Zeitgeist or Twincidence?

By Rowena Richie


Working on a dance theater project about twins over the past two years I’ve noticed a twinflux of interest. . . . an influx of twinterest. . . . and this abundance of twinness has prompted me to question: Is it a symptom of looking at something through a twin-centric gaze; or is it the Zeitgeist?

Two years ago I made matching dresses out of red-trimmed, splatter-painted pillowcases. The way one dress disappeared into the other, and the same-yet-different feel of the fabric made me think of twins. Initially, I imagined a duet for a near identical-looking couple, not actual twins, but doppelgängers—those paranormal doubles of a living person. But my friend Jennifer Chien turned out to be a more compelling co-conspirator.

The premise of Jennifer and myself as twins interested and amused us because of our difference in age, ethnicity and movement background. Challenging people’s notions of twinness by presenting ourselves as twins would be silly but also fresh, we hoped. Thus our twinquiry began.

We read books and articles on twins, including the January 2012 cover story for National Geographic; made playlists of music, from The Beatles’ “Two of Us,” to identical twin singer/songwriters Tegan and Sara; watched a film about the yodeling, lesbian Topp twins; ate Three Twins ice cream and Twin Girls Farms tangerines. . . . there was a ton of twinformation to be found.

Am I twinsfixed? Or is the Zeitgeist in our midst?

In Spring 2012 we spent two months in residency at Million Fishes Art Collective. The Million Fishes studio had mirrors that extended to the floor. So, we played with our reflections as twins. Our explorations evolved into a video, shot into the mirror, evocative of identical twins in embryonic development. We wrote a song to accompany the video about a fatal fetal phenomenon known as Vanishing Twin Syndrome.

Our residency culminated in an informal showing of the mirror video and other material. At the post-show discussion an audience member told us she had just read an article in the New York Times about a dance called “Twin,” which premiered the same night as our showing. I read the article and found a coincidence: “There’s a phenomenon called a vanishing twin, where essentially one twin, a dominant twin, consumes the other. That’s somewhere in this piece,” choreographer John Heginbotham stated.

Am I twinvisioning it? Or is the Zeitgeist afoot?

In the Winter of 2012 we began another residency, this time as participants in CounterPULSE’s Artist Residency Commissioning (ARC) program. As “richien” – a combination of our last names, Richie and Chien—we set out to further develop our twins piece, called “Twindependent.” That’s when the twin synchronicity came to a head. No, make that the backs of two similar-looking heads with matching haircuts framed by two pairs of identically intertwined arms: a publicity photo on the CounterPULSE website for an upcoming show. I read the description under the photo: “‘In ‘Symptom,’ by the BodyCartography Project, Minnesota twins— dancer Otto Ramstad and visual artist Emmett Ramstad—investigate notions of social bodies versus biological bodies…”

I did a double take. A show by twins a month before our show about twins at the same venue? When I zoomed out for a moment to scan the other upcoming performances at CounterPULSE, the body-double theme seemed pervasive. Between January and March four productions were duets.

Dance writer and critic Rita Felciano wrote a preview of CounterPULSE’s Queer Series, published in January 2013 on sfbg.com, “A broad range of interpretation and subversion of the duet…showcasing new work from artists as diverse and far flung as New York’s Faye Driscoll…and conjoined local choreographic dynamo Jarry, aka Jesse Hewit and Laura Arrington.”

The word conjoined jolted me. In twin terms it means joined at birth. In “Twindependent” we call one section where our arms fuse inside each other’s sleeves “Conjoined.” Rita describes Jesse and Larry as a “conjoined duo,” it seems to me, because they have an artistic affiliation, and they conjoined their first names —Laura prefers to be called Larry— into Jarry. Jen and I have a history of creative camaraderie and we conjoined our last names. Rita could have written “conjoined duo” about us.

The twincidences didn’t stop with the duets. They continued in Mary Armentrout Dance Theater’s “reveries and elegies” at CounterPULSE in January (in which I performed). This show featured “reverie of presence and absence,” a duet between Mary and her life-size video double. In another section, “elegy in the dying of the light #3,” a group of us acted as “memories of [Mary’s] past or future selves…” When “Twindependent” came up in rehearsal Mary told me her younger brothers are twins. She often twins herself in her art because growing up she was seldom able to forget she was only one.

There is something called the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon, where one happens upon an obscure piece of information, and then soon after encounters it again and again to one’s surprise. Some theorize that this has mostly to do with the human brain’s penchant for seeing patterns. Have I just been conditioned in recent months to tune into twinness?

Hard to say, but I don’t think it’s just my mental state. There’s just too much twinness taking place in performance these days. And I believe it relates to larger social trends. Actual twin births are on the rise in America, as the age of women starting families is on the rise, and fertility drug use is increasing. We see more double-strollers in our daily life. And I think a broader spirit of interdependence is taking shape in our world. A greater recognition that we must deepen connections around us helps explain the reelection of Barack Obama and his we’re-in-it-together mantra. Obama’s mixed-race background itself symbolizes our sense that we’re all one family.

I think a fascination with twins also reflects the way all the social media-ization of our world leaves us thirsty for a flesh-and-blood bond.

It’s clear to me there is a Zeitgeist going on.

But…What of it? What does it mean to my work as a dance-maker? On the one hand, it makes me anxious and jealous and worried that Jennifer and I will be seen as copycats. In this sense, we really are like twins to our fellow artists tackling the twin topic. Twins, at times, hate having a near-clone and a constant rival for attention.

On the other hand, most twins wouldn’t give up their special sibling situation for the world. They treasure learning from, relating to and plain-old loving their twins. Ditto for me in this artistic twinscape I find myself. My envy of my fellow choreographers pales in comparison to the hunger I have to understand how they have twinterpreted the subject.

Thankfully, everything I’ve seen from all of us twin types has been twintriguing in its own right. So for all you in the dance community, I invite you to grab hold of the Zeitgeist. I’m pretty sure more twinvestigations will follow those mentioned here. Check us all out. Like twins, we’re similar and different at the same time.

ROWENA RICHIE has a BFA in dance from California State University, Long Beach, and an MA in Creative Inquiry from New College of California. She is work- ing with Christy Funsch, and others, on a new project about the connections between capitalism and longing. Erin Mei-Ling Stuart’s 100 Days Practice blog can be found at emspacedance.org. John Milton Hendricks’ 100 Days blog can be found on Tumblr under MiltoJr. Sue Roginski is a co-founding member of P.L.A.C.E. Performance; placeperformance.org. Get the skinny on Chris Black at chrisblackdance.wix. com/dance.