2-9 December 2014 , The Substation
Direction / Choreography / performance: Nat Cursio + Shannon Bott | Direction / Choreography: Simon Ellis | Light: Ben Cobham – Bluebottle | Sound: Byron Scullin
Contributors to research phases: Pete Brundle, Fiona Bryant, Benjamin Cisterne, Paula Levis, Vanessa Chapple
The other evening I attended a performance, Recovery. In the words of its’ creators Nat Cursio and Shannon Bott, Recovery is dance, ceremony, gathering and living. I was particularly keen to be at this performance due to past collaborations with Nat Cursio, my involvement in one development phase of this work during 2011 and my own persisting interest in the area of loss and ceremony.
Recovery began six years ago following untimely deaths in each of our families. We initially sought to grab grief by the scruff of its neck and drag it into the now of performance.
Six years on, following a slow-burn process, Recovery is a dance seeking to question and represent the edges of the human capacity to cope, to keep going, to suffer and to imagine that everything is or isn’t OK. Recovery considers how we travel through life in an ‘aftermath’, gathering its audience to see two women coping and living.
We are engaged in a delicate duel with time – between then, soon and now. Every time death comes to others, and we are spared, we can say “I am still here”, and in that stillness, here, we are dancing.
Recovery turns out to be a seizing experience that touches and moves me in a way I had forgotten or perhaps lost hope that live dance performance could do.
“ We are dying. We think we are not. This is a good argument for giving up thinking. Spend one night a week in candlelight.
Deborah Hay, my body, the budhist, (Wesleyan University Press, 2000), 1.
We are asked to wear black and arrive on time. Two prompts that usually go unspoken because they are implicit in the scenario of a (real) funeral.
The performance has begun as we enter the large upstairs space at the Substation. As requested we gather around Nat and Shannon who are connected in an organic, breathing, morphing form. They too are wearing black. The natural lighting sets the tone aptly. The sun is gone and as yet it is not dark. There are no lights on. It is a little too dim to be without lights and this reminds me of the way a grieving person might sit in the dim, neglecting to turn the lights on and draw the blinds at sundown. In grief, certain cues become less certain or no longer register in the way they normally do.
There is a brief, awkward moment as Nat and Shannon ‘break’ to offer the small group of us a silent welcome with their eyes. It is not unlike how I have experienced meeting family and friends at a funeral. What to say, what to do and how to be all become strangely unknown and leaves one floundering. Fortunately Shannon interrupts to invite us to move downstairs. We follow gently and in single file to enter a basement space. The space turns out to be perfect for the performance that ensues and is evidence of Nat’s residency at the Substation during which she has explored the many formal and informal spaces within the large building.
Upon reflection I really appreciate the short but clear invitation/ explanation spoken at this point by Nat and Shannon. We are all seated and in duet they verbalize something along the lines of, “when we began this process we both experienced significant loss so this is what this work is about… It is also about living which is why we need you here…”
Generally in dance I feel we steer away from working with straightforward subjects and engaging exact explanations either written or spoken. I certainly do. Making a work that is about recovery and which so holds the territory of death, loss, grief, life, strikes me as both rare and courageous. Such directness can be limiting both for the artists and for the audience. And yet in this instance it is nothing other than rich. I am particularly fascinated by how the handling of the territory of recovery here echoes the way that we tend to cope with and respond to loss – with detachment, clear statements and actions, nothing too poetic or involved. This helps us cope and to keep going.
Here in the basement we view the majority of Recovery looking through a patterned, metal shim. In a room usually used for ‘art stuff storage’, Nat and Shannon move through a generous series of images or physical sketches. There is little sense of striving for smooth coherence between each part and rather trust in what is being collectively distilled. For each of us. For all of us.
A combination of (live) bodily and (recorded) electronic sounds and rhythms conjure a sense of the medical involvement in sickness and death, the frailty of the human being and the dependence upon mechanical means in ones final moments.
Music in the form of David Bowie’s ‘Changes’ has an abrupt entry, holds an awkward place and wonderfully conveys a sense of honoring xxxx. It too serves rather humorously as a reminder of the one constant in our lives – change.
There are images of life and of a being human; holding hands, washing dishes, getting dressed, dancing and embracing one another. Energetically things are stirred and shifted with head banging, pushing on the walls, dropping crockery, abruptly exiting and entering, and incessant jumping/pulsing. One can’t help but feel this expulsion of things is healing for Nat and Shannon and for each of us who witness.
It is as the final images (literally) tumble toward us that I find myself choked up, tears threatening to escape. Nat and Shannon alternatively tumble and crash into the metal screen, and in doing so convey a disturbing feeling of brokenness and anger. As Nat adheres magnetic speakers to points correlating with Shannon’s lifeless body I can’t help but recall the story of Nat’s loss. I feel for her and for Shannon and the losses present in this group.
“At the heart of heuristics lies and emphasis on disclosing the self as a way of facilitating disclosure from others – a response to the tacit dimensions within oneself sparks a similar call from others”
Douglas, B. & and Moustakas, C, “Heuristic inquiry: the internal search to know,” Journal of Humanistic Psychology 25 (1985): 39-55.
A final journey out of the basement (and the performance) into drinks upstairs provides an easeful way back into life and functions in much the same way tea and sandwiches do at a wake. The stories flow too, and suggest a space had been created for each of us to take a little step further in our recovery. Recovery is a noun used to describe a process of recovering, the regaining of something lost or taken away, a restoration or return. It is a process whose beginning and end, whose very nature is not so easily definable. Recovery is an offering in this spirit, an expansion of two individual losses toward a shared acknowledgement of an aspect of our lives so present and yet largely unexpressed.