Studio 2 @ Zoomtopia from the outside looks like a dentist’s office, the old boxy kind from the 70s. The name might cull images of a room full of yoga mats for short-distance sprinters, but it is not. The venue has a sprung dance floor, modern theatrical lighting, an excellent sound system, and bleacher-style seating for 40-100 built from un-sanded birch wood. It also houses the N.E.W (New Expressive Works) artists residency program, which is how I came to see Suniti Dernovsek and Holland Andrews's piece titled, “Leading Light.”
I arrived at that unassuming building through an invitation from another artist–in–resident, Nancy Ellis, who also performed that night, as part of the residency’s showcase. The showcase featured two other performances in addition to Dernovsek and Andrews’s. Ellis is an acquaintance that I know through the professional world. Before that night I did not know about N.E.W, or Studio 2 @ Zoomtopia, or Suniti Dernovsek, or Holland Andrews, or that Ellis was even a dancer.
Because I am mostly a bookish person who frequents readings and lectures, I forget about the other art forms. Watching those dancers reminded me that story and expression is first housed in the body even before language. The four residencies explored various themes including confronting womanhood; different personas; memory explored through autobiography; and when Dernovsek and Andrews took the floor for the final act of the evening, it could only be described as a force imbued.
We, the audience, were asked to move off the bleachers to the other side of the room. Some sat on the floor with their legs crossed or fully extended, and some of us took chairs. We created a semi-circle, then the room went dark, and a circumferential operatic voice emanated through the speakers, while a spotlight grew to show Andrews in a black dress behind a microphone with a pedal board at her feet. Her voice long and haunting drew out the vision that was Dernovsek’s lithe body from behind the bleachers.
As Andrews looped in and out from melodic notes to growls to banshee-type shrieks, Dernovsek languidly progressed her tightly choreographed movements from smooth to angular expressions. At the height of the performance, Andrews’s voice rose to a room-rattling decibel as Dernovsek jumped up and down rapidly, thrusting her arms above her, as if she was trying to expel her limbs off her torso.
There are only a few moments in life when I feel placed, so when it happens I know. What I mean by being placed is the feeling of presence. It happens to me in a windstorm when I feel my forward motion challenged and my body held. It also happens when I fall off my bike. It’s a sensation and recognition that happens in the chest, like realizing you’ve been on the grid all along, and at that same moment your tracking dot blinks on, fast and red.
That night, the sound and the vibration, the body and the movement, the space, the deliberate light, the shadows, the speakers, the rumbling floor, the other people in the room. All the effusive details still won’t reconcile that some things are beyond language, like how a storm has no outline except the things it’s impressed upon: broken branches, crashing waves. How the hairs on my arms stood upright. How Dernovsek and Andrews’s “Leading Light” filled the hull of my ribcage, is about the best I can do to explain it.