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Investigating the Syntax of Trauma Through the Repertoire of Downtown Dance

By Christine Gwillim

We’re in a dance studio where a friend of mine teaches children’s ballet after school. Cyclists whiz by outside on second street, the trees sway in the breeze and disrupt the stillness of the mirrors I face. I try not to stare at people I know in the audience- through the mirror. I wonder if they’re also sneaking glances at me. A friend texts. They are. We notice ourselves noticing others noticing themselves, and I think this is surely an apt space for a hyperbolic performative lecture on dance and trauma. In his essay on Ferver for the Fusebox 2019 Catalogue, Grant Wahlquist claims that “whatever we [critics, reviewers, bloggers] write about them [artists] usually says as much (if not more) about us than we acknowledge, which is to say that any analysis or critique is a function of projection or transference in the Freudian sense.” (26) The mirrored staging at Ballet Austin extends Wahlquist’s claim onto the visual plane. Whatever we see is as much us and our own perspective as it is the performance. I’ve seen this piece elsewhere, in New York, without the mirror, and I felt a lot less implicated in the experience. Do I need to know how you move when you remember being raped? I don’t want to think about my body in that moment- but I do- and I think about other work that embodies trauma, and I don’t want the skillful gyrations of Ferver’s lithe body to also be tied to an experience I (we) try to forget. I don’t want to think about Martha Graham, and Prince, and a former professor who’s also here- looking in the same mirror- but I can’t help it, because trauma lives in our bodies and Ferver’s work is a painful reminder that his/our traumas are collective. His movement is virtuosic, solemn, and too much. I want him to talk, or dance, but not both. I don’t want to link things I already knew were linked. Ferver uses his body to link the syntax of trauma to the repertoire of downtown dance, Rainier, Paxton, and others pulled in with a flexed foot, and a quotidian walk. They’re here and not here, or maybe it’s just me, conjuring them into the room so I don’t have be alone as I watch. The performance ends and Ferver leaves, then returns and takes three deep bows, as is customary in a dance curtain call. I marvel at the flexibility of his body as he gracefully wraps his hands around his calves in each bow. His body folds and unfolds easily, enacting an autopilot score that I wonder if he even notices anymore. I wonder which of the many movements in the performance evoke trauma for him. I imagine an EMDR therapy session, locating trauma, and realizing that it’s in a place that doesn’t make any sense, that seemingly has nothing to do with the event, but actually has everything to do with it. The bow at the end of the piece is oddly the most heartbreaking bit, a reminder that our bodies remember and perform with or without us.


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