Speaking near the end of the third interrogation, Gabriel Rivera describes witnessing poem as an “arrival… of being moved… it shifts you… and you can’t follow… and it disappears… and in moments I cry…” This hesitant offering evokes the tremulous power of dance to invite, to seduce, to carry, to confuse, to bore or berate you. And yet how to speak or write of these emotional and phenomenological forces? There is something of temperature and tone, shifting degrees of intensity, cultivated through repetition with difference. Without a narrative drive the floating images, thoughts, sensations appear and disappear in unanticipated ways.
Tere speaks of this as an oceanic surround or consciousness of the work; choreography as a condition of memory—ours as witnesses, the dancers as performers, as one of the structures of the piece. As a labor that cultivates attention against distraction (to shift Walter Benjamin’s prognosis), choreography creates enclosures for encounter. Not to say that as a witness I never lose focus, but rather that poem is intrinsically porous and generous enough to leave room for openings or exits within its internal dynamics. This is part of the pedagogical work of the piece; it teaches me how to read if I closely attend to its intimate variations.
Reading a text is never a scholarly exercise in search of what is signified, still less a highly textual exercise in search of a signifier. Rather, it is a productive use of the literary machine, a montage of desiring machines, a schizoid exercise that extracts from the text its revolutionary force. —Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari
poem, written with no capital letter, illuminates a subtle resistance to syntax even as the piece flirts with grammar as a structuring force. Intensely iterative and citational, the phrases repeat and return. At moments it feels baroque as wrists become gnarled, limp, elegant, age, turn, write, writhe. And then flashes of balletic force interrupt angular geometries and splayed limbs conjure ghostly traces of Merce Cunningham.
Watching an excerpt of Cunningham’s Septet (1964), I am reminded of the balance within poem. Cunningham acts as a spine or architecture for the three women held, extended, suspended around him, sometimes touching, more often leaning into and away; fragile intimacies maintained at a precisely articulated distance. The moments when the dancers hold each other by the wrist turned away rather then facing each other, their figures cut elegant intrusions into the negative space. Is this perhaps what Tere mines of Merce’s “abstraction beyond obfuscation”?
During this rehearsal the dancers begin at the mirror and run toward the wall, backlight by daylight streaming through the glass. Distinct textures of running, backwards, turned almost sideways, they each swoop and swoon with a slightly different interior focus.
Natalie and Heather stand to the side watching Oisin, Michael, and Silas in their circle dance: high kicks to center and side to slide to the floor on their backs. Self-reflectivity and metonymy played out in parallel; we see them seeing each other; the dancer’s legs animated as if on strings. The juxtaposition of these modes reveals one of many logics within poem as so many clues toward our reading.
They perform articulated balletic leaps to land to stand. Oisin and Silas pull the front legs of Heather and Michael forward drawing them into a low lunge. Partnering in this moment is not only about intrigue, pleasure, collaboration, flirtation, effort, but assistance or even enabling.
Silas and Oisin rise to stand with heads bent over. The bent head becomes a refrain in Franz Kafka’s writing, or at least if we believe Gilles Deleuze in his mediation on Kafka. The politics of such a gesture figure a turning away from desire, from connection, a turning inward that blocks sensation, memory and connection. This is truly a strange moment even within Deleuze’s world. And yet, what Deleuze proposes is a reading of Kafka’s work as syncretic machine that contains expression and content that does away with intention and narrative and representation as it relates to sense. He writes:
To enter or leave the machine, to be in the machine, to walk around it, to approach it—these are states of desire, free of all interpretation. The line of escape is part of the machine. Inside or outside, the animal is part of the burrow-machine. […] Desire is not form, but a procedure, a process.
A process: Heather and Oisin stand close to the audience. They touch hands, turn, smile, subtle, their play of fingers speaks of writing, of romance, of frustration, of anger, and then all of these again undone. A process: Natalie stands at an oblique angle to the audience and shakes her hips and arms with bent elbows, rising and falling slightly with vibrating intensity. Later Oisin takes on these movements while turned obliquely away from the audience toward the mirror in the back corner of the space. Now vibration becomes citation, momentarily, until it becomes something else. A process: Michael slowly lifts Silas, holding him upside down. Silas carries Michael. Michael bends down as Silas climbs onto his shoulders, slips down. Michael slides under Silas’ legs and is pulled, an odalisque, across the floor.
I sense a different weight in the transitions as one scene or movement or gesture transforms into something else—her hand slides over his wrist, his arm twists under his leg, their gaze absorbs the seemingly empty space of the room.
As I write an image comes to mind: a sculpture by Luisa Kazanas, Untitled (To Reach You). A taxidermied songbird dressed in a resin space suit with a glass helmet waits on the edge of a tree limb. Suspended under a glass dome, the bird and the tree and a small reflecting pool appear otherworldly. Science fiction or muted bird in a strange crystalline world or melancholic elegy turned prosthetic or another metonymic slip?
Exquisitely beautiful and incredibly sad, the silent immobile bird in her pale blue landscape calls out: to escape, to wait, to fly. I am not at all certain and quite suspicious of this shimmering image in my mind. And yet, perhaps it acts as a cipher for virtuosic restraint or a stilled velocity of movement of sound that illuminate some of the many surfaces of poem. An exit and a return participating in what Tere describes as the “braiding of choreographies” so much “powder sprayed on consciousness.”