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Haikai: Identity & Journey

Entry by Marin Beck

“Making art is the process of transforming raw experience into palatable forms. This transformation is a mimesis, a representation.”

Thus the following quote from the writing of Richard Schechner ran through my mind as I watched Haikai on May 20th. After months of delving deep into theory, both from the field of performance studies and intersectionality, finally in tangible form there appeared Henry’s ideas of each dancer’s raw experience and journey translated into performance. 

Who are these people?  Where did they come from? What is their lived truth? There is no easy response to such questions; the complexity of relations is apparent in every movement, every moment when the silence is anything but, and rather instilled with a flurry of emotion and gesture that speaks volumes in those apparently empty, soundless spaces.  The choreography effectively captures this multiplicity; intersections of oppression and privilege appear to occur as one body becomes marked and encounters systemic challenges. Whether these challenges be racism, colonialism, sexism etc. – as a viewer we can only guess – but the evidence of such forces is undeniably there.

The graphics above the stage, of unfocused lines, (like smeared paint) blend, move, and are indiscernible from each other. This came to represent the notion of a “journey” and also how intersectionality may be understood in this piece. When one thinks of a journey, they imagine a place of departure and a place of destination; point A to point B. Simple. It appears linear, but in actuality a journey is incalculably intricate and complicated, full of starts and stops, moments of misdirection, interaction, and encounter. One’s journey is never their own; it bleeds into those they chance upon and those things they cannot predict or avoid (but must endure), irrevocably creating a chain reaction of effect as distinctions become blurred.  Each encounter serves as a new point of exposition and counterpoint, in which a new status of being is created, if only for a brief moment. Together the blurred lines of meaning and identity become greater than the individuals apart.  These moments of impact with other bodies and systemic forces ultimately decentres any notion of one static understanding – of one’s self, of others, of identity and ultimately – of journey. What is rather apparent is relational experience juxtaposed simultaneously with unique, contradictory difference.

These moments of impact do not always appear positive, nor can they be seen as equal.  As one dancer appears, their actions and movements appear to ripple out, hitting others in waves, hard and soft. Those affected stumble; their body breaks down into jagged, unsure, and shaky movements as they desperately try to hold on, perhaps even to fight back. The result is entangled forms and balls of human misery that appear hardly able to move.  Other bodies are manipulated, moved, pushed, pulled, even carried. Power is undeniably at play: who does and does not hold power? It invariably shifts, as some dancers appear in shadow, others in light. No one individual is solely powerful nor solely powerless, yet undeniably there is an array of situations in which some have an easier journey, unburdened by unseen privileges. Others appear much more imbued with struggle and anxiety – the result of debilitating oppressive forces – roadblocks encumbering their journey from point A to point B.

The complexity of individual identity and lived experience is most prominent in the last act of the gamelan piece. The three “shadow dancers,” marked by their cynicism and hostility, demand attention from all. They critique that which is occurring around them; they offer warning and ask why it must be so. They make it stark, how indivisible power is, in shifting and moving each dancer. Identity is wound up in one’s journey – inextricably – all the while being formed and altered by those moments of manipulation, ease, and entanglement. These are moments of acceptance juxtaposed with instances of stigmatization. The circle is the whole; everyone is apart of it (by choice or force) yet there are times when they are separate from it, forced to the outside or the centre. The dancers appear to try to fight this, the established whole. This idea was most personified by Arash’s all-consuming violent struggle; was he fighting himself or was he fighting outside forces as they encroached upon his journey?

Much was going on in the performance from beginning to end, raising questions of belonging, exclusion, inclusion, and power. It can be understood as a celebration of the distinctions between each dancer along their journey, but also a critique of history and present, the dynamics of power that shape us, and the contradictory and multiple meanings each individual grapples with as they manoeuvre through the known and unknown.