Years ago, someone told me that my body rejuvenates its cells every seven years. Every seven years I get a totally new body filled with new cells; each of these cells packed with memories and beliefs. I imagine myself swimming through my cells, bumping up against the clear liquid walls of the cell membrane and peering in to see the mitochondria hard at work. Deep at its centre lies the powerful nucleus, the brain of the cell. Estimates published in 2013 in “Annals of Human Biology” suggest that there are 37.2 trillion cells that make up the human body. That’s 37.2 mini-brains (ie. nuclei) that hold memories of our life and relay information up through our central nervous system to our brain.
I’m curious how I might swim up to one of these cells and move with it. As I care for myself, I would ask it, the cell, what it needs. I would take what they say and do the dance of the cell, incorporating breath and movement in order to bring to life the needs of this cell.
Deep down there are cells in my body that are hurting — carrying/caring the weight of some long distant pain that was inflicted on me. Gone unseen, I walk, unconsciously through life projecting and repeating this pain onto others. Furthermore, the same cells that make up me came partially from my mother and father; my grandparents and great-great-grandparents. My ancestors live deep inside these cells. Thus, I am also carrying/caring the histories of them inside me. I speak to my ancestors through the cells in my body and as I bring breath and movement to them their pains are allowed to be seen and released; helping me move through this life in a more authentic and aligned way.
Over my 20+ years as a performer, I’ve come to understand this history and knowledge that lies within my body. As I commit myself to developing methods of using art as a means of bringing about change, I now bring experience as a Somatic Practitioner to this field in an attempt to not only bring about meaningful change to communities but to individuals also. Both these branches of change will inevitably impact a system and I wonder how we might need to do work on both in order to see meaningful systems change.
As of writing this (Nov 12, 2021), I am completing my Somatics Educator and Coaching training through the Tamalpa Institute. I am trusting and listening to the body and its knowledge. I welcome anyone reading this, who is inspired by this work, and who might see the benefit in exploring the body to confront and release anything in their life or to merely find alignment with themselves, to please reach out and/or book a Somatic Coaching session with me.
I want to offer you medicine that you have been carrying/caring all your life right inside of you.
Updated: Aug 21, 2021
I am preparing for my upcoming performance creation residency of "Cruising at 30 km/s and Attempting Not To Crash". Anxiety has set in based on my inability to make decisions about what the show will look like. Ever since the development of The End, the show I created last year, I have been attempting to embrace a certain level of unknowing. I feel I have made some terrible work in the past because the audience, artistic programmers and marketing staff demand a certain level of what I call 'arrival' (this attempt at knowing what the show is about before you've even made the show; removing the true liveness from the live art), I am compelled to stay in this state of unknowing and move through a performance creation residency without making a firm plan, but this doesn't always work when audiences, programmers and marketing staff require this level of knowledge.
I've been examining this tyranny of planning for over 7 years now. Last year I was invited to participate in a queer performance residency as part of CANdance (a partnership between Springboard Performance (Calgary) and Studio 303 (Montreal)). The residency was titled This Is Actively Built and featured 4 queer Canadian artists (Kevin Jesuino, Melina Stinson, Winnie Superhova and Nuiboi). The residency was the idea of contemporary dance artist Nate Yaffe. Nate had established similar residencies in the past with other queer artists. At the beginning of the residency he reminded me of queer theory texts such as Jose Esteban Muñoz' "Queer Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity" and Jake Halberstram's "The Queer Art of Failure". Both of these texts provided me with a strong inspiration towards the unravelling of these expectations on me as a performance creator to know what I will do in a performance before I even know what the show is. Munoz suggests that the future relies on the queering of systems (very similar to offerings suggested by Afro-Futurism); an idea that is grounded in examining pluralistic, diverse and anti-fragile systems or ways of being that come when we open a system up to all future possibilities once the mainstream has dissolved. Halberstam, in The Queer Art of Failure, suggests that anyone born queer (or marginalized in any way) is destined to fail from the onset. This is best exemplified in the online videos that have been coming out around the game of privilege. Certain folks, based on their privileges (and this is always intersectional) have a head start in what society calls 'success in life'. However, those with less privilege start the race further back and, in many circumstances, are destined to fail or lose the race. Halberstam suggests that queer folks are destined to fail. It is in this failure that we can find resilience, opportunity and a difference we can offer the world. In this 'failing' we, queer humans of this Earth, can offer up different ways of knowing thus leading to a pluralistic future of possibilities.
Both of these texts grounded me in developing a show that never arrives at a complete finish. By 'finish', I mean that is never overly planned that the sense of liveness is removed from the performance. I am interested in the bits of the show that provide opportunities for failure. It's in this failure that the show breaths life and true liveness. And, when examining the role that queer performance makers have in this world, I am interested in examining this failure towards possibilities within my queer lived experience, exploring where I, the ensemble, and the show go when we remove the veil of planned cues and set choreography/blocking, and use the space of live performance to offer a laboratory to explore difference, failure and anti-fragility for the real world outside of the performance.
And so, I sit here, attempting to make decisions about my upcoming show that requires me to be courageous in not knowing what will happen, but also requires a certain level of planning when it comes to casting an ensemble, describing my ideas to the artistic programmer and providing material upfront for any marketing and promotion that is needed; it is a constant internal tug-of-war and often the mainstream can't see any other path then the planned path.
I offer up the question to any performance makers and programmers out there -- what is liveness if we don't allow for failure or unknowing?
Two weeks ago I presented the first part of two blog posts highlighting certain socially engaged art pieces that I experience at Assembly, a four-day conference in Portland, Oregon featuring presentations, discussions, interventions and activities that look at topics related to art and social practice.The conference is hosted by Portland State University which has a Master in Fine Arts program dedicated to art and social practice.
As I mentioned in the first of these two blogs posts, it’s incredibly difficult to share the experience of social engaged art through 2D images or write-ups when socially engaged art relies heavily on the experience the participants had with one another and the event. So, I will inevitably fail at defining fully each of the following pieces I experienced. But, let’s try!
Kimberly Sutherland and Paul West
How often have you walked down your street block and taken notice of the types of trees and shrubs that also live near you? In this educational walk around a Northeast Portland block, longtime resident, arborist and musician Paul West, took us on a tour showing us the trees that inhabit his block. Each of the trees play a specific role in the urban space and many of them have medicinal qualities that I didn’t know. Upon returning to my own city block in Calgary, Alberta I pondered the tree and shrub neighbours that are in my backyard and down the street. Many of them I don’t know but, it made me have a far more bigger appreciation for them and the larger ecosystem I live in.
Some Time Between Us
Emily Fitzgerald, Honnai Aguado-Nielsen, Delaney Alvord, Jackie Anderson, Antonia Beil, Cindi Burgos-Be, Brenda Culhane, Judith Ford, Harvey Garnett, Tom Getts, Frank Gorretta, Lanaireoje (Bubbles) Hayes, Raina Heilman, Jacqui Jackson, Allen Julian, Marel Kalyn, Benjamin Kirchoffer-Talbott, Ausha Lathan, Dolores M. Peters, Lucia Sanchez-Ventura, Jan Starnes, Maria Tran, Jackson Wolfe
There are two things that everyone has in common: we were once young and we we will eventually all get older. This project brought together a group of students from Beaumont Middle School and seniors from the Hollywood Senior Centre to create an intergenerational exchange. Over six-weeks the group explored their individual and cultural expressions initiated by questions they had for one another. What is the hardest part about being you age? What is the happiest memory you have? What are your fears for the future? Relating to each other through storytelling, writing and photography the teens and seniors built a relationship over the six-weeks that provided space for empathy and learning from each other. The culminating presentation of this project was presented at the Hollywood Senior Centre and featured photography, music, performance, poetry and dialogue amongst strangers.
Collaborative Learning for Physical Prowess (on the dance floor): How to Dance Like a Boss &
The People’s (dance) Party
Jens Hauge & Renee Sills with guest presenters Leif J. Lee, Tonisha Toler, and Padraic O’Meara
This was a two part project.
The first. Have you ever wanted to learn to do a specific type of dance but were to afraid to go take a dance class because of the possibility of failing or looking like a goof? In Renee Sills & Jens Hauge “Collaborative Learning for Physical Prowness (on the dance floor): How to Dance Like a Boss” three non-professional dancers were asked to research and present their favourite “How to Dance” YouTube videos and teach the group of participants the steps. Everyone started off like wall-flowers glued to their chairs. No one wanted to be at the front of the dance class. But after some great engagement and hosting skills by Jens Hauge the room was full of people watching YouTube videos and mimicking everyone from country line dances to house, lyrical ballet to MC Hammer. It was ridiculous and mesmerizing to see so many people doing the same choreography and also looking as ridiculous and memorized by YouTube videos as I was.
The second. What makes a great party? Renee Sills spent months investigating and asking people this question. For this culminating event she brought all the elements necessary to have the best party of the world! And it sure was! A good sound system, good music, good lighting, a disco ball, a good dance floor, fun people, costumes, free water, free snacks, and even free booze. It was the perfect recipe to let loose and see how far everyone could go in shaking their booty. If I remember one thing from this entire festival, it is that parties make the best social art practice events if done right. Thanks to all those who danced and danced and danced that evening.
For more information on ASSEMBLY 2016 please visit this website: