work-in-progress at Dance Exchange on July 21st, and make sure to mark your calendars for the performance of the DC-iteration at Dance Place in February 2018.–Tyler]

Performative Co-witnessing

Jessica and Sam in Growing Our Own Gardens. Photo by Sylvana Christopher.

Jessica and Sam in Growing Our Own Gardens. Photo by Sylvana Christopher.

We had a deadline: Friday at 7:30pm we were required to show something. I wish to start at the end of our showing, the moment when we, as the creative team, dissolved into the audience as the evening transitioned from the showing to a dance party. A friend danced their way over to me, their arms swinging wide for a hug. They pulled me close and pointed across the studio at another audience member (now dancer) they had brought along, “She just told me, ‘I don’t dance. I don’t ever dance, but I felt like I could. I feel liberated…’ I’ve never seen her dance, but look!”

I almost cried not because I am happy to have been a part of a reason for bringing about such an affective response (although I am); I almost cried because I recognized that liberation in myself: my hips were no longer so lock-jawed, my wrists let more loosely off my forearms, my sense of my body in space was no longer so itchy, constricted, or numbed. I believe this was a function of not only of our dancing, but also of the ways in which we did the dancing. Moving our bodies, while important, was made to mean more through our constant co-witnessing of that movement. The ways we held space for our bodies to be seen and our stories to be heard were just as important as seeing each other’s bodies and listening to each other’s stories. I would posit many live performance teams experience this feeling, this kind of temporary liberation, at the end of an intense period of working together, but how did we reach this audience member, and the others we danced with as the evening wore on? How did our time getting sweaty together mobilize our sense of ourselves in our own bodies and as a group?

One goal we decided upon at the beginning of the residency was to attempt to maintain a sense of process in front of our audience during the showing. One question implicit in our process as we shifted toward a kind of performance was, what if the witnessing of each other on stage is held just as high as allowing an audience to witness us? We arranged the seating in a thrust, framing the performance space, but leaving room for ourselves to always be present, behind, beside, and in front of the audience. We were implicated in witnessing each other in this performance space that just moments before been our process space, as we moved on and off the stage, in and out of the audience. The frame of the performance required us to witness each other’s stories just as the audience witnessed them. We were not listening only for bits of text or movement to cue our entry, because we were always already on.

Although the creative team, the “we,” I am speaking of was assembled for this week, “we” stretches across distance and time, we dissolves – this we is porous. This we is an embodied we, a circle we attempted to open wide and sustain for 45 minutes of “showing,” of being in process in front of an audience. By welcoming friends, strangers, and lovers into our process, getting close to them, and granting them permission to see and hear us as we see and hear each other enables the possibility of a larger “we.” As our we engulfed the audience, we danced and got sweaty. We felt something like liberation together, if temporarily. The worlds we hope to build require these coalitions of “we,” each with the ability to open outward in process and invite others in, as well as dissolve when their work is completed.

Willful Vulnerability

Andy and Micah in Growing Our Own Gardens. Photo by Matthew Cumbie.

Andy and Micah in Growing Our Own Gardens. Photo by Matthew Cumbie.

Intimacy/proximity is a movement score we developed in process, in part inspired by a section of Darrell Jones’ The Original Lovely he calls “Lesbian Porno.” Jones and his collaborators wind and unwind, getting as close to each other as possible without touching. In Jones’ version, this non-arriving contact is born from his interest in a lack of intimacy and the impossibility of connection. Utilizing a similar movement vocabulary and set of rules, our interests differed greatly from Jones’. We wanted to explore, through the intimacy/proximity score, closeness and connection and to embody intimacy and proximity without the promise of sex or the possibility of touch.

Intimacy/proximity begins with two bodies, one remains still while the other discovers known, and possibly unknown, poses of intimate contact with the other, without touching. The stationary body feels the heat of the other’s hand, hovering. Their breath. Hair strives out from the skin to make contact. The pair arrive just at this moment before touch and sustain the distance, willing all of their cells about to be in contact to open to receive that touch, to make their containers turn more into suggestion. Love is a kind of dull, sweet pain, one that makes us acutely aware of the limits of our skin and the air surrounding – while yearning for connection, not necessarily moments of touch or even sensuality (though I do not wish to ever deny sex as a possibility), but a moment of becoming less like solely ourselves.

These moments of willful vulnerability attempt to embody the freedom that is living without fear, expressed by the Combahee River Collective. Sustaining this in process requires vulnerability and care in equal measure: it requires the skin of both bodies, and possibly more bodies. In this instance vulnerability is met with being held, being made aware of the three dimensionality of the body: in how many directions can I will myself to open? In how many ways might I seep out of this skin? If we remain curious about the distance between our skin, even as they move unbearably close, we might find ways of relating to each other that center vulnerability and care, that pairs openness and being held in equal measure. There is electricity enough in this curious space between skin to power the intense feelings necessitated by the labor of love.

About Tyler French

Tyler is a poet and baker, and a recent graduate from Brown University with a Masters in Public Humanities. His interests focus on community-based arts programming and queer aesthetic practices.