Yukon dance artist Aimée Dawn Robinson provides a reflective inside scoop of her, Wojciech Mochniej and Anne Troake's journey on The BODY OF WATER PROJECT - A travelling site-specific creative exchange.
BOW: post from the field # 1: September 17, 2015
| from Calgary looking back to the process in Whitehorse
During a break in the rain, we drove to Long Lake in Whitehorse. We took with us the clothes and shoes and the 6-foot standard folding table around which we had constellated for a few days in the Old Fire Hall. We imagined filming a sequence on the shore of the Lake -- enacting a scene of bureaucrats around a table who are in conflict with, and ineffective to protect or relate to, the wild space surrounding them -- the illusion of human control maintained by sedentary paperwork, to the detriment of water and all Nature.
Instead, shortly after carrying the table down the hill to the shore, Anne and I waded it into the water, pushed the table legs into the silt, yelling and laughing from the impact of the cold water. With the immersed table, we created the brief illusion of standing (dancing, sitting, crawling) almost on the surface of the water. For the Body of Water performance in Whitehorse on Friday September 4th 2015, we immersed three tables this way, end to end with enough space to wade between them. The cold water gushed off our heavy black clothing when we stood up. The shoes may still be wet.
BOW: post from the field #2: September 21, 2015
| from Calgary looking ahead to the Calgary performances
The Bow River runs by Wojciech and Melissa Monteros’ home, where we three Body of Water artists are living and working together during the Calgary portion of the project. The rhythm of our workdays are determined by the weather, the perpetually shifting river, and the schedule of the dedicated and inspiring young dancers of W&M Physical Theatre’s The Surge Company. Only a few days into their season, these dancers bravely leapt into our collaboration and into site-specific dance practices.
The other day, I waded into the river to photograph the Surge company dancing: their heads in the water, bare feet resting on the pebbles and stones, a line of still bodies drawn on the shore; an image complicated by the troubles of our world and all its’ struggles and inequities. I noted the intense power of the dancing body (simply, eloquently, wordlessly) offering layers of meaning to the incidental audience gathering on the bridge above us. By placing themselves in a vulnerable position, the dancers became incredibly strong. I am grateful to the Surge guest artists’ willingness to work with us. It is a gift to us older artists to collaborate with young artists and witness their bright light illuminating paths we may have danced before.
BOW: post from the field #3: September 22, 2015
| from Calgary, thinking about rules
It’s easy to break the rules, especially when they are invisible. Conflict has surfaced in Calgary because we broke unseen rules regarding where we are permitted to create art. During the first stage of the process in Calgary, we rehearsed and taught freely on the pebbled shore of the Bow River near Edworthy Park. We felt part of the community; people were curious about, and welcoming to, our site-specific research. During this second stage, we are adapting the work to a site on and near the Peace Bridge. Though permits and insurance have been issued for the second site, of the two places, it’s much more dangerous. Last night Anne, Wojciech, Melissa and I sat on the rocky shore there, watching the river claim the bit of safe beach where we hoped to dance.
The intersection of bureaucracy and dance reminds me of a story dancer/farmer Min Tanaka told me about the time he was arrested in France for, “moving too slowly in a public place”. It’s permissible to walk, ride a bike, run, or jog across the Peace Bridge, but if one wishes to dance there (and invite people to witness this) we’ve been told one must apply for a permit 30 days in advance. Meanwhile, most of contemporary human culture has forgotten the agreements with the Bow River, with water and the rest of the Nature. But the river has not forgotten. She continues to welcome people and tries to provide for us and all other life forms, even when people have so horribly broken the agreements we had with her.
BOW: post from the field #4: September 25, 2015
| from Calgary, developing the performance score
We hauled a heavy wooden table and four chairs over and down the retaining rocks that skirt Prince’s Island, through the water and onto the small, pebbled island visible from the Peace Bridge. The Surge Co. dancers’ performance score is simultaneous to ours; they begin in duos and trios across the entire length of the bridge and ultimately join us by wading through the water to the island, which marks the end of the performance score.
Calgary dance artist Oriana Pagnotta dances with us on the small island. Seated at the table armed with a stapler, pens, a stamp, a stack of manila file folders, a jug of water and four wineglasses, Oriana becomes the representation of the blind mechanisms of bureaucracy. Mostly seated on chairs, Anne, Wojciech, and I present Oriana’s character with pebbles or stones and wait with trepidation to see if she will file or reject the object. She holds the stone a loft, feels the weight of it, examines its’ texture and other properties before either: vigorously stamping it, labeling it, and stapling it into a file folder; or throwing it far away. If Oriana’s character is particularly displeased with the object offered, she slowly pours water into a wineglass, and then flings it into our face (or other parts of our bodies). When we are doused with water, we must fall from our chairs onto the stones, and stay put until we have the gumption to collect and offer another object. Nothing we do goes unnoticed by Oriana’s character: our dance is monitored by her. We are thrilled by Oriana’s willingness to play such an unlikable character. We are also delighted by the questions our actions provoked in incidental audiences during our rehearsals.
BOW: post from the field #5: October 14, 2015
| from St. John’s, discovering the ghost of rivers
Here in Newfoundland, we ask ourselves, “what comment can we effectively make about water and people’s relationship to water on a island where people have lived relied so closely on water for survival and culture for generations?”. Anne has the idea to investigate hidden and historic waters of St. John’s after learning that some of the steeply hilled downtown streets were originally rivers flowing into the harbour. Discussion with residents and research at the provincial archives showed us that Prescott Street used to Keen’s Brook. Early settlers in St. John’s built their homes along Keen’s Brook (and the other rivers), threw their waste into the river, and eventually transformed the river into a sewer housed beneath stone and pavement. Standing at the top of Prescott at Rawling’s Cross, I can easily imagine the fast waters of the brook; I can almost hear her silenced gushing sound.
Prescott Street is compelling for other reasons. The new fence surrounding the harbour skirt is visible from almost all points along the street. Built for “security and safety” reasons a few years ago in spite of much protest from St. John’s residents, this tall black fence cuts off the working harbour from the people who have enjoyed accessing its’ activities for centuries. We begin to imagine making a physical statement against the fence. We begin to imagine rolling down the steep hill of Prescott to meet the barrier fence between the ghost of Keen’s Brook, us, and the ocean beyond it.
BOW: post from the field #6: October 26, 2015
| from St. John’s, unraveling after the performance
Rolling down the hill to the harbour became a meditation for me. One task in our performance score was to roll along the sidewalk of Prescott Street, while holding a wine glass filled with water. This was the option I solely focussed upon for the one and a half hours it took us to travel from hilltop to harbour fence. Through three intersections of increasingly heavy traffic, past little girls in windows, passersby, horn honkers, an old man painting his stoop, and an amazed, emotional audience I listened for the waters of the past. I saw in constant rotation: sky, wineglass, fellow dancers, cement, sky, wineglass, fellow dancers, cement, repeat.
Other options in the score included: rolling vertically along the buildings, drawing with sidewalk chalk, balancing a wineglass on your head, dancing in any way you wish, sitting out/observing, carrying a jug to refill the wine glasses. A cast of St. John’s dancers and actors joined us as well as: Lois who brought her ongoing String Art practice, the St. John’s Vocal Exploration Choir who gargle-sang, protected our actions and uttered experimentally, nine-year old Benjamin who traced our bodies with sidewalk chalk and dancers Elaine and Tracy who lead the way with blue lengths of silk rising and falling in the wind. I can’t think of a better mob with whom to roll along a river’s ghost to the ocean. Thank-you to the St. John’s crew; we could not done this without you.
About: Body of Water: Creative Exchange
Water is personal. Water is political. Water is essential. Water has always connected this country. Three distinct water systems and communities paired with artists Wojciech Mochniej (Calgary), Anne Troake (St. John’s), Aimée Dawn Robinson (Whitehorse). An accumulation of experience, questions, histories, debate through the body, performance, film, and dance.
The Yukon Arts Centre (Whitehorse), Springboard Performance's Fluid Festival (Calgary), and Neighbourhood Dance Works' Festival of New Dance (St John's), through CanDance Network’s Creative Exchange program, join forces to plunge in to our water systems. Throughout this cross-country process, the BOW artists acknowledge all Nations who care, and cared for, the land (acknowledged and unacknowledged, recorded and unrecorded). Thank-you for hosting this project on your land.