Thursday, December 1, 2016

How to Make a Human Sculpture: A Reaction to On Display with Heidi Latsky

I have to be honest, folks. I am a fly by the seat of my pants kind of woman. Learning in the moment and trying not to have too many expectations usually works to my advantage, particularly as a dancer. I approached On Display with the same mentality. Before rehearsal, I watched one video so I knew it wasn’t exactly a dance. I also knew this piece originated out of an audience member’s reaction to another work of Heidi’s called The GIMP Project. Lastly I knew On Display explored the age old question, at least in my mind anyway, to stare or not to stare?

At left: Venus de Milo statue by Alexandros of Antioch; at right: Body Shift dancer, Alison Kafer in “Crippin’ the Streets” (Photo by Camille Wheeler)

Fast forward to the first rehearsal, can you say awkward? Because that’s exactly how I felt, like a bull in a china shop. I remember heads turning at the sound of my purse as it thudded across the floor into the corner of the studio. I could feel my face turning the slightest shade of red as my sticks aka crutches tingled and clanked to the floor. My butt was happily surprised by the cushiony folding chair as I sat joining the circle of bodies. Heidi’s description of the project moved quietly past my ears and up and around my brain, “We’ve always been taught not to stare; not to look at someone deeply because it might offend them; that if someone 'different' catches our eye we have objectified them. This is the life of the viewer. Alternatively, should we possess a birthmark, a glorious height, or unknown disability we risk being too noticeable and often ostracized or worse. This is the life of the viewed. On Display is a deconstructed art exhibit/fashion show and commentary on the body as spectacle and society's obsession with body image. It turns a cast of diverse and extreme bodies into a sculpture court where the performers are the sculptures. And so, I’m going to teach you some meditation techniques.” My comprehension came to a screeching halt! “Did she say meditation? Oh crap! Meditation might as well be a four letter word,” I silently groaned trying to control the horror as it floated across my face. Then I heard, “This piece is not about performing; this piece is for you.” Those words instantly took my fingernails off the chalkboard of my mind. I decided there was something to learn here and I was in it for the long haul. Maybe this meditation technique will stick and I can finally be part of the Zen crowd like I’ve always wanted.
At left: white marble statue of muscular man, title and artist unknown; at right: Body Shift dancers (from right to left) Susie Angel, Dany Casey, Errin Delperdang, and Tanya Winters strike a pose with heads turned to the sky in “Your Way of Thinking” (photo by Leon Alessi)

Where was I? Oh yeah, meditation. Take a minute to quiet your thoughts, hold the palms of your hands over your face, close your eyes, and let the weight of your palms slowly press into your face. Breathe slowly and deeply. Now repeat (to yourself) after me, “I am…right here. I am…right here…I am…right here…” When you feel ready open your eyes. You have just completed the quick and dirty version of a portion of the meditation Heidi taught us. My experience, at least for the first bit, was more like, “I am (still wearing my work badge. Why didn’t I take it off) right here…I am (having an enormous spasm. I will never get up off this floor) right here…I am (going to the grocery store after this. I need coffee).” Strive for my experience and you’re missing the point. ☺
At left: The Belvedere Torso statue (early drawings by Amico Aspertini); at right: Body Shift dancers Susie Angel and Errin  Delperdang at rehearsal (photo by Michael Joplin)

Try to keep your mind on your breath and those Zen feelings with you, as I move on to my favorite part of the rehearsal. If you’re like me and you grapple with spasticity on a daily basis, you know we move about as fast as a herd of turtles. Add aging to the equation and you’ve got a herd of turtles slugging through molasses. So you can imagine the pure joy that beamed out of every part of my body when I heard Heidi say that our goal was to stay as still as we could for as long as we could. When we did move we had to move as slow as we could-keeping our focus inside. Our intention was to explore every glorious nook and cranny of our insides as we changed position. Halleluiah! I was on it. As soon as I closed my eyes, I felt like I was the only person on the planet-floating in a bubble that gently hovered above the ground. I was tuned in to every tiny flutter of every muscle. Priceless, gratitude, beautiful, and precious are the only words that begin to describe how I felt. Validated, genuine, worthy, and valuable were my only thoughts. Finally I get to be me; for me, and nobody else but me. This, this is what dance should be about. How can we dance with others if we can’t dance with ourselves?
At left: The Winged Victory of Samothrace statue, artist unknown; at right: Body Shift dancer, Silva Laukkanen from On Display Austin Pfluger Bridge Installment (photo by Kelly O’hare)

Listen friends, I hate to say it, but it’s time for me to wrap this up. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that this blog post is a tiny sliver of my experience. There is so much more to tell both as the viewer and the viewed. To get the full effect of On Display Austin: A Movement Installation you must see it/feel it live and in person for yourself. I am over the moon grateful to have had the chance to be a part of it! I hope you’ll join me and many other Body Shifters on Saturday, December 3rd as we celebrate the International Day of Persons with Disabilities with two showings at The Blanton Museum of Art located at 200 E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. Austin, TX 78712 from 12-1:30 PM and 2-3:30 PM!
 Body Shift dancer Susie Angel from On Display Austin Pfluger Bridge Installation (photo by Kelly O’hare)

 Body Shift dancer Michael Joplin from On Display Austin Pfluger Bridge Installation (photo by Kelly O’hare)

Body Shift dancer Jae Hoon Lim from On Display Austin Pfluger Bridge Installation (photo by Kelly O’hare)

Only you move like you. Feel it; celebrate it!


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