Following the premiere of bend the even at the Chocolate Factory Theatre, former Sarah Lawrence student Emma Zigman wrote this thoughtful response for Kathy Westwater’s ‘Contemporary Culture Critique’ class. Zigman evokes the world created by bend the even and what it meant to bear witness to the production as an audience member.
Please read it with care:
The “Wild Beyond” of Jennifer Monson’s bend the even
by Emma Zigman
“The path to the wild beyond is paved with refusal.”
Jack Halberstam, “The Wild Beyond” in The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study
“I am learning something about time, about stillness and a sense of quiet that is full of movement, sound and light. We are narrowing in on the ways in which the mediums press into each other and create a friction that emanates an uncanny animacy in the space”
Jennifer Monson on bend the even
Jennifer Monson’s bend the even sticks around as a feeling. It moves from a dance to an autonomous sensorium, skirting performance and becoming much more akin to natural phenomena, something alive and cyclic and haunting. The piece had a clear and striking sonic and visual landscape, placing it in some unidentified place between here, elsewhere, and where we have all been (together, i think). It felt like a programmatic of the natural world, like coding the sense of dawn and its affective quality. The technics of the turn of the day was present in the collaborators research process, Monson details that
The research for this project was started in February 2017 with weekly rehearsals at dawn. These rehearsals have generated material connections between light, music, and movement – not as a representation of the liminal states of dawn but as a way of accessing new frameworks for emanating presence and animacy through the three mediums.”
Indeed, there is nothing representational about bend the even, nor does it feel like it is invested in a communicable experiential terrain or capturable feeling. Instead, it does something quite brave; it beckons the people gathered inside/ around it to lean closer, to squint almost, and then to settle back, and realize that they too have been to this place. It is not that we are all travelling somewhere together, and it is most certainly not the performers acting as translators, more that there is time to witness and participate in some tuning in to the sensorial labor of establishing oneself in space.
This flirtation of seemingly at-odds terrains (virtual and real, natural and programmatic, past and present, research and performance) is a topography of study that Monson articulates in her guide-book to making, A Field Guide to iLANDing: scores for researching urban ecologies, she describes a score as a method of accounting for things in the world. A measured practice in noticing, the scores range in location and temporality and persons involved. They all have a similar ethic however; they make space for a confrontational patience in sensing, which gives way to practices in overlooked (i.e. site, ecosystem, non-human) collaborations.
Monson has a clear practice in what lingers, which is to say what was already present, which is to say that which lives in the “natural world” (although, what is natural here is up for dispute… hers is not a practice in mimicry or re-creation of elemental qualities, but more so a turning over of their possibilities of inhabitence). Monson’s space-making is accordingly multi-planar; musicians sit at opposite ends of the stage, and a harpist traipses her hands across a harp and her body on and off the perimeters of the stage. Thus, the natural becomes much more disruptive than it is utopian; much more confrontational than it is still. This is not to say that it is always loud or always moving, however – there were a couple moments in the work that stillness or non-movement was held for an uncomfortably long time. It is in this facilitation of stillness and its accompanying sillence, however, that the continuation of dissonances articulated themselves. This dissonance feels akin to how Halberstam qualifies refusal as he speaks to an Undercommons method of study,
Moten and Harney also study what it would mean to refuse what they term “the call to order.” And what would it mean, furthermore, to refuse to call others to order, to refuse interpellation and the reinstantiation of the law. When we refuse, Moten and Harney suggest, we create dissonance and more importantly, we allow dissonance to continue – when we enter a classroom and we refuse to call it to order, we are allowing study to continue, dissonant study perhaps, disorganized study, but study that precedes our call and will continue after we have left the room.
Generously, Monson has built the “classroom” to be big enough for all of us. There is room to study with the facilitators of this sonic, visual and performative experience. The harpist sits in the audience with us, the lighting designer is next to her crafting and adjusting in real time, the dancers loop their movement, reminding us we’ve been here before. It is in this moveable making, this evolutionary tuning, that we gaze to the stage, and then around ourselves. This invitation and invocation of study accommodates the precarity and dissonance encoded in dawn. Rather than falling to the romanticization of the temporal shift of night to day, the work teetered on the possibility of losing itself, of becoming illegible.
I think it is vital that dawn was not taken as an easy allegory for liminality here, and throughout the work she moves further and further from this interpretive trap. The piece began with its most satisfying metaphor, and it is the part of the work that I have grappled with most readily since leaving the theater. bend the even began with a single warm light source cozily nestled behind the interwoven and enfolding bodies of Monson and Kraker. As they entangled and untangled themselves, I was drawn in, almost immediately. This drawing in, this play of shadow and light in a seductive enunciation of Monson and Mauriah Kraker’s bodies felt at odds with the non-definitive landscape tending that all the facilitators of this scenic experience created in the rest of the show. This opening moment felt like a directive, a whispered directive to “look at us [performers] so you [audience] may trust your eyes to wander throughout the rest of the show.” This may have been necessary, it felt formally legible as part of a post-modern dance tradition in a way that the work wandered from subsequently. Do we need to be reminded of discipline to eschew it? Is the haziness of interpretation only trustworthy when we have something to interpret out of, a container of sorts?
bend the even did not fall to masturbatory abstraction of said container however, it stayed firmly rooted in a transparency to the multiple bodies engaged in a happening or making of environment. That it was not cold in this making is even more surprising. I was struck by a small moment of vulnerability, a play on the many forms of rest, or pausing, or noticing that occurred near the end of the piece. Lights had been slowly brightening, illuminating the delicate similarity and difference of Monson and Kraker’s costumes; one navy and one black. Suddenly, the two dancers stopped, removed their shirts and stood topless facing each other until Jennifer jumped into Mauriah’s arms. This moment articulated the general premise of the piece to me; that place is a body, that mapping is always a body politic, that our imaginary topographies are our linkages, our wild beyonds.
Harney, Stefano, and Fred Moten. The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study. , 2013. Print.
Monson, Jennifer. A Field Guide to Ilanding: Scores for Researching Urban Ecologies. , 2017. Print.
From Monson’s website, http://www.ilandart.org/bend-the-even-premieres-in-february-2018/
Fromhttp://www.ilandart.org/dance-project/bend-the-even/She continues this passage saying, This work allows for the possibility that movement disappears and leaves only sensation, an emanation that is experienced through the skin and ears, not so much through the eyes.”
Emma Laura Zigman is a multi-disciplinary performance artist, working with the material(ity) of the body as a landscape to mine questions of possesion and dispossesion, queer refusal, and collective dept. Currently she is chipping away at a body of work on excess and its sensual ecology, and residing on a rural land project in Downeast Maine. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for collaborations and curiosities.