Sophia Zhao

The following is an exegetical interpretation of a dance, linked here. The introductory bit is a reference to the movie “Her,” starring Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson. I include it because, in the movie, Amy Adams’ character is an insecure filmmaker who, as we see, has the idea of making a documentary about her mother. Reluctant to show Theodore (Phoenix’s character) a scene, she relents, showing approximately 30 seconds of footage — her mother, sleeping in an oval of moonlight, like a spotlight. Her husband comes in and begins to watch. It is not long before the husband asks, “Is she going to wake up and do something?” My point of bringing this here is to try and address what would be the philistine response to a dance like Eiko and Koma’s — “Are they going to wake up and do something?” That something of the reticence of the dreaming and sleeping figure is not exciting in its own right, that the voyeuristic activity of watching someone sleep cannot excite anyone but the peeping tom and fetishist. It is to these reductive perspectives — namely, ones that refuse to appreciate something unless they already have in mind a value to extract — that I offer up my counterpoint: a poetic essay illuminating the profound power of the Wild sleeping in these figures.

It should be noted — with great pleasure — that Amy Adams divorces her husband later in the film.

A woman once made a documentary about her mother. Unwittingly, soon to be divorced, in a fleeting last act of intimacy, she showed him a scene, her precious favorite: in the early a.m., in moonlight smirking, her mother, sleeping.

In no time at all, he asked, “Is she going to wake up and do something?”

*

Little rustles more than the heads in that bed of leaves. This sliver of the wilderness evokes past the spotlight of the stage to the empty space surrounding a vivacity, no different than a shaking hand invites, invokes “hello;” better yet, if one really attunes and attends to the kinetic microscopic, one can augur out of the shakes in the shake a finer emotional complexity than just the wave’s broad conveyance, all the signals bound up in a sign. A tone is like a shadow, a layering broil perfectly compacted into the box of an astonishing figure, not unlike these tawny bodies sleeping, tucked neatly in the brush. One has to get their tuning fork and pick-axe and go to work, to excavate all the components that make up the bowstring harmony, the multi-color splash that one arrow of image imparts upon the eye.

More magical than the frame of a painting, the receptive elasticity of imagination; the enigmatic frame of your look is the frame — you are the frame. Your heart, that bounded nothing, is the world conferred, spiritually dissolved for digestion. To press into them is to impress them upon you, warm, viscous musculature, a reception to the clockwork of tongues. It is your soul that enters, this stage suspended. It is the one and only portal true. The pregnancy that swallows; the way the sea for the sky engorges cloud.

In the collection of their dreaming, as clouds gather before the sun, our gaze projects through the net of their bodies a manifold of twilight sensations. There is no wind to rustle the leaves, only the light rock of their heads like the millstone churning wheat into flour, or the wood chair of an old man, a tempo for which he measures in the intense eve of calm how the gathering storm thickens in his bones.

This is a nice day for these wilder folk. The whole of their bodies are marked with the thousand cuts of weather, but here are allowed to relax like the calloused fingers of a farmhand at the decay of dusk. So palpable is their comfort that it springs forth from their picture and envelops us in a phantasmic huddle, not a flash of revelation but, behind a drape of vines, unveiling. I was erroneous to say pick-axe before, I now dare mean machete; one would have to cleave their way to this pearl-pocket of paradise. The sun does not with sing(e)ing wince their eyes, but neither is it cold. They do not shiver, but sprawl. The nipples are poised, but not stricken, the breaths heavy, laden with the sparkling weight of gold — these are good dreams, vivid, stimulating. Their happiness, in an absolutely contrary dress, is as essentially the same as the jubilance of Mattisse’s Le Bonheur de Vivre. It is in fact a photo negative: where there, landscape was ripe with white figures against a manifold of color to illustrate the radioactivity of the soul upon the world, the erotic stains upon the jug of souls — here, the roles have reversed. Hands brusquely, swiftly shift over the greater, languid tectonic shift of continental thighs like fish flowing in the river flow: of scales, light, and water, a tripartite gleam: glisten.

Most dense of all, most frigid in the sleeping faces are the many faces of coppery Buddha, looking up from a stone smile of perpetual contentment, through the glass’s submergence, through the algae, the surface of a window to the fertile, muddy riverbed, upon which the kayaks unendingly glide to the envy of waterlings, more than we foot-bound terrestrials to the avian.

They have drawn up the world, soaked it up, become psycho-fluorescent sponge. For them, the world has become utter white of the remnant void. The dance offers us an intuition into the proverb that sleep is the cousin of death — the void we see intimated here is not the primordial darkness of Mother, not the state of the universe awaiting the Messianic sword of light to cleave open the womb — but the culmination of the apocalypse: paved over, cut down, processed, still as steel, the glass-and-electric yellow of a high-rise window, breeze and curtain, calm. The calm after the storm, the transcendent end of the drang. This was the bang — it ends with not a whimper but whimpers, less than a breeze, only the shuffle of breath, the Sisyphean rock of the head, the kite-flying of dreams, the boat on the sea. Such is that passage to the underworld, the metamorphosis that man unfolds.

Logan Zelk | logan.zelk@yale.edu