A Love Letter to Krissy & the Dance Brigade

Hemorrhage, Photo by Wanda Sabir

Debbie Smith started working with Dance Brigade in 2001 as work exchange student. She later became the Program Manager for the theater and adult program. She now lives in Cairo, Egypt and we miss her dearly. Although we are not able to see her everyday, we are so happy that she is still in our lives. Debbie was instrumental in bringing Dance Brigade to Cairo and Beirut in 2012.

By Debbie Smith
Debbie SmithThe first Dance Brigade show I saw was Cavewomen in January 2003, and coincidentally, this was the first time I worked with the Dance Brigade and got to know them, which led to a long personal and working relationship that goes on today and I hope forever.

But the impressions and truths I am writing about below struck me the very first time I saw Cavewomen, so cannot be solely attributed to the familiarity, love and complex bonds I have with these women now, or to the number of times I witnessed or helped with Dance Brigade shows in the decade since then. At this time I had been doing work exchange since August 2001, coming in once a week on Friday from 3:30-6 to check in children’s classes.

Pretty much out of nowhere, Krissy asked me if I wanted to do the box office for the run of Cavewomen that was about to start, so I was there every night of that run.  At that time I had only the vaguest notion of who and what the Dance Brigade were.  The first time I went inside after closing the box office and saw the whole show, I took an arrow to the heart, and absorbed a visceral blow of truth and beauty that I wasn’t able to fully process or articulate but that changed me and led to a long relationship with the Dance Brigade.

The force of these impressions hasn’t changed, but my ability to articulate any part of the experience of seeing a dance brigade show has simply grown through time and familiarity.
Why do I love to attend a show by the Dance Brigade?

It is real, it is a reminder of something we have always known and forget. It is has the spark of genius and the undeniable hallmark/presence/force of truth, we all seek it, it cannot be faked, it is very rarely found.

It is conceived and developed with absolute commitment and dedication to speaking the truth, and enacted in time and space by an ensemble of women who move, speak and embody the vision of the work with total commitment and presence, and on stage share the full range of womanly expression and true beauty, without reservation. They work in ensemble while constantly shifting in relationship to one another on the stage, from a single figure, to three, to a line of warriors, to a huddled mass.

It is infused with elemental and archetypal symbols, movements, and visual impressions of the female form, nature elements, the industrial age- textiles, brooms, vessels, cauldrons, tin cans, bathtubs, and drums of wood, metal and skin. The feminine which is denigrated, devalued, overlooked, overpowered, oppressed, is given expression,  as is woman, the sexy, the nurturing, the wise, the witch, the mother, the chaste, the bereft, the one who has to take up a gun to defend her truth, herself, her family- all of it is there.

It is overseen by the presence of the watcher, the witnesser and foreseer, Cassandra, the sybil, the oracle, the crone, the narrator, the fate who spins, weaves and cuts the thread of life,  Kali the creator and destroyer:

“Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale
Her infinite variety. Other women cloy
The appetites they feed, but she makes hungry
Where most she satisfies, for vilest things
Become themselves in her, that the holy priests
Bless her when she is riggish.”

In a constant fluid unfolding it contains within it many opposites of vulnerability and defiance, intense fragility and strong power generated from righteous rage, coy flirtation and rejection of any need to appease, bitter sarcasm and irony with naked sincerity, How can a type of work that shifts between the eternal, ancient and timeless and the timely, the current event, the breaking news, the scandals of the present, ever be encompassed by words? You have to be there.
Yet, somehow, in spite of all this, a Dance Brigade show is not: sanctimonious, self-indulgent, new-agey, insipid, dogmatic, propaganda, whining, boring, a reflection of ego. It is the real thing.

It makes irrelevant the idea of the “season”, the “piece”, the “choreography”, though it is usually referred to as the “show”, a shorthand for the externalization and manifestation of a process and vision that starts to germinate from the seed of an idea. The result is more like ritual theater, where audience and performer inhabit the same space for a common experience, united in an eternal present moment yet also tied to the contemporaneous realities outside the theater doors.
Behind all this imagining, creating, and manifesting is a long and arduous process, that can be full of frustration, temper, endless changes, obsession over details, and takes many hours and days. This time I wasn’t there for that part, but just got to experience the result. It is an act of respect to the artists to take time to attend such a creation, the least I can do.

So for this reason and many more, in January 2014, I am at the latest, and according to Krissy, the last Dance Brigade show. I flew in for less than 24 hours, and saw only one show of the run, circumstances making this the best I could do. But there is no extravagance in this, because how can you put a value on an experience, or say how much effort and expense an experience is worth?

A decade after Cavewomen, In addition to my own responses and impressions  as a woman and a human to the show itself, the threads of my own history, work with, relationship with, hours with, the Dance Brigade as a group and as individuals, pull it even closer to my heart.

You cannot put a value on some things, a wedding, a birth, a witnessing of death, the things that make you celebrate and appreciate your existence and the infinite variety of the divine human comedy. For me, a Dance Brigade show is like that.  In fact I wish I could have been in the presence of what is a dance brigade show for longer, to have seen it many times to be able to absorb, or better yet, to have been there to witness any part of its development. So one time is not enough, but as it is said “I wouldn’t have missed it for the world,” and I am grateful I was able to make even this happen.

As if seeing the show itself wasn’t enough, I can show my respect and love to beloved friends who have put so much into the creation and execution of the show and receive the warmth of their welcome and the comfort of being in a place that always feels like home. Thank you all for the experience and for everything. We love each other, miss each other, but I try to think that we are always together.

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