John T Cartwright in Listen. Breathe.
Part of my current research interests is the concept of horror. What does horror look like in dance performance? How do we choreograph horror? Where is horror sensed in the body? What can dance learn from film when performing horror? What does it mean to perform horror? How is horror connected to the LGBTQIA+ experience? Why am I interested in horror?
One of our assignments in my Choreography Workshop course was to create a 3 minute solo. I immediately knew I wanted to explore horror as a performance genre for this task because the initial parameters (3 minute solo assignment) were set. This gave me a limited duration to work in and served as an anchor point for my movement research. But where to start? I decided to explore other modes of creation to begin the process and chose to write a poem which would serve as inspiration for the movement and ultimately become part of the performance as part of the soundscape for the piece. Below is the text from the poem, however, only select words and phrases were chosen for the sound recording:
Listen. Breathe. Then struggle Hear the outside The deafening calm The roaring, whirling stillness Ears burn and throat swells Silencing, thundering Echoing in the emptiness in which You do not belong, in which you are not safe. Listen. Breathe. Then worry Get inside your head The cramped dark The tightening, constricting pressure Lungs fill with air, old and stale Heaving, unnoticed Crushing you into you into you Until you are not you, not whole. Listen. Breathe. Then panic Feel the rush of blood, hot The taste of metal, cold The jabbing, rolling anger Muscles tense, teeth clench Twitching, grinding Pulsating flesh that is not Yours, not familiar, not wanted. Listen. Breathe. Then let go Sink into the unknown The world beyond you, this The dark, cycling in and out Bone and muscle drip from existence Osculating, exchanging Mixing who you once were and who you Have become, the gore and carnage lives and thrives.
After having written out these thoughts and ideas I set to the task of making some movement, but that didn’t feel right. There was something inauthentic in choreographing steps to these words. In my first iteration of embodying these concepts, I treated the poem as a kind of roadmap or outline. It set landmarks for certain actions to happen and for when to move on to the next movement idea; this allowed me to keep track of timing to stay within the 3 minutes allotted.
Following the presentation of the movement in class, it became apparent that this needed to be filmed in a location that would serve as a fitting setting – the openness and airiness of the dance studio just wasn’t right. Luckily I have a couple of cohorts, Mollie Wolf and Katie O’Loughlin, who live in a house with an unfinished basement. With a cheap work light and my camera, I headed down into the dank space. By setting the mode with the sound and lighting I began to play around more with the movement in the space. The walls have steel support beams which I incorporated into the piece, the floor was cold dusty (the effect of being an unfinished basement, not the lack of cleaning by my cohorts) which affected my emotional and physical connection, and the old, exposed brick and cement was crumbly which inspired more crumbling and collapsing movement in my performance.
At the end of this process I think I have more new questions than I do answers. Is it horror that I’m really interested in, or is it something horror related? What is horror? I did discover that performing horror, for me at least, is kind of a form of escapism. To truly embody the ideas of the poem I had to go into an experiential state. I discovered that, again for me, the sensations I felt in my body began in my head and my chest and then seeped into my extremities. The result was something visceral and emotional for my audience. In the future I hope to be able to pin down if it is horror that I’m interested in, why it interests me, and how/if it’s connected to my research interest in LGBTQIA+ studies in dance.