An alarm rings, loud and piercing, like a blaring home security system. Dancers lurch their bodies across the stage, sprinting with heavy feet. It’s chaos—a light flashes, the alarm’s still ringing, and the dancers run. Operating in a state of emergency, the dancers frantically build a wall with thick, grey foam blocks, cutting the stage into left and right halves.
After the frenzy of stacking blocks, the now divided dancers slowly step away from the wobbling wall, in awe of what they accomplished. But their amazement is heavyhearted—confused and regretful. It’s almost as if they blacked out while they built, and now clearly see the division they created.
Homeland, performed by Catapult Dance Company and created by Artistic Director Michele Miller, explores the dark reality of walls and borders in 2019, yielding a highly political and yet overwhelmingly personal performance.
In just one scene, Miller and Catapult are able to suggest so much. Using the sound of a home security-type alarm to instigate building the stage-long wall, they emphasize the connective tissue between highly-secured gated communities and the construction of expansive borders. It’s an especially pertinent message in Seattle, where so many people detest those who scream “Build the Wall!” while simultaneously going out of their way to live in neighborhoods that are designed—through redlining, sweeps of homeless encampments, and single family zoning—to keep certain people out.
This scene also illustrates the role fear plays in driving barriers. After building the wall are even more frightened than when they started. Dancers reach through the holes in the foam blocks, poking their heads up and over the divide, towards their fellow performer that they once stood right next to. Their regret is palpable.
Throughout the piece, the walls move and transform, deliberate in their inconsistency. At the start, two dancers carefully place blocks to build forts around themselves. During the alarm frenzy, performers run through and over any constructions, and soon build the biggest wall of them all. Then, after knocking down their latest configuration, the dancers slide the blocks across the stage with their bodies, laying down on top of the foam. It is clear: walls are quite literally a construct. There is nothing permanent, inevitable, or natural about borders.
Eventually the dancers eschew the blocks and their bodies become formidable divisions. They link arms and force people apart, rushing to divide with even greater flexibility and persistence than the blocks could ever accomplish. It’s here that Miller brilliantly champions her thesis: humans are doing the dividing, not borders.
With this understanding, Homeland advances the idea that we are complicit in separating people. It us who build the walls, and us who separate families.
The audience understands our role as passive participants, for instance, the post-alarm wall restricts the audience’s full view of the performance. I crane my neck to see what I can only assume are gorgeous lifts, a pointed foot coming into vision here, a stray hand there. Before I know it, my view of the dancers is deliberately hindered through the walls the dancers themselves built.
A first hand account of crossing the border provides audio for a duet, offering the first words spoken. “I walked for weeks. My mother later told me it was three months.” The story tells of men with guns, no food, the “white hot need” that drove the speaker to migrate. She claims there was no one who wanted to come to America more than her, and instructs us to “let them in with a smile and generous arms,” to “wash their feet,” advocating for much better care of immigrant families who cross the border to seek a better life.
This duet was an emotional moment, highlighting the voices of those with the lived experience of migration. It brought me back to reality, to the intense amount of privilege I hold from being born in America, to the white dancers who are telling this story, to the white audience that is listening.
Soon after, the dancers walk off stage towards a bright light, their palms up in the air as if in a salute, accompanied by a dystopian-sounding, electronic version of Woody Guthrie “This Land is Your Land.” The piece ends there. In this, Homeland directly links the violence and horror people are experiencing at borders to US patriotism, an apt connection considering the xenophobic, anti-Latinx policies of our current administration are fueled by white nationalism. The choice of Guthrie’s folk classic is telling too: beyond the main refrain of “This land is your land,” certainly a welcoming message to those migrating to America, the song famously holds much more radical verses promoting collective land ownership and abolition of private property.
The title itself, Homeland, also is notable. I, and I suspect others, most often hear the word “homeland” in the context of the Department of Homeland Security, the government agency responsible for terrorizing and caging children, separating families, and militarizing the border. Calling this piece Homeland is either ironic, or trying to emphasize America’s role, and perhaps once again our complicity, in border violence. The performance and the title both bring up important questions. Whose land is this? Can we lay such strong claims to land stolen from Indigenous peoples? And who is the “we” that’s claiming this as our homeland?