Places of Common Oct 22, 2016

by Petra Zanki

Response from Petra Zanki, OtB Writers Corps Ambassador

It was a rainy February night, we were sitting in the back of our old white Mercedes with Zoe and Juniper after Pina Bausch’s movie at the Cinerama, smoking cigarettes, talking about sex, and laughing, laughing, laughing. I am biased, I admit: Zoe and Juniper are my friends, and they always will be. I love them as people and artists. They were at our engagement party. I was living in their home when I was homeless, twice. Juniper, and another dear friend, Lane, (a first one to ever mention Zoe & Juniper to me), shared whiskey after whiskey with me when I was broken speechless, at the Bait shop when my husband died, while Zoe was checking on me, at the same time, being on tour. They were holding me. These kind of experiences might not be the ones you put in a review, but f*** it, I am going to do it nevertheless, because in the midst of constant changes in which people leave and are forced to leave, there are very few things that one can hold onto. Isn’t life about having few people with whom to share togetherness? What are some of the dearest and most joyful experiences, if not holding each other in places of safety and permanence? Wasn’t their performance a little bit about that, too?

Rare artists live their art fully, madly, and bravely – rare jump in the void for their art. Zoe and Juniper do. I love them for their braveness, for jumping despite a real fear of poverty. I love them for blending their life experiences and visceral artistry with a dash of classicism. And for their unique way by which they interlace extraordinary imagery and virtuous perfection.

Everything they do, they source from often heavily buried common experiences that they unearth and bring forth. And I know when I watch their works, that I don’t need to worry: they do not fake it. Their private and our public overlap in layers. They let us in.  – this time with a touch of French classicism and southern heat.

And what about us, audience, last night?

For centuries people gathered in spaces to hold onto each other, such as homes, or different public spaces called homes. Church was one of those spaces, and not only for God, our icloud for hopes, but for other people, for ritual, for stability. For presence. Theater is also one such space. Church in medieval times recognized and used theater as powerful tool for bringing people in. Medieval mysteries, a genre specifically developed to attract crowds in churches, were just perfect in their purpose. People came in for stories. For mysteries. The connection between theater and ritual space is tricky, a little yucky, but also attractive, and somehow unavoidable.

Now that I think, a mess ceremony was the performance I saw most in my life, and have some pretty strong reactions to it. Consequently, some of my most repugnant related memories appeared yesterday during the show: the childhood priest with a garlic breath and taste for devil stories, or fast course in Catechism during communism times. Fever-induced visions of smooth and rough white spaces, spaces of heaven and hell. All of it was coming together, with wooden benches and cold marble stone, including old widows and their high slanting voices, who stood over us kids, scowling if we didn’t listen. They sang about Jesus the fisherman in the most horrendous falsetto, swathed and swaddled in black with black, good Mediterranean widows, smelling of mothballs and mold. It is those same memories that rung high pitched bells in my head yesterday, and made me uncomfortable for a second, but just for a second, because me being a pile of experiences all patched together, impossibly interwoven together, impossible to separate, can I be comfortable in witnessing art that doesn’t make me at least a bit uncomfortable in connection to my own past?

We overthrew the authoritarian, overpowering aspect of old places of common, for the good, but we still long our gathering spaces, where no irony or sarcasm is present, and that are written in our code. It’s hard to live in times in which social networks fake those and we pretend that they don’t.

I decided to look at the performance last night as a gift, participating in something that was living and survived in us for hundreds and hundreds of years. Just as a dancer that at the end of the piece gently returned to support another to stand, to sit, and rest, Zoe and Juniper took us there, through the duration of Clear & Sweet as if saying: there, there you go, your soul need this. They didn’t let us go.