different ears – guadalupe núñez-fernández

I walked into the room. We were the first – but the space ahead of us was inviting. Shiny wooden floor, white walls, large open sash windows onto street full of late summer, early evening noises. Beyond a few short rows of seats there was a long string of single chairs along another wall, slightly raised, like a single high school gym bleacher slightly looking down on the ground.

Perhaps it would be a little intimidating, to be so close to the performance; would we need to be part of it? Would we feel trapped? Against those unvoiced worries we instinctively decided to sit on the thin row, the strange pier of chairs.

The lights went low, and as they became dimmer the first movements started, on the ceiling. Darting, expressionistic shadows from another space were soon identifiable as someone’s actions, but spooky for a while; it felt like we were snooping very briefly and unexpectedly on something slightly claustrophobic going on behind the scenes, as if by candlelight.

A woman walked from behind the screen, and I can’t remember how it started but she was suddenly all I could look at. There was sound, but she was moving as if dancing to the music in her head, or with an invisible companion – not chasing her own shade but playing along with it. The movements were fluid and athletic, mesmerizing in their control. Until there was a turn, or a rhythm change, something that went from vertical to horizontal, or from slow to fast, or vice versa.

Maybe the ‘shade’ was her too, her from the outside, a kind of self-awareness made more vivid by our presence. I felt like her movements were flowing with determined gestures in unpredictable patterns, but in confluence with our gazes, sometimes so close, and just as aware of us as we were of her. Her occasional chin nods and other formulas, like something out of a Beijing opera or courtly dance, were recognizable after a little while, and strangely comforting.

I wondered what was prompting her from motion to motion, and from scene to scene, because her movement had pattern to it, punctuation, a continuum of beginnings, middles, ends, always beginning again. It felt new each time, unrehearsed, like breathing can be, each breath different than the one before – not assumed or taken for granted. Improvised somehow, though always ongoing.

To me, her dancing felt like a form of meditation, both for herself and for the group, as she moved through the room and at once closed the windows, rolled down the blinds, made the place smaller and turned down the sound; as she walked to the edges of the space and found places, as if they hadn’t existed before; and as her breathing became something we could all experience a lot more closely. Its pace and the way it seemed to go behind and along all her movement was a mirror to all our darting thoughts. It wasn’t awkward, self-conscious or intimidating in any way. It was enrapturing.

I’ve been listening to my neighbours’ music with different ears since, whether it’s loud Eurotrash or Albanian folk, I’ve been remembering Chisato Ohno’s near silent dance and meditating as I listen to the breath under the floorboards.

– Guadalupe Núñez-Fernández, 13 October 2014

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