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Dot Armstrong in conversation with Christine Wyatt, Glenn Potter-Takashi, and Audre Wirtanen

So much has happened in the space between Work Up 6.1 and today. So much that I almost can’t remember a world where I attended performances in person, breathing in the air shared by the people performing and the people beside me. So much that I’m back in Winona, Minnesota, my hometown, looking at New York from a distance far larger than the recommended six feet. Ok. Yes. So much has happened that the world–mine, and yours–is unrecognizable.

But re-examining the words these artists shared with me about the show on March 7, I was struck by the resonance of their work in the liminal fever dream that is our current reality. At this uncanny remove of time and location, the pieces swelled with meaning. The three soloists dealt with the limitations of their bodies, examining rituals and scores and diagnoses. Work Up 6.1 featured Christine Wyatt, Glenn Potter-Takashi, and Audre Wirtanen. I provided the same questions for all three artists, and their interviews will be published separately. 

Christine Wyatt carried a pillow. A literal pillow, in her arms. She came prepared: there would be a great exhaustion. The space was bare and she shaped it to hold her tiredness. Sometimes she moved with such ferocity that she wore herself out. Form, effort, rhythm. Darting limbs struck angles with sharp clarity while ribs and hips jostled a relentless beat. Sometimes she lay down, got comfortable, and listened to the white walls surrounding her–resting in power, she was not quite contained by the structure she inhabited. 

Christine Wyatt byScott Shaw

Christine Wyatt by Scott Shaw

Ti’ed (the solo) 

Choreography: Christine Wyatt
Alternate Performer: Amena Durant
Collaborative Partners: Amena Durant, Cyrah Ward, and the original cast of Ti’ed
Sound Design: an original composition by Christine Wyatt featuring Chet Frierson (tenor saxophone), interviews with Amena Durant, Christina Collins, Beaudau Banks, Dani Cole, Alicia Diaz, and MK Abadoo; NPR interview with Theresa Burroughs, Voting Rights Activist; Poetry and Humming by Christine Wyatt; excerpts from Podcasts: the Dance Union (How Politics Affect the Lives of Dancers with Jay Bouey and Melanie Greene), and Healing Justice (Rest as Reparations with Tricia Hersey of the Nap Ministry); and Fannie Lou Hamer’s testimony before the Credentials Committee at the Democratic National Convention
Lighting Design: Beaudau Banks

Dot Armstrong: Where are you in your process for this performance, for this piece?

Christine Wyatt: Right now I am in the tech process! In this piece, I’m in the process of clarifying exactly how the improvisational structure relates to the specificities of this space: the white box at Gibney. 

DA: How do you think about the Body (your body) as a solo performer? Talk about the states you’re inhabiting, the characters that appear, and/or the modalities you work in to support these explorations.

CW: My thinking about my body is multi-layered: intersectional, if you will. I think about what it means for my black body to be in a literal and figurative white space. I think about my body as a conduit for telling narratives of the present, the past, and also the future. I think about why it is important for a black woman to tell the importance of rest and resistance with her body, considering all the ways black women’s bodies are commodified, sexualized, and dehumanized. In the piece there are moments where I am myself, where I embody the sacredness of Fannie Lou Hamer’s testimony, moments where I feel like a teacher or preacher (mostly because of the voices of my mentors and Tricia Hersey), and moments where I feel like I’m embodying the sentiments of every black woman who has ever been failed by our system and our ways of being in society. 

DA: I’m intrigued by the use of text in all of your works: as a sound score, monologue, narration, and/or backdrop… Tell me more about how you crafted your relationship with text-as-text and text-as-sonic-accompaniment. 

CW: This piece has had about 3 iterations. In the first two versions, Fannie Lou Hamer’s text was the only text that accompanied the piece. Silence, an improvisation by Chet Frierson, and an original score made by Robert Levine also supported the piece. For this new work on myself, I knew it needed to be something different. It needed to say more. I wasn’t interested in abstraction or sound that just supported me moving. In a conversation with our audio descriptor, she said, “…your piece actually supports the text,” and I was really happy she said that. In the beginning of my process, I had a hard time feeling motivated to make anything at all. I desperately wanted to archive my thoughts and feelings in writing. I think creating a score based on text satisfied that desire. 

The score is essentially the thoughts that rush through my brain right before bed. I think about everything I’ve heard, read, and listened to during the day in a sequence that connects it all, so that’s how I designed the score. This was the first time I’ve made such a complex sound score. I crafted it in GarageBand (had to learn that by doing) and I needed it to tell a story about everyday life, ancestral knowledge, and exhaustion as reframed by social, political, and psychological stresses, etc. 

DA: Where is the piece going next? What’s the next stage of the journey?

CW: After I performed it the second night, I envisioned what the piece would look like in a large gallery space, with several solo scores happening at once. I also thought about bridging the solo version and the original work together to make an “evening length” statement. I’m excited: the piece feels like it still has so much life and potential. 

DA: What’s your post-performance process? Or post-process process? What does recovery look like after this showing?

CW: This is an interesting question. Physically, recovery looks like wine, community with folks, hugs and cuddling (with humans or animals), and sleep. Intellectually and artistically, the post-process involves archiving the external journeys in making the work, reflecting on the internal thought-journey inside the work, and assembling materials to contextualize this piece for the next person/people who do it. I think this piece is unique from all the other ones because doing it feels like a recovery/healing process for this crazy world we live in. 

Christine Wyatt by Scott Shaw

Glenn Potter-Takata morphed and shape-shifted and embodied monsters. He warped the fabric of history, inviting multi-layered characters to dwell within and beside him. Conduit and conjurer and projection screen, he was a deity among deities–an interlocutor, offering his whole body to the task of translating fiction into reality and back. He moved slowly, as if assembling many small pieces into a mythic form halfway between human and creature. Narrating personal histories and lip-synching movie scenes to craft a patchwork legend, he met himself, over and over again.

POSTWAR A SCI-FI LOVE RAGE

Creator and Performer: Glenn Potter-Takata a.k.a. GORN
Video and Sound Design: gorno gorno gorno
Lighting Design: Anthony Fernandez

Dot Armstrong: Where are you in your process for this performance, for this piece?

Glenn Potter-Takata: postwar was initially developed as a part of my MFA thesis portfolio at Sarah Lawrence College.  I would say that I’ve been working on it on and off for about two years now.  It’s funny to think that the version I performed at Gibney is more “done” or developed than the Sarah Lawrence version, because the Gibney version is about twenty-two minutes long and the Sarah Lawrence version was closer to forty.  

DA: How do you think about the body (your body?) as a solo performer?

Talk about the states you’re inhabiting, the characters that appear, and/or the modalities you work in to support these explorations.

GP-T: Oh, man. Yeah. I think the baseline for this performance, and for pretty much anything I do, is that it is the people performing who are performing it. Like, the performance is built for these specific people. I don’t know that this particular performance would necessarily mean the same thing outside of the context of my body and where it lands in the trajectory of my family history.  That’s sort of where I started with the piece, connecting my specific body to something outside of myself: in this case, the movie Gojira (1954). For me, it’s been about connecting a personal micro-experience to something that exists on a mass-media or macro scale.

I do layer a few characters on top myself throughout the piece.  At one point I “become” some kind of kaiju, or giant monster, and later I become the Dr. Serizawa character from Gojira.  He’s the person that ends up (spoiler alert) killing Godzilla at the end of the movie. I did this through body-syncing my live body with projected video. For the kaiju character I made a video of me wearing this kaiju costume that I created out of plastic bottles, then body-syncing my live self with the dance I do in the video. I do a similar thing with a clip of the Serizawa character from Gojira. It was sort of inspired by Trisha Brown, The Wooster Group, and Rocky Horror Picture Show shadow casts.

The structure I used for shifting between characters is based on a Shingon Buddhist transformation ritual where the practitioner becomes a bodhisattva. In this particular practice, you become a bodhisattva through a layered meditation practice. First you meditate on and become the kanji that represents the bodhisattva, then you become the Sanskrit character for the bodhisattva, then you finally come to embody the bodhisattva. It was very important to me that I became the Dr. Serizawa character after the Godzilla/kaiju character. I feel like the intention behind it is totally opaque, but that order of things was really important to me.

DA: I’m intrigued by the use of text in all of your works: as sound score, monologue, narration, and/or backdrop… Tell me more about how you crafted your relationship with text-as-text and text-as-sonic-accompaniment.

GP-T: I have a complicated relationship with the use of text in performance, or at least use of spoken text. Whenever I use spoken text in performance, I always think about how and why I want to do it, and then I cringe a little. What is the text communicating and how is it doing that? Is there a character? Is it disseminating information? Exposition? I’ve always wanted to do something like a lecture-format in a piece, and I try it out with a video-essay lecture that I deliver to a Godzilla toy. I’ve received a lot of feedback about certain parts of the piece coming off as very opaque, and I realize that there are things that come off as clear to me, but wouldn’t necessarily land with someone outside of my specific cultural racial geographic temporal experience.  Sometimes you just have to say something, you know?

There’s also this dialogue between a Godzilla-priesthood version of myself and Godzilla. That’s my mother’s favorite part (ha). I saw this as an opportunity to reference some of the material that I’m working with, both in terms of historical material and my family history. I would say that the piece as a whole is a response to my family’s time incarcerated in Japanese internment camps during World War II. While I do end up directly addressing the topic, it’s much more fun for me to talk around things and view things from a sideways perspective.

DA: Where is the piece going next? What’s the next stage of the journey?

GP-T: Moving forward, I think I want the piece to grow into something more like an evening-length performance, though I don’t know that I’ll put back anything that I cut from the forty-minute version I did for my thesis portfolio. I say that now, but I could totally see myself sifting through my performance garbage for material. We’ll see what happens. I hope I continue with it.

DA: What’s your post-performance process? Or post-process process? What does recovery look like after this showing?

GP-T: It’s been great to go back into this material, but it’ll be good to sleep again. A beer wouldn’t hurt either.

Was she a doctor writing prescriptions, a patient on an examination table, or a sexy nurse peeling off her scrubs? Who took the stage: was it Vanna White, all tits and legs and ass, hoisting a folder of fraudulent medical records, or was it some scientist blowhard pontificating on the benefits and limits of hypermobile femme bodies? Or was it Audre herself, searching for a sustainable way to move through space that won’t hurt her further? Audre Wirtanen slid in and out of character to give us the truth. She spun on a doctor’s rolling stool, fluidly covering ground. She dismantled the patriarchy–for science. For your own good.

DX ME FIX ME 

Choreography and Performance: Audre Wirtanen
Sound: Toro Y Moi, Lil Wayne feat. The Dream
Lighting Design: Shana Crawford
Audio Describer: Michelle Mantione
ASL Interpreters: Andria Alefhi and Zulay Maldonado

Dot Armstrong: Where are you in your process for this performance, for this piece?

Audre Wirtanen: I am in the process of showing it to an audience for the first time. This performance is not its final iteration. Although the work may seem like it has fullness, I don’t think it includes everything I want to try, research, and/or introduce.

DA:  How do you think about the body (your body?) as solo performers? 

Talk about the states you’re inhabiting, the characters that appear, and/or the modalities you work in to support these explorations. 

AW: I think about disability and illness, exploitation of bodies, and body value systems both intrinsic and extrinsic. 

I think about the way I have experienced the objectification and commoditized value of my body in society, and how my experience of my body does and does not align with its perceived value. For example, as a white-cis/femme/thin/Hypermobile/Chronically-Ill/Disabled person, I have been valued primarily for other people’s pleasure: aesthetic hypermobile exploitation in dance and somatics, sexualization of femme-ness, of illness (when I am at my lowest weight due to a flare in my condition, I am most often complemented on my body). My privilege allows me to exist in many places, although my needs are frequently ignored because they go against my value to others and “I don’t look sick;” therefore, I am being too much or too intense or too… (insert whatever I am supposed to be here). 

I think about taking care of myself physically in the work so I don’t dislocate or subluxate joints. But I also think about my limits and perceived “abilities.” Hypermobility (greater than normal range of motion) is seen as very beautiful in many dance forms. I play with that perspective and make it look ugly. In some moments, it feels ugly too. I want people to see my flexibility while I am talking about Ableism and eugenics (the philosophy at the turn of the 20th century that most Western body-based practices were founded in), through the narrative of misdiagnoses and attempts to manage illness toward quality-of-life care. This highlights an interesting dichotomy that all of my work revolves around: widespread hypermobility has been selected for and exploited in dance, and widespread hypermobility-related conditions/illnesses/disabilities have been medically ignored because flexibility is prized. Flexibility is viewed as peak performance, but that flexibility is probably due to genetic inheritance patterns related to the construction of connective tissues.

I have a connective tissue disorder that was once thought of as rare: it’s related to a slew of debilitating symptoms, and is now much more common than originally thought (i.e. medical practitioners are finally realizing that maybe this is something that shouldn’t be ignored anymore). My diagnosis is hugely political in the medical field because it requires medicine to realize it has wholly failed this population and understand it needs to see and treat people differently. So, what I am doing when talking about eugenics and Ableism while being hyper-flexible is wildly political (but I might be the only person who knows it) because people value flexibility so much and use it to dismiss the realities of living in my body even though the hypermobility physiologically relates to all of my symptoms.

Singing in this work gives me moments to feel and love and cherish and trust and ground myself.

In response to inaccessibility, I inhabit the people who have barred me access, who have told me what my value is and is not, the people who accused me of making up my mistreatment, condition, and true existence in my body. I inhabit the physicians who have made their marks on my chart in a way that will never allow me to receive help from social services. I have written notes from those experiences that I draw from. Everything I say and do actually happened. My embodiment of the characters is more related to their mannerisms I remember and how they stood out in relation to what they were saying to me.I inhabit the world of elitist somatics (body awareness practices) that has also physically harmed me and exploited my hypermobility and vulnerability. When I read from the book I am the person I have heard read that book as truth: that disability is our entire fault and it must be eliminated. When I am upside down turning slowly on the stool I am a very specific person’s internal dialogue- I am the Alexander Technique guru’s internal strife related to their internalized Ableism and treatment of themselves. I am telling someone else they are delusional, but in fact I, the somatic guru, am delusional. I am the one who will never be happy because my idea of fixing someone will never work. I also inhabit femme characters that Western media consumers recognize as people who relay information- like a cute, happy nurse who reads medical records or Vanna White reciting scientific information. The world listens to naked femmes, and to femmes who reproduce and serve patriarchal norms. I am also myself at the same time, changing tone to reveal the way I actually feel, adding humor and cadence to shift things around while I  become the person who says the information or receives it or is defensive to it being wrong.

My work in science is the most informative for me. This piece is a thesis argument. It is my clap-back, if you will. I subvert the scientific method by selecting biased publications and reciting their lines to provide evidence for their lack of scientific grounds. I know science and medicine so well that I am a neuroscientist, and I want to expose science to its own errors. I am tired of watching scientists and medical professionals take zero accountability for the harm they do to whole populations. At the same time, I highly value science and medicine as resources and forms of progressing care. I am not an anti-vaxxer, but I also think we need to hold people around us in the industry accountable.

The set is really important. The stool has a lot of meaning (as the doctor’s chair), but it also allows me to dance in challenging ways that have a lower risk of injury. It creates access for me on stage. My medical records are on 12 clipboards that summarize 2 years of searching for medical treatment and acknowledgement in NYC. However, I should have been diagnosed when I was 11 or 12. I am now 25. 

DA: I’m intrigued by the use of text in all of your works: as sound score, monologue, narration, and/or backdrop… Tell me more about how you crafted your relationship with text-as-text and text-as-sonic-accompaniment.

AW: The text is the work. The movement and embodiment supports it. The text is what communicates my argument. The PDF I wrote that I hand out at the end is necessary and vital for the work. A lot of people who watch the work feel bad for me and think that this is my way of coping with or processing my experiences. They try to give me advice even though they have no understanding of who I am. This is a common ableist response, and it’s why I made the handout. I was tired of hearing those responses.

However, this piece is just the beginning of what I have to say. Ultimately, my work is about creating disability access, awareness, and inclusion in my respective fields. The work is not for me. It isn’t really about me. It’s educational. And I objectified and sexualized myself to communicate that the problem begins with the commodification of bodies seen as “less than.”

So I guess in multiple ways I take the “norm” (objectification/media consumption/value of femme, sick bodies) and use it to tell a different story, to reveal a lived experience of these values we hold so near and dear. The way I crafted this work is by living it, and feeling like no one was willing to educate themselves about ableist situations like mine. So I decided to educate them.

DA: Where is the piece going next? What’s the next stage of the journey?

AW: This piece will be performed more. I think it will be extended; I think it would be good on a split bill or on its own. I have plenty of things to fill time that I think are important and need the space in performance.

DA: What’s your post-performance process? Or post-process process? What does recovery look like after this showing? 

AW: My post performance process was sleeping for 3 days. I have not moved this much in years, and I have to recover from pushing myself so hard. Additionally, this piece is emotionally taxing, and I don’t think I have allowed myself to feel the joy of it yet. It’s hard because I love this piece so much. I want to share it with the world. But I also need to let it drip out of me so I can feel the post-joy and be proud of myself. Oh my, thanks for reading. Thank you for your questions.



This post first appeared on Culturebot – Maximum Performance, please read the originial post: here

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Dot Armstrong in conversation with Christine Wyatt, Glenn Potter-Takashi, and Audre Wirtanen

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