Each time spring gently knocks on my door, I feel an aching in my chest. I miss my grandparents most when winter begins to fade. Sarah and I have been talking at great length about what remains. What remains after you lose someone or something? As each breath passes, what fades and what holds true? For me, it is my grandmother’s cheek; her right cheek to be exact. I can see every wrinkle, smell the "Shower to Shower" powder she doused herself with, and the red rouge she rubbed into all the beautiful lines and folds of her cheek. This is what remains. This is what holds true. What would it feel like to trace the lines and folds with edge of my foot; to dive down into the creases and roll and around in that gooey pink cosmetic muck? Her cheek no longer a cheek, but a new landscape to explore and embody. You can never hold back spring.
I am wearing an emerald green dress. My right arm and right side of my neck is covered in an elaborate tattoo. I am in a panic, hyperventilating.
I do not dream. Well, I do, but I rarely ever remember them, until now. I have had this tattooed dream four times in the last month. Each time the dream comes to me, the tattoo changes; it becomes clearer and more vibrant. How I feel in the dream is also beginning to shift. The feelings of panic and mourning are slowing beginning to fade, replaced by a feeling of restlessness. What lies ahead?
2015 was a creatively uncertain year. I could not quite put words to it, until Sarah invited me to join her in reading Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. In the chapter, La Selva Subteranea: Intitation in the Underground Forest, Estes talks about three-year periods in mythology being of mounting momentum. She says, “three years of something occurs, then comes a destruction, then from that ruin is born a new world of peace.” She goes on to say, “This period of time is sometimes characterized by ennui. Women will often say their mood is such that they cannot quite put their finger on what it is they want, whether it be work, lover, time, creative work. It is hard to concentrate. It is hard to be productive. This nerve-restlessness is typical of this spiritual development stage. Time alone, and not very far down the road, will take us to the edge we need fall, step, or dive over.”
I spent most of 2015 expending a lot of my energy pushing against those feelings of restlessness and uncertainty. I refused to listen to what they might be whispering to me. Surrender. Surrender Bethany. So, I set my intention for 2016, to let go and relish in the not knowing.
i recently landed 24/7 studio access. What?? Well-- it's not perfect-- it's a racquetball court-- but I am the ONLY person interested in this voluminous cube of space except between 6-8pm when it gets to strut its stuff as an actual court.
How hard is it for me to show up there?
The obstacles are significant.
Nonetheless I am proud to say I tricked myself into a new approach. It's called Sight Reading. Yes, like musicians do-- except they have sheet music. They look at it and try to play it right then and there. It's a measure of one kind of chops: speed reading.
For me my sheet music was a photograph by Wolfgang Tillmans called Kaskade.
Read it in depth but fast-- read the composition, the line quality, the breath and body and organicity, color, intention, mood-- take it in. Let my body look hard or soft at it, through it.
Then close the book, turn around and do it. Give it all back, high fidelity.
Whoa!! Whoosh. What?? Who??hmmm. Zoooom. Hahahaaaaaaa!!!!
Laugh at yourself. Because who does this? Who takes time out of their day to be so frivolous, and so precise about it at the same time?
Someone who has decided it matters to this one little somebody. That's who.
Gratefully and goofily yours,
These photos are by Matteo Servente. We went to the Pig Preserve to spend time with my friends and to dance with them.
Photo One is Yankee Wilbur asking what's up.
Photo Two is Abbie Christopher and me talking to each other.
Photo Three is Blue-eyed Wilbur and me in the high pasture after we shot our duet.
We will have a dance film coming out in January I hope, maybe sooner. Gotta look at the material and see what it says.
I just don't really have words for what I'm experiencing. Perhaps I'm going over the deep end, and for that I will be forever grateful ... to the Pigs.
For those who replied to my prior post, I have so many things I want to say to you, about the language these Pigs speak, about why A.C. chose me and how I chose him, and what this learning/collaboration means to me. I want to hold your questions and not answer them just yet. But please stay in touch with me. Bethany and I are putting together the next release of the state of the union for my Piggy project and her Cotton project. We are seeking locations for december 21/22, still tentative. Meanwhile thank you so very much for your care, your questions, and maybe even your concerns! :-)
Rich Hoyle, Tyler, the Pig Preserve, and to all those who share their realness deeply and broadly with others, regardless of species. May your magic stay unbridled. Maggie Rawling-Harstad, who believed in the magic in the first place. I would not be who I now am without your love, support, and visionary impetus to make all of this come true.
Dance Makers Workshop is now in the afterglow of a week-long depth charge of dancing with the kind and generous, supportive and challenging guidance of Elizabeth Corbett.
Above you see Friday's final session. We took a break from thrusting and orbiting through a phrase from Enemy in the Figure to look more closely at details and sparks from what comprised it in the making. DMW's photographer in residence, Matteo Servente, dropped in and captured a few moments of learning.
A few of us met for a "Nine Points Playground" study hall. The Nine Points are a product of Rudolf von Laban, but the way Forsythe applied them and the way Elizabeth incorporated them into teaching improvisation technology left us with lots of open curiosities. So we rented space and went over notes and tried things. It was pretty hilarious.
Bethany and I thank each of you who made this workshop possible. It was a labor of love and the echoes are still rippling.
The Halloran Center and the University of Memphis were as generous as Elizabeth was with their space and energy.
Here's to this dancing life!
My only regret is that it was so hard to convince a sufficient number of us to participate, but Bethany and I both realize that time and money to advance our creative discipline is not easy to generate and safeguard. We are so grateful that as a community we were able to do that adequately this go-round. enough to make it real. that's all we need, folks.
Kurt Vonnegut said that-- and Chris McCoy quoted him this week in the Memphis Flyer, thank you Chris and Kurt.
I still don't have words for what I experienced yesterday. But I want to thank you, my dear reading family, for your care and participation in my process of becoming who I pretend to be: someone a pig might see as an equal, and a friend.
who As I write to you I am listening to my dog Ceebee snore on an entirely white queen size bed of her own at a Nashville Super 8 motel.
We rise early to drive the remaining two hours plus to Jamestown, where the Pig Preserve is located, but more importantly, where lives the pig that changed my outlook on a great many things. His name is Abbie Christopher.
My very first blog post was a tad less than a year ago, all in enormous caps because I couldn't figure out weebly yet. It read something to the effect of : HOW DOES THIS THING WORK? OH WELL. TOMORROW WE GO RESCUE A PIG.
Now, ten months later, I've been dancing about the pig, talking about the pig, thinking about the pig, and finally even walking down a path of offering therapy inclusive of pigs. But the question remains: do I know even one thing about pigs? do I really?
My marvelous professor Paul Smith, director of the Equine Assisted Mental Health concentration at Prescott College's Masters in Counseling program has given me a dandy of an assignment. I was looking to narrow down my paper about tomorrow's reunion and he offered the task of "bringing the individual alive on the page" by tracking three aspects of being:
I go armed with nothing more scientific than my body presence, attention, and sketchpad. And a barking walker hound observing from my little car. She's my pet; Abbie Christopher is not. Our relationship is... er... hard to define. Am still working on it.
What is this all about?
I don't know where to start except with my most recent thin slice of understanding. Imagine for a second that you have one rolodex (dated american word for personal or business address book file) that is supposed to contain all the names of anybody who's anybody to you. Anybody that matters. And all your life you thought you had x number of somebodies, and they all walk on two feet and use words to think and communicate. Then one day one name pops out: with a face not like yours; and not so bipedal. And tending to use sounds and body language to say what needs saying. Well, ok. One exception.
Then another crops up: weird. But you make one more exception.
Then all of a sudden all of these friends... you opened the door and it doesn't close. The door of your rolodex just opens, and opens, and opens, till it can't open anymore.
All these snouts, feathers, wings, all these ways of Being in This World.
It is so joyful to have friends who are so different than me.
I don't think this particular friend will remember me, but I"m hoping we'll reconnect. I'm told he's now kind of awkward adolescent. Not hanging out with big boy Rufus anymore, preferring instead his pack of homies more near his size and social preferences.
Am I cool enough to hang with him?
I never saw a cotton field in bloom until I moved to Memphis. I grew up in Illinois and my rural landscape was made up of the corn & soybeans that my Grandfather, Robert Reeder, grew on his farm in southern Illinois. These landscapes are vastly different but they both resonate deeply within me. I am discovering that landscape is deeply connected to my dance. There is the landscape that I can see, touch, smell, taste, and hear. The tall green summer cornfields of my youth, guarding the land like “dutiful soldiers.” There is also the landscape that lives inside of me; the composition of this unique container of mine. There is yet another landscape that I am coming to know through the practice of Authentic Movement. I close my eyes and wait for the impulse to move that comes from within. This unseeing landscape I have been experiencing through Authentic Movement is ever evolving. It started out circular in shape. It had borders, but they were permeable. Although my eyes were closed, I could still orient myself in the real-world landscape, in my case, Overton Park. The unseeing and the real-world landscape informing me simultaneously. This past Thursday, that all changed. I completely lost touch with the real-world and found myself solely in the unseeing landscape. The space became infinite and the shape not so clearly defined.
I am fairly new to the South, and am trying my best not to be, in the words of W. E. B. Du Bois, “a casual visitor with casual ideas.” What I know for sure is that the landscape of the South speaks to me, as does my internal and this new unseeing landscape I am coming to know.
-Bethany Wells Bak
Well, folks, Bethany and I got to go hear Sven Beckert talk at Rhodes College in Memphis, TN last week. He's the author of THE EMPIRE OF COTTON, a global history of capitalism and of that soft stuff often called the fabric of our lives.
The air in the Blount Auditorium that night was thick. Descendants of cotton farmers, cotton moguls, and laborers filled the standing room only hall. We came a half hour early and were thus cozily seated in the middle, so I can only report what I was able to perceive from somewhere relatively closer to the front than most people's perspectives. But I will tell you, as soon as the Q and A got hot in there, the facilitator clamped down the dialogue. This wasn't before Sven had a chance to tell it like it is:
Capitalism was founded--like it or not, necessarily or by coincidence--on slave labor. And today continues to rely on what's called "cheap" labor.
We got to have him sign our hardback copies of this sizable tome, and share our enthusiasm for this subject, and in particular our excitement at seeing this subject solicit some active heat in an otherwise intellectual and tamped-down arena, that of a private college auditorium in well-to-do central Memphis-town.
Thank you, Sven. Thanks for not hamming it up with the farmers and twisting history for them. Also thanks for not making a big deal about it either--it's history, as you say. But on the other hand, we have to acknowledge, it sure as heck isn't over and done with. Not here, it's not.
Memphis was at the center of this world-changing force called global capitalism, and the pawns of that system were its laborers and life's blood, laborers brought here by force from West Africa. Sven compared Memphis in the 19th century to Saudi Arabia today. It's something to think about. The Cotton Exchange on good old Front Street was the largest and most important such exchange in the WORLD.
Why is is so dang hard to talk about this? Two good old boys stood up and tried genteel tactics to steer the conversation to a more favorable light on the use of enslaved labor as a necessary component of capitalism's rise. One savvy guy mentioned Marx. That went over well.
We have our hands full, as dance makers working here in the post-colonial and yet still very much capitalistic south. But methinks more than anything the hotspots around this conversation need some love and awareness, not punitive gazes, so I'm glad those good old boys couldn't see my face when they were jabbering.
When we went up to him afterwards and told him we were making a full-length dance looking at Cotton's history and the embodied labor that shaped it, his face glowed. "A dance?" I dare say he was thrilled and curious. We' promised to keep in touch.