The Thread of Tension

Written by Henrietta Bollinger
Edited by Jess Holly Bates

The thread of tension is the fifth in our Cross-pollination series, where writers respond creatively to performance. HerHenrietta Bollinger, poet, educator, playwright and ability activist speaks to her experience of Kyah Dove’s “Death. Birth. Death. Dance.”

On reflection, given the title repeats ‘death’ I should have been expecting something dark. I arrive at Playstaion with enough time to orient myself. I’m not sure what to expect from the peak of white – is it salt or sand – and the softly whirring projector. Kyah Dove enters naked and kneels on the hard floor near the pile of sand. As the the audience gradually drift in, whispering/orienting, I watch Kyah. Another woman enters, over a quiet exchange the other woman applies some kind of lotion to the slope of Kyah’s back. This is preparation, like peering backstage. As the performance unfolds I will become more and more grateful for seeing this intimate and gentle moment. It becomes a touchstone for me in a performance full of unexpectedly sharp edges hidden beneath soft exteriors. We are intent as the performance begins, our collective gaze on the performer feels half invited, half voyeurism. The first moments are meditative, a slow pull in. Our attention is drawn to a now to a small pile of flowers on the stage. For a long while we watch the performer select and pin these to her legs. This starts the thread of tension that will run through the rest of the performance. Tension I feel in my body, my legs, the pit of my stomach. Tension that holds the other audience members and I in its thrall. Later shards of mirror will be pulled from that soft pile of grains. On the wall behind the performer a film will soon appear. Playing in parallel. Beneath this an urgent and disorientating soundscape builds progressively as the action peaks and recedes like waves. I remind myself to breathe until the performer stands and smiles to applause.

Written by Henrietta Bollinger

Edited by Jess Holly Bates

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