I regularly see Zoë at CounterPulse. I was going to gush about Zoë’s wide range of skill sets, how insanely capable she is, but that’s true of everyone at CounterPulse. But having never seen Zoë perform before, never having seen what kind of work she makes, I was pretty curious.
Like Stephanie, Zoë is a consummate storyteller. Drawing from circus arts and other movement sources, Zoë along with four acrobatically inclined performers, encapsulated Zoë’s life in about 30 minutes. I have to admit I have given short change to mimes and acrobats for most of my life. I grew up on Barnum and Bailey Circus, which by eight years old felt really stale, and disrespectful of animals. And I’m sorry, those clowns were scary.
Zoë’s piece was anything but stale. Her life’s story and her reflections on being torn from her native culture, raised to assimilate to a new culture, new beliefs, a new implied racial identity; was completely new for me. I have six adopted cousins, around my age. They were all adopted as babies, and we all grew up, together in a large Faulkneresque Southern extended family. None of us knew about the adoptions. I think I was 13 or 14 when Aunt Shelby set us all down under a tree in the back yard, and as a group she told us about the adoptions. (The fact our families had kept a secret, for so long, was more shocking than learning my cousins were adopted.) The way is was presented , left us with the feeling that adoption is a good thing, and for my family it was, and still is. The caveat being my cousins were were white kids adopted by white families. Not much of a cultural stretch there, with respect. But not so with Zoë, who had to stretch a quarter way around the world.
Zoë is a fine craftswoman, a natural maker. She structured her work along the classic lines of solist interacting with an ensemble. In my mind, I conjured images of tribes and priestess, matriarchal leadership, soloist and choir structures of ancient Greek theater, and of course a gentle ringmaster. For my own self, the piece had a sense of melancholy, but being ripped away from home, basically kidnapped from everything you know, has to suck. There’s a lot to be bitter about. However, very much like Stephanie, Zoë evokes a sincere longing for identity, yearning for a sense of wholeness, closure, and acceptance, she embraces her story, and moves forward making a life that’s true for her.
Zoë’s piece was also made through the artist in residence program at CounterPulse. And like Stephanie’s use of a timeline in the lobby, Zoë made an installation in the lobby using a file cabinet, its drawers open with files visible, projected video footage, with markers and note cards placed on a table, as though someone had momentarily stepped away from a research project. A large braid of yarn, suggestive of an umbilical cord, meandered its way from the lobby, towards the theater.
After the show, I went home and called up one of the aforementioned cousins. Which isn’t unusual, we stay in close touch. We talked about Zoë’s show, and our family’s experience with adoption. Shannon (a guy) said it all worked out OK, for her (Zoë) eventually, right. I said, “Well. Yeah, she’s been very thoughtful and even made a dance about it.” In the classic N.C drawl Shannon said, “yeah, that’s something I would like to see sometime.”
Family is awesome.
Rick Darnell is the CounterPulse Community Engagement Fellow. He is a practicing artist, and long time Tenderloin resident. Rick is the Project Coordinator for TAll, the Tenderloin Art Lending Library.