If I Cannot Dance, Why Have I Climbed This Mountain? On Program 6 at Anthology Film Archives: A Body in a Chair: Bodies Awake (March 23, 2016)
April 6, 2016
by Svetlana Kitto
With some missing brainpower, one still thinks. Some missing physical power, one does dance.
— Eiko, introducing Program 6
I remember my grandmother, Bella. She was always smiling or crying. Before the war in Latvia, she had just been about to start secondary school. Her stepfather came up with the money, she said. (He was a gambler.) She loved school, she said. She wanted to study, she said. On her way home one day she collided into her aunt. The Germans are here, Totya Sonia said. Come with us to the train, we are leaving. No, no, Bella said. I have to go home to my mother. But on her way home there were gunshots. She watched the cobbletones crack. She ran back in the direction of the train. She escaped with her aunt to a small village in Russia. She returned five years later, too old for school. Her nine younger brothers had been murdered. Her mother and stepfather had been murdered. She met my grandfather at a Jewish Youth dance in Riga. They danced all night. His family had been murdered too.
In Inner Monologue, Kazuo Ohno dances with his hands. He can’t walk because of a back injury and so he dances in a chair. Or with his son holding his back. Or in a crouch on the floor. He throws a bird into the sky as if to celebrate life. He takes the bird back as if to nurture life. It’s his, it’s not his. Life is. He says, I wanted to go to the mountain to dance. But they said I couldn’t. He receives a big cultural award and gets so many flowers at the end of the performance. He cries and holds the flowers. He lets us love him. He keeps dancing even when he is done. He is grateful to be alive. But it is more than that. He demands life from life. He doesn’t care about it being imperfect. But it’s more than that. He is perfect. He promises so much more than the idea that bodies are imperfect. There aren’t words for this. So he dances until he dies, until he is 103.
I got the flu. It came on like a demon in the middle of the night. Woke me up. Demanded I take care of it. It felt like anger. It was useful. I walked into the living room and got more blankets off the couch. I went to the closet and got an old blanket my mom bought me from Urban Outfitters when I went to college. I should probably get some new blankets, I thought. I almost definitely moaned. More than once. Sweating and freezing. I’m a Cathy cartoon, I thought. I am able to laugh at myself. I’m not dead.
My grandmother had her second child. They named her Eeda. She was blonde and green-eyed. She had big dimpled thighs. They put a big bow in her hair. They put her in ballet school. She was on Latvian television playing violin by the time she was 6. My mom wanted to be a ballerina. My grandmother made her choose the violin. The violin would make her famous. She was a prodigy. She was perfect. She was a genius. She was on heroin by the time she was twenty-five.
I’m still on the couch a week later. Every time I get up, this flu sits me back down. I’m confused. I call my Dad in the middle of the night because my heart hurts. He tells me to drink milk. I tell him I only have almond milk. He looks its up, That’s an alkaline food, drink it! He tells me about his finch. How it hops from his to Sylvia’s shoulders. He tells me about the chickens they keep in a hutch in the house. He has to go. I plead: Dad, please keep talking about the chickens. He tells me to drink ginger tea. I do and rub my belly. I let him love me. When was the last time I did that?
Phife dies. I talk to Jibz about the misery of my teenage room. How that music said something better was out there. I talk to Sacha, she says A Tribe Called Quest’s Midnight Marauders was hers alone. Me too, I say. I talk to Katie about starting a magazine. About dreams and speculations. When was the last time I talked to my friends on the phone for hours?
I talk to my mom. I ask her, What did you think about that piece I wrote where I wanted to tell you you were beautiful at thirty-five? She says she loved it. That my voice is getting stronger. But I wouldn’t have loved the dance you’re writing about, she says. She likes classical forms. She’s allergic to many things. You’re wrong, I say. You would love Eiko. Oh, Eiko, yes, she says. I’ve heard of her. What a lucky girl you are.
I show up to Eiko’s last night of films at Anthology Film Archives in the East Village. It’s the first time I’ve been away from my block in two weeks. Everything delights me. A child in a tie and cardigan on the train. Bricks. The pleasure of rushing across the street in a horde. This is what I do, I think. This is what I chose. I plop down in a seat in the theater. A man starts talking to me. Lively crowd, he says. He asks me lots of questions. He smells of alcohol. I’m really hot and sweating again. I get up and move away from him. These are my first hours back in the world and I want to feel free.
Kazuo tells me a lot of things. He invites me into his pain. He doesn’t sequester himself. He doesn’t suffer alone. He is frail. He could die at any moment. He wants to give you everything. He can’t talk about it. He does it. When he accepts his award, all he says is, This is very overwhelming for a person like me. He is still dancing as they wheel him off the stage.
My grandmother died of so many things. Her body was completely addled with disease. Her body became a thing she lugged about. Her body was a problem she had. My grandfather shouted over her dying body, Dvai, Dvai, Dvai. Breathe, breathe, breathe! I never heard him say he loved her until she was dead. When she died, he pretended he was finished with life. Or, he pretended that that was something new. He drank until he was dead. But he always drank. What would have happened if my grandparents kept dancing together?
I spend the last few days of being sick listening to Midnight Marauders over and over. How did I find that tape twenty years ago? It was as if I found it on the ground. I listened to it every day. I remember begging my mom to come down to my teenage room to listen to it. I always wanted her musical approval. I worshipped her. I played her the tape. What do you think? I shouted. I was fourteen and my room always smelled like weed. If she noticed she didn’t say anything. You don’t have to play it loud in order for me to hear it, she said. In fact, if you need to play music loud for it to be good, it’s not good. But I didn’t agree. Some music demands to be loud. I lie on the couch in my grown-up apartment, the flu still with my body—faintly, like a little bird. I remember this memory of my mother. I say it out loud. I let myself love her.