The gloATL performance might have been a foreign experience for many attending the opening ceremony for Emory’s week of events marking the 10th anniversary of 9/11, and this is part of the beauty of what gloATL offers audience members: an invitation to re-evaluate their assumptions both about the world and their relationships within it.
Their performances are influenced by the contemporary art critic and curator Nicolas Bourriaud who developed what he called Relational Aesthetics, which emphasizes human interaction as a mode of aesthetic production. At first blush, this may sound like a no-brainer for good art, but with more careful consideration, one can see why this aesthetic makes gloATL’s performances stand apart from more traditional performances that one might see on stage. Their interaction with the space, which includes the audience, informs the dance and is both captivating and often unsettling.
But gloATL’s purpose is not necessarily to make you feel comfortable, and goes beyond entertaining: Their mission is to get the audience to engage with the performance—and for those who wish to sit back and passively watch, this can be an uncomfortable act.
The opening events for the 10 year anniversary of 9/11 fell under the umbrella of memories and memorialization, and the flyers for the event make a humble, yet powerful request: “Remember.” This is why I could think of no better way to open these events than to be activated by gloATL.
Without any introduction, the first dancer appeared bearing a translucent black bag of colored ribbons. Like a ghostly specter, she crept up the hill from Dickey Drive to Asbury Circle to the oval platform where a wire leafless tree had been placed. She carefully opened the bag, which looked a bit like a globe, or the earth as one audience member put it, and released the multi-colored ribbons. They dropped like autumn leaves, and blew across the ground, signaling a change, perhaps an opportunity for rebirth.
The performers and the music created a landscape of memory. The music revealed a detailed terrain of sensory experiences. The dancers were dressed in muted colors that seemed to resemble the fickle, often abstracted nature of memory. Some memories can be more vivid than others; other memories escape you and over time fade into a whisper in the background.
The music was an integrative part of the experience. Some of the music bore resemblance to a music box; at one point, dancers twirled almost ironically like little music box ballerinas. Part of the music reflected one’s journey of running into the ocean, again reinforcing how memories might ebb and flow gently or crash onto and fade back into the surface of other memories.
The idea is not to fight these memories but to acknowledge them—even the painful ones—and to allow yourself to embrace the transformation that these experiences and memories give you.
This is what I felt with the culmination of the performance where the dancers began to collectively leave the scene only to rush back, ready to begin again, to tenderly help the frail wire tree to grow and flourish again. The dancers led audience members by the hand to the tree to tie the ribbons or new leaves onto the tree, so that we could begin again and flourish together.
Some say we live in a post-9/11 world and that this means we must be constantly vigilant and suspicious of the potential danger in the world. Others might say that living in a post-9/11 world can mean an opportunity to begin again, and to remember that we can only rebuild by nurturing a transformation in each other that helps us each grow within and beyond ourselves.
Thank you, gloATL, for another engaging and transformative performance.
--Karen S. Rommelfanger, PhD
Emory Remembers 9/11
Wednesday - September 7, 2011
Emory University - Asbury Circle
Conceived by Carlton Mackey
In collaboration with the Emory University Center for Ethics
and its Ethics & the Arts Initiative,
The Office of Religious Life and the Inter-religious Council,
Under the Direction and Artistic Vision of Lauri Stallings and gloATL.
Images by Carlton Mackey/My True Vision Photography