Stillness & Equality / or how slavery in Louisiana and in The Netherlands, the ‘deep story’ and learning to listen relate to my dances

Since i was a teenager i have been drawn to the work of African American writers and poets. Among them are Alice Walker, Maya Angelou, Zora Neale Hurston, James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, Audre Lorde, Bell Hooks and Martin Luther King, and more recently john a. powell. In my forties i learned about this book that i consider one of the most important books i’ve read, one i felt i always had wished to find: Begging To Be Black, by South-African writer, poet Antjie Krog. 

I just returned from a short music tour in the south of the USA, mostly spending time in beautiful New Orleans, Louisiana. Last year there were demonstrations around the left overs, the pedestals of (removed) statues of confederate leaders, with confederate flags and Trump supporters flags side by side. This time i had more time to be in New Orleans and i learned more about the city as a port for slaves to come into the USA in the 18th century, and the still so strong resonances of the history in New Orleans today. A friend and local New Orleanean, took me to visit a plantation, the Whitney Plantation, along the Mississippi River. At this particular plantation the emphasis is on the lives and suffering of the former slaves, other than on the wealth and the big house of the plantation owner, which most of the other plantations seem to focus on. I was surprised to hear this last fact. Maybe i shouldn’t be. But it’s 2018.

In the 1930s the Federal Writer’s Project was set up, gathering the oral testimony of formal slaves. Most of the interviews were done by white men, possibly limiting the kind of information that was shared. The people interviewed were very old by then but many remembered in detail. Incredible also that many lived to be a hundred as the average age of slaves was about 35 before the (official) end of slavery in 1865, if i remember well from what the guide told us.

Two examples of books with interviews with former slaves: We Lived in a Little Cabin in the Yard, ed. by Belinda Hurmence and this one focusing on experiences of female slaves: Far More Terrible For Women, Personal Accounts of Women in Slavery, Ed. by Patrick Minges.

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At the Whitney Plantation, Louisiana / near the Mississippi River

I am back home in Amsterdam and one of the first news items i read was about human rights activist Jerry Afriyie not having been given an equal seat at the table of a talk show, because the white guest who he has been in a courtcase with decided last minute she didn’t want to sit at the same table with him. The program host was ambivalent about what to do, eventhough it seemed like he thought he was making a statement. Both guests are engaged in the actions in the Netherlands about either keeping or abolishing black pete. I watched the videoclip of what had happened. A disgusting and shameful situation, one in which the inability to really see and listen what is happening is alarmingly clear to me. The difficulty of being human. I don’t need to go to the Deep South to learn about slavery and its long resonances. I already knew that. My mother was born in the Dutch East Indies, one of the many colonies. But traveling does help me to see a bigger picture while it’s happening close at home.

Yesterday i came across two articles, so timely together. I include these articles, because the writers say so clearly what i have difficulty to find words for. 

In Dutch: No Seat At The Table, by Jerry Afriyie: https://www.oneworld.nl/achtergrond/niet-welkom-aan-tafel/

And about our ‘deep stories’ (a term introduced by sociologist of emotion, Arlie Hochschild), and how we can learn by learning to listen and how we can learn from another heart, from someone with a completely different point of view.

Interview from ‘On Being’: The Deep Stories of Our Time, with Arlie Hochschild: https://onbeing.org/programs/arlie-hochschild-the-deep-stories-of-our-time-oct2018/?utm_source=On+Being+Newsletter&utm_campaign=80144bb9df-20181020_ThePause&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_1c66543c2f-80144bb9df-70020297&mc_cid=80144bb9df&mc_eid=fec0e8b576

“ … and you go to a different region and get to know people — first of all, get to know how to treat people respectfully and listen actively and be immediate. Everybody should learn those skills. And then go across to see if we can rebuild that connective tissue.”  – Arlie Hochschild

 

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Ghana, where slaves were sold and shipped by the Dutch

 

some people

when they hear

your story.

contract.

others

upon hearing 

your story.

expand.

and 

this is how

you

know.

– nayyirah waheed. from salt. 2013

 

I find it hard to write about all this. It moves me so deeply and i always feel incompetent and of course terribly incomplete. So much comes up when i start reading, thinking or writing about inequality. Inequality in racism, gender, economics, how to learn to live together, how to learn to listen, how to learn to be in close touch with ourselves, other than removed from our own being. But now i attempt this small writing about a subject and history and resonance so huge.

I write now because it is also part of my work, if not on the surface, it is in the deep ground of my work, both my dance and my songwriting: this longing for equality and the sense of inequality embedded in so many living aspects of our lives. It is more prominently a part of my work now in my dance in SILENT DANCES. Through this work in silence i too need to speak up and say what my work is dealing with. This work wants to be made and i have to show up for it.

Longing for equality brings in me a longing for stillness. Not a silence where there is no talking or no storytelling, no truthtelling, but at least a moment of that deeper stillness where we can meet. Where we can possibly sense some of the stories and yet be still within it all together. In the depth of this stillness i know equality. In the depth of this stillness i know possibility. This is what i work on to share in my dance, in SILENT DANCES, in the bigger project that this comes from: Field of Disappearance. Can we truly meet? What does this mean? can i create a space that invites you in, a space in which we can experience a sense of equality? Through dance? Through stillness?

Be welcome. It would be an honour to share this space with any and all of you.

SILENT DANCES: 16 November, Uilenburgersjoel, Nieuwe Uilenburgerstraat 91, Amsterdam, 20:00 / TICKETS TRAILER

 

In SILENT DANCES i work to go beyond stories, not by denying them but by allowing them to come through in the form of the dance in the moment of performing, from deep within the stillness. I listen to the dance that can come from stillness. I know equality in stillness, there i just know. There is nothing between us, any wall seems to just come down. I wish to meet there, in this one whole still and intimate space. Allowing each other our differences. Accepting that it is so and respecting each other on our own path. And knowing that with all that we are equal. I am finding out what this means for the dance and for the exchange between performer and audience.

 

i love listening. it is one of the only 

spaces where you can be still and

moved at the same time.

– nayyirah waheed. 2018

 

SILENT DANCES: 16 November, Uilenburgersjoel, Nieuwe Uilenburgerstraat 91, Amsterdam, 20:00 / TICKETS TRAILER

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SILENT DANCES (c) photos by: Sara Anke Morris
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when silence is so windowful

“Length what is length when silence is so windowful.” – Gertrude Stein / in liner notes of CD of Morton Feldman, Works for piano 2

“Bedenk dat je in jouw taal van alles mag beweren. Heb eerbied voor jouw grammatica en jouw syntaxis. Heb lak aan je taal.” Misha Mengelberg

– in conversation with Michael Moore

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“It is not the shakuhachi.”  – in conversation with Ab Baars

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“Stillness is also the complete willingness and readiness to not do something.” – in conversation with Wilbert de Joode

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14 July, Belcampo, Amsterdam, 20:30 / reservations

Stillness & Musicality

STILL

Today i continued working in the studio again, tuning in towards sharing where i am at now with the work, on 14th July at Belcampo 20:30 / Belcampo

You can now find the trailer online

As part of this trajectory on stillness i have sessions with three musicians: Ab Baars, Wilbert de Joode and this week with Michael Moore. We’re exchanging about the roles of silence and stillness in musical composition, ways of working, and compositional approaches. My wish to do this comes from the realization that when i leave everything else out and ‘only’ let the dance remain, the musicality of the dance becomes even more important, especially in working with silence. The presentation 14 July will include findings, workings, playings with what has been shared in these exchanges with the musicians.

SILENT DANCES front 10,7x15

14 July / Belcampo / Hannie Dankbaarpassage 10, De Hallen, naast de OBA / 20:30 / entrance 10 euros / reservations: Belcampo /

This night will start with a solo, followed by a duet with Julyen Hamilton / no break

More info on the trajectory and project on my website

(c) Photo Lily by: Sara Anke Morris

 

Subtext

On 14 June we performed Subtext on the opening night of the Doek Festival. We are Kaja Draksler, Marta Warelis (piano and small instruments), Michael Schumacher, Lily Kiara (dance) and Ellen Knops (lights). At the end of the concert (a new quintet of Michael Moore) and the performance, there was a talk about the piece and our collaboration and its relation to silence.

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subtext wall

Listening is at the heart of this piece. Our entrance is our relation to space and how relationships and stories move and change or at times are held by where and how we are in space- and where and how we are spatially related to each other. The way we work together creates much ‘space of time’ , or a sense of stillness through the shared listening. Space feels closely related to stillness, deeply. Inside the body i often experience space as stillness. There can be different spaces but when i experience stillness, there is always also a sense of space. It’s an openness in which we meet, both as performers to allow the piece to form itself through our listening and actions- and also a meeting between performers and audience. This night it seemed to me clearly one space of listening and sharing.

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Ben Taffijn wrote a wonderful review about the evening, in Draai om je oren, including about Subtext.

~ ‘…The music sometimes is refined, full of quiet, seemingly natural sounds, but often it is unusual, freaky and fierce what this quartet presents us with, musically as well as in the strong movements of Kiara and Schumacher.’

~’…A magnificent and daring project, this Subtext which crosses borders, that surely deserves to be extended.’

(whole review in Dutch): https://draaiomjeoren.blogspot.com/2018/06/concert-doek-festival-2018-1-low-slow.html

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Photos: Maarten van de Kamp

http://www.doek.org

 

 

 

 

The Silence Here Has Changed

My dearest friend Anne passed away. An inexplicable loss. Immense sadness. Accompanied by endless love.

I never imagined writing about this in this blog of my trajectory, but silence and stillness are so present in this time, that the experiences affect me with their immediacy. It is also from the depth of intimacy that i work. The intimacy in this journey is beyond words, but i wish to share some from exactly that space.

In the last week especially, not knowing that this would be the last week, i often tuned into the deepest stillness that i can be in, to be close and to feel a sense of possibility and a sense of peace. 

Since her passing, i sometimes can’t breathe freely for a moment, as if there is momentarily not enough space for it in my body. Then it becomes quiet again. It changes the timing of my breathing.

Anne drew her last breath surrounded by love. A disease caused too many difficulties in her body to continue to live through it, yet Anne passed away consciously, her spirit alert, alive. I find this so powerful and, even if it feels somehow strange to say because of the intensity of the sadness, in this indescribable moment, i find it also inspiring; to be so fully aware while in this most intimate space. 

In the last days, her sister let me know she was free of pain due to medication and that she lay very quiet. I imagined her there. This quietness moved me deeply. It felt like a shift might be happening. 

A quietness that felt like it was meeting a vast stillness inside her somehow, to journey on. A profound shift.

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1,5 day before she transitioned, her husband and sister shared that suddenly there was a moment where she spoke with clarity, insightful wisdom and simplicity. Her message was shared with us, like an encouraging and powerful gift. It seemed to me to have come from the deepest stillness, with immediacy and shared with incredible generosity. 

The power of simplicity and clarity. The wisdom of alive stillness out of which this can come. Immediacy. Generosity. The wish to share. These things that i talk about when i talk about dance. 

In the early night i had a dream with black smoke. I woke up from it, somewhat distressed. I felt something was different. I checked if there was a message. Anne’s sister let me know that she passed a few hours earlier. I stayed awake all night. This night was very very quiet. I felt so grateful for it being so. The quietness was vast and had a gentleness to it. My apartment felt open as if there was more air and yet it protected me in its gentleness. A quiet, gentle, open silence. 

When the night began to shift into day, i opened the curtains a bit to look outside. White mist. The black smoke was gone and white mist had moved in. The mist made the outside feel quiet too. As if hushing any unwanted sounds. As if asking for respect for Anne’s passing. A reverent silence.

Now she is moving on. The silence here has changed. To tune deeply into my physical body feels vulnerable as if with a fear of not feeling anything, of there not being anything, no aliveness. Or perhaps of feeling too much. Still, i risk it. I want to dance. Anne encouraged us to focus on what really matters. I feel the life force in my body, how strong it is, it simply being there. The wonder of this. I feel humbled and with a sense of emptiness realizing that it has left Anne’s physical body. Just when i am about to leave the studio, i find myself step into the middle of the space and start dancing. Wildly, light, fast footed, spine open and long. As if ‘i’ have nothing to do with it. As if being moved. 

I feel deeply humbled by Anne’s passing. There is nothing about it i can understand. She is profoundly missed. Still. I dance. 

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2 minuten stilte

(Short English text below)

In de krant van vandaag veel over stilte i.v.m. de twee minuten stilte elke 4 mei om 20:00 uur. Ik hou van die twee minuten. Ik vind het mooi dat we met heel veel weten  dat het straks stil gaat zijn, dat we met heel veel tegelijk daarvoor kiezen. Wat er direct daarna gebeurt, is natuurlijk altijd anders dan wanneer dat zonder stilte ervoor zou plaatsvinden. Ik vind dat in dit geval mooi omdat we met zoveel zijn. We luisteren er anders na, met misschien nog een beetje stilte in, bij, rondom ons.

Ik heb vandaag alleen een NRC Next in handen gehad en vond mooie schrijfsels over (die) stilte.

Een gedicht van de Dichter des Vaderlands: Ester Naomi Perquin:

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Stilte als (eerbetoon aan het belang van ) vrijheid. Wat zou ik het mooi vinden om bevrijdingsdag in stilte te vieren, ook samen, een fijne, vierende stilte – Dit is een een gedeelte uit een column van Japke-d. Bouma:

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Oorverdovende stilte:

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Over stilte en de behoefte aan storm:

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English:

In today’s newspaper many writings on silence, related to the two minutes of silence every 4th of May at 8:00 pm. This takes place in remembrance of Dutch civilians and militaries who died during the Second World War or in any other war since then.

I am always moved by these two minutes. I love that we know with many that it’s going to be silent then and that we choose for this with many at the same time. What takes place immediately after, is always different from if it would have happened without that silence. We listen to it differently, perhaps still with a little bit of silence in, with or around us.

Today i only saw the newspaper NRC Next, so in this post are clippings from that particular paper.

 

 

Forget everything

I am listening in this silence that precedes. Forget 

             everything, start listening. Tipping point, flash

             point,

convective chimneys in the seas bounded by Greenland. Once there was thunder and also

             salvos at the four corners of the horizon, that was

             war.

In Hell they empty your hands of sand, they tell you to refill 
them with dust and try

             to hold in mind the North Atlantic Deep Water...



                     from 'Positive Feedback Loop' -Jorie Graham