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?
Yes. So…after I heard about the trees dancing, I saw movement everywhere in SHORE:
- In the shivering crate that Emily stood on to tell us about the tree, her hand shivering as she told it. In the audience member who moved toward her, whose hand held her up.
- In the walking across the grass at the top of SHORE, dancers young and old, formally trained and not. In the way that a child moves before being taught the coffin of straight lines. In the dancers running around the perimeter, washing toward us, a flood. In a woman dancing, nine months pregnant, a child dancing inside the water inside her.
- In a longing for touch that came through on the stage at Northrop: Emily reaching out to other bodies, especially female ones, reaching out to touch, to be touched; in the velvet voice of Nona Marie Invie that sang to us and also turned away from us, as if SHORE came with two invitations: one saying, “Come closer,” and the other, “I do not know if I am ready to tell you this.” In trees in planters at the far end of the stage, emissaries of the tree described at the top of the show, but with none of its wildness. Are they longing for touch, too? Will they carry word back to the wild woods to join the dance? I leave feeling beauty, pain, hope, but most of all longing - is it because I, too, dream of dancing with the trees?
- In the planting in the rain garden, where the Ranger, our tour guide, tells us proudly about a conversation with his daughter about the shape of the Mississippi, which for him is serpentine. But his daughter insists that it is round: from the river, to the sky, to the clouds, to the rain, and back again. I wonder: how can we dance with the serpent and the sky?
- And here at the feast, at a long table filled with food and laughter and stories: of the three bean soup from the Dream of Wild Health cookbook and the Native owned / Native grown farm that sustains it; of the strawberries picked this morning in the drizzling fields of the Foxtail Farm; of the best-ever, still-warm strawberry shortcake; of the music, arranged like a good recipe by James Everest; and of all the food made with care for this meal. Somewhere close, there are hands sowing the fields, sewing stories, knitting together our knotted roots.
- And, after the feast, a walk through the muddy fields where I carry two metal chairs that feel heavier by the step (every homesteading family has its awkward uncle) and then we arrive by a tree under the blanket of dusk. We listen to Ben Weaver’s songs of wandering, of camping and of being on the road. His voice will soon carry him on a trip down the Mississippi to New Orleans, and it gives me a new image for the shape of the river: not serpentine or round but the shape of a wanderer’s song.
- And there is danger in movement, too. My friend Nick, from New Orleans, is well-aware of water lines, so he points out that the trees we see as we cross the bridge into Wisconsin are not trees but tree tops, and I realize that this bridge isn’t supposed to rest on the water like this. This dance, this three day SHORE dance, isn’t just a celebration, I learn. It is a warning. A global warning of a loneliness that I can’t even conceive. And yet even within that warning I find hope, because inside the warning there is a morning we remember and this company dances on the thread between that morning and this moment and so there is the possibility that this very moment might be a step to a brighter tomorrow; yes, the fact that you are seeing it, hearing it, that means that you remember that tomorrow, and maybe if enough people come together to see what they already know then this dance will help light the way.