This is a study on identity, as it is expressed in the skeleton. The bones of a dancer, trained in ballet, seem to retain the information forever. There is a grief and a gratitude to this - a feeling that the body isn’t simply one’s own but an amalgam of training (some of which might’ve come from the mouth of an abusive teacher). The information revealed comes by way of an experience of friendship between two dancers- one is 29.5 years old, and the other is 58 years old.
The practice of shaking for a predetermined duration comes from Meg Stuart’s book Are We Here Yet? I was on residency at Performing Arts Forum in St. Erme, France and found this task feasible as something accessible and potentially joyful to offer the community. I wrote an announcement for the event on the chalkboard that I’d be shaking for 30 minutes in the studio starting at 10:30. There’d be music. No not-shaking.
At 10:30 I started the music and the timer, and began to quake. A few people joined for different amounts of time. We laughed and shook our bodies. Someone asked if I wouldn’t like to stop early and join her for a yoga session, wondering why I’d want to keep shaking excessively.
When the timer went off, I predicted I’d need 30 minutes of rest as a counteraction. After 30, then 40, then 50 minutes passed, I decided to do some reading and found that my eyes could not see the words on the page. Something inside was really really shaken up and required time to settle. I felt upset. I felt changed. I felt ill-at-ease with my griefs and dissatisfactions. I took a walk and then probably stared at my phone a few hours.
The next day I was in the communal kitchen making banana bread when Thelma entered the room. She and I had noticed each other before, sharing silence together with occasional eye contact and toothless grins across the table together at different moments during the past week. She was there at the residency with her young stepson and I was consumed in my own affairs. She noticed what I was making and enthusiastically decided that she too would make a banana bread, parallel to mine. Her stepson loves banana cake and she wanted to comfort him, the only young person at this adult residency center. Together we participated in this kitchen choreography - me, squinting, estimating the metric system measurements; her, yelling from the pantry asking where I’d found such and such ingredient. We decided mine would have walnuts and hers would not.
We closed the door and shook together for 30 minutes. Without music, we were in silence, except for when we shook our vocal chords or when our shaking made sound rattling against the surface of the space. We communicated clearly that this could be generative for both of us, and she proposed that we periodically film each other in slow motion throughout, all while continuing to shake. It was deeply amazing.
When you clean a rug outside, slamming it up and down, the dust particles float in the air. They are visible in a ray of sunlight, rearranging, eventually to settle again, but slowly, and changed. The rearrangement is so powerful, so disruptive. We, two dancers with our training in our bones, had an experience of obliteration. We were without reference and for a moment, we got a glimmer of ourselves.
I am sipping coffee. It’s sitting in for love or life purpose or death or something. If I were piled high with heavy pillows, very warm, very moisturized, I perhaps wouldn’t seek the coffee. She speaks about clothing and about going in nature and about adorning the body with what you find. Dressing one another without mirrors. She puts a baking tin on her shoulder and her hand in a measuring cup as she speaks. We are making banana bread - me first, but then she decided to, too. She has a stepson who loves banana cake, she says. She remembers once she’s started making it that it’s her other son’s thirtieth birthday. I reveal soon it’ll be my thirtieth birthday. We dance together in the pantry. The oven is in the pantry. It feels tiring but healthy, talking with her. I feel my life will be beautiful in retrospect talking with her.
Thelma and Me, Shaking
to shake for thirty minutes in a room
with the door closed
the life particles float loose in the air
it is disturbing they are disturbed
they settle different
in cowering thanks
the body reconfigures the eyes can’t see straight the words are honest too honest the rest takes longer than anticipated