THE BODY IN PIECES
Zoe | Juniper Examines Myths of Memory and Identity
In BeginAgain, wizard art team Zoe Scofield and Juniper Shuey set the stage with a woman on the ground in a full-body cast. She isn’t alone for long. As soon as the dancing starts, she’s joined by a dizzying array of doubles and simulacrums. Two women appear in matching gray shifts, their hair in girlish plaits on top of their heads. Each imitates the movement of the other. Figures appear in projected videos, and the twins occasionally dance with their shadows. The backdrop, a giant cutout featuring profiles of women amidst leaves and flowers, is perfectly symmetrical, a mirrored image. Even the woman in the cast has a counterpart; when the lights come on, another supine body becomes visible behind the scrim.
On which side of the looking glass do we find ourselves? Which dancer is real and which one is an image made in the likeness of her twin? This thought-provoking work suggests there is no authentic or “original” self. Coherence gives way to fractured discord. When together, the twins’ movements draw extensively from ballet vocabulary, their steps clear and controlled. After they part ways for their individual solos, both seem to lose agency over their bodies. Their limbs lunge and lash out as if possessed by an outside force, as if a double lingers in the form of a manipulative ghost.
The stage design is wild. Videos show a flock of birds, a laughing girl, a boy looking shyly at the camera. Lighting shifts between conventional spotlights and the soft dapplings of a forest floor. The music is that of a soundscape featuring the folk trills of Morgan Henderson (from the band Fleet Foxes), birdsong, and electric guitar. The stage is divided in half (another doubling), the front covered in a dark, powdery mulch; when the dancers touch it, they kick up clouds of dust shining gold in the light.
Within this immersive atmosphere the dancers move slowly at first, hesitant to press their feet to the floor. The effect of so many dramatic elements on the stage might have been too much. In this case the manifold details pair with the unsteadiness of the dancing in order to suggest an immersion into a new environment. The sensory overload works to tell a story, one of discovery and disorientation. It’s a little overwhelming, but I think that’s the point.
One of the dramatic highlights of the piece happens when the frame around the mulch pile lights up. The woman, having slipped out of her full-body cast, takes one of the twins and manhandles her into touching the edge of the bright strip. Whatever lesson she’s trying to convey, she doesn’t seem to think it registers. She drags the twin to the back of the stage before leading her to the light again. The urgency of her gestures remind me of what used to be a common practice among mothers: that of forcing children to touch flame in order to teach them not to play with fire.
Halfway through the performance, a white-haired man in a gray business suit brings out two bowls and starts covering the woman on the floor with strips of papier mâché. I can’t tell if he’s a doctor or a sculptor, if he does this in order to set broken bones or to reproduce the physical contours of her body. The slow touches of his fingers on her glistening white legs are deeply unsettling, especially given her inevitable paralysis. When the cast dries she won’t be able to move.
At the end of BeginAgain, the female dancers and their doubles disappear. The man enters into the spotlight of an otherwise darkened stage, singing a variation from “Vois sur ton chemin,” or “Look to Your Path” (you might know it from the movie Les Choristes). He turns over his palms as if in awe of their capability. His fingers are sullied with dirt and plaster, the spotlight on his hands suggesting his role as some kind of god/creator. “Childish happiness is too quickly forgotten, erased,” he says in French. After such interesting exchanges between the various sets of twins, this melodramatic monologue undermines the power of the performance. The finale leaves me wanting to return to the much stronger beginning of the duets, which—given the title of the piece—is perhaps what we’re supposed to wish for after all.
MADISON MAINWARING is completing her PhD in French at Yale. She has contributed to The Believer, The Economist, and Harper’s Magazine, among other publications.