Old Versions of Yourself: Amara Tabor-Smith’s Tribute to Ed Mock by Anna Martine Whiteheadon Jun 20 in Article, Dramaturgy In Dance, Mapping, Special Presentation by admin
Old Versions of Yourself: Amara Tabor-Smith’s Tribute to Ed Mock
CRITICAL RESPONSE TO AMARA TABOR-SMITH’S HE MOVED SWIFTLY BUT GENTLY DOWN THE NOT TOO CROWDED STREET… by Anna Martine Whitehead – June 15 2013
I have been following the poet Dawn Lundy Martin’s featured blog posts on the Poetry Foundation website throughout the month. As in her prose, the writer blogs about significant philosophical quandaries – death, memory, blackness, and so forth – and is unforgiving. Everything is a question, and everything is the most important question to which one should urgently seek answers, and every answer is only another question. This week she wrote about the death of her father and her encounter with his ghost in the form of a green light beneath her hotel bed. “Perhaps ghosts are not persistent, but brief glimpses of some shadow past before the door is finally shut,” she writes. “Perhaps death is not loss, but indicative of an already absence.”
So what, then, is the work we make for our ghosts? What is He Moved Swiftly…? I am asking what it means to make art about our dead and our gone. Those who have died and those who have been disappeared (by social blackouts, gentrification, cultural amnesia, disease, and so on). It might be that making work about our dead and our gone can only ever mean providing the opportunity for our dead and gone to share space with our living.
I think that Martin’s idea of a glimpsing ghost – something that is gone almost as soon as it is recognized (maybe only comparable to a star in the night sky, or perhaps to a delayed video on CCTV, like the one in Community Thrift on Mission, where you can watch a second-old versions of yourself) – is applicable to most states of being in a performance. Being alive or being dead, or being thoughtful, or being terrified. It is possible that the distilled purity of these experiences of being only ever exist at the same time as everything else, and only briefly, and in the extreme. Mostly there is no purity in being. Mostly, probably, by the time we become the thing we are being, the moment has already passed, or is, at least, inaccessible to either performer or audience.
Mostly, when grieving and when performing grief, we are a representation of a person grieving. But if we push it and stay with the representation, there will be moments where what “we” is disappears into the empty bed, or our bodies take up the expanse of an alleyway or a dance studio, or we lose our “selves” inside the egungun. Those brief, glimpsing moments are the instances where we are not just representations of grief or spirit or ecstatic memory: we actually are Grief. We are Spirit. We can be Memory, too. And more. And then it is gone. That is good work.
I saw it happen last Saturday while Jose Navarrete danced a silent ghost dance. His body became ghost, in a flickering, fleeting way, and we the audience were compelled to watch closer to catch the moment. It kept passing. I saw it in Shakiri Hudson’s monologue of memories of Ed Mock. Moments when the shell of her body performing was subsumed by something more expansive: a being-memory, a being-Ed, a being-Shakiri-in-1983. It flickers brightly and then gives way again to the performance, inevitably.
There is a club scene at the end of He Moved Swiftly… It is “The Night Before The Epidemic,” but chronologically in the piece it occurs after mourning. People party on stage and lose their minds to the party, while Amara Tabor-Smith sobs downstage and out of the spotlight. Her wailing is real, as real as any of her dancers’ during rehearsal when poet Marvin K. White will occasionally burst into lyrical agony linking in two verses kitchen roaches and rent control to white blood cell counts and vanishing bodies. But the celebration behind her is just as real, and the juxtaposition of the two creates a third entity, there but not there. The score is aptly named. The swirling, sobbing, throbbing energies onstage are – for brief glowing moments, over and over again – the ghost of the night before.
Maybe it makes no sense to watch He Moved Swiftly… expecting to see this elusive ontological moment manifest. It is certainly valid to just enjoy the afternoon watching good dance and performance, taking a stroll through town and down memory lane, occasionally being moved to laughter or to tears. We can got to a hotel and lie in the bed and not expect anything more than a bed, and if it’s well made it will be worth it. But there is a collective fomenting of something else that can occur if we want it – one that depends both on the performance of the thing (whether it is a bed or a dancer in blue taffeta or a voice echoing through a piano shop) and our belief in the possibility of this thing becoming something else.
If, like Martin, we choose as an audience to believe in ghosts, we can witness them in the performance – unable and glimpsing, and in the extreme.