Forgetting and Remembering

By Julia Cost

I must give┬ásome context about my state of mind recently, in order to understand this essay. I have been living within a thick questioning season, wondering intensely about what is worth watching… what is worth studying (this is not a new phase for me, but it has felt especially overwhelming recently). Some of my experiences recently have flooded me with shock and confounding sorrow in ways that have made me question the power of theatrical construction to ever make me feel as much. This questioning can feel like despair, as things are turned over and over, and the bottom of everything feels like it is falling away. I have wanted to see anything but dance. Let me be moved by an angry talk show, a scientific theory, a cow-tipping … anything but dance, you name it.

Therefore, it came as a surprise to feel something shift inside of me this past weekend as I watched two dances, both choreographed by the same person, not even performed by professionals or even highly trained dancers, but in fact performed by teens and kids. In the middle of a teen dance show to mostly pop songs, and a children’s carnival geared to appease parents by showcasing steps the kids had learned, these two pieces struck me like an arrow.

I want to share moments from these dances in the only way they can be shared now: through clumsy collections of language.

1) A dance on a group of teenagers, ages 15-17

Curtain parts in the center to reveal two young women, thin and lanky in the way that kids are in their growth spurt, before they have filled out to become the women that they will be. They are standing inches from each other, facing each other, and hesitant, moving spindly limbs the slightest bit towards one another and subtly, slowly away, as if they don’t know quite how to relate to each other. At the same time, through the speakers, we hear a soundtrack of whispered and overlapping secrets, things that one might think about another but would probably never say. The dancers continue for a long time in this soundscape. Young, vaguely trembling, uncertain, hesitant, so much rumbling just under the surface of their smooth taut skin. They are not fully formed, molten, held mysteriously intact perhaps by simply not knowing, as they stand breathing the same sliver of air. The edges of who they each are have not fully formed yet, and so they inch beyond and retract gently back, trying to find the boundary lines. I find myself leaning forward in my seat in awe of this thing that is so real, young people trying to relate, trying to know who they are themselves, a quivering answerless quest. The curtain is parting wider and wider to reveal a crowd of other adolescents watching them from the shadows at the back of the stage. And then suddenly, one of the young women falls through her wavering container, collapsing through the polarized boundary between them to land hard against the other girl’s chest.

The feeling of witnessing this is imprinted across me. These young adults for a few breathless minutes showed us exactly what it feels like to be forming.

forming

Sketch of the opening of Katy Felsinger’s piece on teens at Carmel High School: Unbury the bird and watch it soar

2) A dance on a group of little girls, ages 5-7

A soundtrack of little girl’s voices murmuring about why they like to dance pours through the speakers. One little girl starts spinning slowly across the stage. The others watch her intently and one at a time follow her. Once they are all onstage, they look at each other and then move in tandem to different parts of the room to carefully work their way through small movements together. I lean forward, spellbound to see these tiny humans working their way through an intricate cueing system together, built specifically to require their sensitivity and interdependence.

At one point in this piece, all of the girls arrive in a little clump behind one girl in a lavender tutu. This girl, highly aware of the bodies behind her, lifts her arms and begins to soar them slowly, slightly up and down, leaning a little to the right and the left, swaying her little torso gently. The other girls, eyes trained on her, all follow attentively and precisely, together forming a flock, intimately aware of each other, and no one else in the room.

As I watch, I find myself humbled. This isn’t about the dance at all. This is about the fact that this little population of six tiny girls in this moment already know how to work together in the most sensitive and determined way. That they are working independently of the adults in the room, deeply tuned into the immense task of reading each other’s intentions, understanding each others eyes, and silently making little pacts of awareness and empathy with one another, carrying them out as though they are the most important things in the world, which perhaps, they are. I stared hard at these tiny humans, and it crossed my mind that everything, everything that we ever worry about– maybe it will all be ok.

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Both of these dances were crafted to convey the people onstage as they are, in ways that allow us to more fully understand their experience of the world. And in watching them, I have been thrown again from my massive pool of questioning back onto the shore with an answer about why dance can be so immensely important, which despite my lifetime commitment to this art form, seems to be something I am surprisingly good at forgetting as I become enraged, bored, and underwhelmed by some of its manifestations. If the work of these kids and teens can show me something central about being exactly themselves, brazenly, vulnerably, hopefully, then we have something unspeakably valuable here…

***An acknowledgement to Katy Felsinger, maker of the two works above: you are onto something very big, my friend.