Festival of Light

Festival of Light

Shoulder to shoulder, we looked up to the brick face of the Manhattan Bridge. Shapes bounced off in varying degrees of color and light, growing and expanding with each installation. A giant ball of equations grew past the boundaries marked by the bridges’ walls, and several columns of white beams shot skyward to an endless darkness above.

Dumbo, Brooklyn was transformed into a playground of color for the first annual New York Festival of Light last weekend. I felt a childish wonder gazing upon all the installations, and the creativity. Though crowded, I felt at ease in this community, taken in by the art and excitement of a new experience, and the shared energy and appreciation for the event.

We followed the masses into the Manhattan Bridge tunnel for a show, creeping slowly, herd-like, to replace the large crowd that had just been there. It was body to body and all heads turned towards a small stage.

Standing on the stage, motionless, was a man dressed in a full-body suit of reflective squares. Every inch was covered by small mirrors, from toe to finger to head, and he stood, feet placed in parallel, hip distance apart, fully still.

The music began, and lights turned to shine onto his suit. I could see his breath leaving the fabric in small puffs of steam rising from his metallic face, creating a halo of illuminated air. He slowly raised his arms, moving deliberately, mindfully, as beams of light shot out from every orifice. From his center, lines of white grew in every direction, beginning thin, and growing with intensity. As he made his way to face upstage, turning on his axis, the lights changed and he had a sea of stars in front of him. He gently shook, and the lights bounced off the back wall, the brick, and the ceiling of the tunnel, as though he controlled the very cosmos he had created.

Returning to his front, the lights intensified to create a blinding white shape, encasing him, glowing like a pillar, and the question arose in me:
Was the light coming from him or being reflected?

What is our inner light?

What do we receive that nourishes us and how does that manifest in our energy?

I’ve experienced the visualization of a “light bath”, closing my eyes while seated, and seen a light pouring over me, my shoulders relaxing, and my breath slowing.  I have felt this energy through the top of my head and allowed it down my spine, into my feet.

I have also felt my heart beating, and heat rising, emanating out of me from within.  I’ve visualized a “ball of light”, under my hand at my belly and felt it grow with each breath until it has covered me, forming a beautiful protective ball with the tiniest holes so that only what serves me can pass through.

In both, there has been a connection to a source of light, whether external or internal, but both have processed through my body and resulted in the simple power of trust. Trust that I have everything I need, and this is a reminder I come back to again and again.  Lightness has a pair, and it is easy to forget in the dark that one doesn’t exist without the other.  Even more so, what we emit can affect those around us.  When the choice is before us, what do we connect to?

I had the joy of dancing in a fabulous video project called “Public Displays”, under the direction of Mike Kirsch.  It was shot on the Upper West Side, with six men and six women, and was based on the simple belief, “Everyone should hold hands with the one they love.” The tone was playful, and the music infectious, but the message was powerful.

In offering the visual of kissing, holding hands, and being public about this, lines disappear around gender, and relationship bias.  Quite simply, the statement is human, and the ability to be in public and show affection with whoever you want is the gift, and a commonality we can all share.

When I picture the beams of light surrounding the performer on the stage under the Manhattan Bridge, or I feel my palms pressing into my fellow dancers’ hands around Riverside Park, I remember sitting and feeling my heart and the growing warmth of my belly.

Art can be an incredible vehicle, expressing our depths, and our stories.  It can expand off a brick facade, or move people to action through dance. We can embrace, and we can offer, all under the same glorious light that flows from within and from all around. While there have been many names under this definition, I think I’ll keep it simple, as I raise my arms or wrap my fingers in kind:

Love.

IMG_3386

Palms Up, Palms Down

Kontakthof program

A lone woman walks directly downstage center. The lights reflect off her blond hair and pink evening dress, made for dancing. She walks forward on black heels, slowly and purposefully.

She stops, feet together, facing the audience and runs her hands slowly through her hair from front to back in a smoothing motion, and then flashes a giant smile once her arms are again by her side. The smile leaves as quickly as it appeared, and she turns to profile, contracting her chest in and expanding out in opposition.

She returns to a neutral front and offers her hands forward, palms facing up, then closing downward. She takes one last look forward, and then returns to her seat directly upstage, as quietly as she began.

Each dancer in turn repeats this ritual, some in isolation, and others walking forward in lines. One by one, group by group, they each present themselves.

 

Piña Bausch, widely known as one of the most significant choreographers of our time, was appointed director of dance for the Wuppertal theaters in 1973. She went on to create a melding of dance and theatre that included spoken word, gesture, song, and sound. The sounds were guttural, short, and sometimes as simple as laughter or intense sobbing. At their core, they were human, and presented an art form that revolutionized the concert dance landscape, influencing and inspiring choreographers for years to come.

Piña’s work centered on the need for love, intimacy, and emotional security. She used a company of international performers and investigated what brings humans closer, and what pulls us apart. She didn’t aim to teach, but instead generate experiences on stage as an offering on all levels from gentle to confrontational to absurd.

“Hers is a world theatre….it creates driven, moving images of inner landscapes, exploring the precise state of human feelings while never giving up hope that the longing for love can one day be met. She created an ouevre which casts an unerring gaze at reality, while simultaneously giving us the courage to be true to our own wishes and desires.” – Norbert Servos

 

Kontakthof, her full evening work that originally premiered in December of 1978, was my first experience of Piña’s work. I have been wanting to see her choreography for years, so as soon as I knew her company was coming to Brooklyn Academy of Music, I set the dates aside, and asked my friend Ali to come along.

As a choreographer and dancer, I love the blurred line between mediums, and have been very drawn to work that crosses over between spoken word, projections, and added elements to dance.

The piece was set entirely on a social dance floor. There was even a raised curtained stage in the back, giving the nostalgic impression of a high school auditorium. Dark wooden chairs lined the upstage and the stage right. In the upstage left corner, an upright piano had been moved to the side. A giant rectangle was left to dance in, and the adults were dressed in suits and evening wear, sitting upright in their individual chairs with eyes gazing forward.

Their dance was with each other, to repeated music from European time gone by, and it varied on all levels of courtship and desire. The couples were frantic, stand-offish, doting, attached, competitive, bored, and scared. And yet, they kept coming back to dance. They came in solos, pairs, stark diagonal lines from a doorway upstage left, and morphing shapes moving about, changing partners rapidly.

I related to my own dances, my movements towards connection and love. The dances that have been slow and sweet, and the dances around pain, competition, and rejection. Each one has been a lesson, and some were repeated many times before I realized I was stepping on my partners toes or deliberately injuring my own back with over compensation or odd angles. And there have been dances with phantom shapes, my past and demons, resulting in a solo spotlight; hands reaching out to empty space, grasping at the air with outstretched fingers.

But, the memory of the slow communal dance has brought me back to the floor again and again. There is a felt sense of synchronicity, and I aspire for that hand resting gently as our feet move in time. I knew it well for a long time and I have faith in its simple power.

At one point, the entire company was lined up downstage, each sitting in their individual chair having a conversation in their native language directly to the audience. Chinese, Japanese, German, English, Spanish and Russian all rose in a light cacophony of story telling. One lone man with a microphone slowly made his way down the line, allowing us to hear clearly a section of each personal story. Every dancer was speaking about an experience in relationship, whether a date or moment. They ranged from moments of absurdity to fear to sadness to hilarity, and the common bond was sharing in hopes of understanding. They were reaching out for community, and the audience was rapt, laughing to the humor and taking in the sadness with silence.  Once the microphone made its way to the end, they all stopped talking, grabbed their chairs, and proceeded back upstage to form the open rectangle of the dance floor yet again.

 

And so we dance. In circles, in pairs, in lines, and alone. Do we know who we are dancing with, and do we know who we are, in that dance?

IMG_3663