SPEAK: On Being Ally and Aesthetic Warrior

By Krista DeNio

September 1, 2016, PUBLISHED BY IN DANCE
Headshot of Krista in red in front of window
Headshot of Krista in red in front of window
Photo by Naomi Ramirez

Calling all women warriors to the table. To the think tank. the battle eld. the theater. the aftermath.

We will be our own landing ground, recovery center, aesthetic re-design gym, the public’s education + art experience, all at the same time. In Stand Ground, as in every iteration of the EchoTheaterSuitcase project, we will become a community in which artistic process, education, healing and transformation are interdependent.

We begin.

[Bow In]

Hold. Feel. Give. [the three part bow from the Shambhala Buddhist lineage that demarcates the beginning and end of rehearsal]

Contain: I focus a tremendous amount of energy on how to manage our precious time, to get the output of material we need, while giving enough space for intimacy to build between one another, and for the [physical, theater, writing and making] training to take effect. All while attempting to not bypassing the important moments of emotional breakdown, when an individual or the whole ensemble need support…one can never, ever plan for this and the fact is, if we don’t take time for it, the process and the work will suffer for the lack of that attention. We hold the material with kid gloves and a sense of humor, with plenty of paper on the wall and google docs.

Listen: As the director, I am always listening for personal narratives that are relevant to the group, hold strong potential for development. We listen to, and care-take ourselves and one another as we move through the layers from daily struggles, to deep stories that may or may not be appropriate to take to the stage; to critical feedback on the work itself; to our latest date gossip.

Make: Using Moment Work, a form I learned through Tectonic Theater Project, we make a lot of “moments” [mini structured improvisations, initially and later developed performance pieces], based in elements of the stage: movement, text, light, sound, costume, props, architecture, etc. In the case of this project we use our personal narrative writing as source and we constantly consider audience interaction potential.

Sculpt: We hone in on the moments and stories we want to further develop. When is the macro moment (a key point in process) defined? It’s when I begin to guide the work toward a structure. How do we practice the sculpting throughout the process?

Contain > Listen > Make > Sculpt > (repeat)

A cadence. The military understood something very fundamental about the human condition when creating cadences for marching. We need rhythm; we crave togetherness; we seek order; and bringing bodies into action, with voices in unity brings us into the sense of something greater.

The rhythm of our process becomes its own cadence each and every time.

two dancers pull away from each other in front of a waterfall
EchoTheaterSuitcase, courtesy of White Rain Productions

In 2008, I initiated a project focusing on themes of violence and interrogating our individual relationships with it. I wondered what we could identify in ourselves, experientially and otherwise, as learned versus instinctual. What happened on a daily basis and what felt connected to survival, or seemed to be trained. For me, this was part of a lifelong, extreme discomfort with overt violence and a huge desire to try to understand why it is that we go to war with one another on the most intimate, individual levels and then national and global levels.

At that same time, I began hearing the testimonials of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. I realized how very little I knew about what war even was, and how much most American civilians I knew didn’t know about war, about military life, about our U.S. conflicts abroad. I learned so much from each individual story. Like how young most of these folks were; that there were all kinds of people serving, for all kinds of reasons; how betrayed many felt by their superiors, their country, their leaders; how quickly folks serving have to grow up; how much survival occurs and how much inability to survive there was (both during war and after returning back home).

I am now painfully aware of how hard it can be to land back into one’s home and community upon returning from military service and how re-integration into civilian life can become a life-long process and practice for many veterans.

Finding home, returning home, or keeping one’s home is a global struggle for so many on this planet.

In this, I believe our veterans are some of our greatest teachers and will become our greatest leaders in survival: how to make home anywhere and how to survive almost anything.

This is the first iteration of EchoTheaterSuitcase to work with an exclusively female ensemble, made up of both veterans and non-veteran seasoned performers (actors, dancers).

Like never before we see the desperate need all over our planet (and on behalf of our planet) for the power of feminine principle. Yes that means: women in leadership, women recognized for their leadership, and the cultivation of respect for what women do every day on the front lines. YES, RESPECT. For women’s bodies, women’s minds, women’s inherent dynamic creative capacity for navigating dualism and complexity.

We need the patriarchy to stand down.

When I say Front Lines. You say _______
When I say Front Lines. You say _______

A woman on the ground, underneath the weight and force of an unwanted body. She thought he was her colleague and her friend.

Globally, 1 in 3 women experience some form of sexual violence.
In the U.S., 1 in 6 women is the victim of attempted or completed rape.

A female tech professional, in the field for 15 years, still gets paid less than her male counterparts, is not invited into leadership roles even where her capacity is far greater than the men on the team.

Women in the US make 25% less than their male counterparts.

A woman veteran, who worked hard in service—extra hard—to prove herself and climb rank. She continued providing leadership even after the sexual assault and with the PTSD. Now at home, she has to manage her PTSD, her family and a job.

Women veterans are the fastest growing segment of the homeless population.

It’s time to hear these stories.

Again and again, until we understand that it happens everywhere, all the time.

Amazing, talented, hard-working, capable, multi-faceted women leading: brilliant, world-changing initiatives, organizations and teams of people, military companies and missions. These same women nurturing families, raising children, holding a household together.

These same women being underpaid, raped, and expected to do double time, every time.

The time is now [as it always has been] to both demystify the [woman/female] and to grow respect for the all powerful, most vulnerable [yes these two go together], discerning, defining, enveloping, soft, hard, gentle, wise, loving, incisive, feminine, masculine [yes all of those too] nature of her.

She is complex.

And she knows how to hold it together; hold us all, in the struggle, in our grief, in our warriorship.

In a time when we see women losing their sons, brothers, husbands, fathers.
Shot down. On the street. On the battle field. In a night club. In their own cars.
Rape and sexual trauma are on the rise, globally.
Our sisters everywhere, down.
In a time when corporate interests take control of resources, with death and destruction as a literal, direct result.
We must fight to remember that we are human beings. Human beings with bodies and hearts and spiritual relevance. We must learn now more than ever to GRIEVE.

In Stand Ground, we are celebrating our leadership. Mourning our losses. And learning to BE with it all.

We are working on grieving, because that is something we all need practice with.
We all need permission for.
We all need to do in community, as a part of our healing, as a part of life & death processes.

Let the women lead, I say.
We know how to hold it all and how to cry for it too.
We’ve been practicing for centuries…holding it together, and letting it go.

We End.

[Bow out].


Krista DeNio is an interdisciplinary choreographer, director, performer, writer and educator, committed to evolving new forms and models of performance work, experiential exchange and interdisciplinary thinking and creation between the fields of dance and theater, among others. She is the director of EchoTheaterSuitcase project and Artistic Director of KD/MovingGround. kristadenio.com.