Issue 2: On Resisting Extinction

On Resisting Extinction

I am sprawled on the collection of small rocks we call a beach in Te Whanganui-a-Tara. The ocean laps at my legs, and I enjoy how it shudders through the creviced stone bed, making a sound halfway between a hiss and a whisper. On this February day the sun is frying me into a crispy pie. It’s late—nearly five—so in a few minutes the city will be drowning in white-collar celebration. As they head to the pub I am on a cove near Scorching Bay, embodying a process of death.

This is a rehearsal. This is how we practise—getting together and getting to work, laughing and moaning and crying and hoping to emerge, in a few hours, with a little more embodied knowledge of the thing we are planning to do. In this instance, I was in rehearsal for Resisting Extinction, a three-part performance by BodyCartography Project (Olive Bieringa & Otto Ramstad) that was presented at Performance Arcade in Te Whanganui-a-Tara in February 2023. Rehearsed for three weeks with eight dancers from Aotearoa and Norway, and then performed nine times in Brooklyn’s Central Park, Resisting Extinction offers strategies for living and dying on a damaged earth.

What follows is a record of my experience. I write from the inside to ask: what if the days (weeks, years) of preparation for the moment of performance could be perceived as equally important to the weight of a dance, as the soul of the work at hand? How can live work be recorded by its organs, not its outsiders?


We meet at the Wakefield Street apartment of Jan Bieringa, Olive’s mother. Sitting on the living room floor, we exchange hugs and talk about where we’re at. Folks speak of bereavement, visas, political turmoil, and a punctured lung. We talk about the physiology of being a porous body, how even our sense of ourselves as physically boundaried becomes tenuous under duress. Olive speaks of dance as a practice of digesting, a way to process the bewildering experience of being a live body without recourse to words.


We go to Brooklyn’s Central Park for the first time—a small and lively pocket of bush that will become the site of Resisting Extinction for the next three weeks. This time of year, the whole park throbs with the mating calls of cicadas. Their cries are so constant as to form a sturdy wall of sound. In partners, we take one another for improvisatory walks through the bush, leading with our kidneys. We sit by the stream as Olive speaks about the function of our immune system (“[the kidneys] form and inform our sense of identity by helping us to recognise what is beneficial to our body, and what is not”). Later, we gather in a clump on the path and caress our lymph nodes, parting only to let a cyclist pass by.


In the morning we talk about dance and somatics as a way to ask ourselves: how do we want to be here?


Olive leads us through a dying and decomposing practice, in which you attempt to cultivate an embodied empathy for the material experience of a death—the breakdown, the atrophy, the decomposition, and the dissolution. Usually experienced only by the audience during the performance, we do a dying and decomposing practice together now in order to understand their experience. Lying on the beach, we choose drowning. I listen to Olive—she tells us that our brain dies first—and I attempt to imbibe her into the blanket of my physical consciousness. My ankles are submerged and I'm thinking about thresholds. Within eighteen months of drowning, all the fleshly matter of our body decomposes, leaving only our bones.


After yesterday’s torrential sun, it hails today. Back to the core group of nine performers, we gather sans-workshoppers to talk about the dying and decomposing practices. Everybody speaks with a taut voice. From a sweaty-palmed ninety-minute discussion, I wrote down: How do we give other people the space to find what they need, without telling them what it is?


Back at Central Park, we work on the first of Resisting Extinction’s three parts. Called a weather walk, it’s a one-on-one event between a performer and an audience member. Each of us takes an audience member for a walk, darting between linguistic and embodied improvisation to tell an open-ended story about climate grief. Over the next three weeks I performed dozens of weather walks, never beginning with a clear plan. With strangers, friends, and colleagues as audience members and co-conspirators, I climbed to the top of the dense canopy and howled to the yawning sky. I invited us to lie down together in the soaking dirt during a rainstorm. We talked about grief, cynicism, worms, decomposition, and fruit. The walks were frequently thick with an awkward hesitancy that would be punctured, often suddenly, by candour.


I groan into the dark space between the dirt and the air. Hunched over, I am curled up on the ground like a crustacean and blanketed entirely by a thick faux-fur. The loss of light is so total that I cannot see where the ground ends and the air begins. I can feel the soil’s viscous squelch between my fingers, against my lowered forehead, and sometimes (when I mistakenly open my mouth) caressing my gums. I can’t tell if I’ve been under the blanket for five minutes or twenty-five. In this tiny subterranea, time is malleable and imprecise. My body begins to move without instruction—my spine unsnarls, my ankles twitch, and my shoulders clench. I bellow into the trillions of microbial matter we call the earth.

This is a rehearsal for the second section of Resisting Extinction, called ‘the missing’.


Otto says that dance, or our culture of movement, makes us practised at being with the unknown. When you are improvising with other people, things shift so rapidly it’s impossible to know what’s really happening, or where you’re going. Instead, you have to become adept at tracking what’s unfolding in real time. This is how Resisting Extinction does scientific work—we are not reaching for mastery, but working speculatively in search of an embodied practice to better feel, imagine, and be in crisis. Dance is seldom regarded as a mode of knowledge production, because it doesn’t prioritise linguistic ways of knowing. Yet what else are we doing but building an archive of our body, a system of things remembered and imagined?


Rain clatters on the overpass we are huddled under. It’s edging towards darkness, and the eleven audience members for this third show are stretched out on tarps under the footbridge to protect them from the downpour. They are doing a dying and decomposing practice, and we are watching as they process the reality of death within their cellular bodies. As they near the end, we move through the bush towards them. The sound of wet branches snapping is interspersed within the hissing rainfall. After a karanga by Rachel Ruckstuhl-Mann to bring us back from a space of connection with Hinenuitepō, we open our mouths. The song is a stepping stone back to the living.

Amit Noy is a Latinx-Israeli choreographer, dancer, and writer living between Te Whanganui-a-Tara and Marseille. He has spent most of his life believing in dance. Recently, he has been making performances with his family members, including A Big Big Room Full of Everybody's Hope. In Hebrew, “Amit” means good friend.

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