Project Note: Reggie
Project Note: Reggie
where are you really from?
by Kristel Baldoz
Reggie Wilson is a Re-PLACE-ing Philadelphia Artist/Thinker. Project Notes document and articulate Reggie's process and engagement with Philadelphia as he develops new work that will be presented here in April 2016.
Kristel Baldoz is one of a group of Philadelphia artists working with Reggie Wilson as a part of Re-PLACE-ing Philadelphia. Here, Kristel offers insight into their rehearsal process, reflecting on how information and histories can be shared between bodies and the value of opacity.
The first rehearsal we had with choreographer Reggie Wilson was a four-hour discussion. I sat alongside Tommie-Waheed Evans, Jaamil Kosoko, Maria Urrutia and Miles Yeung-Tieu in a semi-circle inside a University of the Arts dance studio. Germaine Ingram and Paul Hamilton–a member of Reggie’s company (Fist and Heel Performance Group)–would join us in the following rehearsal. In anticipation of moving our bodies, we were dressed in dance clothes. We sat as Reggie shared his research for the Re-PLACE-ing Philadelphia project—uncovering parts of Philadelphia's history, word by word, photo by photo. As a non-native Philadelphian, I learned new information about both Philadelphia and Reggie. Through this sharing, Reggie’s history surfaced, tracing from his time as a child growing up in both the Baptist and AME churches, to the first time he showcased his choreography in the 8th grade, to the influences and inspirations for his current work, Citizen. As a way of getting to know us, Reggie asked each of us to answer a set of questions. He wanted to get a better understanding of how our experiences both within Philadelphia and prior to living here had influenced us as artists. The enduring four-hour discussion condensed into a short moment where we uncovered much about ourselves, our pasts, and our concerns. We found differences, but also similarities—one being that we all have a relationship to Philadelphia, which is connected through a shared knowledge of our experiences living or having lived in this city. The intention was to use this information in the making of the work.
Coexisting in the process.
The following rehearsal, we gathered on the Painted Bride stage. After a brief discussion and warm-up, Reggie asked each of us to recall a short movement phrase we had created and to teach it to each other. Reggie wanted us to share a part of ourselves through movement. With little time to think, I went with the first phrase that my body remembered. As I learned the other artists’ phrases, it was clear that we all had different ways of moving. These phrases became a translation of our experiences. Coming from spontaneous impulses, we were pulling from movement that was already instilled in our bodies. Miles and I had a discussion about the process afterwards and he called this movement “honest,” because Reggie asked us to produce movement from no other place than the familiar…the familiar motions that resided in our bodies. An arm lassoing, a moment of stillness, a series of stomps—each of these held the imprints of our past—a past that was built upon our experiences in Philadelphia and elsewhere.
We continued to explore the phrases over the next two days leading up to our last, public rehearsal. Reggie prompted us to think about the movement in relation to concepts, interests and concerns that could be traced back to our first discussion. One of the questions we addressed repeatedly was, “What keeps us in or connected with Philadelphia?” Reggie helped us understand each artists’ approach to their movement by honing in on the specificities. He reminded us that there is reason in the details—they hold the specific embodied experiences of each of us. Similar to our first rehearsal and discussion together, we were uncovering our histories and concerns, and generously sharing them with one another.
When we learned each other’s phrases, I found it difficult to retain all of the information because I had to embody the space between myself and someone else’s movement. This process was a way of asking us to hold someone else’s experiences—not to impose onto, attempt to understand or assume, but simply to hold. And from this contained place, of holding and recognizing, we would dance each other’s movements. Given that our bodies are inseparable from our experiences, when we dance these phrases, our narratives are immediately entangled with each other’s narratives. This is our coexistence. Being in one place together sharing and uncovering our experiences, I’m reminded of Édouard Glissant's Poetics of Relation when he writes, “Relation is not made up of things that are foreign but of shared knowledge” (8).
During our time together, we developed a relation. The goal of the discussion and process was not to create a dance, but to create something through our relation. Glissant references Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari to explain the Poetics of Relation: “The notion of the rhizome maintains, therefore, the idea of rootedness but challenges that of a totalitarian root. Rhizomeatic thought is the principle behind what I call the Poetics of Relation, in which each and every identity is extended through a relationship with the Other” (11).
Reggie calls this Spanish moss. Our collective gathering, our relationship with one another over five days, is what created the moss that hovers over the place we inhabit—the studio, Philadelphia. We are unrooted, coming from different places and embodying different experiences. Through our coexistence, a relationship was built and a net rooted in each other’s experiences was created.
When we first began the rehearsal process, we weren’t sure what would be created. Given the time constraint, Reggie made sure we got work done. There were moments when he would put us on the spot; asking us to show material when we weren’t ready, but Reggie was extremely encouraging. By putting us on the spot, he created moments of improvisation, making space for our uncertainties to exist, and in turn, to become material for the work. Reggie made it clear from the beginning that he wanted to create something together. He included everyone’s contributions, even asking audience members in the open rehearsal to edit the work-in-progress. Reggie encouraged everyone’s familiar way of moving and thinking to be woven into the fabric of the process. He did not try to change our movement, or who we were, but maintained and preserved the differences and allowed them to coexist. More importantly, he did not ask us to explain where the movement came from, but allowed ambiguity and haze to settle on the movement. It was not necessary for us to understand each others’ experiences; we were just asked to embody them and see what would arise from this new information. Entangling these experiences creates more haze. He allowed our opacities to coexist, and a poetics arose from this meeting of opacities.
I am reminded again of Glissant, “Agree not merely to the right to difference but, carrying this further, agree also to the right to opacity that is not enclosure within an impenetrable autarchy but subsistence within an irreducible singularity. Opacities can coexist and converge, weaving fabrics” (190). He continues, “The opaque is not the obscure, though it is possible for it to be so and be accepted as such. It is that which cannot be reduced, which is the most perennial guarantee of participation and confluence” (191).
In this project, we worked with a group of artists who have diverging dance practices to create something together, a different perspective that emerges from the web of our opacities.
Reggie’s project is a lens looking at Philadelphia through his research and collaboration with Philadelphia artists, where he highlights a set of experiences that already exists and creates a new geography in the familiar spaces that are Philadelphia and dance.
This geography is made up of opacities through the framework of multiplicity. Reggie is the director of this project, but rather than creating from a monolithic direction, he allows all our different ideas and experiences to live, breathe and circulate within.
As I was learning the other phrases, I wondered where this movement came from? How could I learn more about these artists by embodying their 16-count phrase? How could it be that we make up a part of the Philadelphia dance community and can still uncover new things about ourselves? But then I realized that it didn’t matter. It was not necessary to find concrete answers, but to allow the poetics of our coexistence…the poetics of our interconnected Spanish moss to hold the opacities of our experiences. It was enough to know that we hold a special moment in Philadelphia and continue to do so. To quote Marty Pottenger in the open rehearsal, this coexistence is “something we made together [that] becomes something we are making together.”
“Where are you really from?” is not the question I’m interested in…I’d rather ask “where do the opacities meet?” In dance, the unknown is paramount. Many times I’ve heard the question asked by peers in and outside of dance, “What was the dance about?” However, it is the not-knowing, the opacity, that allows a new language or understanding to arise, and the possibility of a rich experience to occur. To not be able to articulate something (with words) and allow an experience to overwhelm is okay. As a dancer, there are moments when I don’t understand the movement that my body is dancing, but I allow my body to lead me. I don’t necessarily understand the logic of the movement, but my body is the site for knowledge. The body knows; the mind follows; opacity occurs. In this space of not-knowing, in the opacity, clarity emerges.
Edouard Glissant, Poetics of Relation (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1997).
Kristel Faye Baldoz is a freelance performing artist based in Philadelphia and works at the University of the Arts, School of Dance.