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.
Seated at the white tables that surround the feast are dancers, writers, gardeners, elders, children and audience from the previous events that together create the week-long performance that is Emily Johnson’s Shore. Earlier in the week, I attended the curated reading, the dance performance, and heard stories about the morning spent weeding and planting along the river. At this culminating event, a potluck feast hosted by Foxtail Farm on land that is far removed from urban noise, Shore has generously reminded us of the joy to be found in coming together to share beautiful food.
All around me people are talking about their experience at these different events. One woman listened to a talk about the cottonwood trees that live along the shore of the river and said she recognized those seeds falling in an exquisite scene during the dance performance. Throughout the week we have been gathered, reminded, and persuaded to understand and express our sense of community, our sense of place. As Emily wrote in the program, “Know where you are and who you are with. This is ceremony. This is tradition. This is why I made this trilogy of work.”
As I moved between events, I felt challenged to reimagine performance without the separation that typically exists between genres, between artist and audience, between art and the earth. I was invited to step out of the role of passive audience and join this community experience of story, performance, volunteerism, and feast. Each event rebuilt relationships that have been displaced: an audience sitting on the grass as part of a dance performance; people with their hands in the soil along the river; strangers sharing food and receiving plants as gifts. So much loving attention was lavished on the people who came as audience and found themselves to be the focal point instead.
At each event, our attention was redirected back to the earth, to our relationship with the land, with plants and animals, with water and air. I imagined Shore as a place where all of these elements were brought back together in harmony with people, just as they were when our ancestors used the ceremony of art to convey our relationship with the natural world. On the podium set up on the grass, Emily asked, “What was the most joyful day of my life? It just might be today.”
After the dance performance, I felt much as I did at the feast: my spirit and body were full, replenished by creativity and companionship and soulful food. The feast was a reminder that our modern world has not only displaced us from our stories and traditions, we are equally distant from our food, and even from our joy. When we share a meal, we are reuniting our bodies with the bodies of plants and animals. We honor their gifts as we are made whole, once again. Within this sharing lies the truth of Mitakuye Oyasin, we are all related.