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AUDIENCE REVIEW: Who is Included in "Sanctuary" by Lindsey Hanson Dance Collective?
Lindsey Hanson Dance Collective
July 9, 2021
Friday evening, July 9, 2021, I attended Sanctuary by Lindsey Hanson and her collective of dancers. Before I went downstairs and into the pool pit where the audiene sat looking out into the congregation, I was upstairs walking through the graphite drawings by Margaret Ferrec. It was there in the lobby that I first felt uncomfortable amongst the crowd and the work. What made me uncomfortable was not only returning to a norm of the past, but Fellowship Hall No. 1, The Book of Remembrances, 2019 by Ferrec. I spent time reading through the writing on this canvas and read multiple times about the Lord demoloshing houses being rebuilt and the "chosen ones." It reminded me of the Crusades and people before forced into converting to Christianity and reading the artists intent and statement supported this comparison. Not only was I recalling propaganda of religion without spirituality, but my own instances of being forced to assimilate into a collective idea that doesn't resonate with my own lived experiences, causing me to harm myself for imperfections. I thought about autonomous Black cities that have been built in America and around the world only to be repeatedly demolished by lords, politicians, and fellow citizens with the promise that the redemption of the destroyers will come through subservience to the laws of the Lord. I feel that it is important to note what preceeded my experience because as open as I was to watching Santuary, this was the message I walked into the space with the doors closing behind.
Once we made our way down the stairs the sound of rushing water / ocean waves came crashing overhead. The juxtaposition of a distant, isolated outside environment in relation to the physical space of the church with the congregation taking seats on the stage was alarming and difficult to contextualize immediately. Eventually my mind receded to this event being a baptism; yes, they can happen in oceans too. The shape and form of space was expanded beyond the present physical moment. What was the conversation being posed between these two spaces?
As a theatremaker, I was interested in the bodies and possibility of conversation created with movement and spacial relationships to each other and the architecture. It's been some time since I've been in a room with other people or watch other people touch and hold one another. I had to remind myself to be present and not force my imagination to make sense of things. It is what it is. But what is it?
I forgot what the title of the piece was and found magic in the lighting and shadows against the back wall. The waves became unnoticeable as more dancers appeared from under or behind pews. While the movement was synchronized, they were individually on different planes from the back of the house to the front, and right to left. I didn't know there were that many dancers based on the initial invitation, but I found joy in the surprise of guessing when the next would appear and where. The duets began and I observed that all couples were paired with a partner that looked like them; person of color with person of color and white-presenting with white-presenting. Noah's Ark? Adam and Eve? Taking a quick note of that which I could not ignore, I did not question the intent of the choreographer. Not yet.
We were instructed to walk down the stage and into the house to sit on the pews. Because I was so enamored by the lighting, I might've been the first to notice the duet of two women in the balcony separate from the group below. Why were they separate? Why was it the only same-sex pairing? Was their distance indicative of an underlying message? While the dancers on the ground began moving through the rows toward audiences, I was still focused on the balcony as it faded into an after-thought.
Our perspective had shifted a fourth time as we looked over our right shoulders at the dancers. At this point, I was sitting between two women I didn't know and could not say I trusted. I don't know when or if the sensitivity to space and my surroundings will subside, but in this experience it became a monster I had to let battle it out as I tried to bring my attention back to the movement I was lost in. At the end of the piece we returned to the same Adam and Eve duets as before, which solidified my question to whether decisions were made consciously and with care by the choreographer.
Fortunately I stayed for the talk back and took the opportunity to ask about inclusivity and explained that as an audience member I didn't feel included or safe. I regret that I asked what has changed in the remount follwing 2020 without being more specific. Some people only think of 2020 and the pandemic as the life changing event and do not combine it with institutional racism or the death of Black Women and Men. While I respect the intention to take time to reflect and look inside, everyone isn't afforded the same sanctuary to postpone their suffering. Racism, sexism, homophobia, immigration, classism are not new topics of discussion. After an intense hiatus, what are you bringing back into the creative spaces you share with others? I don't want to be converted to forget or be gaslit from my experience. If we are a community, embracing all that has happened and working through that together seems more beneficial.
I am curious to know what the title was before Sanctuary. In the talkback, Hanson acknowledged that she cannot take care of the audiences trauma, but she wanted to create a caring space for them. As more people discussed their thoughts about what sanctuary means to them, I was reminded of the attacks on sanctuary cities and churches, or how much I hoped and prayed to find my own sanctuary where I felt wanted, safe, and loved. I questioned what adversity was faced or met in the choreography. Personally, I didn't feel it in the fluidity that everyone spoke about. Spiritual journeys are anything but passive and stoic, no matter how much Faith you have. I congratulate the work, design, and effort put into the production. I do not hold Hanson responsible for my takeaway as she is on her own unique journey. How will we artists represent inclusivity and diversity as conversastion on stages as we take our next steps in forginging our coexisting future.