Upward and Downward: Composing in the Midst of Decomposition

In response to Session 4, March 26

Preset: Glittery golden fabric draped over a table. A casual Sage tea ceremony: Keith invites the early birds to ingest the Indigenous herbs of the land.

My distilled reading of tonight’s performance-pedagogy score: 1) breath, 2) body, 3) earth, 4) spirit, 5) mind, 6) spirit, 7) all at once-ness.

* Breath awareness (following the breath — in, out, and the spaces between)

* Body awareness (vibration layered onto breath)

* Land awareness (acknowledgements in small groups)

* Tarot divination and synchronicity performed by the hybrid people gathered here this evening

* Dancing; then talking; then rehearsing for death; and finally, re-membering (or to paraphrase Keith, “giving body to”)

* A concluding grounding gesture: Keith teaches an Aikido move, with instructions to jump, simultaneously upward and downward, while releasing a sharp, low vibrational sound-breath, to send gratitude within and all around.

Moments of synchronicity: in my small group land acknowledgements, two of the people trace their ancestry to lands that border one of my own in South America. In sharing my desire to honor, imagine, and re-member the original rhythms of this land and our own, we close our eyes, attune to our heartbeats with palms on our chests, and cultivate collective rhythmic awareness.

Divination: Keith prompts us to form a question before selecting a tarot card from several piles on the floor. I choose The Lovers. One of the readers present tells me it is a very good card. I do not tell her much about my question. All I ask is, “How?” She answers, “By being in love and in partnership with an actual lover, or with the love and commitment to your creative endeavors.” All of the above. The Lovers are inspiring in their electrifying, illuminating upward motion, as if writing messages in the sky, for all who are here tonight, committing to their creative endeavors.

Keith suggests that we experience performance as we would read a tarot card — enacting a tarot card, perhaps. In this shared performance space, we read and write together. The next prompt: dance. Just dance. Approach it non-conceptually, without obsessing over theories and whatever it is supposed to look like. Begin with whatever you are doing at this very moment. I happen to be writing. But I try not to think about it too much. And so my dance-writing through space begins.

My body metamorphoses into a giant neon pencil drawing gestural messages on walls and in the sky like The Lovers on my tarot card. I begin to write shapes and shadows of the moving bodies all around, tracing their overlapping — at times clashing — rhythms, hovering above the original rhythms of this land. Then, a sweet duet unfolds. We dance to house music, as if honoring the babaylans of our shared ancestral archipelago.

In closing, Keith pays homage to an artist who could have been forgotten — Ed Mock. He was before my time, but I knew of him because he was a teacher of one of my first teachers — social justice choreographer Pearl Ubungen — when I arrived in SF in the late ’90s. The city was still alive then, in a state of active composition. For that reason, I have been grateful for these Tuesdays nights in March, with Keith leading us through the all-at-once-ness of breath, body, mind, life, death, spirit, sex, and dance, all alongside his unique SF history-herstory lessons. Tonight’s not only covered Mock, but events as disparate and distant as the city’s role in the first US imperialist overseas genocide (the Filipino-American War) and the birth of queer and feminist sex-positive performance and healing practices in the ’80s.

Despite San Francisco’s continual decomposition — insofar as artist-activist communities and cultural legacies are concerned — we have taken time each week to compose through our bodies and memories, our imperfections, our hopes, desires, and frustrations about the past and the present. But as Keith suggested earlier this evening, audiences have the capacity to bring performances into the future. Perhaps as audiences of the myriad (de)compositions we staged for each other this month, we can re-member — give body to — a future SF where the Ed Mocks and those like him are never forgotten, and instead inspire our continual upward and downward movements. Just like The Lovers.

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