“For every image of the past that is not recognized by the present as one of its own concerns threaten to disappear irretrievably…To articulate the past historically does not mean to recognize it “the way it really was”. It means to seize hold of a memory as it flashes up at a moment of danger.” – Walter Benjamin
The process of conjuring memory and seizing the past drives ODC Theater resident artist Amara Tabor-Smith’s creation of He Moved Swiftly. Having discussed personal collections of dance acquired through shared time and space with artists on the blog last week, Smith’s discussion about her project during UC Berkeley’s Dance Studies Working Group meeting expanded on the significance of one’s past. During her presentation, she braided Ed Mock’s influence into ways of moving forward through her current work.
Tabor-Smith cites the word Sankofa, an Akan word of Ghana, meaning, “to go back and get it,” also associated with a proverb translated “It is not wrong to go back for that which you have forgotten.” Tabor-Smith thinks of Sankofa as “going back to move forward,” and also mentions “spiral time” (a term used in relation to performance by professor Leda Martins) in which the past and the future meet in the present.
“This man is why I dance. He is largely forgotten.” comments Tabor-Smith. She considers herself a descendant, speaking of how dance captures the history of a body. Tabor-Smith began attending Mock’s studio on 32 Page Street at age 14. She remembers him as a storyteller who embodied jazz – a fearless improviser.
“I was never as impacted by someone’s presence as when he walked into the room. I felt spirit embodied in him,” Tabor-Smith notes. She also describes Mock’s full commitment toward presence and improvisation as one of risking failure that comes with letting the idea move through the body. “People want you to take risks when you dance but they want it to be ‘good,’” she adds.
To declare what it means for a dance to “be good” reflects one’s taste as well as mediation of mass opinion and personal attitude, and Brian Phillip’s essay outlines the impossibility of answering that question. Tabor-Smith feels that Mock’s performances demonstrated a great range, keeping him from being located in any single identity. She mused about executing his fast footwork, screening a soft-shoe-influenced performance in which she and Wayne Hazzard performed.
Tabor-Smith also spoke about his improvisations with Bobby McFerrin and Joanna Haigood. Mock was a contemporary of Alvin Ailey and studied Horton as well as Dunham technique and some Limon. He moved from Chicago to San Francisco in the 60s and worked with artists including Gloria Unti of Performing Arts Workshop, Anna Halprin and Terry Sendgraff.
“Ed was always evolving; it always had to be new. This work is about conjuring Ed in a community that doesn’t know him anymore and about a time that doesn’t exist anymore in a changing city, and it’s about AIDS because that’s what he died of.” Therefore, in addition to conjuring, the work is about allowing grief. Tabor-Smith was 21 when Mock passed. She is now the age at which he died.
Speaking to a culture in which we celebrate breaking new ground, Tabor-Smith stresses the importance of remembering where one receives his or her information, stating, “You get what you have from somewhere and somebody.” In conjunction with the new work, Smith is planning Carried in the Body: Dance Legacies Lost and Found, an evening discussing lineage with dance artists including Brenda Way, Joe Goode, Robert Moses, Sara Shelton Mann, Anna Halprin and Deborah Vaughnn on May 3 at YBCA at 6 pm.
Who are your teachers? What are the threads composing your amalgamation?
“Reflection shows us that our image of happiness is thoroughly colored by the time to which the course of our own existence has assigned us. The kind of happiness that could have aroused envy in us could exist only in the air we have breathed, the people we could have talked to…” – Walter Benjamin