June 25, 2011
Life has its own way of teaching process and projects have their way of deciding the time they will need to manifest themselves. Indeed, when, in 2006, we were talking about embarking on making a piece about environmental justice, little did we realize that we had just landed on the tip of an iceberg! That one year of working in collaboration with environmental justice advocates transformed our creative process and allowed us to realize the urgent need for sustained artistic inquiry into these deep issues inside human lives.
So, what began as one piece in 2006 became a three-year trilogy about different facets of environmental justice, and what we learned in those three years, the questions we learned to ask, the hidden “footprints” and silenced human costs we learned to watch out for, have become part of our research and creative process forever.
These learnings carried us into the next project. I had already learned that in order for artistic work to create a ground swell of questions—which undergirds the social justice work in our creative process—we have to engage with the questions of injustice over a length of time, so that we are immersed in a sustained inquiry without looking to produce answers, so that we have the time to imagine the pain and loss as well as the resistance and alternative perspectives.
The focus on violence on women also reconnected me with some of my earliest work as a choreographer, but now I am able to connect specific issues of violence with larger systemic violences. So the anti-violence quartet which we launched in 2010 works through stories of lives of women through four naturally occurring elements that have been harnessed as capital in ways that have resulted in tremendous violence on women across the world, particularly in global communities of color: land, gold, oil, and water. It seems, as we are progressing in our research, both scholarly and creative, that we are ultimately etching the meta-story of how different forms of violence have dogged women’s lives through time. Yet so often, we have failed to mark them as violence. And so often, these are stories hidden, stories that have slipped through the cracks of “important” stories and news items, stories that have to be re-imagined from fact and emotional connections.
As we are working on understanding how gold has worked in our lives, I am realizing that this is a very different project than last year’s, when we worked on land. The element we focused on last year was mud, land that sticks to skin, and we traced stories of displacement, exile, dislocation, replacement, and home. This year we are figuring out how stories of loving gifts of gold rings sit side by side with dowry deaths in India, the murder of anti-mining activists in Papua New Guinea intersects with the gold rush that partially fueled the apartheid regime in South Africa, how the mercury pollution of drinking water from artisanal gold mining in Colombia contests the valuation of incredible craftsmanship with gold across so many cultures, and how the inherent invaluable properties of gold makes it indispensable for use in electronic equipment that so many of us use daily, and that ultimately makes us all complicit with the violence that recurs in sites apparently far away from us. The dancers are asking: we find gold beautiful, we desire gold jewelry, but how do we account for the blood on that gold?
In asking these complex questions, I am working with amazing collaborators: the dancers of course, each of who brings powerful perspectives and artistry into the room, and the brilliant Laurie Carlos, who keeps on pushing us towards the more risky yet necessary artistic choices. The brilliant score that Laurie has been producing with composer and instrumentalist Greg Schutte, vocalist and instrumentalist Mankwe Ndosi, and vocalist Pooja Goswami Pavan, has brought ADT’s work to another dimension. As a range of cultural influences cross in and out of each other in the score, often dynamically coming together, sometimes pulling away from each other, brings alive one of the concepts I have treasured most in working with ADT’s fierce women: that these women are from somewhere specific culturally and politically, but they are also from nowhere and everywhere, they are women of the world, different yet able to dance together. They are women who are able share space and share artistry, but they do not look or dance the same. These are the most likely truth-tellers of these stories we are trying to dance, the griots that will carry us towards making different histories, imagining different possibilities for women…
I am excited to be working on Tushaanal, fires of dry grass, fires that are not high, but are persistent, spreading quickly and difficult to put out. In my mind, Tushaanal is also the fire of an inconsolable affliction. Indeed, when I think about the number of women who lose their lives, who are stuck in loss and pain, because of this continuing circle of violence, I am filled with tremendous grief and rage. I am channeling all of this emotion into the choreographic process, and hoping that Tushaanal can convey the multiple, contesting, emotions that make this fire golden.