I’ve always been enchanted by almost-other worlds.
I was introduced to dance through the magic of Broadway musicals, obscured through a haze of video noise and bleeding colours on the poorly-copied VHS tapes my grandfather mailed me from Connecticut. Despite wanting to fall fully into the flamboyance of the choreographed dance routines, the persistence of the dark lines that panned across the screen kept reminding me: this is not a musical, this is real life.
The idea of an imagined reality laying just beyond my own was simultaneously compelling in its sheer fantasy and ultimately unsatisfying in its implications about real life. Like, it would be nice if one day ladies in skirts started doing high kicks on a rooftop ... but they won’t.
As I grew up, I started realizing that that thing, that … almost-thing … was everywhere - the secret magic that we can’t see below the surface of the real.
And so, as an adult, my work became about people. Not in any grand way - indeed, in a very banal, normal way … but in an invisible way. Their inner monologues, their desires, their fleeting feelings, their troubles … their secrets.
I’ve spent a lot of time on the TTC. I look at people’s faces and I wonder what they’re remembering, what they’re dreaming about, what they’d do if you could just shine a spotlight inside them and blur out everything else.
I think about what people do when you put them in mildly annoying situations - when you stick them on a long line, when you put them in an airport, when you force them into an awkward interaction.
And then I thought … what happens when you put people somewhere after they die? Like, real people, after real death. No angel choruses, no fiery torture - just the drawn-out march of forever. What if you just stuck them in a room together, forever? What would that look like?
I had read and was so charmed by No Exit (Huis Clos) as a teenager (L’enfer, c’est les autres). I had loved the maybe-meaninglessness of the characters being together. But what if you took that, and threw in the very real tangle of our pasts? What if people showed up at all of the stages of grief? What if some of the people knew each other? Would it be better, or worse?
We make adjustments - both conscious and unconscious - when we’re around other people, when we’re trying to play the part of ourselves in real life. We play nice with strangers. We project the version of ourselves we want our friends and lovers to see.
What if, in death, the facades suddenly fell away, and we were just left with each other? What if we weren’t alternately aided or hampered by life’s other preoccupations? Then what would happen?
And would we like it?
Photo by: Zahra Saleki, featuring Marlowe Porter, Jen Hum, Sarah Reid and Math Rosen