Throughout the last year and a half, Dances for Solidarity (dancesforsolidarity.org) has had a presence in the prison cells of close to 200 people. While not every single person who receives our dance performs it, many claim to do it regularly and teach it to other prisoners. And then there are those who have created their own movements or variations of our original sequence, translated them to text and mailed them back to us. This material has created this opportunity to take an event that is happening behind prison walls, in segregation cells, and make it visible to an outside audience.
With dancers Ashley Mathus Richard and Jen Roit, I have been developing a solo and a duet that takes this choreography created by people in solitary and allows it to be fully expressed through a professionally trained dancing body. There is no part of this performance that pretends these bodies are incarcerated. We acknowledge they have a freedom that those who created the choreography do not, but we chose to honor their creation with a performance for an audience, creating an energetic bridge between the artists in prison and a gallery-going audience who witnesses their work.
Creating a performance from this material is tricky, and I have spent a lot of time this spring just reading through the DFS letter archive to try and figure out what making a performance with this material looks like or means. I have no desire or intention to make a “documentary performance” but do think creating something that is both a) public and b) embodied is important because so much of the work we are doing is invisible. So many of the people we are corresponding and collaborating with are invisible, locked away in spaces the are segregated in an already segregated space.
In our rehearsal process we worked with this limited movement score and created performance constraints, dancing in limited space and trying to dance in unison without using the visual cues that dancers instinctively use to stay together. As a solo, we played with creating a separation between time and space, having the dancer exist in a different location than the audience. She dances on one side of a wall while the audience witnesses a projection with a time-delayed live stream of her dancing in the performance space. You can hear her sound but cannot see her physical body.
In both the solo and duet versions, the dancers experiment with approaching boredom. The movement score we’ve developed can loop infinitely, and it’s difficult for them to determine when they are “done.” They get to choose to exist the space and be finished with this experience. Our collaborators in solitary never get this choice.