The first piece I made for Malpaso was called Under Fire. It was commissioned as part of an exchange sponsored by the Joyce Theater in New York. I think I always make dance about what is happening in my life at that particular moment. The degree to which it portrays experience can very wildly. It might be literally the events of my own personal history, or it might be the beast chewing at my psyche.
I was heading to Havana in January, six months after closing the dance company that had been my entire life for a decade. I had made the decision to leave Boise, Idaho for at least a period of time. I was really in love with that place. The nature especially had grown a part of my skin. There is no quiet like that which comes as the hot, dry air rushes through your pores in the foothills overlooking the city. Those foothills are both easy and hard to get into, depending on where you go. That kind of access is part of what makes them special. On the lower tiers, you can hang-out with your constantly exercising friends. If you’re willing to climb, you can be in complete solitude (except for snakes) and still see the dot of your house below. The city is small enough that no matter where you are, there is enough of a sense of all of us taking care of this special place together.
I was also facing giving up a life of friends that I loved and was fortified by. Having lived a transient life, my world here was special and carefully built.
There were definitely stakes to stepping away from this and the lure of continuing to do the more comfortable thing was strong. But there were stakes in the other direction as well. I had built my ENTIRE life here around a dance company and so many things that I did not like in myself were fortified by that identity and if I was going to change, I was going to have to change my environment.
So I was thinking about all of this while developing the piece for Malpaso. As I poured through my life and prepared to leave home, I had stacks and stacks of paper to deal with. It’s fibers were woven with anxiety and the spinning plates and cogs of leadership. The paper was a cement around my ankles to the past, dragging me under and backwards. I needed to pare down to necessity.
These are the program notes I wrote for the piece:
I wanted to burn all of my paper: all of the printed documents that had followed me for my life and had become a weight and a burden. I put them into a bonfire and watched them blacken and spark against the night sky. When the fire went out, I moved some of the charred paper with a stick and found that what was underneath was pristine. In some ways the fire had compacted it, sealed it, made it more of what it is. This struck me as an elegant metaphor for human life. The more we try to burn away and change our exterior, the more our essential born selves become evident and manifest.
Working in Cuba and making something new there proved to be a perfect outcome. Cuba, just 90 miles from the coast of Key West, is a world away and I felt truly cut off. No one here knew any detail of the life I came from and I had disappeared into it completely.