Editor’s Note: This piece was originally published as a personal blog post in December 2015, responding, in part, to Petra Zanki’s work PACES. PACES is being restaged as part of the upcoming Yellow Fish Durational Performance Festival, which runs August 27-31. Yellow Fish’s theme this year is “Time Passed,’ which asks artists to reprise previously performed works, so it seems only fitting to reprise this small piece of writing. While it is of a more personal nature than our normal content, I believe it is a good reminder of the kind of experiences that one can have during durational work. In short, go see stuff at Yellow Fish next week! The lineup is HERE.
Yesterday morning I took class with Zoe Scofield, who was subbing for Kate Wallich’s Thursday class. She placed particular emphasis (and I will try to paraphrase as accurately as possible) on doing movements as if we were discovering them for the first time, even if we’d done them thousands of times before. For example, while doing a spinal twist, she insisted that we follow the initiation from the base of the spine without skipping ahead (even intangibly) to what we know to be the finishing shape. Another time she demonstrated a movement exploration to the class, and we quickly began moving in the style she had demonstrated. She stopped us and said “Dancers are very good at mimicking,” while she noted that this is a good thing, she asked us not to mimic, but to actually spend time with the task, to assume you don’t know what the outcome will look like. To not short cut to a predicted result.
Then last night I went to see Petra Zanki’s Paces, an intimate showing of a solo piece at New Tomorrow. The piece was very repetitive, Petra rocking back and forth, seeming as if she could stay with this one task ad infinitum. But over the 40 minutes it shifted to a swinging arm, a turning head, a diving lunge. Always with the rhythm of back and forth. Several people left in the middle. With Zoe’s words from that morning still echoing in my head I wondered, Did they jump ahead to a predicted outcome? I wonder, because humans are so good at seeing and identifying patterns, if they just thought “ah, I know what this is. She’s just repeating this thing over and over. Boring.” Because I think if I looked at it that way, it would be hard for my attention to stay alive inside it. But instead I tried to maintain a mental state where I did not decide what the next thing was before it happened. Just because she had just swung her arm the same way 45 times, I tried not to assume what would happen on the 46th time. And in that place I found each iteration to be magically and subtly unique. I found there was an abundance of details to watch within the movement, that because of the repetition I got to focus in on a movement of the head here, a foot there, or a ribcage expanding and contracting. My sense of time and scale shifted, so that each gentle shift felt massive, and the pace of evolution felt swift.
I learned fairly recently that my proposed project, which I have been researching since June, was not accepted either to Bridge Project or NWNW. As a community, I don’t think we talk about rejection very much. At least not publicly. I know it is very normal to experience rejection in this field. A lot. I tell myself that all artists I know and respect have dealt with rejection time and time again and succeeded because they were persistent. I know this intellectually. But emotionally, it is hard not to jump to recognizing a pattern. Hard to see each repeated application as its own iteration. Hard to remember that just because the last 45 times have been “no thank yous” that I don’t know what the 46th time will be. Little dark thoughts sneak in. They didn’t accept my idea becomes they didn’t like my idea, which becomes this idea is not great, which becomes I am not great, which becomes I am a joke and probably everyone is laughing and rolling their eyes about what a fraud I am. Or worse yet, not even bothering to. I know that’s probably not true, but fears are amazingly resistant to logic.
So I’m trying to stay with each iteration. I submitted another proposal today. I’m trying to see the subtle shifts. How it’s a little different, maybe a little closer each time. I try to let my perception of time shift so that I see all that has happened in a year, and not get too obsessed with the never satisfactory level of accomplishment that the day-to-day can feel like. And when I allow myself experience each repetition as if it were new to me, evolution seems…well, maybe not swift, but at least I don’t want to walk out.