‘Intimacy with Disappearance’: Ævium performance reflects on sexism, ageism, culture, politics, spirit, & ecology

Mar 2, 18 • 5enses, FeatureNo Comments

By James Dungeon

[Editor’s note: The following interview was culled from conversations between the reporter and Delisa Myles, who’s performing with Ævium in “Intimacy with Disappearance,” 6:30-10 p.m. with live performances 7-9 p.m., March 23 & 24 at the Natural History Institute, 126 N. Marina St., $15-$50. A free panel discussion, subtitled “Loss, Land, & Relationship,” is 2 p.m. March 25, also at the Natural History Institute.]

What exactly will “Intimacy with Disappearance” look like?

We’re calling it a “Durational Performance Instillation,” and it involves a melding of dance, a photography exhibition, video projection, and sound installation. It also occurs in several different spaces in the Natural History Institute, so the audience will move between different segments of the performance.

So what will people see?

They’ll see our experience of being on the land and creating dance within a landscape. There are a lot of dance-in-the-landscape images with the projected video and the photographs. Really, I think, they’ll see our relationships with each other. I think we can’t help but bring that to our performance. Some of our connections go back 25 years. There’s a lot wrapped up in the theme, disappearances. There’s the idea of different kinds of loss, different kinds of letting go. Maybe that’s an actual, physical death, or maybe it’s the kind of letting go you do as you age. There are so many different ways to look at loss and long-time connections between people.

What can you tell us about the performance group, Ævium?

Ævium is a group of six women ranging in age from 14-64. This particular group only started a couple of years ago, but some of our relationships go back a couple of decades. It’s an ongoing, lifelong project between all of us, much like a family. The dancers/choreographers include me, Breanna Rogers, Ashley Fine, and Sedona Ortega, all of Prescott, Jayne Lee of Flagstaff, and Mizu Desierto of Portland, Ore. We’re collaborating with photographer Miana Jun of Riegelsville, Penn., videographer Stephen Miller and sound artist Lisa DeGrace of Portland, Ore.

How does having known and worked with some of these women for so long affected the work?

I think you always bring your whole background with you. There’s something in that, that you don’t have to catch people up with the deep things that’ve happened in your life — they’ve either been a part of them, or they know about them. So, when you perform and interact with people like that, you’re drawing on the depth of those connections. Maybe that brings more intimacy to the performance. We’ve explored so much together. I think we just keep getting more potent in what we do. … I would hope that our closeness comes through in the performance. We have a high level of honesty and intimacy in the group. You can’t fake that.

How did “Intimacy with Disappearance” come together?

It was initially envisioned at Playa Fellowship Residency Program in the Great Basin Region of Eastern Oregon. That’s where the title and the themes started to emerge, when we were there in 2015. Playa is a wonderful residency program in the Oregon outback that provides space for artists and scientists to explore whatever they want to. … It’s really a time to step away from your life and focus on creative pursuits and give space for what rises up. The first time I went in 2014 was as a duet, and that gave me the desire to bring a group of my women friends, so we applied as a group. During the application process, you don’t have to say exactly what you’re going to do; they give you complete freedom, but they want to see work samples to know you’re legitimate artists and would really benefit from uninterrupted time to create on the land. We all went back, a second time in 2017, as a group, as well.

Did your expectations meet your experience during that residency?

I think we all came with open minds as to what was going to happen. We did bring some existing choreography and then placed it in different kinds of landscapes. That informed how the choreography evolved into its next stage. When you’re dancing in a field of long grass or on cracked earth, it gives the dance a whole different feeling and connotation. The textures, smells, and weather, give the dance layers of sensual subtleties. That interaction with the land is so important for the richness of the work. … We had the two residencies, one in 2015 and one in 2017. We’d begun to develop the work there the first time and it felt like returning would inform the next step. Plus, we were able to go with our videographer and sound artist, so they were able to create big sections of what you’ll see in the performance. They shot a lot of footage and played with experimenting with different sound ideas. Then our photographer, Miana, who was there both times, captured a different kind of evolution from the still images. It was surprising, the changes that happen to a person in just two years. You notice your own aging process and how the land itself doesn’t seem to have changed. The different time scales come into focus, geologic time and human time, and you feel the difference between them.

Time is one of the themes of the project, correct?

It is. We look at time and longevity and our connections. Death and impermanence is another big theme. During the years of this project we’ve all had people close to us die. These profound losses are woven into the feeling tone of what we create. We absorb and transform those feelings and grapple with the reality of how people come in and out of visibility, in and out of life, and how, despite that, there’s this timelessness to the land that just holds everything together. These juxtapositions of fleeting human time and geologic time come to light in what we’ve created.

What was the biggest challenge of putting together “Intimacy with Disappearance”?

It’s always challenging to collaborate. There are so many different ideas and you want to consider all of them and value all of them but still edit. There’s not really a particular director in the piece. We arrived at things as very much a group process. Sometimes that’s not easy. There’s a lot you have to hold and contemplate and sit with. Some decisions just have to get made, though, and you ultimately have to land on the decisions that craft the show, something you’re presenting. It’s difficult though, because to pin something down when it has been an evolving entity for three years, feels a bit like trapping a wild animal.

What about for yourself, personally?

Probably working at a distance. We have people in New York, in Philadelphia, in Portland, and it’s hard to keep the process alive during the times we’re not meeting. We’ve been getting together around three times a year and, during those times, the performance feels very alive. But then there are these long stretches of time when nothing seems to be happening. Right now, we’re doing a lot of collaboration over email, making decisions about order and about sound and video, but we’re not all together, so it can be cumbersome and time-consuming. That part’s been really challenging for me. It’s not the reason why I like doing dance and art. I like the live part. Organizing things virtually is not my favorite.

What’s been the most rewarding part of this performance thus far?

Well, for the performances in Prescott — there are also performances in Portland in June — we’ve been trying a completely different concept with a site-specific performance at the Natural History Institute. That’s exciting and a little bit terrifying, too. It’s not a sit-down theater performance; we’re doing it in a variety of spaces at the Natural History Institute. The audience will be turning to face different directions and walking into different rooms. This is a complex concept, a novel kind of audience experience, that I’ve never organized before, and it’s new for this group, too. It’s exciting territory and I hope we can all pull it off. … Turning a non-performance space into a performance space has its own set of challenges. You have to consider the lighting and sound and how to move the audience through the various sites. It’s a whole traffic puzzle with the movement of the audience. A lot of decisions are happening right now (in early February). We’re still hashing out how the live performance portions and the photography and video installations will overlap and be viewed. The sound composition is also in progress right now and it’s exciting to be working with an original composition specific to our choreography. We’re looking at how people will experience parts of the performance in different orders, so it’ll be interesting to see how all that plays out. It’ll either make it more potent or more scattered. Those are things you don’t really know the effects of until you get feedback.

I imagine you didn’t have The Natural History Institute or the space in Portland in mind when you developed the choreography. That presents its own set of logistical problems, no doubt.

It does. You have to work with what’s given, the dimensions of the spaces in the building, and working around it and also with it. It’s an interesting way to do things. It’s dictated where certain things happen and how many people can be part of it at once. … We were definitely looking for a non-traditional performance space. We knew we wanted people to be more involved than sitting down. People have certain preconceived expectations when they enter a theater space, as far as knowing they’ll be sitting in a seat and watching the action unfold in front of them. With this performance, the audience will be more immersed in the experience and hopefully feel more involved in the movement and images unfolding all around them. It’s exciting to be able to offer our performance in the new home of the Natural History Institute and it feels like a good fit in that the Natural History Institute has a mission of integrating the arts and sciences in its practice of natural history. I’m grateful that we have this opportunity to partner with the Natural History Institute and create new connections in the community by bringing our audiences together. You know, originally, in the early 1920’s, that building was first a Mormon church. I was raised Mormon, so there’s something in this for me that feels like putting my real religion back into the church. It feels meaningful to revisit a holy place and fill it with this current creative offering.

How are the topics of disappearance and visibility tackled in the performance?

There’s a lot of reference to the masks that women wear. You’ll see that in some of the photography. You’ll see the flower masks and lampshades covering our heads as part of the costuming. There’s something in that symbology, in the roles that women are traditionally expected to play. There’s a mindset you inherit as a women or certain masks that you hide behind because of social pressure. A lot of this is abstract, but there are also questions about sexuality and women, of the extremes of being either really seductive or ashamed of the body. There’s a piece in the performance about coming in and out from under the lampshades with movements that go back and forth from overly seductive shapes to kind of cringing, shameful movements. In our culture women are often trapped in these limiting stereotypes, and we address that in nonverbal form. There are many different messages an audience might get, though, and what you get out of it might be totally different from what we intended. We’re excited to see what people think.

That being said, what would be an ideal audience reaction?

I would hope that it touches people deeply and it stirs some soulful questions about who you are and what you’re doing here. Maybe you reassess some limiting story you might be telling yourself, or about the limits of this life, about the ephemeral quality of life, that you can be here and then you can be gone, just like that. I hope that it touches something in the audience members about the beauty and pain of being alive and that it offers a way to contemplate the end time that everything enters. And I hope that our creativity inspires more creativity in any form, that’s always my wish, to inspire each person toward their own unique way of being and creating.

I understand there’s a panel discussion about “Intimacy with Disappearance,” as well?

It’ll happen the day after the performance and it’s subtitled “Loss, Land, & Relationship.” It’s free and it’s 2 p.m. March 25 at the Natural History Institute. The dialogue will focus on our experience of developing works of art through extensive time spend in the natural environment and will highlight our artistic process and current body of work. It will be facilitated by Tom Fleischner, Executive Director of the Natural History Institute.

How do you think this performance will be received in Prescott, especially in light of the #MeToo movement?

We’re living in a culture, and that’s certainly part of the cultural narrative for women right now. I don’t think anything can, or, really, should, be separated from that. We’re inside of that, and of course it’ll influence the way people will look at the performance. The #MeToo movement is about women speaking their truth and that’s what we’re doing, too. Granted, it’s a movement that’s more based on sexual assault and that’s something we touch on, but that’s not all that we’re doing. The boldness of women’s voices, regardless, is a good thing. It’s time for women to take off these masks they’re forced or pressured to wear. It’s time to be full-on who you are. I hope that comes through in the performance.

 

*****

Ævium performs “Intimacy with Disappearance,” 6:30-10 p.m. with live performance 7-9 p.m., March 23 & 24 at the Natural History Institute, 126 N. Marina St., $15-$50. Tickets only available online at WITD.Org/Ævium. (The March 24 show is sold out.)

A free panel discussion, subtitled “Loss, Land, & Relationship,” is 2 p.m. March 25, also at the Natural History Institute.

James Dungeon is a figment of his own imagination. And he likes cats. Contact him at JamesDungeonCats@Gmail.Com.

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