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“To hear, one must be silent.”
- Ursula LeGuin

Listening Power

For the shoot I decided to bring a duet study I’d developed during a residency. I love this movement - it had stuck in my mind - but I couldn’t find a place for it onstage.

This movement resembles Tai Chi’s push hands, which cultivates “listening power.” The dancers listen to each other with only fingertips attached, gaze and breath linked, like a meditation. I hoped to allow us - dancer & filmmaker both - enough empty space to listen to nature as well.

When we placed this movement outdoors, I began to sense that listening to nature is different from people listening to each other. Something to do with the immensity of time that nature operates from, or its extraordinary physical magnitude when pressed against our own bodies.

During the first few days of shooting, I experienced a strange pause, and fear rising: Are we natural? Are we a part of nature? Are we even supposed to be here?

OUTSIDERS

Jack and I integrated my questions into our process. Could we explore a desire to be part of nature, yet also acknowledge our outsiderness? At this point in our evolution, are we humans perhaps aliens, or parasites, as evidenced by the onslaught of climate change and Covid 19?

Some of our answers seemed to lie in the sensory experience of our dancers: sweating in a hot, dry landscape, muscles tensing while climbing, visceral apprehension at sinking into murky water.

On the other hand, we also saw moments of ease between dancer and environment. Thryn loved water; a swift stream could direct her body into dreamy motion. Nicole could climb high without fear; she seemed to resonate with earth and rock.

The unique ways each dancer received sensory information sparked something in me. I began to direct them into individual explorations, away from set movement. Listening became a theme; letting go of control.

The philosopher Simone Weil said: “To attend means not to seek, but to wait; not to concentrate, but instead to dilate our minds. We do not gain insights by going in search of them, but by waiting and listening for them.”

The dancers entered a “listening” state by navigating the specific sites before the camera’s eye - a vast pile of gravel, a drift of oily lily pads - guided by tasks or improvisational structures.

Jack and I listened for visual possibilities, absorbing potential as it came toward us, never knowing if anything would be revealed about belonging...or not belonging.

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