Part 3: Growing Our Own Gardens, A process for falling in love

[The following is Part Three 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]

Being In Suspense

Sam, Jessica, and Matthew in the Moving Interview. Photo by Alison Waldman.

Sam, Jessica, and Matthew in the Moving Interview. Photo by Alison Waldman.

Our showing opened with a reduced version of a structure we often unpack in process called “moving interview”. This structure requires at least four players: the interviewee, the interviewer, the information giver(s), and the witness(es). The interviewee responds to the touch, sound, and presence of the information giver(s), while also answering questions lobbed at them from the interviewer. The witness(es) mentally and physically “record” the event, squirreling away bits of text or movement performed by the interviewee. While the structure allows for the mining of content through the textual and embodied responses of the interviewee, the affective modalities of the structure itself are incredibly powerful, unlocking surprisingly vivid memories and feelings through the overwhelming physical presence of the information givers and the stories evoked by the questions. Through the arc of the structure, the interviewee gains more agency in responding to the information givers until, eventually, the information givers fall away and leave the interviewee in a solo.

The interviewees move through what I see as a handful of Derrida’s figures from A Lover’s Discourse, performing the lover at work, in which the witness(es) may recognize what is seen, heard, or felt by the interviewee. The recognition of one of love’s figure requires nothing more than amorous feeling, the care the witnesses take in watching. Even in the mildest emotion, it (the figure) bears the suspense, offering only mutilated sentences and movements cut short, redirected, or quieted. In short, the interviewee in the moving interview structure, as the figures in Derrida’s A Lover’s Discourse, does not attain a higher meaning beyond suspended sentences, memories, and movements. Yet beyond full understanding of an other (as the witnesses cannot ever fully understand nor the information givers fully possess the interviewee), these figures still house great feeling and meaning; the moving interview presents the lover (the interviewee) with an arc of overcoming, through great pain, a barrier to reconciling with the world:

Jazzmin and Andy in Growing Our Own Gardens. Photo by Alison Waldman.

Jazzmin and Andy in Growing Our Own Gardens. Photo by Alison Waldman.

First, “I am engulfed, I succumb” to the other bodies. I find a gentleness in this craving to be engulfed as the others are gentle with me. At the beginning of my arc, I am at their mercy, giving into and following their touch, pouring my weight into their bodies only to be pulled in the other direction in a sharp shock. I am told, through these other bodies, to deny courage and thus deny morality. Only then, suddenly, they leave me “sedentary, motionless, at hand, in expectation, nailed to the spot in suspense.” Derrida frames this position of waiting as being a historically feminized one: in “myth and utopia: the origins have belonged, the future will belong to the subjects in whom there is something feminine.”

In this moment of separation, I am wedged between the reference and the allocution (“you have gone…you are here”). In this moment, I am in the present. The moment before I am able to move again on my own mirrors Derrida’s lover who is on the verge of drowning. At this moment of pure anxiety, I reconstitute my truth. In order to move again, I must affirm “against and in spite of everything…love as value…Yet I can emerge from this tunnel; I can ‘surmount,’ without liquidating; what I have affirmed a first time, I can once again affirm, without repeating it, for then what I affirm is the affirmation, not its contingency : I affirm the first encounter in its difference, I desire its return, not its repetition. I say to the other (old or new): Let us begin again.”

I found while watching the moving interview structure unfold for each of my other collaborators, as well as experiencing my own arc, every soloist encounters a moment of being held in tension. These tendrils I activate in writing similarly tether the others in space, holding taut their body, holding them still, in suspense…and, suddenly the interviewee moves on their own accord! Each of us sprung from this suspense by finding movement that was before unknown in our bodies, new lengths of limbs, new joints, strange tempos. Jessica played the part of the final interviewee during the showing, moving through an abbreviated, but complete arc of the structure. Matthew and Sam supported her as information givers, the rest of the cast (and the audience), as witnesses. When Matthew and Sam fell away, Jessica took her solo in suspense. In her movement, she not only disoriented herself, she disoriented the room, moving into and out of the floor, taking the slowest, most sustained cartwheel I have ever seen, stirring up dust in wild circles only to cut back through them.

The structure closes with the information givers returning to the interviewee to get in close and quiet their movement. Matthew and Sam returned to Jessica and brought their bodies close to hers to touch. Sam folded over so Jessica could drape herself across him as a kind of embrace; Matthew placed soft hands on her back, a gesture of familiar comfort. Here they return to a version of where they began, in a stillness between movement, in the suspense of maybe beginning again.

Andy Torres. Photo by Ben Carver.

Andy Torres. Photo by Ben Carver.

Reflecting on being in process from this cold desk (stiff shoulders), I am reminded how sparse our repertoire of amorous gestures really is. I am reminded how the most fulfilling creative encounters leave me with more questions, immediately desirous of more time in the studio with bodies other than my own. The residue of contact with Matthew, Sam, Jessica, Darryl, Michelé, Andy, Micah, and Elizabeth animate these questions. What gestures must we learn, unearth, or make anew? How are we made to learn disallowing certain gestures to be love, to contain love and feel love? Or is the correct question: how might every gesture, every episode of language and movement, be loving?

If love is maintaining our propensity for intense feelings, if it inspires the most intense feelings, I know better why our dance floor was so sweaty. If love is overcoming, through great pain, the barriers keeping us from reconciling with the world, imagine the sweat we must wring out of our costumes, our everyday drag, doing the necessary work of not only being in the world, but dreaming together of a new one. These intense feelings, in our own queer understanding of them, move in directions other than a (re)production. They may mobilize us, allow us to be in the practice of beginning again and again, to sweat the labor of loving required in this process of queer worldbuilding.

This post draws from the work of some of my textual lovers:
Roland Barthes, A Lover’s Discourse
Juana Maria Rodriguez, Sexual Futures
Audre Lorde, “Uses of the Erotic”
Bell hooks, on love
Combahee River Collective

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.