The studio is not ours. We are renting space. It is a large room with an irregular hardwood floor and many large rectangular windows looking out onto a residential street on the south side of the building. There are some houses. A glimpse of a bike trail. No one is out there. It is February. It is bleak outside, but the space is so wide, the windows so big, the building historic and clean. I want to work. My body is itching with the desire to move and make. Emily Johnson, the artist who’s studio this is, does sewing projects in here occasionally so we check the floor for pins and a few turn up, so we are glad we checked. I test the floor out sliding feet and hands across it. I’m trying to figure out if it is barefoot friendly. We do find some rough and uneven patches. We also discover a strange hole that’s been repaired. It has been covered in resin and is a dark hardwood frozen jelly looking area…cloudy, smooth and slick.
I don’t think either of us are feeling great. We’ve been sick. Will is still having coughing fits every 10 minutes or so and my stomach hurts, my eyes still feel swollen, my throat rough. We fought about money and personal stuff in the car on the way here. We drop the petty issues as we begin rehearsal. We are generating material. This is research and development. It’s a rough and unstable space for me as choreographer. Lots of sensations are swirling inside me with no specific words to go along with them and I’m wanting to communicate movements and actions to Will, but things aren’t quite done cooking. I plan to revisit some material and try a new idea. I’m brewing something up about the possibility of shaking up time, making space and re-making ourselves. Life and death. Death and life or…more like un-making. Or repairing. Or destroying. Or…I guess we will simply have to do it. I experience this process a lot like that…doing without knowing…doing then understanding.
A simple thing vibrates inside of me maybe too simple. I take a seat at the edge of the space on the hardwood floor, my back to the open white wall, the heater clicks on, it’s very loud, a rumbling monster. I open my notebook…I write:
Heart in the hands, mind in the GUT
Speaking as digestion,
Revisit the the gradient between bent and straight
(I have some index cards here in my notebook with information about constructing the phrase., I look at them, I thought about inserting that text and score here, but I didn’t.)
(Ok, stop looking over my shoulder.)
I call Will over. We do a warm up. We enter into the phrase, I start and stop the music as needed, I cue us to revisit the material using different orientations to the space, to each other.
Movements become more precise. I make some final decisions that feel very heavily Fosse influenced and that’s on purpose, thinking of the real life Gwen Vernon and Bob Fosse another real life couple dancing, like Will and I, but maybe we’re both Bob, or we’re both Gwen, just not at all like them because we’re not cisgendered, straight, thin or famous and I’m not white… small isolated movements, a vaudeville feel but I’ve flavored it with sitting nervously in the office cubicle, the temp workers dead pan walk in uncomfortable shoes, the retail workers desperate and late commute to the extra shift to make enough to pay that month’s rent. These have all really been us. I want it here. A taste of doing something I don’t want to do but have to and am somehow capable of.
I begin to remember the hours on the train the hypnagogic state, you are sure something terrible has happened at home, to your loved one, your pet, an accident, a mishap, and you check your phone expecting the call from the local authorities, the hospital….for some of us this is not a thing that happens rarely this is everyday these anxious thoughts, and for us and these fake characters in the dance we play with the ritualization of the action of emergency, we dance crime scene shots, the worst has happened and what about those left behind without another soul in the world that loves them?
(…back to rehearsal)
We’re rehearsing a new score now, it has been developing.
(I thought about typing the score out here, but I didn’t)
Will lays on the floor in stillness. He has an arm thrown to the side. His eyes are closed, leg at a weird angle, I’m at his side, it’s a worst case scenario. A real fear. I describe him dying alone in a rest stop bathroom, beat up and left for dead, a transbashing, a hate crime.I’ve just found him.
And then he comes back to life.
And we meet, we touch, we move together in unison we travel across the floor together.
And then I die. I collapse, I freeze. Will is at my side, He yells out to no one that I was killed by a Sasquatch while we are vacationing in the Cascades. I laugh even though I’m dead.
And then I come back to life.
And we dance together in unison, and we continue to die and live and die and live…
Its movie magic because death just won’t stick. So. It’s funny. It’s horrible. We play it up, we dance it down, we do it serious to silly, actual sob choking fears hilarious accidents. We keep doing it.Maybe it’s too realistic. We stare at each other’s still fake dead bodies, we deal with the image, not just any body, a loved one, lying in the street, on the floor, on the grass, in the bed, on the stage. In the studio. At rehearsal.
(why I’m inviting this it feels healthy somehow, and very wrong)
It feels a bit like freedom. Or is it a trap? We can end it badly because it is just temporary. It’s a heavy weight somehow building onto my heart, relieved every time we resurrect ourselves. Relieved when I see Will’s eyes open. Relieved when I notice the rise and fall of my breath while I am in stillness.
(And then…where were we in rehearsal? )
We re-situate, pause, laugh, snap at each other, apologize. We talk. we stop, we dance, we are transformed. We are bored, we are ecstatic, we sweat. We are trans. We are moving. We are here. We are. This choreography is in our muscles, we’ve gotten comfortable with this horror, this ridiculous ritual, this sacred funny thing.
Gut. That is what the choreography is called. That is what I’ve named it.
(I was going to insert a scientific quote about the guts being the true brains of the body here, but I didn’t.)
And….if this dance is a foreshadowing , a premonition, that wasn’t my intention…that’s just a side effect, a coincidence. We hug, I linger feeling the aliveness of Will’s back, stunned at the sense of loss I’ve entered and exited repeatedly with this person, not just any person, “my significant other”…and I think about all the moments I don’t want to lose, the moments full of something good or bad or stupid and I cherish them all. I imagine all the complicated, diverse intimate relationships between lovers, friends and family, and I feel adrift in a vast sea of heartbreak and hope for the connections that form and dissolve between people…and pets…and plants…and enemies…and bullies…and…and….that irreversible ending…that inevitable and potential and unknown transformation….that transition waiting for us all.
We start to talk about how to turn the heater off, Will runs to the bathroom, I notice I’m hungry…I check the clock. Rehearsal is about done for today. I began to pack up, looking forward to something warm in my belly.
(Looking forward to the feeling of Will’s warm hand on my belly, too.)
Photo of Syniva Whitney and Will Courtney courtesy of the artist.
About Syniva Whitney/Gender Tender:
Syniva Whitney is an interdisciplinary choreographer + performance artist. Gender Tender is the name Syniva gave to their dream of a queer-centric performance project featuring ideas inspired by their nonbinary gender and multiracial identity. Their methods value the surreal, the sculptural and the embodied. Will Courtney is a lead GT performer+Syniva’s real life partner and muse. When Syniva wrote GUT they were developing the duet BENT/STRAIGHT that premiered at the QSTAGE New Works Series in 2016 produced by the 20% Theatre Co. Twin Cities.
Syniva Whitney/Gender Tender is based in Seattle where they are developing a new work called MELTED RIOT, a queer meditation inspired by the Stonewall Riots of 1969, as one of the artists in residence for 2018 at Velocity Dance Center.