Smile Politely

armageddon or sunrise or something poetically explores time, place, and transience

armageddon or sunrise or something was performed this past weekend in Bluestem Hall at Barnhart Prairie. MFA Dance candidates Mauriah Kraker and Leah Wilks’ site-specific performance was a magical experience that conjured a sense of fate, awe, grief, and personal relationship with place. Bluestem Hall was the perfect space for such exploration. This former barn has been in Abby Frank’s family for five generations, when she forged her own relationship with it, restoring it into an event space. 

After the performance ended, tears came to my eyes as I looked to the space where the dancing had just happened, sensing its reverberations. I felt grateful to Abby, Leah, and Mauriah for the work they had done, for all that had led to this performance in this place.

From the very beginning, evey detail of the experience felt imbued with meaning. Driving to Bluestem Hall, lightning flashed silently in the distance. I wondered if it was coming or going and imagined the distant rumble of thunder. Walking up the gravel road, the prairie was dark, and the stars were out.

In the barn, Kraker and Wilks stood facing each other trembling like wet butterflies emerging from a chrysalis, a carefully balanced pyramid of oranges between them. Their toes and eyelids rumbled with a felt sense of what was to come. The sound was reminiscent of the hum of a hot summer day. I felt something looking at me from my right side. I turned to see the moon watching me from a nearby window.

Thinking back now, my experience of the performance is not linear. I remember a list of images and feelings. Wilks’ raspy exhales as she jumps from the concrete floor to standing and back down again, sounding exhausted, yet with each repetition she rebounds with gentle resiliency and care. I can hear in her voice that this is the last of several recent rehearsals and performances of this work. I also know that this is one repetition of many to come. Kraker runs in circles around the space, her shadows behind and in front of her, as if being led and followed by something that has a whispered connection with where she has been.

Beyond the large glass doors behind them, cars pass silently through the skyline of a distant town. Their passing recalls the serendipity of seeing a shooting star. I feel an empathetic connection to something far away that is also happening at this moment. Kraker stands behind Wilks in the corner back-stroking her arms and diving over her legs, perpetually preparing for the final sprint. That’s what these moments feel like, preparing for the perennial final sprint.

Kraker and Wilks’ bodies become entangled and spill the oranges into the space. Wilks slowly summersaults from upstage right to downstage left coming up to stand in arabesque between each roll. Her movement is smooth and continuous, all of her moving at the same rate as she tumbles forward. I find myself meditating on the virtuosity of it. The oranges are still, they eclipse each other and cast small shadows on the floor like planets. They are scattered in the space, witnessing and waiting like the stars and the audience. I can see trails of movement from rehearsals, daily practice, and relationships in the landscape of the dancer’s bodies, in their fascia, muscles, bones, and flesh.

Like the oranges, their bodies are a part of the landscape that changes with every shift of their weight. The warm light becomes blue and the oranges look like tiny snow drifts. The sound generates a magnetic pull toward the center of the space. Time feels like it is passing between the hours of 1 am and 4 am. These hours have their own energetic hum, their own sound. There’s a sense that this a daily preparation for something magnificent and mundane, ordinary and extraordinary. The oranges seem like an abundant source of forgiveness and their presence is reassuring. Kraker ravenously devours an orange, its juices replenishing her body.

The sound of a music box melody begins playing with pauses between each repetition like the melody of a morning alarm. When the melody pauses, I listen for it to begin again. Wilks and Kraker meet near the upstage left corner, the music becomes the sound of women speaking in retrograde. It sounds like a salutation, a sung farewell or hello. Kraker and Wilks perform some small gestures in unison that feel like a necessary ritual honoring all that had come to be in their relationship. Then, Kraker walks through the glass doors into a pool of warm light which goes out as she walks toward the prairie, disappearing into the darkness. This recalls an earlier moment in the piece when Wilks picks Kraker up and wraps her around herself as she walks backwards singing a lullaby. Some of the words are, “If you get there before I do, Look for me.” Like listening for the melody of the alarm, there’s a sense of listening for each other, of being tethered across space and time. 

The repetitions within the work such as giving and receiving physical support, Kraker leaving tasks and relocating before Wilks, the lullabies, cars passing by, the visual repetition of the oranges in the space, as well as the repetition of movement reminds me of the significance of daily repetitions. The last words my grandpa said to me were words he said every day, I love you. Those were the last words he spoke to anyone and I can still hear his tired voice whispering those words to me in that moment. It is truly a gift to experience a work that calls forth grief, joy, exhaustion, as well as the manifestation of the daily and the generational. This work touches a space of the finite and infinite, natural and supernatural, commonplace and magical, disaster and resiliency.

Thank you, Abby, Mauriah, and Leah for your work, and for this performance in this place with this community. I am grateful to have experienced it.

Find out more about Bluestem Hall here.

Studiodance I Extended
Bluestem Hall
Barnhart Prairie, Urbana
March 8th + 9th, 7:30 p.m.

Photos by Natalie Fiol

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