For me, Installment 8 brought up questions about personal thresholds. What compels performers to push thresholds, their own as well as those of the audience? In doing so, are they creating dangerous situations for themselves and for others? What can be gained from witnessing and experiencing this (perceived) danger? Installment 8 opened with a shock (for me at least). For example, within the first minute of Wylin Daigle (dance) and Michael Maricle’s (music) duet, Wylin completed a back handspring into the splits – while wearing socks! My eyes jumped out of my head, and I uttered to myself, “Wait a minute! Did that just happen?” I had no idea that she had formal training in gymnastics. Toward the end of the duet she launched into an aerial, and her head was an inch off the ground. While it was obvious these movements were familiar and known, there was something volatile and slightly unfamiliar in its execution, like it was a part of a past experience that unexpectedly came for a surprise visit even though it spontaneously invited. The charged setting of HERE/NOW summoned this risk. It invited her to push a personal threshold.

In the following duet, Jessie Smith (dance) slid onto stage with a chair in hand, unable to walk because she had an injured left foot. She arrived to the event on crutches, curious about how her limitation would create new possibility. I partially held my breathe while watching Jessie not only push the limitation of her injured ankle but also that of the healthy ankle by letting it constantly give way as if both legs were debilitated. There was a willingness to overcome a perceived fragility. While watching her move I saw a struggle between the desire to explode into a virtuosic physical dance and the real limitation of her ankle injury. James Whetzel (music) accompanied Jessie’s movement on the sarod, an instrument primarily used in classical Indian music. The sarod poignantly highlighted this struggle. It was a cinematic sound weighted and introspective. Incidentally, it exposed and supported the honesty of the dance and internal world of the dancer.

During the fourth duet of the evening, AJ Linder (music) created sound from modular and home-build analog synthesizers at a frequency and amplitude that was both exhilarating and physically uncomfortable. The music was invigorating because it felt all consuming and immersive. I was not so much listening to but feeling it. My chest vibrated; my blood circulation increased; my ears pulsed rapidly. He improvised with Mary Margaret Moore (dance), and as HERE/NOW continuously produces, I found them to be a perfect pairing.
While watching Mary Margaret, I could see her mind explore and work. There was an unusual sync between thinking and physical expression, so much so that I wanted to know what her mind was doing in the same way that I could see the movements of her body. The duet was an experience of loud, penetrating sound and dance imagination. AJ provided the dense electric current that was both a vital impulse and a cumbersome obstacle for Mary Margaret, who curiously navigated through and around this inspiring impediment.

In these ways and more, the HERE/NOW format pushes boundaries. It asks the audience and the participants to confront their ideas on what improvisation is in dance and music. What are these art forms? What are their own beliefs about them? In this process of boundary pushing, change occurs and new possibility emerges. This evening drove me to further this inquiry with a HERE/NOW blog first – a post-performance interview with 2 of the performer/participants, AJ Linder and Jessie Smith. Below, I share excerpts and ideas from of our conversations…

Paige: What attracted you to that sound level in the moment?
AJ: It resonated with me and my emotional state at that moment.  I strive for a strong connection between my internal state and my set of instruments so that what manifests is a good representation of my energized state.

Paige: What do you think is gained by exposing or bringing someone into an uncomfortable place?
AJ: I think our general bias is towards the comfortable, so by bringing discomfort, it is the benefit of exposing ourselves to something “new” in general…something we actively avoid but that we know lurks everywhere potentially.  New experiences promote neuroplasticity and better perspective on so much, even if the context and content of the new experience is difficult.  

Paige:  When the sound becomes so loud and envelops the individual who is creating it and experiencing it, do you think this creates a potential for a transformative experience or an experience closer to the essence of the sound or intention of the artist?
 AJ:  I very much think that loud sound can bring on transformative, transcendent and transpersonal experiences.  Really, what I feel I am doing is creating new, user-defined environments…a set of stimuli that allows the listener to shed some of the usual expectations of how an audio/visual experience can be, which allows for a wider set of reactions or emotions in the listener.

Paige:  Also did you do something unfamiliar at HERE/NOW? I mean, did you surprise yourself in any way? Maybe by thinking about starting with a quiet sound but in the moment, internally and externally the space called for something else?
 AJ:  For my set at HERE/NOW, I had actually practiced and patched up a synthesis performance that was intended to be slowly building, to a firm, enveloping crescendo.  The parameters were variable, allowing for enough randomness and movement for true improvisation.  However, I found myself with a technical issue at the beginning of my set which rendered half of my setup unusable, forcing me to completely improvise while simultaneously troubleshooting.  That lead to a state of frustration on top of what had been hours of building anxious pre-performance energy, and the output was, as I said before, a very honest representation of where I was…but not one that I had necessarily intended to share with everyone that night.

Paige:  I love it! In your performance we actually heard what the experience of HERE/NOW was for you.
AJ:  While on the sidelines of the event, I found myself understanding physical expression in a new way… and oddly enough, there were moments of work by the dancers that resulted in myself feeling uncomfortable.  That experience was heightened dramatically by being in front of the audience and camera for the whole performance. It was an interesting dynamic.

Similar to AJ, Jessie Smith expresses the honesty of her internal landscape through feeling and energy. She is drawn to and strives to place herself in uncomfortable situations in order to generate a unique unexpected outcome and response for herself and for those that watch. She is interested in re-thinking and liberating oppressive ideologies around weakness. For example, in her work Entry by Entrance, she performed while blinded by two devious clowns repeatedly spitting water in her face. In our conversation, she mentioned that she often hears what an inspiring high school teacher once said to her: “Use all those things that you think are your weaknesses as your strengths.” I was curious about what motivated her to perform with an injury, and when doing so why she chose vigorous movement as opposed to stillness. She responded that in her dance training, a dancer performs no matter what. It never really occurred to her that not performing, that surrendering to her pain was an option. She also frankly stated that she finds stillness to be agonizing. She did not want to support a potential notion that an injury is weak. Since redefinition of fragility is important, she chose to explore how to explode even though – no because of – the limitation of her recent injury.

Before HERE/NOW, she had been on a break from creating dance-based work and had been focusing on playing guitar and keyboards with her band “The Gargle Blasters.” She expressed how the break has liberated her from a confining regiment around what dance is. After HERE/NOW, she went to rehearse by herself for the first time in two years.

From both these conversations, I realized more than ever that the HERE/NOW format is itself uncomfortable and creates a heightened listening and responsive state which leads to the creation of a charged and honest experience. This leads to forging new creative territory and a transformative experience.

Amen.