by mel favara
The class was supposed to have maxed out at twelve participants, but another dozen students ringed the room, disappointed in their hopes to get in on standby. Faustin Linyekula gestured the unlucky to their feet, “this doesn’t feel right. Everyone come.” In a session that was to be as much about consciousness as it was about dance, Linyekula immediately established the parameters of his method. He had the dancers begin by walking, “so that you are not following anyone and no one is following you.” As the dancers draped about the room, Linyekula narrated aloud the room’s structure and the inanimate objects that occupied it, guiding the class through yogic breathing and gradually increasing the speed of the dancers’ pacing. Several students begin to touch the curtains, inviting the place into the dance.
The floor began to vibrate…
Linyekula is slight, not tall, what there is of him is ropy muscle, and his voice guides the building energy of the dancers, a kind of spiritually charged square dance caller. He invites the twenty-odd people to drift toward the center of the room, to look at one another and to see. A compact press of all of the bodies face inward, human faces nearly in contact with one another, a sudden, forced intimacy that produces, perhaps, real intimacy. It is time to look down.
“I want you all to remember a simple thing: the floor is supporting your feet. My feet are supporting my ankles, my legs are supporting my knees, my knees, my thighs.” This structural analysis of the body and its relationship to gravity is foundational to Linyekula’s dance, itself a process of “the architecture [of the body] linking the floor to your ideas through your body.” Now, dancers are invited to contort, to feel the points at which those relationships engage, particularly the relationship between the feet and the floor. Linyekula demonstrates how forcefully the foot can flatten into the earth, the blade of the side of the foot, the power of the heel. “Now you have a clear picture, from the earth to the idea…we are spongy, soft. Our feet are sucking energy from the earth, but also giving energy to the earth. Changing the surface of my contact with the earth by changing how my feet touch it, I change position, always keeping it spongy, soft.” The room suddenly feels full of these strange creatures, as everyone liberates their arches and toes, feeling the hardwoods. “The head is a ball atop all this architecture, it remains afloat, the spine is a long highway, vertical.”
It’s at this stage that Linyekula again demands intimacy between the dancers. At his behest, the dancers manipulate one another’s bodies into states of greater fluidity—strangers must grip the shoulders of strangers, rotate their shoulders, shake their arms loose. During this time of mass hypnotic massage, the dancers are reminded that
“always we are moving in two directions, the body sinking toward the floor, the head floating up.” Linyekula invites the dancers to touch their heads occasionally to remind themselves to be also ascending as they sink to the floor, and to feel the connection the floor provides to the earth and to the other people in contact with it.
The room is utterly silent as the dancers move their feet, spines, and limbs through it, when someone’s cell phone rings from the heaps of coats and shoes on the palettes near the door—a tinny snippet of samba. A smile drifts across the group like a marquee flash. The floor remains beneath everyone the whole time.