May 9, 2011

Cartography of the Heart / Wound, Womb ~ Brooke Gessay

A Choreography Class and my Trip to Cholula, Mexico.

Last night I landed in Denver at 9:30 pm. Earlier, I had woken up at 7 am in Cholula, Mexico, after three hours of sleep. When the alarm went off my very first thought was, “NO!” – meaning, I don’t want to leave this place! Moving through thick fatigue and a Mezcal hangover, I quickly packed, rode with friends to the bus station in Puebla, said some frazzled goodbyes, rode to Mexico City, flew to Denver, drove to Boulder, dropped Cristina off and finally drove up to Sugar Loaf for a shower and bed.

The line is thin right now between art, dance and life. It’s all pulsing, throbbing. Daily gesture is evocative of deeper sources and impulses, and dancing, creating, and imagining are bubbling up enjoyably without effort. It’s not always this way, but it is right now. It will pass, of course, this vital opening I’m experiencing in which I literally feel like one of the buds on the tree outside in a slow-motion-burst. I absolutely love what I am feeling. And so I do my best to savor it, to be it, completely. And then I do my best to let it fade and let the next thing come, whatever that may be.

I just got home from Performatica, a weeklong international contemporary dance and movement arts festival in Cholula, and I’m about to finish my first year of grad school as an MFA candidate in dance here at CU Boulder.  The night before leaving for Performatica (nine days ago), I performed a version of a solo from graduate choreography class that I called Cartography; I handed out maps I’d made of my heart (recently broken) to the audience, which showed them the emotional anatomy of my heart in geographic form, set up twenty volunteers in a three-sided square, said to everyone “This is my heart.  I’m going in,” and then moved through the constructed landscape with the movement cultivated all semester in choreography class.  This was my attempt to go directly into my own heartbreak – to inhabit, touch, lay, slice, and reorder the space inside.  This was my attempt to share my raw, tender, and pissed off parts of self with witnesses, with people generously giving their full attention, some standing close by for me to literally lean on. It felt good; it felt right for that moment.

Now I’m preparing, nine days later, post-Performatica, to show a “final” version to my class. This one is called Wound, Womb and goes like this: in studio 305 my sound composition from music seminar is playing on repeat with a minute of silence between each run of the song. In the center of the studio is a banana and a small glass jar of dried rosebuds, covered by a multi-colored scarf. I’m inside, already walking the periphery of the studio, wearing an orange dress. The class will enter the studio in a line and feed in behind me. We’ll walk clockwise circles in the studio, getting slower and slower until I tell everyone to stop and face the center. I’ll keep walking, weaving in and out of them, and then move into my solo. Parts of it will come out of the circle; most will stay in.  When I first lay on my belly, I’ll reach over to grab the scarf and put it like a pillow under my head; this will reveal the banana and jar of rosebuds. Toward the end, when I’m kneeling on the floor writing symbols, I’ll add in picking up the banana, peeling one side open, opening the jar, placing a line of rosebuds down the exposed flesh of the banana, sprinkling a loose circle of rosebuds around it, putting one in my left hand, one inside my orange dress near my heart, and one in my mouth. I’ll take the jar with me, pick up the scarf and wrap it around me, leave the banana and rosebuds on the floor, leave the music playing, and lead the class out of the room.

Wound, Womb. The ripped place I was emphasizing for the last showing has become a breeding ground for new life in me. This doesn’t mean I don’t feel the brokenness still (I do), but something new has emerged to be experienced simultaneously, so that pain of letting go of the old love story is braided into real time living of new love.  It’s nothing like I thought it would be. I never saw the image of rosebuds on a banana until this morning, after having been in Mexico for a week falling in love in all kinds of new ways at Performatica. Everything is reorganizing. I like this banana/rosebud image.

I just went to Café Aion and read through all my notes from this choreography class from January till now. I imagined my piece from the first little chunk of movement I made in my old apartment, till what I’m about to do for my final. What stands out most is my vivid sense of three things: 1) How inseparable dance and life are, when I am able to sink below my thinking mind into a somatic sense of mind, body, and heart. 2) How that sinking reveals that dance and life have a flow, momentum, and pulse of their own; that I can move with them instead of trying to know it all and then force something to happen. 3) That how deeply I go in an “art moment” affects how deeply I go in a “life moment,” back and forth forever. They mirror each other, inform each other, reveal nuggets of information for each other.

Also: I love this image my choreography professor (Gabriel Masson) gave us at the beginning of the semester about how we were going to (and did) work on our solos:  that instead of taking a fully grown tree and shoving it into the ground, hoping it will take root and stay alive, that we are planting a seed and watering it every day, watching it grow, guiding and supporting it, and seeing what it becomes. I adore this. I’m so interested in continuing to practice this in art making and life-living. Everything is cracked open right now; I thought I knew where I was going, but I don’t. We can’t, really. And that’s part of the exhilaration: seeds are planted, sprouting, and some already getting big, but I want to sit with them and nurture where they want me to go, instead of grabbing them by the neck and bullying them around. This lesson fucking hurt six weeks ago when life laid its hand on the story of where I thought I was going and simply said, “No.” And it has hurt every time in the past when life said no to something I thought I needed. But the pain always gives way to new life, something fresh, a sensation never yet felt, a new texture to touch, a new flavor or color, a new corner of creation to experience, witness, digest, express, reflect—and most importantly, to share.

So I have learned a great deal about choreography this semester—about contextualizing material, about embodying stillness, about bearing the intensity of cutting away movement filler and just being seen bare. I’ve learned about letting art emerge, and trusting that it will. I’ve learned from watching my classmates and saying what I see and sense in their brave work, instead of making value judgments about it. I’ve learned from a professor who’s a feeling human being first and foremost and a generous guide in the ways our bodies can sing truth if we let them. I’ve learned directly that movement, born from stillness, is pure energy is color is sensation is medicine is life.

Last Friday night in Cholula we were at a crazy fun party in a really neat space, with great music, lots of people, film projections on the wall, with Mezcal and cervezas flowing. A bunch of us from Performatica had been dancing till sweating, playing in a way that seems to come out of hours of being together in a dance studio all week exploring our common passions. I couldn’t stop laughing, all of us goofing around with the endless possibilities for humor, joy and ridiculousness that the dancing body holds.  Suddenly a moment alone sounded sweet and necessary, to listen to the quietness under all the play. I went out on a balcony, facing the San Andres Square, the big, beautiful mustard yellow church to my right, some new friends laughing and talking on the street below, the starry sky above.  I closed my eyes to listen for what might want to be heard.

It was so simple and clear:

Thank you—Thank you—Thank you—

I want this. All of it. I want to observe it and witness it, but most importantly, I want to be it. I want to feel it. I love sensation, I love the ridiculous, the uncanny, the unforeseeable, what’s never existed before and bursts forth from a courageous heart, I love the verve, vitality and life force I felt in Cholula, Mexico during Performatica; also the choreographic process and performance this semester at school. I love the burn of being alive, even when I don’t. I love being a woman and an artist and the falling feeling of not knowing what that or any of it means. I love that I can be left and that I can be met, and that I’m here all the while. I love the darkness from which all of it is born, the blood and guts of creation, the sensation of new life fighting to become, and the intense pleasure of moving as that.

Brooke Gessay is a dance artist and teacher, as well as a CHA graduate scholar and MFA candidate in dance at CU Boulder.  She is also a Life Coach and newly a student of Zen.

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