These past two weeks have been cold, very very cold. The first cold week, between Christmas and New Year’s, aligned with my week off line. I had decided to spend the time between the holidays completely analogue. I looked at the thermometer to decide how many layers to wear for my daily playtime in the snow. There were days I only could be outside for 30 minutes and other days hours went by.
This time also aligned with the production phase of costumes for a site specific outdoor performance in Montpelier, VT. Based on my experience and observations during my daily outdoor excursions I adjusted the design of the costumes. While cold air pushed through the frames of the windows and the sewing machine was felling seems of rugged tyvek material, the same material that creates a weather barrier for our houses, an immediacy of form following function was occuring. While designing, cutting, stapling, stitching and taping these costumes, each degree of drop in temperature resulted in an additional layer of protection.
The layering of tyvek material also correlated with my layering of thoughts: my own experience outside, the dancers’ comfort and safety, the connection and meaning to the piece which was about felling a tree in the cycle of producing firewood, and the Arctic and Antarctic excursions in my own life and in history. What drove fearless Norwegians and British explorers to Antarctica 100 years ago ? “Why risk it?”a friend asked me on one of these cold days, referring to the outdoor performance. The question stopped me in my tracks, albeit only for a brief moment. I had never thought of this and realized that once I would have that question circling in my mind I would have to stop doing my work. Some of my driving questions are: How? What will happen? What will it be like? What will it feel like?”
Site specific performance work is like any outdoor adventure. Nature and the conditions of the site lead and you follow. We can’t control the weather or the conditions of the site, but we can listen and find traction in the given.
In a winter driving course I took recently in order to work through my post traumatic stress and fear from numerous past winter car accidents, I heard the following directions from the teacher: “You will learn how to read the road and look for grip.” He was talking about reading the landscape. No matter whether I drive my car, backcountry ski in Antarctica or the Arctic circle, paddleboard, sail or windsurf on Lake Champlain or learn to skateboard, it always comes down to carefully reading the landscape.
The second week of the cold spell, the week of the scheduled performance, I was back on line. The waves of panicked news of weather patterns with dramatic names washed into my nervous system. Luckily, I had reference points to compare with: the temperatures from the previous week. Why would -24F with 15mph wind suddenly feel threatening and fear invoking when they were perfectly fine (with proper gear) the previous week? The difference was the story that social and other media told. Now I had to use some of my energy and focus on differentiating the actual situation from the news-story. I felt grateful to not live in a coastal area and to be safe from floods. Vermont isn’t that close to the Eastcoast, so no threat here. This past week gave me the practice of differentiating, filtering and redirecting to my own analogue experience, laws of nature and the actual site. The ultimate question wasn’t why but how.
Leaning into the experience gives us information. Information gives us choices and choices give us freedom to make decisions. This freedom gives us a more human experience. That’s why.