On Dancing the End of the World at the End of the World

The Ballad of the Fates

Opening, six soft baby browns
Dawn paints the whitewash pink
As Motor City oracles sing
“Baby, baby” in sepia sounds.

Diminishing glory,
Ancient anger burns through the quivering silence
Sonic boom, big bang violence

The moon is in the wrong place.
I’ve never seen so many stars.

Choreographic Task #1 or Becoming Post-Lingual

First, we forgot how to speak. Exclamation points tornadoed at the bottom of our gut, bludgeoned their way up our esophagus, cut their way through closed teeth. What came out weren’t words, the days of diction passed. They were, instead, the bellows of horror, the hisses of sour, the sighs of first love- and it was fine. Memories aren’t spoken. They are bone marrow. From their crux, we build universes. For, we are the makers. We are The Fates, America resting helplessly in our palm.

The morning of our last rehearsal, the studio waxed and waned between silence and cacophony. If we spoke, when we spoke, it was only in “What ifs?” We were so used to dancing questions, Pia, Stacy and I. The uptick in upspeak between embodied evocations of home, Detroit, Brooklyn & Hartford, respectively, was ungrounding. Austin’s score modulated from soulful dirge to crumpling paper. Union Square below was eerily quiet. But mostly, the noise was in our heads, far away eyes bouncing to the thunder and lightning of a Tweet typhoon, “Cough into your elbow....airborne.....shutdown....fatal.”

And yet, the command in which we three Black, American-born women danced A RUIN that day was otherworldly. Our bodies stared down the mythic, memorialized the blocks where we were born. These arms and legs subverted George Washington crossing the Delaware and lay prostrate in awe at the moon, now permanently askew. It was pure brilliance. Blessed am I, that memory lives forever in my bones. I haven’t danced in four months. I cannot find my legs. Nor have I spoken many words aloud. What is it there to say? I’ve spent my days prostrate on the floor, dumbfounded by a world permanently askew. I have become the inarticulate weight, certain that it is only that brilliant memory that has stalled decay.

Future-talking ellipticals:
We conjure ghosts.

A RUIN, chronicles the saga of the last Americans. Following a catastrophic climate disaster, three Black women are tasked with rewriting America. From the moment the Earth slipped off its axis, the survivors are reborn The Fates. The destiny of the country lies in their hands. Inspired by Giselle's madness, classical mythology & breakup albums, performers craft a surrealist, wasteland by inverting 1970’s Soviet YouTube ballet, ancient relics & travel diaries. If language is world-shaping, A RUIN asks “What’s on the other side of emojis, 280-character Tweets?” Through embodying, writing and speaking incantations for survival, what emerges is an entirely new way of speaking/feeling/dancing American. With eyes simultaneously fixed on history, the present desolation & a potentially utopian future, will this triumvirate rebuild....or nah?

Marble eyes lay waste to history.
Native tongues atrophy with age.
We are dying to unlearn this love language,

The body is a time capsule. The idea for A RUIN saved me from drowning, as I lay prostrate on the floor at around 1 a.m. on November 9, 2016. A cloudy mixture of despair and fear hardened like a boulder in my stomach and all I could do was search for patterns in the popcorn ceiling as the ocean floor of anxiety called to me. My white (now ex) boyfriend, looked on, uselessly.

“So this is what dying feels like?” I later learned to call that and moments like it panic attacks. I am fascinated that my first survival instinct was to find stillness with the Earth, let Mother bring me back into myself. That relationship with the ground was hard fought. There is so much ballet in my body. That pure, white tutu, virgin dancing-on-air classicism feels forever at odds with that pick-up-the-money-cookout Hustle-get down of my childhood. Colonization put me at odds with gravity, strained tip-toes, tilting cheek bone into the spotlight. It was the cool pull of the earth that saved me.

On November 9, 2016, my body petrified. I called Danielle & Kendra and we three Black girls bonded over a shared fear of leaving the safety of our homes. We understood from the soles of our feet to the back of our skulls the carnage that was to come. In an act of defiance, I imagined a world carved by softness and safety and called this radical imagining A RUIN. Though, I guess I miscalculated the timeline. I did not foresee 134,000 Americans dying in four short months before I even got to complete that piece.

Shout it loud across the fractures of time.
Our voices aligned
In three part harmony fall short,
Frayed voices gone hoarse

The Facts:
  1. A RUIN was slated to premiere at JACK on April 17, 2020.
  2. Pre-shutdown, the morning of Friday, March 13, 2020, Pia, Stacy and I had our final rehearsal.
  3. Later that day, I got a very honest and very kind email from the Directors of JACK, Jordana & Alec, asking me what I wanted to do about my show. It was Friday, March 13, 2020.
  4. I went to the park for the last time with my friends, Sean and Ethan, that weekend, the weekend of March 13, 2020.
  5. That weekend, the weekend of March 13, 2020, we went to a bar for the last time.
  6. On the weekend of March 13, 2020, I had dinner with my friends one last time, Nick and Sean and Charlotte and Dan.
  7. I readily dip-dodged questions about how my show was going. I kept my eyes glued on my phone that weekend, the weekend of March 13, 2020.
  8. All weekend, the weekend of March 13, 2020, I tried and failed to sleep, to find the ground.
  9. On Tuesday, March 17, 2020, I sent the following email to Alec & Jordana: “Given the reality of the situation, I think it makes the most sense to push the date of the show back. I have no idea how to appropriately market/fundraise for a show about the end of the world as it feels like we are staring down the end of the world.”
  10. And that was that.

Free-falling into the fog,
Unfolding into the sea
Drowning in the colors of a million Pacific sunsets,

The moon is in the wrong place.
I've never seen so many stars.

Choreographic Task #2 or The Waltz of the Amnesiacs

Second, we forgot what to do with our bodies, Pia, Stacy & I. They used to dance. They used to double-dutch. They used to sleep. They used to love. What we remember, we do in spurts. I don’t know how to choreograph amnesia. Instead, we improvise on a constant sense of unease. Down a sharp diagonal, we are a series of desperate monuments. Constantly rotating, our bodies never really settle. We are at all times simultaneous flashes of pain and pleasure. It starts in the pelvis and spews out the mouth, like the impossibility of telling the story of a life in a single gesture. There is urgency in remembering. There is solace in forgetting. There is godliness in creation. She spins. She measures. She cuts. For we are the makers,  America precariously dancing in our palm. But what of mercy? Grace in the face of awesome responsibility?

Exquisite corpses
embedded between eternity and the wildfires,

To be devastatingly extinguished
Or 3-2-1 blast-off, a hero’s escape?

I am a dancer who isn’t dancing. The images of refrigerated trucks stacked with countless dead  took my body away from me. The auto-play videos of Black souls leaving motionless bodies on the concrete took me away from my body and left me alone and scared in a Brooklyn apartment that is too small to contain the constant and massive feelings of mourning.

When I was young, I spent a great deal of time alone. I would write about the end of the world in pink curlicues. For everything is the end of the world when you are a teenage girl with massive feelings of lonely. But when I danced, I did it with clear eyes, in community. I did it with my brother Chad, in the family room with the grey carpet and the green couch on Parkside Street on the West Side of Detroit, toddler arms and legs bopping along to the Muppet Babies theme. Then I did it with Miss Carol at Toni’s School of Dance. It was a studio full of little Black girls in rainbow barrettes. Together, we mastered our shuffle step. I did it at birthday parties with Kacie, Kanye and Courtney, a trail of sequins and feathers the only evidence of our ecstasy. I did it on the playground with Leah and Ashley, white Kswiss on our feet, the Tootsie Roll in our knees. Cheekbones forever trying to find the light, I did it en pointe with Miss Brianna and Miss Julie. I tilted my “T” to the heavens with Miss Ellis and Enjoli. And then I quit for a while. To cut class with Arin and lay prostrate and alone on my twin-sized bed, heart turned towards heaven dreaming of stories. But like a divining rod pulled towards the earth, I found the studio floor again. This time in Oberlin, OH, population maybe 8,000, mostly white and wealthy. I was neither. Dancing was a cure for my lonely.

Decentered and scattered-

Choreographic Task #3 or Double Double Toil & Trouble

Third, we heeded the call of home. We wrote it into the room, Pia, Stacy and I. We sketched it across a page. We traipsed along it’s skeleton, taking the backway into a feeling. There is no such thing as abstraction when it comes to the body, a time capsule with an eternity’s worth of joy and racialized violence swimming through its streams. We danced the architecture of our childhoods. With the straight lines of backyard fences and angled corners of kitchen counters, we conjured our mothers and their mothers and their mothers, seeking wisdom at the world’s end. Our knees buckled under the weight, that strange gravity of now. Singing The Ronettes, “I wish I never saw the sunshine. I wish I never saw the sunshine. I wish I never saw the sunshine. Then maybe, I wouldn’t mind the rain,” perhaps we found our footing. America dancing in our palm, perhaps we were ready to make something new. Or maybe we shrugged our shoulders and lay down in the dirt to rest our weary bones. Talking bodies in repose, voices clear and steady to an unrelenting universe: “Tread lightly. For today is not the day to ask a Black woman for anything.”

Pieces of us turned clouds,
The spinner, the cutter, the measurer,
The Fates.

My imagination is limitless, my ignorance astounding. I don’t know how this dance ends. Alone, I don’t know how to find my body. But with Pia and Stacy (and Austin and Danielle and Kendra and Jordana and Alec and Sean and Ethan and Nick and Charlotte and Dan and Chad and Carol and Kacie and Kanye and Courtney and Leah and Ashley and Brianna and Julie and Gina and Enjoli and Arin and our mothers and their mothers and their mothers), I felt like I could build a universe from the storm in my belly.

The moon is in the wrong place.
I've never seen so many stars.