SHORE in Narrm ESSAY by Yvette Grant

SHORE in NAARM: Performance,  Yvette Grant

Emily Johnson’s SHORE in NAARM: Performance invites us to journey down the rabbit hole for a few short hours, to engage with a deep sense of place in a moment out of time and remember the spirits, the animals and the ancestors.

We begin on a cool evening just after dusk at Royal Park where the trees are lit like ghosts and we can only just make out human figures spread randomly across the field. The tension is mobilised as the figures enclose us in a circle and move through us to a beautifully symmetrical central tree, to very slowly and deliberately surround it and sway from side to side. They have white heart lights. They begin to sound long singular notes, one then the other, and move in, out and around us and the tree, in circular formations, always very slowly and ritualistically. We begin to feel part of something bigger than ourselves. We are very aware of the place.

Emily invites us under the central tree and we sit as she tells us stories. They are stories of dreams and the place; of hawks and eagles and owls; of not remembering how it starts and of being in two places at once; and of the journey we are about to make to North Melbourne Town Hall, along the no longer existent William River past last and next year’s Christmases stopping only just before the whales. And so we make the journey in silence accompanied only by chimes that echo the place back at us and with quiet interludes of gentle singing and clapping sticks.

We arrive and enter the theatre: a world with reminders of our own but inhabited by very different creatures. Indigenous trees form small forests around the space, a metal band runs the entire perimeter and the floor is covered in mist. The space begins to become inhabited and we soon see that there are two distinct kinds of beings.

The first are very calm, sturdy, unshakeable creatures. They look like us. They are dressed in soft colours, some in greys and metallic colours, others in blues and greens and many of them have a large square attached to the front of their clothing. They move slowly, sometimes very slowly, and evenly. They are used for balance and leaned against. We hear their steady breath and their song but their expression is minimal. They frame the action. They move in formations. They move the trees. They echo the action. And the stories. We have the sense that we know them and they are always there, that they keep to themselves mostly but we can call on them and depend on them when we need them.

There is another kind of creature in the space. There are three of them. They seem mostly like us too but they are very lean and their eyes are wild. They are bright orange and yellow and red. Their movements change from erratic and jerky, to controlled and repetitive, to casual, child-like and free. They cover large distances quickly and interact intimately with each other. They are very expressive and sometimes delightfully happy but their emotions swing dramatically and reach levels of deep desperation. There is an excitedness and sometimes even a violence about them. They work very hard, and sweat and breathe heavily. They speak to each other and sometimes to us. They tell us the story of a whale – over and over and over again.

And we listen. And in the end, we feel that all of us creatures are in this together, and the story closes as it began with a call to gather. And we feel we have gathered. And we feel we have been somewhere. And we feel we have witnessed incredible times and met important creatures. And somehow, more than before, as we leave we feel we carry with us these times, these creatures and a memory of this place.

SHORE in Narrm ESSAY by Wani Le Frère

Shore: By wāni Le Frère

The celebration of sharing the form of a feast during SHORE was an experience I won’t quickly forget. It began with a speech from Emily Johnson who thanked everyone who had been a part of the making of the project and from the names alone you could tell this had been a project that was thoroughly worked on for a long time before it had been presented. The space in which this feast took place was the meat market in Melbourne. As you walked in you were greeted by an array of warm faces and folk sitting around caught in chatter as you were overcome by a scent of some of the most beautiful aromas. As you went further in you could see the different assortments of dishes and happy eaters all around as well as options to add your own menu to the pallet all over the walls around you.

This was the last part in a series of events that had preceded the feast including a performance that began at Royal Park and ended at the Arts House also in North Melbourne. A few days earlier we were guided on a walk that began with a torch, a gathering and a collection of stories about the meeting place we had landed on before heading off in silence to the performance space. The walk was filled with stops from singing to listening to beautiful tunes that had been placed in various points of the walk. One of the images that struck me most came before the walk began when we found ourselves in the middle of a human circle that moved around this tree as they varied between flowing in, around, out and back of us. The feeling itself I’m still yet to find words for.

During the feast there was an atmosphere of homeliness that filled the space. Yet amongst all the interactions you could feel the rich tradition of history, the storytelling, care and profound depth of the cultures that had gathered in that space. These stories however weren’t told in the forms of words instead they could be found on display to be both respected, appreciated and even consumed. From the wallaby sausages that reminded you of the place you resided, to the assortments of vegetables and meats that told tales of places you’d long yearned to witness but didn’t yet know to the warmth of a ‘Hangi’ that was reminiscent of my childhood in Aotearoa. You could feel the love that went into the making of this feast were it was beyond just a collaboration of individuals who had chosen to gather to make this day a possibility, but more of a marriage of traditions, values and cultures intertwining while maintaining that made this meal a possibility. There truly was an air of effortlessness in the way we all interacted and at times you would almost forget this was a created curated space because it felt so warm. The diversity wasn’t just evident in the types of food, there was unique sense of fluidity in the ease in which you watched the different bodies that occupied that space move within and between each other from the folk that had come as participants to the ones responsible for the creation of the feast who ranged from a wide variety of indigenous custodians both of this land, Canada, Aotearoa and beyond. They engaged each other in ways only found in pockets often not visible to those on the outside of the make up of those groups, you never felt too foreign to engage, ask, enquire or even just share a meal and there was always room to step out and just take time for yourself if you felt you needed it. This feast reflected a type of model that should be mandatory in practices that hope to engage the community. It didn’t feel too hierarchal in its conception, you felt the presence of a diversity of minds and cultures, it encouraged you to share what it is you were able to present without feeling belittled it moved away from colonial ways of meeting where we managed to gather outside in a yard and consumed in the most conscious way that space allowed making sure no scraps were left to waste because it had all been thought through thoroughly and the female presence in the leadership of that space especially in terms of the visible women of color made feel safe enough to want to engage and continue to engage. It was such a privilege to be able to engage in this way and for a few hours witness a third space that could be made possible when thinking of alternate ways of being and I’m truly grateful I was granted the opportunity to be a part of such a project as both an indigenous person to my own colonized land and a colonizing body on stolen land unlearning ways in which I can lessen the burden on it’s first peoples.

 Photography by wāni

Photography by wāni

SHORE in Narrm REFLECTION ON COMMUNITY ACTION by Peta Murray

SHORE WORDS #1: REFLECTION ON COMMUNITY ACTION, by Peta Murray

WORDS ON A SIGN: St Joseph’s College, North Melbourne. This classroom block was blessed and opened by his grace Archbishop JD Simonds DD, PhD on March 18, 1962.

I am early to the community action event at the Flexible Learning Centre. I walk the grounds to keep warm. On the edge of the courtyard, abandoned, incongruous, is a purple plastic fork beside a white plastic soup bowl. Someone has dined there al fresco. The volunteers aren’t here yet; they will wander down soon from Arts House where they have assembled. Black soil waits in a mound to be bucketed and barrowed from bed to bed.

WORDS ON A PLANT: MESEMBRYANTHEMUM – CANDY PINK.

This is the scientific name for a variety of the plant I recognise as something my Grandmother called pigface. This variety is some kind of a miniature. It is waiting for a volunteer to ease it from its pot, ease out its cramped little roots, settle it into the dirt of its new home, here, in these grounds.

WORDS I LIKE TO SAY OUT LOUD: Ground. Grounds.

European olives, tall and leggy, wait their turn too, beside giant cement flowerpots in startling shades of purple, blue and green. In the corner there’s a vegetable bed built from railway sleepers crowned by a bush of rampant rosemary, and on the ground, beside it, timid herbs and vegetables quivering in pots – kale and parsley, Vietnamese mint, lemongrass and ‘common’ oregano, with big fleshy leaves. The silver-beet, I note, is colour-blended.

So too are the wheelbarrows, there’s blue and orange, another caked with muck. I’m struck by a tableau: three standing and one, fallen, resting on its side, like a hurt animal. A crew-member pumps up its deflated tyre.

I squint into the cold bright light. I have forgotten my sunglasses. There goes Emily test-riding a re-cycled bicycle across the basketball court. Good as new.

WORDS ON A WALL: ‘ZOK, ZOK, ZOK’. This is someone’s tag, in a distinctive script, above a small installation of cigarette butts.

The volunteers arrive in startling woolly hats and gumboots. One holds a pitchfork. A toddler with mouse ears on his hoodie takes up a clipboard and totters around, looking official, before settling on my lap to doodle with my pen.

WORDS on a quilt-in-progress: Equity. Sharing. Students have written these words and phrases of aspiration. Less judgment, eh? These are just some of the things they wish for, hope for, in their future.

One has simply written AIR.

Welcomes. Announcements. The task for today: to get “a herb kind of vibe going.”  The bossy seek out the clueless; someone announces she is “very good at weeding.” Another fancies some strenuous digging to start her day.

WORDS I overhear. Is there a hose? I’ll go and have a look.

The weeding crew departs. The shovellers remain. Out front, there’s a Canary Island Date Palm to be removed to make way for a cumquat, and an orange tree, hardy types that will cope with scorching summers and an uncertain future. It’ll take some grunt, and a crowbar or a mattock to shift that palm. Someone gives the others a lesson in the removal of onion weed or is it onion grass? Whatever the name, you can’t eat it. “It’s nasty, nasty stuff.” Someone else has parked their egg and lettuce sandwich and two ripe bananas on the wall – energy food? A few big drops of rain fall, then stop. It’s turning into a peach of a day.

WORDS on signage: We are proud to acknowledge the Wurundjeri People as the traditional owners of these lands and waters.

The barrow brigade heaves their barrows and tips the soil into the big bright pots. The olives go in. The pigface too. The citrus trees stand proud out front.

WORDS I overhear:  “…feeling purposeful in the world.” And “hey!” And “It was really good.”

I love words, I truly do. But action, as always, speaks louder. In two hours these grounds have been transformed.

SHORE in Narrm ESSAY by Marija Herceg

Reflecting on SHORE in Naarm
By Marija Herceg

 

Looking back now the visual I am getting of SHORE is a gradual becoming of this being into life, this big whale holding us all together in it’s belly!   

From day one I was captivated by Emily’s fluid, poetic conversational expression. We seemed to have instantly passed through a threshold into the delicate space of feeling, planting a seed with each movement and gesture of what is to come. Trees that may have simply been noticed as just being there outside the window became known; togetherness became important, story became important.

My initial position in the performance space was an invitation by Emily to stand with ease and assurance, as if I had been so for a hundred years, and for this I needed to see with eyes that see beyond the immediate.

Each element in the space connected and grew into each other; even through transitions, it felt like water flowing. The space for me had this honest quality to it, where it wasn’t so much created, but allow to be. I feel we the cast held the space in this timeless stillness, in my imagination watching on like spirits.

I felt it so special the feeling of intimacy created when Emily and the dancers would lean and hug the cast. I also enjoyed watching them in one particular scene when they are stomping their feet, they looked like these primal creatures in the wild that have reunited in joy.

What came, as a challenge to me was standing still for longer than usual periods of time, more so mentally without the usual distractions that break state. I took this as another trait of the world that I belong to that is moving too fast and needs to slow down the pace. This was best experienced in the ‘slow walk’. I see the walk as an important indication of my relationship to time, presence in myself and expression in the world. Observing another cast member ‘slow walk’ made me think of us as temporary passengers in our bodies, and with that I felt a sense of gratitude for the moments that we are here and together.

The performance spills into the world and I recognize it in the patterns of movement from the various rehearsal sequences. In traffic I saw cars, equally spaced from each other, maintaining same distance, following each other around a bend, just as we did in our circling of the tree. It felt nice to for a moment think of them as following each other to stay connected…

This blending of ‘art’ and ‘life’ I seek and seek to create. I more so realised this at the beginning of our circling of the tree, when I was first overcome with a nervousness, knowing there is an audience present now, the thought came to me that I need to ‘perform’ and although I have been practicing for a performance I wouldn’t be staying true to it if I had just decided to perform, so it felt powerful to recognise that this is me, with my feet on the ground existing no less or more as myself by this tree than at any other occasion in time, whether I chose to call it performance, it is my life.  

…And the tree, beyond the performance, beyond me, awaits as an invitation for us to gather, to remember, share a meal, share stories again… share a vision of the future as we have been doing so for hundreds of years.

SHORE spoke to me of belonging, that we are perhaps only one person, story, tree away of creating that feeling…

SHORE in Narrm ESSAY by Liza Dezfouli

Reflections on my involvement with SHORE

By Liza Dezfouli

Auditions to perform in SHORE in Narrm involved some walking slowly and consciously around a room. My kind of show!

I’m entranced by creator Emily Johnson, whose physicality makes her look like she’s dancing even when she’s not.

I can’t hear everything Emily says; she’s softly spoken and I’m deaf in my right ear. Soon this doesn’t matter as dear cast members Jugy and Marija Feijoa appoint themselves as my Personal Clarifiers. I appoint myself a performance role lacking in overt responsibility so I can enjoy giving myself over to the currents and eddies shifting us along. The production seems not so much to be devised as enticed into existence, with Emily and Margo, in part, coaxing something to arise organically out of the fact of the group, a process dependent on our collective presence.

Standing in one spot for chunks of time, stillness and body-consciousness, make me aware of small aches I’m carrying, mostly in my right shoulder. I’m thankful that I’m not in any significant pain, that I’m able to be part of this.

Emily talks about us ‘being trees,’ in that trees don’t appear to move much but are very much there. Shore in Narrm is the name Emily has given to a tree in Royal Park, around which the ritualized outdoor part of the show revolves. I recall certain trees from my childhood spent in the native bushland of west Auckland, in New Zealand. As children we learnt about Māori spiritual traditions of experiencing and representing the natural world– SHORE in Narrm is informed by a similar awareness of connection to the environment, is aligned with Māori ways of ‘being in country,’ you could say. Perhaps Catalyst will create a show in Aotearoa/New Zealand one day.

The theatre part of the performance begins with our slow somewhat random entrance from the Arts House foyer into the performance space – a welcome thing as I’m tired from walking to and back from Royal Park and from the walking and running we did there. I get fitter over the fortnight. Our group warm-up on opening night, the circle showering energy over one individual, works magic on tiredness.

Standing with my back to the audience in the first segment of the show means missing out on watching Maylene as she sings so beautifully. Am so enjoying the musical part of things – hearing others sing and singing myself. Part of the journey from the outdoor element of SHORE involves pausing under another tree to sing a short song in Language, taught to us by an indigenous woman, Isobel. Margo reminds us that the words of the song are more than mere syllables, we tell a story about a crow and the origins of the black swan.

In the park Emily talks about the walk back to Arts House: we follow the route of one of Melbourne’s lost waterways, once known as Williams Creek, which now flows invisibly as a storm-water drain under Elizabeth St. We walk past the red geraniums she mentioned, growing in the front garden of a terrace house. A sizeable group of people making its way in silence along the streets at night would have looked extremely ‘culty’ to an observer but it was a rare and delightful experience to be part of.

Tiny moments are what this show means to me, homage to simply being alive and conscious, of the pleasure of sentience and in small joyful memories. In the park Emily tells a story and wonders how much she has forgotten, and I, along with everyone present, ask myself the same question.

There’s a meditative, therapeutic element in what we’re doing; I’ve become less anxious in my time outside of SHORE, I’m breathing more deeply. Most of the time I mentally document whatever I’m going through, constantly finding words in my head when I experience something in order to talk or write about it later. Now, since SHORE, I’m conscious of not putting sensations or events into language, instead cultivating the practice of letting my experiences be. To silently notice is sufficient and good and I’m more likely to remember things, to more fully appreciate the thingness of things.

SHORE in Narrm ESSAY by Kat Clarke

Yirramboi: A festival that lifted our spirits and welcomed us home.

 

The city was an ambience of joy and celebration as SHORE in Narrm presented by Emily Johnson and the Yirramboi First Nations Arts Festival sparked alight. First Nation’s People from around the globe, and a community of creative arts and talent from diverse backgrounds shone brightly with key highlights of the festival speaking loud and proud. It was a vibration that spoke to the spirits of many. There was not one part of the festival that wasn’t occupied throughout some of our most iconic and cultural landmarks. The festival encouraged you to embrace culture and arts from the ground up. Like poetic justice, music, language, and voices invaded the ears and echoed in song for a new tomorrow as we feasted and shared our stories in celebration.

I found myself swept into the crowds of mass people and communities of familiar faces that had inspired others alike, to take a closer look at the political and historical injustices, social and environmental sustainability changes affecting our lives, and the way diverse communities from all walks of life can make a difference and encourage change to society when united. Yirramboi and SHORE Narrm reflected community, kinship and the connection we have to the land we occupy with respect and that was reciprocated with community action. It exposed the gaps in our society that made you wish there were more festivals like it and posed questions such as; why aren’t we recycling items to develop more community resources or culturally safe spaces more often? And, what could be possible if we gathered the way we did at the SHORE Feast event and Yirramboi closing ceremony?

In a vibrant city that is home to the Wurundjeri and Boon-wurrung of the Kulin Nations, Melbourne can be somewhat trapped in a bubble of the 9-5 working lifestyle that is hollow and chaotic at the worst of times. Yirramboi was like a rebirth; it brought out the community heart and slowed the clock down to where time barely existed. People were able to take a moment and reflect, experience and understand the city outside of the stereotypical and industrial shell it had built itself upon. Stories were shared through yarning circles, crafts and traditional practices, to poetry, soundscapes, and spoken word. Immersed, the experience was both surreal and spiritual for me, I could smell the cleansing of smoke as it flared my nostrils and reminded me of home back in the country with every event I attended. Its funny how we express voice and storytelling through the arts in order to be heard, but as we know, art is expression; it’s a supportive and honest voice.  Such was Yirramboi, for it’s first year I can only say it blew me and everyone else away. What you take away from that is what you should hold onto.

As an artist and participant for Yirramboi it was overwhelming to feel the love that was shared throughout the whole two-weeks despite the pressures and commitments we have as creative people in the industry, the work that went into building such a massive festival is not something you can do alone. It takes passion, multiple staunch production teams working throughout different events, a solid framework and of course, creative writers’, artists and performers to deliver their material in the capacity that it was represented to make Yirramboi a memorable one. I think the best part about Yirramboi and SHORE was the fact that you didn’t need to feel like you had to have validation for just being, whether that would be as an audience member, participant, creative or crew - everyone was welcomed. If there was any animosity it was drowned out and made irrelevant. All those involved had creative control of their own work and with themes that connected communities; you can’t help but feel pride.  

 

By Kat Clarke

 

 

 

SHORE Scribes: by Kat Clarke

·      Genevieve Greeves - The Violence of Denial was a phenomenal exhibition. It reflected the past wrongs placed upon First Nations people. The way in which culture continues to thrive because of these and refuses to be silenced any longer. Bold and beautiful.  – The Art House

·      Voices like murmurs beyond the entrance of the Art House Main Hall were a wash of waves as soon as the doors open. Footsteps sweep through - rata-tat-tat. - SHORE Story

·      The smell of the native plants and smoke from the fire ignites my senses to a new kind of high. Humbled to be. SHORE Story

·      Silence wafts across the room, as the empty stage becomes our only focus. Ready to begin. – SHORE Story

·      ‘Our relationship and connection to the water is serene. Wetlands sleep beneath these lines.’ – Marita SHORE Story

·      ‘Blackfish – the wisdom of Alaska’s Spirit.’ – Emily Johnson SHORE Story

·      ‘They didn’t know. No one does…’ Tyson SHORE Story

·      ‘The Maribyrnong is romantic when the night is right and you have the view of the river, stars shining. Under the moon the Maribyrnong River has created so many children. Especially in the summer.’ – Taungurung Elder Uncle Larry Walsh

·      ‘I love how you move in your chair.’ Jackie Jax

·      ‘Deep in the earth our seeds are planted.’  - Yarran  

·      I love the way your words and etchings put me together again stich by stitch. Read me over and over again. – Possum Skin Healing Cloak SHORE Feast

·      I have never had traditional ice cream with fish and berries. A taste and texture that blended sweetly on my taste buds. - SHORE Feast

·      You can gain so much wisdom and a lifetime of lessons in one day if you just took the time to sit and hear your Elder’s. And don’t take it for granted if given the invitation. - SHORE Feast

SHORE in Narrm ESSAY by Jacqueline Shea Murphy

SHORE (Narrm): Performance
By Jacqueline Shea Murphy
May 15, 2017

 

            This is the fourth place in which I’ve been part of SHORE.  I wrote a blog essay about SHORE in Minneapolis in 2014, which was its premiere and the first time I’d seen it. The piece and the place (Minneapolis) were all new to me then. I followed SHORE to Lenapehoking, New York City, which is where I was born and where my father was killed, and where I consider home, even though really I’ve hardly lived there except during University. During the SHORE: Performance there, I felt connected in a spectral kind of way to the lower Manhattan streets we walked through, and to the familiarity and buzz of the New York arts world (Bill T. Jones was in the lobby when I passed into the theater; it was a scene, exciting). I was more deeply part of SHORE in Yelamu – San Francisco – a region I’ve walked and danced and lived in for nearly three decades, and where I helped make connections that brought Indigenous elders and youngsters onto the SHORE dance stage, and SHORE: STORY and FEAST and a final PERFORMANCE out to Indigenous dance gatherings. And now here I am in Narrm, which I’ve learned is the Wurundjeri word (Wurundjeri are the Indigenous people of the land on which ArtHouse, where part of SHORE: Performance, will happen, is situated in relation to the river) for that part of Melbourne, Australia, which is a very far way from any place I’ve called home, and possibly the last place SHORE will happen (its possible it will be remounted, someday, but it's a big endeavor, and so far nothing has been scheduled, Emily tells me.) I missed SHORE in Seattle, and Alaska, regretfully. It’s been a journey.

Some things are different here at SHORE: Performance in Narrm: we don’t get nametags (perhaps to save paper?); or a survey tucked in an envelope, to complete four days after we see the piece. It is late autumn here in June, so we start in the dark (it was twilight in Lenapehoking, but not pitch dark like here).  We head to a corner we’ve been told is the place to start, and are given flashlights (which double as our tickets) and head up into Royal Park where there is a majestic and giant tree that has been half illuminated for the show. It is stunning against the night sky, just luminous. As we gather together (near a “Gather Here” sign framed in light bulbs) the cast stands around its giant trunk wearing light-bladders hanging around their necks (they are plastic rectangular pockets bulging with light; I think of them as light bladders). Emily stands on her pedestal and tells her tree-hawk-eagle dream story, and points to a tree, down a ways, and about the sense she had that she was that tree, and was herself, at the same moment. Her stories, the dark, the moonlit sky, this shimmering half-lit setting, tune our attentions to layers of connection and of distance: to our rustlings here on earth, to the tree and bird beings around us, to other worlds: the stars, realms of being and consciousness on multiple scales. Alert to these layers and sensing the shifting spaces between them, we walk a long way to the theater, together, through the streets, in silence, the sounds of our feet crunching. “What’s it for? What’s it for?” a group of people shouts to us as we walk.  No one answers. On another corner, a woman laughs to her friend as we pass by, “I told you it was Art!”

 The theater we arrive at is a large one, though not as large as the one in Minneapolis. And the cast is different too -- not just the “Choir” cast, which is always different, and always in relation to the place in which SHORE is taking place, but the core cast too. Aretha and Krista are gone. And yet, they are not fully gone: I see flashing of them in the two new dancers, like when Krista’s claw-like hands appear on one of the new dancers, the young woman with a ponytail just for an instant. And Aretha’s stick-on mustache is gone from the stage, too, though I wonder if the way it signaled the playful way things aren’t always what they first appear, and its gender-indeterminacy, might have been transposed to the other new dancer, who is tall, short hair, and whose gender at first is hard to tell. Emily’s fuller dancing presence is also different. I think she is doing much of Aretha’s role as well as her own: the handstands, the virtuosic leg kicks, the quirky seeming-random-not-random basketball movement. The playful part with the cloth on the head is gone. Most strikingly, there is a more present anger: Emily’s legs slam down with force, we hear her breath, her guttural outcries, the sounds and effort and rage of her fuller embodiedness.

Mostly what feels different is experiencing the work as it is ensconced within Yirramboi First Nations Arts Festival, a festival of First Nations art that is taking place in Melbourne, and which SHORE is part of. Here, SHORE is one small part of a twelve-day festival of Indigenous dance and other arts. It is presented and marketed not just as a contemporary performance work, but also in explicit relation to Indigenous artistic and political histories. At a satellite forum I attend the day SHORE: Performance opens, Merindah Donnelly, Executive Producer for BlakDance (the central organization for Indigenous dance in Australia) speaks about how only two percent of Arts presenting in Australia is Indigenous, and “how that’s not good enough.”[i] And of course this needs addressing. Yet Donnelly also notes that there are over 100 Indigenous choreographers, over 200 Indigenous community dance groups, and 100,000 Indigenous cultural dance groups in Australia. From a U.S. perspective, being part of twelve days of the Yirramboi festival, which began with both a Closed Protocol Ceremony (for Indigenous only) and an opening spectacular Welcome to Country (and night-club-esque dance party to drag hip hop), open to all, where every speaker and performance (it seems) begins by stating they wish to acknowledge “the traditional land upon which we are located, of the Wurundjeri and Boon Wurrung people of the Kulin nation, and pay our respect to Elders both past and present and, through them, to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people” (as the ArtsHouse SHORE Program states), this feels also like resilience and abundance. One night of the festival, there are five Indigenous dance performances, as well as SHORE: Story, all happening. And that’s just one night.

How, I wonder as I watch, does SHORE read within this so-much-more-strongly-stated Indigenous and Indigenous dance context than it was in Lenapehoking (New York), where participants I talked with didn’t know of Emily’s Yup’ik family background? Or in Yelamu (San Francisco), where a connection to local Indigenous peoples and land was part of the piece, but not always at the forefront of the framing and publicity around it? 

This time, watching, I still read the choreography of SHORE: Performance as articulating a flickering slipstream presence between worlds in which an Indigenous connection is there, but isn’t always seen or heard clearly. The dropped red fabric and panels depicting drying salmon in front of Emily’s aunt’s Que’ana bar are, again, there for a flash, just minutes, then drawn away.  Those of us watching have a chance to register this and feel its resonance, but just barely, before it’s gone. I still read in SHORE: Performance a yearning for Indigenous knowledge and connection (to whales, to trees, to other-than-human /once-were-human relations) that is there, and that Emily is trying hard to access and communicate to us, but that keeps getting drowned out by so many other voices.

This time, here in Narrm, in the midst of Yirammboi, I also feel Emily Johnson’s SHORE: Performance as specifically coming from the territory that is today called the United States, and its political history. Here, SHORE feels to me not (only) Indigenous in a broad sense that connects peoples around the globe similarly affected by British/European colonization, but also Indigenous in a specifically U.S. way. I feel this in its enactment of an Indigenous presence sheathed in deep obscurity even as it is clearly there, and in its mix of yearning and anger.

SHORE, I’ve heard and seen along its voyages and restagings, is about what Indigenous ways of being continue, or transpose into other places, other bodies, as experienced in the places Emily has come from, and is at. It is about what gets left behind – in time, in space -- and what spectral traces of those remains are there before us, if only visible in flashes. I’ve sensed in it the liminal space between realms: like the sparkling edge between land and water that birds traverse (Emily and the song leader and the core cast dancers wear red make up across their eyes, like masks, that make them look to me a bit like birds), a liminal shore space of potency, and activation. Is SHORE, maybe, about the spaces it crosses?  I find myself thinking about the ‘broken songlines’ I’ve heard talk of in various Yirramboi discussions. I think about SHORE: Narrm not as a songline, which is specific to this Country, but in a related way: as an embodied voicing of Indigenous stories that cross, and also don’t cross, from territory to territory, shore to shore, with attention to the trauma, and import, of those emergings, groundings, voyages, stoppings, and carryings on. I think about the way SHORE carries the residues and energies of major U.S. metropolises: Minneapolis, New York, San Francisco, Seattle, and their contemporary dance scenes, as well as of Emily’s home in Alaska. And in the ways it both does, and doesn’t, carry these stories clearly here to Melbourne. 

SHORE: Narrm is steeped in all of the Indigenous discussion surrounding it this week of Yirramboi. I’m guessing everyone in this audience knows of Emily’s Yupik family heritage, and is curious about the work (which seems to me this time quiet like a poem -- suggestive and surreal, strange and compelling, in a “this-would-read-in-New York” kind of way) and how it relates to Yirramboi. This is how I read it in Narrm: it is a slipstream vision of Turtle Island Indigeneity vibrating with Indigenous presence while tuned also to experiences of pervasive Indigenous absence, and with the multiple layers of what living this absence/presence is like for U.S. based choreographer Emily Johnson living in spaces of what today is called the USA. It seems, here, to me, watching this time, so very American in this, and also so very Emily, in the ways Emily’s Yup’ik self is at its very core, central, constitutive, but also muffled, so that you might leave scratching your head, wondering if you saw her, or it, or what. The context of this surrounding situation (this Yirramboi festival in Melbourne, the recognition that people in other colonized lands pay to Indigenous peoples and territories) registers and amplifies its flickerings – and also brings out the parts of it that are distant, rooted elsewhere, the story that doesn’t quite cross over but reflects its groundings and histories elsewhere.

A number of times throughout Yirramboi, I hear Indigenous people say: we have been here thousands of year -- 60,000 years, at a minimum.[ii] We survived the Ice Age. We have deadly tools for survival. Two hundred years of colonization?  That’s nothing compared to the skills we have. I think about SHORE as Emily’s offering, from the Indigenous lands of today-called-America, put forward as cultural exchange on the traditional land of the Wurundjeri and Boon Wurrung people of the Kulin nation, on Indigenous lands of today-called-Australia, with its millennia of Indigenous resilience and practices of ongoing sustainability (practices that, several speakers note, include recognizing the power in art, song, dance, performance). This is Emily’s story, her song, her danced contribution to this global gathering and its conversations: it is the story she brings, and offers. I think about SHORE within this festival’s context of tremendous loss—many of the voices I hear and performance pieces I see throughout the week speak of loss, violence, trauma in the context of ongoing British settler colonization of these territories (only 2 % of programming in Indigenous, as Donnelly notes). And I think about SHORE within this festival’s simultaneous performance of abundance, including all these inspiring elders and youngsters, and the abundant possibility that Indigenous resilience, intelligence, and creativity yields (100 Indigenous Australian choreographers!)

I think about the way it enables attention to the ongoing presence of entities we see and don’t see – birds, streams, family members who have passed on – and to ways of being and knowing, seemingly absent but there still, transformed, in the stories and trees and landscapes and sparkling streets around us. 

SHORE in Narrm makes me step back, take a breath, consider where I’m from, consider where I’m standing now, prepare. “Gather, we have gathered, and for now we’re here,” the performance closes. What does it mean to gather? To recognize who and where you’ve come from, who you are with, where you are?  To be attentive to the multiplicities around you? To be alert, and prepared?  On the pedestal under the tree, before she asks us to help her down and to walk together in silence to the theater, Emily says: “I’ve been trying to think of the most joyous moment in my life.  I’m not sure what it is.  But I’m ready.”  SHORE (Narrm) Performance is an experience of being attentive, alert, watchful, balancing with an open heart on that teetering space between confused and curious, with deep awareness of where you came from, the territory you’ve traversed since then, the Country on which you’re standing now, and all you do and don’t perceive about the spaces and beings and entities around you, and the joy this attentive experience can (and will, it is coming) bring. It’s about listening, watching, acknowledging. And being ready.

 

 

[i] The link to this research is here http://www.australiacouncil.gov.au/research/showcasing-creativity-programming-and-presenting-first-nations-performing-arts/

 

[ii] General knowledge is 60,000 years although recent carbon dating suggests 100,000 years.

 

SHORE in Narrm ESSAY by Hannah Morphy Walsh

It's rare that ground refers only to the soil, rock, water, decay, new growth and regrowth beneath us.

The ground has to be understood to harbour memories of people who were there and are not there, and things that may have happened in another place. The histories and the futures of everything that lay tread on it are all held in the ground, and if it's arrogant to think only a few can create that, it's naive to think we don't each shape it.

But shaping is not always so obvious, does not always show as footprints on the ground. When a community visioning session set the tone for SHORE in Narrm, I was skeptical. The artist stands and speaks with a certain strength of purpose that translated, then, into a room full of creatives trying to be visionaries - but not too much. The invocation to move and understand the space more personally, ferrying sticky notes intended to speak to the hopes and needs of inner Melbourne, is not taken up by anyone over the age of 22. They seem afraid to be physically wrong. I skip across the room with a single word: fire.

The notes do not stay up. I could find the mundane explanation between the glue and the rough, dusty walls, but I prefer to believe that they pressed themselves against the floor, through it, back to the ground that bore them and us, that each aspiration wanted to be known deeply and completely.

That the next contact came with physical action is a clear mirror to that consultation. Paper again releases itself to the ground as a collective focus dictates the hours. But there is no sense of competition, no shame. Passersby are handled with an indelicate but cheerful, "What are we doing? Fixing bikes!" There isn't a higher aspiration here, and the best summary is the repeated sentiment of desire to do work in the world. I'm not sure who said it first, the tally next to it in my notes turned into a forest.

As I arrived, a handful of volunteers were already stripping condemned bicycles and assessing others. The efficiency of a self-driven team is aspirational. It was halted for a clumsy acknowledgement of country. I avoid saying the words "pay my respect". It wouldn't be true, as I believe in honouring communities through bearing and actions — I instead stutter out a declaration of state and a promise to the respect that each community on the ground is owed. Then, the drivers speak. The artist speaks of complexity, "and then thought brought us here, which is kind of cool," and a WeCycle founder of movement, purpose, "building a community, with bicycles..." Both talk about community, disenfranchisement, and the importance of doing. Words aren't just words and it's refreshing. And then words of doing. In contrast to the careful language of the introductions, another founder starts with a plan of attack and breakdowns. It's no less blunt, but the perspective is more brutal. It's taking and giving, against rehoming and growing. Which is the euphemism and why?

I ask the obvious questions and get obvious answers. Why bikes, because they're cheap and effective transport that can be a source of recreation. Why refugees, why families, because they need it, so it's important. Why you? Because I can. This continues through the artists present. They are all artists, and like most artists in this place they have multiple practices. Some work desk jobs in a related field, some have no relationship between creative, social, and fiscal practices, and some have no such distinctions. Some know or know of Emily Johnson, some only of SHORE, and some just came 'cause it's fixing bikes for a good cause.

The bikes themselves don't know better, though I wonder. I wonder if the community of bicycles knows it's a community. I call their first station diagnostics, and I am reminded of medical students standing around a patient. In this case, there is little reciprocation. The bike cannot size up its examiners. Even the process is similar, but the language is blunt and has a more natural flow. On the next station, I say "if they are the wannabe doctors, you must be the nurses." Morgan laughs, nail polish and old paint. As they process and clean and process, I ask more obvious questions before I lose interest and ask, what brought you here. Specifically you, I say. Most people don't know what to say, and I comment on that too. Scuffed boots and bright earrings, nods in agreement without looking away. "I actually keep a diary next to my bed; I go, okay, so who am I today?"

The gardening session at St. Joseph's has similar themes of transition and grounding. Literally. A large part of our day is hauling soil from one place to another. Even the introductions have similar sentiments. Much later I'll tell the artist that she managed to bring out something close to pure empathy from what is often an insular and always fiercely competitive community. She'll laugh and say she hoped so. It won't sound arrogant. I don't know what I hear.

I do hear "not many people realise that this school has a large refugee population," but even the aesthetic speaks to both diversity and patterns of living that just aren't seen in longer-settled parts of the state. We put in four olive trees and around them awith bright flowers that is known colloquially as pigface. Hardy, long lasting plants that mean somethings to someones. After all, this is Australia, I say to no-one. No-one laughs. The front gets an assortment of dwarf citrus and grasses, and around the back are a variety of natives and smaller flowers.

Around the back, a variety of natives stand around holding brooms and buckets. To the side of me I see a crowd forming around the words "you're an asylum seeker?" and, not being a fan of well-meaners' probing emotional questions and sad eyes and taste for trauma, I decide to not be in that area. I take the opportunity to walk back around the front, where minds on hands on spades have discovered a large and tough root of unknown origin. This is making the planting arrangement difficult to place, because this holdover from a more toxic past is exactly where the new fruit trees intend to go. Mattocks only just break the root, and an orange tree moves forward an inch or so. Compromise. I ask if you are an artist, do you consider this part of your artistic practice. Nobody has an answer for that one, and I have to catch myself on the last individual. I'm supposed to take the answers I have and ask new questions. I note down the silence instead.

Over the course of this day, we learn more about the school itself. Overachievement is a habit rather than an expectation. More students will turn into more high school completions, adults with more control over parts of their lives, more choices, more grains in the road to healthy communities, even the ones that don't exist yet. More ground to cover. No-one nods in agreement, but then, no-one shares quite the same sense of time. Timing is everything to humour.

How do you measure time? A walk away, a long wait, a panic attack. A curation of moments. The theme of Story is home, but the expressed need to belong is more visceral. It settles somewhere unreachable and works its way through every teller, making itself known to four audiences in four ways at once. I hear ownership. My places, my family, my six by two of air. It sounds like a plea, it sounds like power, it sounds like a breath, it sounds like the spaces in between words and how they hold the words and the speaker and the listener all to account. It sounds like lines, and lines, and lines. And control. It is names and the space between them, worthiness. Worth.

And suddenly the ground is there, where it's always been, ready — no, hungry — to grow, remember and forget small, unselfconscious actions and their broader consequences. The universal someone, into which no-one steps easier than breathing. After all, who'd think to just step forward?

 

Hannah Morphy Walsh

 

SHORE in Lenapehoking ESSAY by Lisa Damour

SHORE:  An Invitation

At one point in the performance of SHORE at New York Live Arts, Emily Johnson stands on her tiptoes, raises her arms up and throws her head back, spine arched, and looks behind her, head upside down, as she tries to walk forward.   The move is both difficult and mesmerizing to watch, and occurs, I believe, about halfway through the performance.  I say “I believe” because SHORE has a dense, dreamlike structure that is difficult to recall in linear time.  And this move, a body pulled backwards and forwards, a gaze intentionally flipped embodies the questions that rise up for me as I watch the piece:   Can we trick ourselves out of “easy” habits that may be destroying our culture, our earth?    What role does community play in the lives of  U.S. citizens who have been trained to forge ahead and self actualize?  What does it mean to be completely contemporary, inhabiting / inhabited by the DNA of our ancestors?  What gymnastic feats are necessary in order to find fresh perspectives / original thought?

In Lenapehoking, SHORE began outside on a school basketball court.  As the audience hung out on mats, Emily played basketball with a couple of friends, a band of red makeup across her eyes, evoking a heightened state of ritual:  this was not your average pick up game.  I watched them play and the rest of the audience gathering, and before I really knew it was happening, sensed dozens of other performers circling me, jogging at an energized pace, one by one leaving the court to begin a slow walk down the sidewalk on the other side of the chain link fence.  Emily stood on a pedastal in front of us and told us story about dreaming herself into a tree.  As I listened, I turned my head towards the fence and watched Manhattan pedestrians quickly passing the slow-walking line performers – a woman with a baby carriage, a man talking on his blue tooth cell phone.  A casual glance, their stride not broken.  The tunnel vision of getting where you’re going, of pushing through.  The intentional gaze of live performance:  see and re-see.  Conjure the space.  Create the energy.

A bell rings and we are all asked to silently walk to the theater, about 5 Manhattan blocks.  The performers line the sidewalk as we make our way – some of them intoning chords, holding the space for us.  In the theater, I see Aretha Aoki, one of the three trio of dancers who anchor the piece, dressed in red on stage, with red warrior paint that matches Emily’s and a fake mustache pasted to her lips.  Associations begin to fly:  The lady in Red.  Gender (bending it, playing it, inhabiting it).  Aretha’s Japanese heritage (but was she born there?  Or in the US?  Is she part Japanese?)  Aretha as trickster: a mythic creature that causes mayhem in order to bring wisdom.

This dance moved fluidly between small group movement (performed by Aretha, Emily and Krista Langberg) and large group events (performed by the 20 + person ensemble).  The image of the trickster stayed with me throughout, for this dance seemed designed to jolt me into new, fresh moments, to keep me in the present.   A solo ends, timpani drums begin to play, echoed by the stamping feet of the chorus.  A trio of the three warrior women, holding hands, walking slowly, eyes closed.  A brightly colored curtain suddenly drops from the sky, a backdrop of a moment of choral singing.  A pilgrimage of potted plants, carried across the stage.  Emily, dancing as fast as she can, cutting the air with her arms until she is out of breath and close to tears.  Acknowledging the paradox:  we must stay present, we must engage in the work of repairing, healing, maintaining, nurturing.  We must acknowledge our anger during the times when it all feels futile.  And yet, in all times, transcendent and excruciating, we live in a community.  We are part of an ecosystem.  We can say fuck you, or we can say yes, I’m here, I’m with you, a part of you.  

Perhaps what I am most struck by with SHORE is the feeling of being invited into an active group contemplation.  The experience felt private, but ONLY within the context of being in an audience in a room with these performers.  The honesty of the performance pulled me out of myself and into the room.  There was no hiding of the mechanics of the performance – costume changes happen in full view, the ensemble never leaves the stage.   No mysteries or questions resolved.  It was as though Emily said: Here.  Here are my free associations on this matter.  Oh and by the way?  I free associate with my body.  I can’t make this easy for you, but I can invite you in, and challenge you, within this community of thinkers, to go deeper when you leave this room.  We are all in this together, and we all have the potential to be tricksters.  To embrace who we are and where we’ve come from.  To actively and joyfully shake up the norm.    Shall we?

SHORE in Lenapehoking ESSAY by Kaitlyn Kramer

 

 

In the last weeks of April after a tireless winter, the sun’s appearance became consistent and a frozen New York City began to thaw. We shed our wool layers and our dormancy as the layers of snow melted to reveal the earth below. With this reveal of land and skin, the city quickly regenerated. Communities were reborn. Around the same time in April, Emily Johnson introduced her own form of warmth to New York. She began on the shore.

As I emerged from underground on a Far Rockaway bound subway, I saw the morning sun glisten atop the calm Jamaica Bay and felt worlds away from my Brooklyn home that had grown all too familiar during the long winter months. When I exited the subway at my destination on Rockaway Beach Blvd., I consumed the familiar scents of cold air and sea and recalled the coastal town where I was born and raised. Homesick doesn’t quite describe this sensation; I was home-filled.

I continued to think of the various homes I’ve come to know—of memories of their peculiarities and their roles in the different stages of my life—as I walked to Firehouse 59, the meeting point for the first event of SHORE: Lenapehoking. The plan was to join local volunteers in a dune restoration project following a story walk led by the high school student leaders of The Rockaway Waterfront Alliance. The importance of home, particularly the way that individuals come together because of shared adoration and respect for their homes and communities, was evident from the moment I entered the gathering.

Firehouse 59 bustled with movement as volunteers interacted with one another, peeling oranges and playing an impromptu game of soccer. I was sitting on a picnic table observing the ease and comfort of those around me when I noticed that Emily was running with the ball, exuding pure joy and laughter. When the activity wound down and Emily briefly described SHORE and the structure of the day, I reminded myself of the context of this event—I was at an art performance. I forgot.

This temporary lapse in awareness of the context of my participation continued to occupy my thoughts as words were shared. Members of The Rockaway Waterfront Alliance’s high school internship program, Shore Corps, relayed personal stories of their involvement in the Rockaway community and how their participation in the program has helped to connect them with the physical environment where they were born. I attempted to recall another instance where I forgot I was in the presence of a work of art. Nothing. However, this revelation is not a negative one; in fact, it was exciting. I contemplated SHORE’s humble merging of art and life—of performer and audience, of history and action, of land and movement—realizing that this bond is what made our presence on the beach that day so profoundly pure. It was honest.

As we traveled from the lawn to the dunes where we would plant two hundred native shrubs in an attempt to restore the beach, which was severely damaged in Hurricane Sandy, the stories never ceased. I spoke with excited students who would head to college in the fall to study architecture and environmental science, leaving their home in the Rockaways for the first time. I heard reflections ranging from the devastation of the hurricane to a fight for the inclusion of a bike lane along Rockaway Beach Blvd. In each distinct recitation the significance of community was apparent, and it played out as we worked together to plant the shrubs along the dunes. 

After all two hundred shrubs were planted, we gathered near an entrance to the newly renovated boardwalk where were asked to form a circle together and to take turns speaking synonyms for “joy.” As the group stumbled through the task, laughing and enacting the meaning of each unique word, I spoke with a poet and musician who was participating in the SHORE: Story curated reading later that night in downtown Manhattan. We shared brief anecdotes about the different cities we call home, our thoughts on our common experiences, and what drew us to Emily’s SHORE performance project. I asked him if there was a theme that would unite all of the storytellers that evening. He responded: we will tell stories of home. As I left the beach, warm with shoes full of sand, preparing to descend back underground, I felt ready to write my own.

SHORE in Lenapehoking ESSAY by Jack Gray

SHORE NYC - an insider and indigenous perspective
by Jack Gray

Months before SHORE happened in Lenapehoking, I was told a story about Emily Johnson, an established and well known choreographer of Alaskan Yu’pik descent. My friend and colleague, Jacqueline Shea Murphy had gone to see the work premiere in Minnesota and had said something along the lines of “I think you will really like Emily’s work, you two have alot in common”.

In my culture, as a Maori from Aotearoa (New Zealand), I am familiar with these types of connective introductions, we call them mihi. Our system of greeting is a way of acknowledging. We acknowledge all things, from our ancestral geographies and points of origin (even if they may be different to where we ourselves were born), from mountain to river, from ocean to land, from living to dead, we constantly cross the thresholds of what was, what is, and what will be. 

Cut to a moment during the performances of SHORE, with my now familial relationship of listening to Emily’s mihi. Every night around dusk, we would congregate to make a circle of awareness. Emily would center everyone to tell us about her dream. This dream was also told to me by Emily another time, when I was with a group of friends, artists, scholars and practitioners whom I had assembled in another configuration called the Lenapehoking Transformance Lab.

Weeks before at Nelson A. Rockefeller Park, the Lab had convened to discuss Emily’s work SHORE. I asked her quietly if she might share a song — customary practice for Maori - and she replied, “I will share a dance”. The dance partly was a retelling of the dream. In that dance, she gave us a closed eye meditation, that enabled us to feel the soles of our feet, to feel the concrete beneath the shoes, to go deeper to feel the earth beneath the concrete, to imagine that sensation connecting in all directions throughout Manahatta. 

During that invocation, my meditation self had burst across the ocean (past the Statue of Liberty) back on shore in another place. I was in Mitimiti, my ancestral home in Aotearoa. A place I have invested alot of time in reconnecting to, and before my journey to the United States, had stood on shore there looking deeply and hopefully into the horizon. I recall this strange time travelling moment, going back to Mitimiti (from the future) to look at my past self wondering exactly what I might be doing in New York. 

In my own artistic practice I explore phenomena in indigenous cultural cosmologies looking at the pathway of the spirit after death. The name of my dance company Atamira, means platform or stage. But also, traditionally, Atamira was the raised platform dead bodies were placed on during mourning rituals. Another work of mine, Te Reinga, created in Hawaii, honoured the site of Rerenga Wairua, where departing spirits jump off the tip of the North Island of New Zealand, Te Ika a Maui to return to Hawaiiki (our ancestral home as Polynesians). 

Her meditation exercise reminded me of other moments of seeing, feeling and tracing intangible pathways that inform my choreographic interests. Like dance, our dreams develop intuitive abilities of acknowledging and opening into new spaces, allowing us to converse and tap into this richer knowing. So Emily, the storyteller, shares these glimpses, opening spaces and creating portals for both knowing and maybe unknowing. I found myself always rooted in more than one place at one time, just like the tree, just like the whale, just like the hawk or the eagle or the owl.

On Day 1 of rehearsals, the SHORE choir that I had infiltrated had its first meeting. I always find the beginnings of things so interesting, who are all these people, what are we doing, what is to be explored? Emily broke the ice, funny thinking about that metaphor, as she would many times in many interactions with people. You see, she has this disarming way of being, firstly she always smiles, and she also blushes, she's also confident, and she's also introverted. It’s a fascinating mix, that just makes you want to do something for her. If she asks for something, it seems like the most natural thing in the world is to reciprocate. This is why I think she's incredibly powerful, and also why I think she takes such good care and responsibility for others.

There is something about her unconscious understatedness (as a choreographer and human) that provokes a type of mistiness for people. Even after days of spending time together, learning and relearning the songs, breath, sounds, silence and blocking and reblocking, one of the funniest things to me was when fellow ensemble members would say, “Do you know what this piece is about?”. Perhaps a cultural lens is required, demanded almost, to allow what it is, or could be, to permeate through.

I noticed that Emily didn’t bring out in larger discussions, the notion of indigenous cultural identity. I became aware of the way this type of discourse goes in the United States. It is very different in Aotearoa, in fact almost the opposite, where we are culturally conditioned to speak to our genealogy and enact its assertion at almost every opportunity. I mean, recently, the Queen of England's (and ours) grandson, Prince Harry, came to New Zealand and partook in a haka, a Maori dance of defiant looking gestures. It was a social media hit, even my mother was saying how much she loved dear Harry for doing the haka, as if he was now an adopted nephew.

I couldn’t help myself from orienting everything I experienced throughout the SHORE life I lived back to its innate indigeneity. It was almost like this marvelous secret. This piece was a hall of ghosts. These ghosts gathered in places around us. They came out at twilight, in the streets, cloaked amongst everyday pedestrians. They occupied a different sense of time, they were much slower, more present, less preoccupied. They witnessed everything. Every night when it was my turn to leave the nest, I would walk into the dream and catch my step, from fast to slow. I would always pass by people unaware of the performance/ceremony and realize there was a shift in zone. These people thought we were crazy, or religious, or odd. I always savored the moment of being one of them, and then transitioning into the other side. I felt like presence made present, made people feel uncomfortable. Singing life, breathing to the leafless trees, the giant painted figure on the wall of the school, to the clouds, this opening moment was precious.

Wandering from the children playground to the venue at New York Live Arts, past the sex shop, the rainbow rising, the three ducks and not the Joyce, an imperceptible thread was being woven through the city. One night, I concentrated my thoughts on following the pathway of Minetta Creek. It was hard being a ghost without the ability to walk through people, theres so much making way in this city. In my silence, I often noticed alot of action at one particular restaurant. From people standing outside smoking, to people with dogs. For some strange reason I always felt underdressed at the same spot every night.

Making our way into the theatre, without fail every single night I would rush to the toilet before going to the stage. Again, it became a ritual, that was an odd reoccurrence. I would see myself every night, swish my hair in the mirror, notice that I was wearing the same outfit, and run back into the dream again. One time during a run through, I had turned the wrong way with Yumi, and ended up being very late to stage. Being late to your own dream scared me, so I never did that again.

The show, well, so much to say. I feel and know, that I saw something crystallize over the rehearsal and performance period, in a profound way I might never experience again. The dancers, Emily, Aretha and Krista, became my guides, they lived something every single time in this black box world, that engulfed us all. During the rehearsals, I thoroughly enjoyed my witnessing state, the room was filled with thirty participants, all there to watch, sing, move and pay attention. I introduced myself to Aretha and Krista immediately, it felt almost rude to be let into this intimacy, without announcing myself. I think if I were a ghost, I would be the kind that knocks the vase over.

I watched this dance happen and everytime it had an authenticity about it that breathed differently. I was entranced by Aretha, this gorgeous creature, fierce, warrior-like, sharp, powerful, she had a presence that bled over the stage. I was constantly checking in on Emily, feisty, emotive, breathy, full, she was unpredictable and unapologetic. And my heart warmed to Krista, this languid, swan like vessel of fluidity and warmth. She really can move. They were all so beautiful, so different and so connected.

As a choreographer myself, I watch for gaps, spaces, things that link, tried to decode their secret language and marveled to see that what looked like improvisation, would be the same night after night. And then somehow it wasn’t the same night after night. The movement was a combination of sitting, waiting, thinking, expressing, it had sustained periods of complexity and effort. I loved many of the scenes, and watched the same pathways over and over. 

In this process I experienced my own journey in multiple ways knowing there was no way to replicate anything anyway. I felt exposed and seen, and then forgotten and unseen, I felt like I was contributing, and other times I felt like I was crowding the space. There was a message of humility that made me somehow compliant to something unspoken. I was always grateful for the moment that Georgia brought the plant over to the front of the stage. Somehow that plant made me feel real again, somehow it distracted people to think and consider something else. Over the show nights, I tried different approaches to being. That was hilarious I suppose, as it might have translated into the same thing. Like a leaf trying to fly a different angle, even though it was always still attached to the tree.

I think this piece might have a great power, and I constantly wondered if people noticed. Just in the same way that people might not notice the creek beneath the concrete. There was always a part in the show where it felt like it was our last song, and then there was still more of the show to do. These types of intersections interest me. What signals time, what shifts the moment, what more is to be said and done?

I didn’t attend some of the other events associated with the project, the first time because I had a severe case of disorientation and ended up catching so many types of public transport over a period of three hours still to end absolutely nowhere (according to my rapidly dying iPhone) that I gave up. Another time, I was just exhausted from the many activities I was doing in New York City. There was certainly something about getting around that city and having the energy to do it that I encountered my own resistance. I did however make it to the feast, remarkable also because I gave up going to a dear friends wedding just to be there. I would’t have felt complete if I didn’t and I suppose thats a testament to the type of work SHORE is. As I said before, Emily has that way that if she asks you, you just want to oblige. The Feast was a beautiful event, more salmon and oysters cooked on an open fire, a pleasant row in a canoe through a superfund site (I had to google superfund to know what that was), and my favourite, a final sing with Emily, Margot, Julia, Meredith and Ben to the setting sun. Yes, this is what we do right?

I am so grateful to reflect about these things, and I know it will be ongoing. I know that the depth and reach of SHORE is as unlimited as we make it. I thank Emily and Catalyst for their work, and also for introducing me personally to the concept of future joy. I send love back across the ocean, as I sit in my bed in Auckland, New Zealand, knowing time to stand together again will come, remembering we can indeed, be in two places at once.

Jack

SHORE: Minneapolis ESSAY by Bao Phi

At The Loft Literary Center, housed in Open Book in Minneapolis, Emily Johnson has gathered poets and writers from as far away as Thunder Bay and as close as Phillips.  They are here for SHORE: STORY, the literary arts segment of her dynamic multidisciplinary project.  There are sons and grandmothers and everyone in-between, reading, and we in the audience are consuming.  Read aloud often enough and you know the audience is a living part of the craft.  While the majority of the poets are Indigenous, there are also other races speaking their hearts and truths.  Everyone’s shoreline is different.  Someone says “sure, why not?” and that attitude strikes me as powerful.  The writers address racial conflicts, talk to their community like a lover, relate a conversation with their child on a bike ride, allude to teaching creative writing to businessmen. 

SHORE: Minneapolis ESSAY by Andy Sturdevant

It had been a rainy few days before SHORE’s opening weekend. Or the part of SHORE that took place at the Northrop, at least – Emily Johnson’s SHORE is a multi-faceted project that existed in a number of different locations and spaces. Even the part that took place at the Northrop didn’t take place in the Northrop. Not initially. The first part of the performance had a few hundred people sitting on the great lawn outside, on the University of Minnesota’s mall, the oldest part of campus.

SHORE: Minneapolis ESSAY by Diane Wilson

In the center of a long, low barn, a 30 foot table covered with a white tablecloth holds a dazzling array of homemade food: salads straight from the garden, an enormous platter of roasted pig, warm biscuits with strawberries and real whipped cream. White lights ramble across the rough walls, lending a celebratory feeling to this gathering. A side table offers dozens of plants to be taken home as a gift for each person. Quilt squares bearing a scrawled word or two are strung along the wall, each one invoking something we would like to see in our community. Everywhere I turn, there is an invitation to create, to share, and to participate. Outside a light rain is falling, as if blessing this event.

SHORE: Minneapolis ESSAY by Eleanor Savage

Emily Johnson’s SHORE gave me a keen sense that this artist, and the circle of artists with whom she collaborates, have been making their way toward me for a long time and vice versa. The stories of this new work emerge, strange and disturbing, and join the accumulating conversations with the works in this trilogy, The Thank-You Bar followed by Niicugni.  Johnson’s works dwell in the liminal space between memoir and dream, intimate and mythical, dance and installation, continually working away at the boundaries between performers and audience. 

SHORE: Minneapolis ESSAY by Jacqueline Shea Murphy

In two parts of SHORE: PERFORMANCE, Emily Johnson tells stories out loud. She tells one standing on a pedestal on the grass of the University of Minnesota campus, pointing to a tree just down a ways from where we are sitting. “I think I remember that tree in my bones,” she says. Then she tells us about a dream she had during the SHORE production process. In the dream, she’s at rehearsal, and out the window sees an eagle and a hawk flying together in tandem, touching. She calls everyone over to see, and then the birds land right outside the window, and the eagle turns into a hawk, and the hawk turns into a baby, and the hawk holds onto the baby. 

SHORE: Minneapolis ESSAY by Will MacAdams

Emily Johnson tells me that the first time she realized she was dancing was when she was hugging a tree as a little girl and she felt it’s swaying and she realized she was swaying with it. 

I like imagining dance like that: something you echo, something you already are. I thought of it often when I was watching Catalyst’s SHORE, as well as planting in the rain garden at East River Flats and participating in the feast at Foxtail Farm. 

Wait, Emily told me the story of her dancing with the tree after I did all of those things. True, but didn’t the story of the tree at the top of SHORE move forward and backward through time, as if to say: the past, the future, the present, they are knotted together like roots?