Five weeks ago my close friend & dance partner of six years, Amanda Oakley invited me to perform in I Witness, Tutto Theatre Company’s latest show that includes contemporary dance intermixed with spoken word. Excited for a new opportunity, I agreed. She then told me that we had only five weeks to put together a full-length show with almost all brand new choreography. I laughed at the prospect, but was definitely game for the challenge.
It has been well over a year since I’ve been involved in a dance project so I’d been itching for a performance opportunity for months. Last May I injured my ankle during a rehearsal, and spent four months in physical therapy. A month later a mastiff decided to take a bite out of that same ankle, tearing my Achilles tendon & damaging an already tender ligament. Fourteen stitches, a gawky cast boot for 3 months, and 6 more months of physical therapy later, I was released from the doctor’s care. Frustration oozed from my soul at the thought that dance may no longer be the thing I had always turned to for release and that it was taken from me much sooner than I ever expected.
During the many months of recovery I felt my life fall away from me in other areas, too – I suffered through a break up with a partner of almost six years, lost my dog to a cancerous tumor, opened my home to strangers I found on craigslist in order to make the mortgage each month… I’ll stop here. It was by far the darkest time of my life, my own personal nightmare, and I was blanketed with despair without the first clue on how I was going to get back to a happy place.
Because of the serious nature of the ankle injuries and the amount of work it took just to be able to walk without pain, I witnessed myself lose hope that I could get back out there, that I’d be able to function as a dancer at the same level I had become accustomed to. So, to be offered the chance to perform again was more than I could hope for, and I immediately connected with the initial concept for this show – that at any given moment, we are witnessing, and often times, more than we realize, are being witnessed by others.
I walked into my first rehearsal nervous about the challenge that lied ahead and my own ability to dig deep into my soul for some other emotion other than that despair I’d felt for so long. I was concerned that I wouldn’t have the strength or stamina to push through; I lacked trust in myself that I had done enough work to strengthen that area of my body that had suffered for so long; I wondered how in the world we were going to learn almost an hour and half’s worth of choreography in such a short amount of time; and I was somewhat doubtful that I’d be able to rediscover and reconnect with my life passion. I felt like I had lost the level of confidence I’ve been known to have by those closest to me.
This past month has been a blur of whirlwind activity in the studio, by far the fastest moving project of this magnitude I’ve ever been involved in. The first two weeks of rehearsal were spent learning loads of choreography at a quick pace from the show’s co-directors. Amanda, Jennifer & Shawn are three wonderfully talented choreographers with distinctly different movement styles. We learned pieces with different concepts ranging from the land of dreams where anything is possible, to hiding versus seeing versus sharing what we’ve witnessed, to the never-ending magnetism of romantic love. At least that’s what the dances mean to me. The past two weeks have been focused on piecing the show together with the actors who beautifully deliver text chosen from poetry, scientific essays and other various sources. Their voices add such a delicate layer to the piece, texturing the story the way it was always meant to be.
To me I Witness is an enchanting world of hope where anything is possible. We speak of love, timelessness, struggle, desire, determination, and we bring it to the audience from a soulful place where wishes come true if you just let go and let them. It is a haven where fear is accepted as long as we don’t let it drown us in darkness… we must always keep going. Pain is undoubtedly part of our experience at times, but what comes after is enlightenment. Our scars are symbols of courage rather than ugly reminders of our past. This is a world where we are encouraged to believe in our dreams, both the waking and the subconscious, because they are all real, they come from the same place. Impossibilities don’t exist here.
I am lucky to be a witness of this process, to be part of this family so full of mutual understanding, respect for each other’s personal journeys and acceptance of the differences that unite us. In the last month I have seen one of us face a family tragedy with bravery and love, another exit a relationship with poise and strength. I have both witnessed and experienced the personal sacrifices as well as the triumphs. The level of commitment each of us has given to the project has inspires me. And more significant to my own personal story, I am surprised at the ease in which my body has accepted movement again. Sure, that ankle has demanded ice on several occasions, but really, the gift of dance never left me, and I’m so incredibly grateful to be reminded of its comfort in my life. My feelings of despair and self-doubt are just memories now because today is a new day, and I feel differently.
Randi Leigh Turkin
an evening of dance (and spoken-word)
with choreography by Amanda Oakley,
Shawn Nasralla, and Jennifer Micallef
20 August – 4 September 2010
Thursdays – Saturdays, 8:00 p.m.
The BLUE Theatre [916 Springdale Road]
For more information about I Witness visit TUTTO Theatre Company online
Discount Tickets available through Austix later this week.