LISTEN HERE: DAVID BARLOW’S VOICE RECORDING OF HIS ESSAY
At the end of Lands of Concerts: Body Works Edition, I speak to Andrea, a performer from Spain. “Thank you,” I say, “I appreciate the invitation for us all to practice intimacy.”
“And care”, she says.
I also thank the two other performers: Jija (from Japan) and Lucy (from Germany). It’s disarming what they have done, this patient plea for us to truly take each other in, without irony, and in such a quiet and unassuming manner. The point of departure is care, and naturally that requires some interaction – some lessons in how to care. Noticeably, this makes a few people uncomfortable. Here we are in a room free to sit or stand where we please, and then, to start things off we’re asked to all walk about the space and look into the eyes of those we pass, taking each other in. Participatory theater… ugh. I can sense the panic setting in behind the furrowed brow of the bearded man to my right — oh no, what kind of touchy feely shit have I gotten myself into…! Don’t worry brother, I think, we got this… And sure enough, we’re fine, we’re in good hands. These three women, and the blind one they call Mama who plays guitar and lies on a mattress for much of the hour listening to her audiobook, have somehow circumvented the forced and often proscriptive nature of many ‘immersive’ happenings. We’ve come to a workshop more than a performance. And we might not have asked for it, but really what else is there to learn but how to care for one another, how to connect, how to love.
Lucy, the woman from Germany, is in a wheelchair. Her body’s growth is severely stunted, her atrophied legs neatly coiled below her rear. She says, “People often wonder how I experience intimacy…” And to demonstrate how she might long for another from inside her body, she asks Jija to incapacitate herself by being bound up with white tape, her arms strapped at awkward angles across her chest and behind her back, and her feet tied to the backs of her thighs. “This is not bondage,” they explain, “because the person who is tied up isn’t passive – no, she is actively engaging whomever she wishes to draw near her.” Jija’s range of movement is indeed greatly restricted, and as she lies helpless on one side, she is asked to communicate to Andrea her desire to be held. This desire seems amplified by Jija’s imposed immobilization, and as Andrea gives all her quiet attention to the contorted figure on the floor, Jija arches her back and slightly cranes her neck in a silent invitation that seems to say… approach.
Lucy asks Andrea, “Do you feel Jija’s desire for you?”
“Yes”, Andrea nods.
Lucy also talks about her daily morning routine of being washed, how her attendants undress her, use the blue sponge for her midriff on up, and the pink one for the waist and below. She tenderly strokes Andrea’s forearm with one of the sponges that moments before rested atop a large rock in the middle of the room. It’s a little act of reciprocity and sweetness, and it catches me off guard. My chest tightens with the sudden urge to cry. It’s not the simulation of washing I find moving so much as the energy with which it is performed, a frequency of true and gentle care.
When Sasha was dying of bone cancer, she would ask me to come over to her place to help out, and readily I’d drop whatever it was I was doing, grateful that even though I’d broken up with her two years earlier, and in a manner that was less than delicate, she now wanted me to be part of her team of care givers. The chemo made her nauseous, and I’d hold the cooking pot steady by her side while she leaned over and puked, then go and wash it out. We would write together, and her stories invariably had to do with the grief and rage she felt about leaving everything so soon in her thirties. The last time I saw her, I sat at the foot of her bed while her mother administered drops of morphine and I rubbed her feet. The movie The Wrestler with Micky Rourke was playing on the TV. When I got up to leave, Sasha lifted up her hand, which by this point was an act of great exertion, and waved. She must have known she was saying goodbye for good, and now when I think back, it was this chance to hold her foot that had been more intimate than any time we’d ever made love, even more than our first time when in a sudden flush of passion we stepped off a hiking trail and found cover behind some boulders in Acadia National Park.
She may now know I’m writing this, she may know everything from across some veiled dimensional plane. A bee buzzes from daffodil to daffodil, rubbing its abdomen among the yellow stamen sprouted all along the un-mown lawn of this 12th Century cathedral where I’ve chosen to write. Pollination — this too is intimacy. What if Sasha could see me here? Can she?
Jija, Andrea, and Lucy ask all of us to partner up and play a game of telepathy. Think of a circle. A square. A triangle. Pick one image. Send that image to your partner. Say to them, “Sending… sending… sending…” And when your transmission is complete, say “Sent”. I receive my partner’s signal. Square. Yes, correct. But my transmission of circle doesn’t cross over. Damn… It’s a practice though, right, reaching out to each other’s inner space across invisible realms, and in turn allowing ourselves to be reached…? I hope in some very basic way that’s what we’re all here to do, whether we know it or not.
The trick is to keep practicing.
Essay from David Barlow after seeing Preview: Lands of Concerts: Body Work Edition by Jija Sohn, Andrea Zavala Folache & Lucy Wilke at Theaterfestival Boulevard 2019. David is 1 of the participants of the Dance&Dare SummerSchool, an international project for creative writers who dare to look for new words for dance and performance, by Domain for Art Criticism & DansBrabant. Read all the essays on the DansBrabantBlog.