In the latest of a series of SHORE: Essays, playwright and interdisciplinary artist Lisa D’Amour reflects on Emily Johnson/Catalyst Dance‘s SHORE (MAP 2013). D’Amour is one half of the performance duo PearlDamour; they are currently in the process of creating Milton (MAP 2012), an ongoing performance project made from visits to five towns named Milton across the United States. SHORE, part three in Johnson’s Alaska-based trilogy (The Thank-you Bar, Niicugni, SHORE), is in San Francisco this week with four parts: COMMUNITY ACTION, STORY, PERFORMANCE and FEAST; more information about SHORE in Yelamu (San Francisco) here. Read on for an excerpt from D’Amour’s essay.
A bell rings and we are all asked to silently walk to the theater, about 5 Manhattan blocks. The performers line the sidewalk as we make our way – some of them intoning chords, holding the space for us. In the theater, I see Aretha Aoki, one of the three trio of dancers who anchor the piece, dressed in red on stage, with red warrior paint that matches Emily’s and a fake mustache pasted to her lips. Associations begin to fly: The lady in Red. Gender (bending it, playing it, inhabiting it). Aretha’s Japanese heritage (but was she born there? Or in the US? Is she part Japanese?) Aretha as trickster: a mythic creature that causes mayhem in order to bring wisdom.
This dance moved fluidly between small group movement (performed by Aretha, Emily and Krista Langberg) and large group events (performed by the 20 + person ensemble). The image of the trickster stayed with me throughout, for this dance seemed designed to jolt me into new, fresh moments, to keep me in the present. A solo ends, timpani drums begin to play, echoed by the stamping feet of the chorus. A trio of the three warrior women, holding hands, walking slowly, eyes closed. A brightly colored curtain suddenly drops from the sky, a backdrop of a moment of choral singing. A pilgrimage of potted plants, carried across the stage. Emily, dancing as fast as she can, cutting the air with her arms until she is out of breath and close to tears. Acknowledging the paradox: we must stay present, we must engage in the work of repairing, healing, maintaining, nurturing. We must acknowledge our anger during the times when it all feels futile. And yet, in all times, transcendent and excruciating, we live in a community. We are part of an ecosystem. We can say fuck you, or we can say yes, I’m here, I’m with you, a part of you.