What is The Commons Crit?

These are my fragmented observations from a single rehearsal, jotted down in a notebook as dancer Megan Yankee sorted through movements and thoughts related to her upcoming dance performance in The Commons at Carolina Performing Arts. We chatted, I read. She moved, I listened. —Victoria Bouloubasis

At CURRENT, Megan Yankee is leaping and gliding among books, some opened, turned over, and propped up at a specific page, with lines highlighted in neon pink. From Out of the Shadows: Mexican Women in Twentieth-Century America, by Vicki L. Ruiz; They Called Them Greasers: Anglo Attitudes Toward Mexicans in Texas, 1821-1900, by Arnoldo de León; Borderlands / La Frontera, by Gloria Anzaldúa. Historical references on identity, on belonging.

When art dutifully interacts at the intersections of individualism and the collective imaginary, it still demands the inclusion of something personal enough to both relate to the audience and feed its voyeurism. In Borderlands, Anzaldúa describes the border as “una herida abierta,” an open wound. Decades and generations later, the symbolism resonates across a spectrum of feelings we hold both collectively and privately—of abject despair, of constant healing, of tiny victories, and of very public rage.

Through her work, Megan delivers her own experience in order to relate to others at the intersections of these feelings and the tangible realities that accompany them. Her method for this piece is still becoming clear, but she’s certain there will be an interactive element—and an active choice—that will push against subconscious voyeurism and flip the collective gaze inward. 

A certain very public voice that I often try to avoid sounds through the speakers, attempting to deliver sound bites that will convince the American people that our country is being invaded. “Tremendous onslaught.” “Lawless state.” “Threat to security and well-being.” Each interlude of interruptive applause feels like a well-timed ritual, shocking me more than the words themselves.

Megan, who, in her prior work, has used a version of this speech jutted up against the cries in La Llorona, moves through the words for ten minutes. The voice bellows a list of societal issues that we can objectively identify as problematic—overburdened schools, crowded hospitals, high unemployment rates. Megan’s body wavers loosely on one leg, her arms swaying in agreement while her core lurches back and forth to find balance. The message is nonsense preying on logic. The voice adds one last punch: “depleted social net.”

“Tolerance for illegal immigration is not compassionate. It is actually very cruel,” the man’s voice continues. More applause. Megan crumples to the floor; her movements, though slow all along, melt into visible fatigue. When the man praises “legal immigrants,” Megan reaches toward the ceiling in a staccato stretch, gingerly, deliberate in her hesitation.

“I don’t even hear what he says anymore,” she admits as she moves, “and I can focus on his dump-truck voice.”

We need a break. She changes the tune to Lizzo’s “Worship Me” and begins a new choreography she’s learning from a friend.

By her books, Megan has scribbled notes about her piece’s narrative onto small, rectangular sheets of paper. The performance will tell a nonlinear story, perhaps her own. The collective imaginary becomes symbolic and personal. On the first slip of paper she wrote: Bulletproof vest. Folklórico skirt.

Lizzo serenades:

“Woo, I’m lit. Don’t mess with it.

Woo, stand back, let me do my shit.”

Outside on the sidewalk, below the studio’s neon sign glowing with the words “It’s Time,” three white men of varying heights walk by, wearing white button-up shirts tucked over protruding bellies. Their stomachs are allowed to swell and deflate at their leisure (and pleasure), permitted to let fabric stretch taut over the bloat without thinking twice about how much space they take up. No one would shame them for being fat, being human, bellies lusting en route to eat or drink, to be filled with whatever they please.

In a gleaming white clump, they saunter by the window, looking in. They watch Megan lay on her back like a beetle who’s stuck, limbs flailing frantically. The clump stares, then clips its pace when the three faces see that I notice. I’m not sure if Megan notices them. I’m not sure who else sees any of it.

Earlier, Megan told me that this performance, which she hopes will be mostly in Spanish, is meant to be “a love letter” to native Spanish speakers and “a splash of cold water” for others. Right now she’s a beetle on the floor embodying the turbulence on those, and all, sides.

In my notebook, I ask myself: What collective memory will be born out of this moment in time? I must be thinking of the political context of this moment. Everything is political now, in this moment in time. Our bodies. Their bellies. Colors. The dump truck voice and its reverberated chaos. What can we all agree on here? is what I write down next. I immediately decide it’s a dumb question.


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