Friday, May 6, 2011
Knowledge of Good and Evil
...And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden. The Lord God commanded, “Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat, but of the tree of knowledge of good and of evil thou shalt not eat. For in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” Now the Serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said unto the woman, “Ye surely shall NOT die. God doth know that in the day ye eat from the tree of knowledge, then shall your eyes be opened.”
I developed the dance “Knowledge of Good and Evil” between 2009 and 2011. This clip is from its first performance: a contribution to the “Objects of Desire” showcase, presented by Venus Uprising at the Merce Cunningham Theater in New York City in April 2011. The music is “Ketto” by Bonobo, from the album Days to Come. The Serpent was danced by Amador S. Juarez.
My creative process for this dance began entirely with the music. When I first heard “Ketto” I loved the unique sound and was intrigued by the possibility of using its distinct sections to support a dance with a strong narrative component. As a starting point, I focused on the abrupt transition that ends the track, where full lush music suddenly falls away to stark echoes, evoking a feeling of being pulled from a dream. From here I imagined Eden, and went on to adapt the story to the structure imposed by the music and to my interest in an esoteric interpretation of this familiar tale.
“Knowledge of Good and Evil” can be most simply seen as a depiction of Eve’s fall. I designed the large piece of fabric in this dance as a representation of Eden itself, but a viewer accustomed to the conventions of belly dance might automatically see this fabric as Eve’s “veil.” (While Eve is never “veiled” by the fabric, the choreography in this section is built on movements from the veil repertoire of American Cabaret belly dance.) Especially in this light, tragic narratives emerge, with the Serpent playing the role of betrayer, seducer, bully, or thief. When the music falls away to hollow echoes, Eve too is fallen and hollow, not only naked but also empty.
“Knowledge of Good and Evil” can also be seen as an allegory of enlightenment.
The dance opens with technical choreography that is not emotionally expressive. Harp-like instrumentation sounds a series of arpeggios with unexpected accidental notes that make the otherwise idyllic music sound vaguely off. Eve’s movements are languorous but contained in a way that renders them flat. She draws decorative shapes in space, and her character is pretty but one-dimensional.
The Serpent, considered as a subversive character rather than as an evil one, whispers truthfully to Eve: the apple brings not death but higher consciousness; it will “open” her eyes. When she accepts, her character comes to life. Eden unfolds around Eve as her newfound “Knowledge of Good” reveals to her that she is in paradise. But, lost in ecstatic dancing, Eve doesn’t notice as Eden slips away. Alienated from the flow of the natural world, she is suddenly confronted by “Knowledge of Evil.”
In this version of the story, paradise can be regained. With open eyes, we see that we may pay attention, learn to recognize and appreciate the “good” that is always with us, and cherish the things we love; or we may flounder in banality of the mundane.
I designed and created the costume for this dance. The foundation is a pair of store-bought leggings and the “Clear-Back Bra” manufactured by The Natural/Coconut Grove. I created a belt, then lowered and re-shaped the waistband of the leggings to match the belt’s top edge. I also shortened the leggings to calf length. I used the fabric I had cut off of the leggings to cover the bra, then added a second layer of the mesh fabric I used for the belt.
The bra, belt, and headpiece are finished with appliques from B & Q Trimmings, 210 W 38th St. I also used barrette blanks (to anchor the butterflies in my hair) from Toho Shoji, 990 Sixth Ave. My Eden veil fabric came from NYC Fabrics, 256 W.38th St. (All addresses are in New York City).
During my performance in the “Objects of Desire” show, I heard more about my choice of hairstyle than about any other aspect of my dance. Much of this commentary came in the fun form of a progression of cast members squealing “buns!” and rushing at me with squeezy hands. But I was also asked over and over again why I wasn’t dancing with my hair down.
I put my hair up mostly because I thought Eve looked more bare with her shoulders and back uncovered. But my hairstyle also reflects my preferences and what I value in dance performance: I didn’t want to obscure the movements in the opening choreography, and I didn’t want to simplify the veil section to accommodate the unpredictability of flying hair. To me, a dance designed around loose hair would have been less interesting.
I’m aware that Princess Leia also wore her hair in two buns, but I thought in the context of this dance and costuming the hairstyle would convey more of an art nouveau quality. Apparently not. [Sigh], no, [eye roll], I don’t have any news from the rebel alliance.
The buns are created by a twirly plastic device called “MagicBun.”