On “Going There”: Looking back at “Grist”
A huge part of my dance training has been focused on emotional preparation for performance. This includes journaling, collaging, acting and theater exercises, crying my eyes out back stage in order to get into an emotional space before taking the stage, and then crying more when I’ve finished performing. If I do not project a true and honest emotion while performing, I don’t feel like I’ve done my job.
Performing is work. It’s not just physical work; it’s highly emotional. Just as I train physically, drilling and conditioning and sweating, I also train emotionally: crying, yelling, and laughing.
I owe my training to none other than the incomparable and ever-amazing Suhaila Salimpour, who leads her students working at Level 3 and higher through intense emotional exercises to prepare us for performing true, raw, and honest personal choreographies. If it weren’t for her training, I’m not sure I’d be able to give so much of myself on stage, and I certainly wouldn’t be as mature and experienced performer as I am now. That said, I know I still have so much to learn… and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
This little introduction brings me to write about “Grist”, the piece I most “famously” performed at Tribal Fest 8. It seems to be my most popular performance, but it was also one of the hardest for me to put on stage. Every time I have performed this piece, it manifests differently. Sometimes, as at Tribal Fest 8, it expresses as triumphant, but most other times it has come out as dark, brooding, angry, and sorrowful. “Grist” took on a life of its own. I created it in the summer of 2007, which was a dark time for me. Without going into details, I started questioning the stable things in my own life, realizing that they weren’t as stable as I had thought and they weren’t bringing me the joy that society tells us that they should bring. I was very unhappy. “Grist” was a physical manifestation of my frustration, my anger, my feeling trapped. The last time I performed it was the weekend before my marriage ended, and it was a “goodbye” to that part of my life into which I had invested so much time and energy. I haven’t performed it since that weekend in October 2009. For now, “Grist” is retired.
And yet, people ask for me to perform it. I’m not sure people understand how difficult it is to perform something like “Grist”. I’m not sure if people think it’s just an “act”, that I was just putting emotion out there for show, that it wasn’t real. Or maybe I really did strike an emotional chord in them, and that’s what they’re connecting with. And part of me, the professional, tells me that I should be able to perform it at any time. A professional can “go there” whenever she chooses, and she can walk off stage and return to the real world without a problem. I am still working on that elusive skill, and I expect to always be working on it.
Maybe one day I’ll perform it again. But for now, as I have been trying to travel the healing road, seeking joy and peace after the dissolution of my marriage, living out of my suitcase and sleeping on a friend’s sofabed for six months, and packing up all of my worldly belongings and moving to South Carolina, I want to create new pieces about this new chapter of my life. “Grist” is a collection of angry memories, and instead of looking back on them, I would much rather look forward.