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IOTA: A Reflection in Conversation

SYNIVA WHITNEY: We responded to _IOTA poetically, bit by bit, queerly and playfully. Here are our fragments of thoughts and atoms of observation based on a transcript of a recorded conversation we had together immediately after seeing the evening of works by non-binary, queer, and female identified artists.

WILL COURTNEY: We began word by word, in a conversational back and forth and let our responses grow from there.

Chloe Albin and Cameo Lethem in Sundowning
Photo by Joseph Lambert

Sundowning / Choreography: Cameo Lethem and dancers / Dancers: Chloe Albin, Jessica Pavilanis, and Cameo Lethem

S: artificial

W: mechanical

S: caretaker

W: support

S: disassociation

W: failing at support…or…

S: knees or elbows don’t bend… or elbows won’t bend

W: uncommon internal experience

S: stillness that is stretched

W: Somebody who moves through the world in an unusual way. During the duet Cameo Lethem and Chloe Albin kept setting up some sort of structure with their bodies pressed together that would fail. Then they would fall or appear to fall. Cameo was wearing a nude colored semi-transparent blindfold during the entire dance. This object seemed to alter their perception and create confusion and they would pull away from Chloe, but then they would be pulled back into the duet by their partner’s insistence to continue to engage.

S: Two people that move through the world together in a way they’ve developed to help each other function in a world that is not made for them. A tense relationship. One of them is struggling with gravity, or perhaps an outside invisible force, or a difference in perception. The other dancer, Chloe, is trying so hard to connect and support and help and it might be backfiring or unwelcome or necessary or all of these things at once. About that initial solo that led to the duet… there was something so eerie about it, the movement. Was it the face covering? A flesh colored molded possibility of a face that was impossible to read. The movement initiated by something that wasn’t about looking with the eyes or finding a shape in the body. A dance more about texture and starts and stops. They were an android dancing. A motor in the center of the body was running things, not the brain. The audience might be witness to the future of the human race–a being that thinks differently. A person that is part organism/part machine.

Jenna Eady and ilvs strauss in Lesbian Fantasy #2
Photo by Joseph Lambert

Lesbian Fantasy #2 / Choreography: Jenna Eady / Text: ilvs strauss / Performers: Jenna Eady and ilvs strauss

W: distance

S: sea water

W: text

S: the gestures of daydreaming

W: lounging

S: traveling while queer

W: holding hands

S: the dangers of family visits

W: touches of anxiety

S: I believe the story. I believe the text I’m reading projected on the back wall. I believe that it is true. I believe these two dancers are of Middle Eastern and Central American descent and that they are queer bodies daydreaming. I’m reading and they seem to be reading, too, standing faced upstage for so long. Slow arms reach to touch the back of the head, the spine…there is a great distance between them. What might happen that would create a new world? Not this one where being queer often means hiding, exile, or death. The peril of leaving each other to use a restroom on a road trip. Where I may or may not feel that you will come back to the car or I will come back to the car without having been harassed or attacked… those little things that many people take for granted.

W: That queer dilemma… to hold hands In public… to hold hands with your friend or your lover, or take your shirt off at the beach, or have a fat belly, or have body hair, or chest scars, or facial hair…without fear of what might happen.

S: There was an internal, thoughtful quality to the movement. That weird fascia centered feeling, partly awake, mind elsewhere, supple muscles… the way the body moves when it’s caught up in thinking or reading and the movements that go with imagining that thing you need, that person you desire.

W: They were doing a dance of lounging, of dreaming.

S: This dance was the embodiment of a possibility. The text and movement generated by imagining a world that is different than the one we live in.

Lucie Baker in Fragment Sapien
Photo by Joseph Lambert

Fragment Sapien / Choreography: Coleman Pester / Dancer: Lucie Baker

S: masked and unmasked

W: scenes

S: the awkward nature of props

W: the crew is visible

S: this dancer speaks

W: moving and speaking at the same time

S: cut and paste

W: abrupt light changes

S: Is that Helen Mirren’s recorded voice talking about acting for the camera?

W: Immersed in fragments of experience, fragments of atmosphere. Jumping around to different moments. Very cinematic. There was one scene in particular where Lucie Baker got tangled up in two folding chairs like they were going to go to sleep and it looked horrible and uncomfortable, but it was like they were saying: “OK, this is my bed now, this is what my life is and I’m gonna figure it out and work it out and we’re gonna make this work.” And then realizing….no that’s not working and it’s ridiculous to try and force it.

S: A queer dilemma…not fitting in…not quite meeting expectations, doing it your own way… it’s like being non-binary. These folding chairs might as well be Male and Female gender options and people say, hey Syniva, take a seat, one of these two should work for you, and I’m trying, and it’s just not working. Time to deal with the fact that it’s not working, I just don’t fit, and I don’t want to, I want to do it differently…so let’s move on from what we thought our experience might be and figure out what this other thing is. A new kind of human, maybe? Or an old kind…or an unrelated thing… a Fragment Sapien? Am I simply made up of a collage of my experiences? Are we identifying the dancer with their actions, the chairs, their long hair? The joint centric quality of their dancing? The dancer gestured with their arms and made sound effects to go with the movement. There was a fluency they embodied even though everything happening was fragmented and the spoken text was poetic (they recited a Gertrude Stein poem at the end of the piece). I had a sense of watching them make up their own story, their own sentence structure, through long leg extensions and abrupt perspective changes like lunging and going into a shoulder stand repeatedly.

W: And that beginning image in this piece…Lucie wearing a black balaclava standing onstage removing their mask… the dance begins here, with the thought, “Hey, what’d you expect? You don’t know me!!”

S: Almost like a heavy handed reference (I’m thinking protesters, Pussy Riot) to queer activist culture. The mask, that object that believes our identity lives in our face and that we can hide who we are by covering our faces. But can we? Can’t we recognize the dancer by their quality of movement if we pay close enough attention?

Marlys Yvonne and Jody Kuehner in You You
Photo by Joseph Lambert

You You / Choreography: Jody Kuehner / Dancers: Marlys Yvonne and Jody Kuehner

W: unison

S: pink thong leotards

W: high kicks

S: defiant looks

W: intense lip sync

S: aerobics as high art

W: ”I’m shy!!!”

S: And the music… a Cyndi Lauper and Madonna mash up playing SO loud.

W: Every Cyndi Lauper song, every Madonna song playing all at once, kind of like having a solid gold 80s music video workout freak out in multiple directions. The dancers perform a crazy amount of high kicks and then they just let it go and rest. Actually really rest, actually really breathe, just be who they are… ok now here comes Madonna again, now they are lip syncing with a great attention to detail.

S: And in the candy colored cacophony these beautiful and weird movement phrases…I wrote in my notes “blue lit thong creatures”…all of sudden something happens that could be seen as a highly sexualized image, like naked ass cheeks shaking. But it’s too strong, too stylized, abstracted by the skilled movements and brusque manner of the dancers. Here is Jody Kuehner engaged in making and performing work in a different way then when she’s performing as our beloved Cherdonna. This duet showcased a different approach to dance making that is still rooted in pop culture and nostalgia but that is not dependent on character or over the top drag.

W: They’re crawling into the audience.

S: But then they’re in this deep lunging with beautiful arms and weird leg extensions thong animal flow.

W: Creature-y. The unison.

S: The sameness, yes, the two athletic white seeming femme bodies and the songs of the two queer icons Cyndi Lauper and Madonna fighting with each other, but the bodies are dancing together, they are supporting each other and in sync. the unison and tuning between the two dancers highlighted that sense of pop culture as aesthetic and not as impersonation. These weren’t two performers wanting us to believe they were Cyndi and Madonna. Instead they were more like the twin offspring of the icons existing within the conflicting sounds of their parents.

W: I don’t remember the music videos that went with the songs so well, but I definitely recognized some of the dance moves from these videos….the side to side walk with an Elvis snarl like Cyndi would do and of course the Madonna skipping across the floor thing, her arms flopping all over the place.

S: It was like the choreographer was separating the movement from the facial expression, like they were inspired by videos of Madonna/Cyndi dancing and wanted to perform it without including the over the top diva emotions.

W: Yeah, without the facial expressions. Just isolating the movement.

S: It’s a queer tactic, finding inspiration in all things high and low, existing in the cacophony of conflicting sounds, identities, even loving it while we do. Or at least getting through it. And not being shy about the fact that it’s hard work.

-Syniva Witney and Will Courtney

//TECTONIC MARROW SOCIETY showed _IOTA at Velocity Dance Center August 26 and 27, 2016. For more information, please visit //TMS’s website at