AS IN MANY THINGS Mar 18, 2018
by Petra Zanki
A response to In a Rhythm by Bebe Miller Company (Mar 15-18, 2018) (Photo: Robert Altman)
I did not know what to say, my mouth
had no way
my eyes were blind,
and something started in my soul,
fever or forgotten wings,
and I made my own way,
and I wrote the first faint line,
faint, without substance, pure
of someone who knows nothing,
and suddenly I saw
with arrows, fire and flowers,
the winding night, the universe.
— an excerpt from the poem "Poetry" by Pablo Neruda
As in many things, I might be wrong, still, I think this way: good art is not the art that comes easiest to understand. Good art asks questions, plays with us, and frames itself into a certain mold only temporarily. We then create borders and enclosures around it in order to make sense out of it. Forceful art pushes over borders, and leaks out of boxes, refusing to give straight-out answers. Sometimes it swings one back and forth and one doesn’t really know how to respond to it. In those instances, the words remain hanging on the tip of the tongue, weighing it. (Imagine that tremendous weight on the tip of your tongue right now. Now, imagine millions of little ropes piercing your tongue as if Lilliputians put them there with their Lilliputian tiny but mighty needles, and each rope carries millions of little weights hanging from your tongue down, down, down to the ground because of gravity. It hurts a bit, but most importantly, it weighs a lot.)
Sometimes after watching a good theatre or dance performance one remains with no words. One wants to say something, but all it comes out is: aaa.
Sometimes one thinks one grasped something, and then it takes them to another side. Basically, like a driftwood. Although it might not be so bad to be driftwood. So pretty, and weightless, and bare and naked. No worms, no layers, clean, floating in the ocean.
Good art might be frustrating. Like when your friend’s dear one dies, and you want to help, but all you can do is make them a soup. And stare at them while they eat your bland soup, hoping that they will get that you wanted to give the whole universe to them so that they feel better. In that particular moment, it is ok not to know.
It is ok to stay in unknowing.
Life comes to us as a collection of broken images. When we live them, we don’t know, and when we know, well, then you know …or we lurk them into a future that is to be. Still, all might or might not make sense at the end. We truly will never know. That thing. The truth of the truths. But we can spiral, and spin, and shift, and move around. We can stop, and roll. Knowing will remain unrevealed to us, but we can touch, and sense, and be close to it, and might feel that we might even have experienced it. We still won’t know the “it” of it. We still will want to get close to it, many, many times.
Sometimes there is a great artist, and that great artist lets it come to us.
I have always thought that choreography is like writing, just with bodies. For a time I did a ton of senseless dance classes where I couldn’t really figure out what I was repeating, as the sequences didn’t make sense to me. Most of the time I thought it was because I was really slow (I am), or little too stupid to memorize the movement (that I am not sure about yet). But later on, after doing those classes for years and years and years, I came to understand that I couldn’t learn sequences that didn’t make sense, maybe also because the sentences given to me didn’t make sense. Many times, the things were just patched moving phrases from other choreographers my teachers learned from or patched moving phrases from dancers of other dancers of choreographers that dancers learned from. Together, they sounded like this: “a house…the following dimensions of the blanket are…doctor, please help my dog…oh no, you silly …hallo Mary, your toddler is in our backyard again, eating something that we suspect is a worm……and then put in the preheated oven on 200F and serve while hot with some whipped cream."
When I had an opportunity to learn from choreographers who developed their own languages, such as Emio Greco or Forsythe (I was learning from Forsythe's dancer, not Forsythe), I never had that problem. Those phrases glided and made so much sense. Every movement, every composition, made sense to the body. I didn’t know, but my body did. Both my brain and body did, leaving me aware of my unknowing.
It is then when I first thought: choreographing is like writing with a body.
Music, poetry, dance — these three come from the same source.
Last night I thought of it while watching Bebe Miller’s In a Rhythm.
I wish I could learn from Bebe Miller. She is a poet.
I always thought: everyone knows how to write letters. The letter “a” for example. Everyone knows how to write a letter “a”. Or a house, a tree, a dog. Everyone can make a sentence.
That still doesn’t mean that everyone knows how to write well.
Bebe Miller writes poetry.
An amazing poetry.
I won’t even try to explain it.
I just let it in.
Petra Zanki is Seattle choreographer and theatre maker originally from Croatia.
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