Already Broken

One of our core ensemble members, who I have collaborated with closely for the past 4 years, has just moved home to Japan. It is a great loss for me, and a great loss for our company. Julie Brown gave so much to our work, in countless ways.

This shift has triggered some reflections on impermanence for me, particularly in relationship to my goal of developing a long-term ensemble. I am very interested in what is possible when a group of artists stays together for many years,  project after project. Like any committed relationship, such a collaboration will have tremendous challenges, and hopefully, tremendous rewards. The overlapping Dandelion Dancetheater ensembles I have been developing for the last 5 years inspire me to no end. And I’m thrilled with the intimacy we’ve established and how that translates into our performance work.

While I know intellectually that all things are impermanent and even long-term ensembles come together and break apart many times, it is still somehow a shock when an ensemble member moves on. I’m sure Julie will continue to be a part of Dandelion projects in various ways, and I’ve found that sometimes performers get more consistently involved once they have moved away. (We’ve been working with Jacques Poulin-Denis every year since he moved back to Montreal in 2003.) Yet, I am grieving the loss of her weekly presence, her body and ideas in the studio at rehearsal. I have become attached to her in my work, and am having trouble letting go.

How can we reconcile investing deeply in long-term relationships with collaborators, knowing that they will end, often much sooner than we’d like? How do we commit to going deeply with our ensembles, knowing they will eventually scatter to the wind? How can I create a “safe” container for ongoing, risky, artistic exploration, when it will keep breaking apart?

I’m reminded of what one of my teachers, Stephen Levine said repeatedly about relationships. He would encourage us to dive fully into love, knowing that we’d have our hearts broken over and over. He would remind us that it is a much richer path to feel the joy of coming together completely, which always includes the pain of breaking apart. He would speak of his teacher, Ajaan Chah, and recount the story about Ajaan Chah explaining to a student that he loved the crystal glass on his table–loved to drink from it and admire it. A beloved student had given him the glass. He loved the glass because he knew it was already broken. So when one day he accidentally knocked it over and it crashed into a thousand pieces on the floor, he would not be surprised, and could instead appreciate it in its new 10,000 forms.

Maybe the trick in building a long-term, committed ensemble of artists is knowing that it is already broken. It has already dissolved. And that way, as it shifts each time someone leaves, and someone new comes in, I can fully appreciate it in its new forms.

I aspire to open my heart completely to all my collaborators. And to allow my heart to break each time one of them leaves. It seems when we allow our hearts to break in this work, it allows something vital to continue, from one phase of the work to the next. The cracks in the hearts become a canyon for a river of creativity to flow through. Without the cracks, the river is dammed and the art remains out of reach.

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