By Isabella Mojares for The Dance Journal
“Presence feels like opening my attention up to as much as possible”
Earlier this month, Megan Bridge (Fidget) and Zornitsa Stoyanova (BodyMeld) hosted the US premiere of their duet, Altered States: A Performance Conversation. The hybrid event took place on August 5th, with live audiences at both the Fidget Space and on Zoom. Centered on their shared interest and research on the notion of presence, the duet truly was a performance conversation, with the two women dancing as they bounced off ideas and thoughts on the topics of presence, performance, and altered states of consciousness.
Dressed in regular, everyday clothes with plain black chairs as their props and a blank walled studio as their stage, there is nothing intimidating about the performers. Their dancing is loose, floppy, casual — but not in a lackadaisical way. Many of us are familiar with the speech pattern that comes out of moments in which we are talking through our thoughts. There’s a little hesitance, more pausing, lots of run-on sentences and the occasional repetition or rephrasing of what’s just been said. Bridge and Stoyanova’s movements are the embodied version of this thought process, a physical manifestation of the mental back and forth of their ideas.
At one point, one of them mentions that they think of presence as doing. The hour-ish long performance builds not to a crescendo of virtuosic dancing, but rather to a denouement of understanding. If presence is a matter doing, Bridge and Stoyanova settle on, then the presence that an artist experiences while in the act of performing must be an altered state of consciousness. Making reference to everything from the Hungarian-American philosopher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (try saying that three times fast mid-leap) and his theory of the flow state, to sensory deprivation tanks, to their personal experiences trying to decide on what grocery store to shop at, it’s evident how much these two artists have mulled over the notion of presence.
Less evident, however, is the structure of the work itself. Is this movement improvised? Is this conversation rehearsed? Memorized? If one is to attend another performance of Altered States, will it be the same script with the same gestures? The same footwork? There are moments where it seems like the conversation follows a natural flow; Something along the lines of “we weren’t going to talk about this until later” came up, but I couldn’t tell if it was a genuine thought interrupting the moment or a built-in moment of self-reference.
Ironically, in my attempts as a (virtual) audience member trying to follow Bridge and Stoyanova’s dialogue and movement, I found myself losing my train of thought, losing my presence in the realm of the performance. Maybe that’s what they were going for — how often do we find ourselves trying to talk through, walk through, dance through an idea, only to lose the original thing on your mind? True presence is fleeting, just as the moments we try our best to be fully capital-I In It.
With much to process at all at once, there is no clean “finish” to the conversation. The conclusion comes in the form of a tender moment between the two performers. Stoyanova is like an exhausted child being carried by a dear grown-up, except instead of a mom or dad, it’s her creative partner, Bridge. The weight bearing feels allegorical — they are not submitting to the fleeting nature of the present moment, nor are they collapsing at an inability to pin-point a singular conclusion. Instead, they are leaning into it, finding presence in one another.