"9/11 Table of Silence"- For Peace
Conceived and choreographed by Jacqulyn Buglisi, in collaboration with visual artist Rossella Vasta
September 11, 2015
Josie Robertson Plaza, Lincoln Center
Now in its fifth year, Jacqulyn Buglisi's 9/11 Table of Silence returned to Lincoln Center with crowds of spectators wrapping around the Josie Robertson Plaza's perimeter. Friends and family, dance community members, joggers with strollers, school kids, construction workers, even New Yorkers with their dogs, gathered for the “prayer for peace tribute.” All looked on thoughtfully as throngs of dancers emerged from behind the plaza’s buildings, performing powerful, ceremonial gestures in intricate cyclical patterns.
An ambitious undertaking, the event involved coordinating 160 professional dancers and 10 live musicians and vocalists. Finding appropriate rehearsal space for a group this size was itself a major feat. Buglisi and her dancers often worked at the Ailey Studios, not far from Lincoln Center. I attended a rehearsal a week prior to the event to talk to the dancers about their experiences.
Jesse Obremski, a Juilliard student, recalled being mesmerized when he saw the work for the first time. "I felt such devotion from the audience."
The experience so enraptured Obremski that he has participated for the past three years. Each time he goes through the “ritual,” his interpretation grows and matures. The work is more than "doing the movements in sync with everyone,” he says. Each gesture and every person is integral to the whole.
Simple, striking motions bring an understated vulnerability to the piece. Dancers raise their arms to the heavens with fury and pinch fingertips at their chests, alluding to plucking heart strings. As one foot hovers slightly off the ground before a step is made, we feel a sense of communion, and a sense of reverence.
Gabriela Messina, a Brooklyn native and recent SUNY Brockport graduate, found significance in Buglisi's evocative choreography by drawing upon her personal 9/11 experience. Her firefighter father, Camillo Messina, was a first responder with FDNY Engine 330 from Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. Her family suspects that the thyroid cancer and heart complications which he developed shortly after 9/11 were a result of his exposure to debris at Ground Zero.
This year, Mr. Messina deviated from his usual practice of gathering at the firehouse with his colleagues. He came out to support his daughter despite having reservations of being in Manhattan on a day that brings back painful memories. "I immediately think of the people who died," he reflects. "I remember that it started out as a beautiful day, and ended very differently."
A Dance Enthusiast Minute: Commemorating September 11 with a Moving Prayer for Peace
Several observers pointed to one particular section of this year's 9/11 Table of Silence that deeply moved them. It was a moment that occurred near the time the first plane hit the North World Trade Tower in 2001. The dancers, tunics rustling in the breeze, came to complete stillness and opened their arms looking skyward, as if physically exemplifying Buglisi's "offering of peace." At this instant, the canopy of grey clouds that filled the sky gave way to the sun.
"It was very emotional for me and still is. The setting, the participation, and even the horns blasting in the background--with life still going on-- what a wonderful tribute," remarked artistic/executive director of the American Tap Dance Foundation, Tony Waag.
Many New Yorkers in the crowd, like Waag, were immediately brought back to that fateful day. "The experience [9/11 Table of Silence] is bifurcating," offered audience member Mark Kellogg. "It speaks to the horror, sadness, and catharsis you go through in an unspeakable situation. [Yet,] there is redemption in it even though we don't know exactly what that redemption is."
“It’s profound and you feel it," reveals Buglisi. "As they start to move together, the dancers bring a powerful energy. Wherever a dancer stood Martha [Graham] would say it was sacred ground. When we come on to Lincoln Center Plaza, we deem it a sacred landscape.”
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