solitude with – charlie ashwell

I am one. One of those. One on one when she looks at me. We have similar tops on. I think her eyes are crying/ sweating a little. I close my eyes. She closes us in. I’m not sure we (humans) can have tears without doing crying. Sweat. Sweating. Dance. Dancing. The darkness closes us in. The day ends. She ends it like a festival. Early. I am finished. She nods. I return. She goes and goes. I close my eyes again. Again she feels her way across the floor.  Notes and tones and clefs and themes and stanzas. Like flute music. Our faces light. We light them and lift them. She bends and bends and bends and I close and open my lids and capture her unawares like SCHLACK, a phone camera. Except it was not her.

There is a habit of talking about dancers having technique; as if technique is something separate from the dancing body; to be possessed. I wonder about doing technique as an alternative approach which is not simply reactionary to tradition and establishment, but acknowledges and moves with those traces; archived, woven through, repeated and changed; danced with and over and on. Technique differing each time it is done. And like this, mightn’t everything change?

I become overwhelmed by looking out for her. Craning vertebrae. I wonder if Deborah Hay’s “turn your fucking head” applies to audiences, too, and experiment accordingly, hoping no one minds or gets distracted or thinks something’s wrong. Performance spaces feel so full of unspoken ritual and etiquette. They need to. I wonder what kind of structure or provocation could release us from them? Very often, I verge on panic attack, in general, in theatre spaces. This is not a theatre space, exactly, although there are chairs in rows, with one long row down the side, which I am sat on and a designated performance space, which she fills. She rolls the blinds all the way down and we are submerged in darkness for a while. It is a relief to be deprived of light and I’m grateful there are no screens.

 The philosopher Elizabeth Grosz writes of ‘thinking as a mode of inadequation of the real’[1]. I like that. How about dancing as a mode of inadequation of the real, as well? Dance as excess; as spilling-over. Dance you cannot work out; perpetually not fitting any system; altering the very terms by which we might try to measure or value or even perceive it. I believe the woman next to me is not a serial contemporary-dance-watcher, although maybe she will become one. She cheers and claps loudly and enthusiastically at the end and immediately proclaims the piece a success.

Is watching choreography meant to give you a sense of satisfaction? And always at the end? I often feel fullest at the beginning. Watching dance seems to break me down, somehow; I often feel I am thinking much less clearly at the end. How might I watch without looking, always, for this sense of fullness; this sense of completion or coherence at the end? I remember a friend, dance artist, Gillie Kleiman’s phrasing of why (or how; I can’t remember) she makes work: to add something in order to change the whole. Dance as addition. And… and… and… and… and… And each audience member another and; and witnessing and clapping and closing eyes and crossing legs and disappearing.

She dances. She teaches. She gifts us the dance that she does. She makes it pretty good. She wraps. HA. She raps nicely. She riffs. Bone. Black. Wood. Applause. I borrow her moves. This dance is our library, hey? Moves we’ve not done. She dances them, many. She dances all there is to dance. I feel digested. Accounted for. Responded to. Cared towards. There is always that moment of crisis when a dancer goes ‘what am I doing with my life?’ She doesn’t do that here. I’ve been trying to think about dance as a mode of criticality and then also a mode of healing, to some extent. What, I’m not sure. Perhaps dance doesn’t heal wounds but airs them; doesn’t bridge gaps but occupies and exceeds them. Dance as magnet; attraction and repulsion. Dance as salt.

I read recently about the paradoxical idea that in solitude, we engage primarily with our peripheral vision – it is softer – more open and receptive to information from others. In company, in the conscious presence of another, the gaze hardens, things form – subjects and objects – and perceptions narrow. Watching another, with others, I try to delay this moment. Solitude in and as community, perhaps. Solitude with.

— Charlie Ashwell, 27 November 2014

[1]  Grosz, Elizabeth. 2005. Time Travels. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, p.74.

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