Women: Find Your Creative Voice

April 17, 2011

Do women artists speak in a different voice? ODC hosted “Women Who Frame the World: A Symposium on Creativity,” April 13–14. Co-artistic director Brenda Way urged the 100 mostly dance community participants to explore “risk, appetite, and meaning” with seven lively arts presenters, whose theme In a Different Voice is also the title of presenter Carol Gilligan’s groundbreaking book.


A Harvard psychologist and author, Gilligan is also a dancer who kept her artistic life “a secret.” She credits that secret life with having freed her creative voice. She describes running afoul of editors who preferred sociology’s deadening passive voice to the active voices of women whose words are routinely discounted as naïve, crazy, wrong or beside the point. Observing men’s tender treatment of their pre-school sons, Gilligan concluded that the answer did not reside in a battle of the sexes where men were the enemy, but in women finding a way out of their “false stories,” where “the opposite of losing must be finding” —as in finding that creative voice.


Choreographer Liz Lerman read from her book, Hiking the Horizontal. She spoke of rehearsal as a privileged place where being committed fully yields insights into awkward beauty, letting the “beast, babble and bullhorn” drive dancers beyond what the body can do and say. “If one wants to dance at the Kennedy Center and do outreach work in the community, this (miming the upper fist as the Kennedy Center and the lower fist as the community) pushes the community to the bottom.” She then mimes both hands on a steering wheel, so that they are in parallel. “This is how it should be. Never choose between nurture and rigor,” she cautions. “Turn discomfort into inquiry. We don’t have to make impoverished choices.” Yet, when faced with choosing between a New York tour and company health insurance, she chose insurance.


Poet Jorie Graham quotes Keats: “Thinking has to be tested in the pulse.” Her mother, sculptor Beverly Pepper, says “I can’t face fear, so I don’t let it in.” Kui Dong, a Beijing-born musician, feels unworthy to speak, then shares a composition so bold that it invites comparisons to Glass and Stravinsky. Eleanor Coppola describes film as a medium in which you surrender best laid plans to the reality of the captured shot. She shows her early video of a woman in a single pose dressed in a succession of ensembles, as a chorus of female voices rises in contention.


Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva, NPR’s The Kitchen Sisters, have documented the lives of ordinary women in “Hidden Kitchens.” Their underground kitchens made them unsung heroes of the Civil Rights movement. ODC performs the inventive “Waving, Not Drowning,” and the epic “Investigating Grace,” both by Way. Actor Tina Packer teams up with Nigel Gore in “Women of Will.” It’s a mash-up of Shakespeare plays (including three that have inspired dance works: Othello, Taming of the Shrew, and Romeo and Juliet). They reveal Shakespeare’s identification of a patriarchy spawned by the rise of private property and the Greek city-state, as key culprits in the subjugation of women.


Painter Claudia Bernardi participated in human rights–sponsored excavations of the bones of families massacred in Guatemala. Later, she collaborated with ODC co-artistic director Kimi Okada on the dance work Flight to Ixcan. http://www.criticaldance.com/magazine/200403/articles/kimiokada20040300.html


Asked how it felt to see factotums from the murderous Rios Mont regime attend a survivors’ mural dedication, Bernardi invoked the title of her talk: Xaliha. In Xinca, the Guatemalan indigenous language, “Xaliha” is the place where two rivers merge. ODC helped us find our own Xaliha, and it was in every way the opposite of loss.