The individual: that maliciously cute false promise for a free-flowing creative life-world. We are oh-so-familiar with critiques of capitalism, or this -ism, or that -ism (and yes, some are much more convincing and warranted than others), but exhaustion is not a false promise. And in the exhaustion, there is a slow but turbulent leak. Yet, the two eyes disappoint us and so do those two ears; all the while the tongue and hands and nose refuse to tingle. Who said anything about twos anyway? Sense: that simultaneously over-rehearsed and under-engaged grim tale of five discrete “natural” functions. Functions? Survival functions, I think. Turn over ‘survival’ because that instinct to not go extinct is literally engulfed in flames or poisoned by water. When you cannot wield a spatula, wouldn’t it be nice if not-your-nerves and yet your nerves rolled over and off the stove?
Sometimes, on a block in Ridgewood, two thinkers happen to meet at a suffocating institution next to a park that turns touristy on weekends. And even though the conditions of such a meeting might have been unfavourable, the thinkers ask after that viv. Life, alive, vivacious, joie de vivre…and at a capacity so often denied to the queer of colour artist, performer, heart speaker, and truth (small ‘t,’ very small ‘t’) seeker. I ask a yet-to-be named collective how their practices crossed paths and if there is a draw for return. Without hesitation, “What else is there to look forward to?” says poet, performer, and co-editor for Apogee, Joey De Jesus. Our conversational collective erupts with three unique laughs to form a cheerful backyard symphony (or a ruckus ricocheting off the courtyard walls, you decide). We inhale the cheer back into our bellies and Sammy Roth -a dance artist with an otherworldly connection to bodies- layers, “I don’t want to live any other way. I don’t want to be in my body any other way.”
Over the last 16 months, I have been offered glimpses into Sammy and Joey’s critically creative methodologies. After completing a degree together (it was close, but we made it!), the residues of the mess that is grad school lingered; soon, forced collisions became choice collisions. When I was speaking with Joey and Sammy about their experience collaborating and the nuances of their performances, they both noted elements of chance, happenstance, and a kind of magical emergence. “The opportunities keep popping up,” and further, “if people want to participate and feel spirit and do it and get into it, well, that’s just what happens.” While Joey remarked on the cosmic opening created for and by poetry, performance, and experimentation, Sammy is quick to remind us that their collaborative performances are also the result of an unmatched generosity: “Joey invites people into that space with him in a really special way.” In this -and having had the privilege of seeing them perform together in June 2018- Joey and Sammy forge a living space of ritual, deep vibration, powerful uncertainty, sensory loops, and a world beyond this one…because we know that this is not enough; living in spite of disproportionate violence and the denial of resources is just not good enough.
In June of 2018, when I first witnessed Sammy’s improvisational dance practice and Joey’s sonic creation, these artists reorganized the space of performance. The site of performance is in its extension. Here, Joey collaborated with Jing Gu to create sonic loops with celestial and psychedelic visuals from his home in Queens. Across town, in a highly regulated space at NYU, Sammy connected to Joey and Jing’s audio world via livestream through headphones. The effect was one of disorientation. Select audience members were afforded access to the livestream pulsing through Sammy’s headphones -myself included; further, we could engage in the colourful augmented reality created by Jing through video. The performance was in two places at once- here and there, but also in transit and hardly in pieces at all. This piece (one of their earlier performances together), asked audiences to reorganize their thoughts about bodies and space. For those who were unable to connect to the audio-visual livestream or who were not given access, the soundscape was jarring. Even removing the headphones for a few seconds dramatically altered the experience. The happening oscillated between heavy breathing, thunderous impact of skin to floor or wall, occasional squeaks from the torque of the feet, and of course the jingle and clanging of Joey’s chains, beads, and ritual icons against Sammy’s chest with her every move. Most notable was the breath: laboured, energetic, slowing and quickening breath puncturing a stillness that would not be contained.
Sammy’s convulsive-type movements seemed loaded- perhaps with frustration, or perhaps perhaps with the overflowed attention to the body in that moment. Most importantly, Sammy describes her work as an attempt to “break down the physical barriers that have been built inside of it [her body].” We see this incredibly difficult and sometimes seemingly impossible task in each undefinable movement of Sammy’s body: the body rolls at NYU where the spine seems to dissolve or the limbless tumbles, drops, and falls at the HARPYLAND performance we are so lucky to feature on our site. With what seems like both controlled and uncontrollable falls, these movements capture a deconstruction that Sammy explores in her personal research, but they also tap into Joey’s investment in different senses of gift economies based on, he says, “a faith in others” and an attention to “cosmic entities through collaborative performance.” In this way, the individual really does seem to drop, fall, and tumble out. The individual rolls over, over extends their legs and moves through another sense of body to, as Sammy describes, “enter into the vibrations together” in a way where “you start to lose your sense of who you are and who they [Joey and other collaborators; specifically Jing in June 2018 and B Taylor at HARPYLAND in October 2018] are. It’s all these different voices and bodies passing through that vibration all at the same time.”
Beyond this space-making and breaking, there is a specific poetic, ritual, and dance practice and theory fueling Joey and Sammy’s work together: the areíto and Kinetica. The areíto, Joey explains, is a “ritual evocation, poetry, song, dance;” it is a poetic tradition that “does not appear anywhere in the literary canon,” which presses Joey to ask, “why not try?” Why not experiment with its potentialities for the poetry community? Beyond this quick articulation, Joey notes that definitions and understandings of the areíto “predate” him. To take this seriously requires work and to hold oneself accountable -especially those of us, myself included, who are (press yourself to make that ‘were’) unfamiliar with the colonial history of the areíto (for further reading, I highly recommend Paul A. Scolieri’s Dancing the New World: Aztecs, Spaniards, and the Choreography of Conquest, U of Texas Press, 2013). So while Joey articulates that an areíto would be the “succinct way to describe what might be happening” in this collaborative practice, to arrive at such succinctness requires a review of the multiple geo-specific formations of an areíto (I’ve attached a helpful resource below).
Beyond a commitment to the multidimensional ritual that is the areíto, Joey incorporates a plethora of sound-making devices. Specifically, we can hear the urgency of Joey’s evocative poetry at HARPYLAND, mourning the future that has yet to come, but which has already been forgotten by prominent media and powerful politicians. A somber call to Puerto Rico, “dear ghost of last year’s hurricane” overlays the augmented vocals of B Taylor. Folded further are the feedback loops that drag the listener through viscous mud over and over: “those of us who are interred into the ground, despite everything, are haunted,” explained Joey. Not only do we hear the vibrations of a sticky repetition that digs, lays, and drags one out of their own grave, we see it in Sammy’s boneless flexibility met with the angular shapes heretofore refused to the body.
Sammy’s movement work draws on an Israeli improvisation dance technique called Kinetica, to which she was introduced during her work with Nadine Bommer. It crawls, it itches, it gallops, and it falls…over and over and over again. It is, for both Sammy and Joey, a state of possession created through the interconnection of their practices and the shared vibrational waves. “I can barely stand when I perform with Joey. It physically alters my ability to stand. I just keep falling! My legs go to their maximum flexibility and it’s like a breakdown.” This recounting comes not from a tangible memory, but a holistic sensation of the amalgam that is Sammy and Joey’s work together. The collective is a feed, a loop, an amplification of a creative world where interlocutors come and go gently, but the feed persists and the work extends itself. That is, explains Joey, a feed is both the technical “production of acoustic feedbacks that amplify very quickly,” but also a series of loops that “we [Joey, Sammy, Jing, B Taylor] pass through each other spiritually.”
On the one hand, the explicit goals of Joey and Sammy’s work together is to remind spectators that, as Joey articulates, “every moment of creativity has to be understood as simultaneously a destruction and producing a thing in negation of the waste. In every creative act, even producing sound or speaking, it’s a disruption and I feel like people need to be less detached.” Extending the call to reattach, Sammy explains, “I’m trying to feel inside of Joey’s body and still feel that as my body.” On the other hand, this collaborative work calls out to viewers, listeners, and feelers, corralling them toward extension. Beyond survival, we can look to Sammy and Joey’s work as a kind of sur-survival. They extend over and above subsistence, making additions to the everyday labour of being alive in a world dominated by whiteness and its chosen blindspots. I invite you to fold yourself in to the work of these humble and persistent artists. Refuse the singular feed, the two eyes, one nose, and skin-to-skin touching; instead, swim in the mud that pulsates bone until maybe, just maybe, a singular bone loops into my nerves, and into Jing’s, into B’s throat, into Sammy’s kidney, and into Joey’s skull.
Scolieri, Paul A. Dancing the New World: Aztecs, Spaniards, and the Choreography of Conquest, University of Texas Press, 2013.