Settling, Rocking, Riding the Air: a response by Maya Odim

J e l l o Performance Series
Wednesday, June 12th 2019, 7:30pm at Links Hall* 
Performers ( in order of appearance): Jordan Kunkel accompanied musically by Jacob Chaparro; Celia Calder; Jenny Oelerich; Emily Butcher; Kinnari Vora; Jacob Joseph Buerger joined by Camila Rivero Pooley and Amanda Boike all three acompanied with animation created by Hayley Montalvo


image:  Albrecht Dürer, Title: Self-portrait, Study of a Hand and a Pillow (recto); Six Studies of Pillows (verso) 1493


This year Links Hall is celebrating its 40th anniversary— and a celebration it is. I’ve participated by attending performances, performing myself, and now, reflecting by writing about a performance. This week I attended the J e l l o performance series. J e l l o is a series that welcomes artists to show pieces in their entirety, or as  excerpts or works in progress, while also providing access to performance space, videographic and photographic footage, production/lighting resources, and very supportive audiences. I encourage you to scout out J e l l o performances as they manifest themselves. And I encourage performers reading this to scout out opportunities to share their work through J e l l o.

I am both a writer and a mover (a poet and a dancer). Along with each performance response I’ve chosen to include the poems that each of these pieces served as muses for. Though the responses were drafted mostly after watching the pieces, the poems were written in the moment—as I was watching, as each piece was being shared.

Viewing J e l l o this week reaffirmed for me that there is no need for a fourth wall unless you work in construction. Opening the performance series this week was a work by Jordan Kunkel, titled: “Speak! Through The Body, Uninhibited.”  Kunkel— accompanied by Jacob Chaparro performing music live, responded to our stories/histories/reflections in movement after posing questions to the audience. Kunkel also chose to occupy  the silence with movement as they waited for someone to answer, assigning meaning to what I can only imagine as our breathing, the sounds in the room and the silence we were sharing. Once an answer had been given Kunkel would then interpret those words through movement. Watching this performance I noticed Chaparro was not playing music based upon Jordan’s movement, rather, the music composed was based on the words shared by audience members answering out loud. Both Kunkel’s and Chaparro’s compositions were dependent not upon each other but upon the audience response.  As part of a larger project Kunkel is exploring movement/dance as a 1st amendment right, employing the use of oral history collection & journalistic practices to compose movement reflective of the lived experiences of those interviewed. Jordan is seeking to interview artists and non-artists, art enthusiasts and non-art enthusiasts to build conversations across “islands”. Keep an eye on the standpoints Kunkel is bridging, and scout the project if you’d like to contribute as an interviewee.


                             Please speak loudly because there are no microphones


                             the musician was watching the speaker and not the dancer

                             the dancer listened to the speaker and not the musician


types, you can’t just pick one

                                           they are smaller than how i express myself


                                                           the sound of waiting

                                                                         the sound of movement

                            of waiting

the movement of

                                                                                                       the palace. it’s 4am

                                          psychological theatre

                           dance is living in muscle memory

                           belonging in the body

                           the pace of ones’ speech

                           the pac of movement

                           the pace of sounds

                           we are together in the noise and the silence


Next showing was Celia Calder’s *star*piece*. Entering first to place props, Calder then exited and re-entered by descending from the lighting booth with a trail of lights attached to cloth reminiscent of constellations, hanging from their head. Calder also worked with a larger light to embody constellations through a gel slide, and then later embodying the sun. Calder also incorporated movement and words— dance and poetry, as part of their performance talking to us— the audience, about “all of [this] standardization nonsense.” We have stars and constellations that give our universe light, and to which we have assigned stories.  The sun is one of our most precious natural resources, it needs to be protected, but not assigned an identity— named after no white man, and named for no white man. Calder said, “the stories we tell about the stars can be as changing, and beautiful, and wild as we are as a species.” Through exploring the act of how a star gets its name, Calder confronted us with asking questions about who is writing history— about us, and about the world in which we all live.


                                  Stories we tell








                                                                                                                                 s       t      a      r      s


                                 can be


                                as changing, and beautiful, and wild

                                as we are as a species


Third on stage was Jenny Oelerich. Sharing their senior thesis— performed originally with nine women, Oelerich performed this solo. Though, I kept waffling between the single performer I saw and the other eight I couldn’t help but imagine being there also. It was almost like a dream state, watching something you know could also very specifically look differently. Oelerich  filled the space, and it was magical imagining what it might look like with eight other bodies moving that same way— if they were even designed to move the way I was imagining. As a Breaker myself, watching Oelerich perform I was incited to riot creatively in my seat as many of the movement qualities explored were reminiscent of funk, boogie, and Break Dance, while incorporating various forms of contemporary dance, body posturing, acrobatic and pedestrian movements like walking a runway. I noticed how strong Oelerich was, how sure their sense of balance was as they walked on their hands, or moved from standing to a forward roll without positioning their hands on the floor. As Oelerich transitioned from walking on their hands to readjusting their clothes, and from this forward roll I mention to elbow freezes and what Breakers codify as ‘back rocks’ , to a runway walk, the duality that was expressed became glaringly clear. Who Oelerich would be assumed to be, or even urged to be, by those believing in this “standardization nonsense”, directly opposed what Oelerich’s body was looking to do and express. But reaching past this interpretation Oelerich may have been speaking to something else: what people want from us as opposed to what we are prepared/willing/interested in giving, and this is the thought that ran through my mind as their piece was ending, as Oelerich’s hand was outstretched then brought in touching their body and their hair, outstretched and then brought in as they touched parts of their body underneath their clothes, out stretched and brought in as they continued to fondle themselves as the lights faded to black out.


                         there are places we settle

                         settling rocking, riding the air

                         shoulder tables


                         there are places we settle

                        (and people who run with the wolves)

                        everything includes

                       our chest rises and falls

                       rises and falls


                       (use the runway as you like)


Next showing was Emily Butcher, performing, “Who’s Your Ghost?” Before attending the show I made a conscious decision not to read any of the show write ups. I read them after seeing the performances. I will first share the poem prompted by Butcher’s work, because it was not until after writing the poem and seeing their piece that I knew the title Butcher had chosen for their work.


                     the parts I’m not always broadcasting exist also

                     my rhythmic

                     backdrop changes

                    even as my patterns continue similarly

                    and changing sounds usher in what looks like new movement

                    but still is part of me

                    around and around

                    removing cover from the boxes


Butcher performed movement that was inclusive of their acrobatic background. Butcher wove the ideas of exorcism— in the non-religious sense, duality— of identity, ghosts— spirits/phantoms we create even, into their showing.


Next shared was Kinnari Vora’s Antarābhava: Existence in interval. At the end of the piece Vora opened the floor for questions, and there was a question from an audience member asking what inspired the piece. First I will share with you what I interpreted before the question was asked, and then share Vora’s  answer. Vora shared with us as what I interpreted as the journey of the spirit— encompassing the plain of reincarnation, through the realm of life and death. The movement pallet encompassed styles influenced by their backgrounds in Bharatanatyam, Kathak, Indian folk, Kalaripayattu martial art and most recently contemporary dance— from what I read in their bio. I will also add that I saw movement that was reminiscent of stages in meditation.


                       love exists in growth and decomposition

                       halfway risen

                       yet all the way


                      rolling as the spirit does

                      rolling as the spirit passes through

                      transitioning in stages


                     emptying is until filling

                     rebirth is necessary body matter


At the end of the show, in answering the question that was asked, Vora said that a conversation with someone for whom they worked and cared for towards the end of their physical life had inspired this piece. The person they were caring for was content with the life they had lived, and was not approaching death with fear— differently from the way Vora had so often been confronted with death. This acceptance and contentedness with the life they’d lived inspired Vora to create the work shown last night.


Next was Jacob Joseph Buerger’s TBD. Exploring the use of animation— by Hayley Montalvo, props and song and movement invention by Camila Rivero Pooley and Amanda Boike, the ensemble introduced us, the audience, to what I understood as a piece about maturing— moving from a vernal state to a ripening one. And what does this ripening look like?


                  As I am                                As you are

                               not so far

                               from the environment

                                                            in which the ecosystem exists

                                                           attached as we…

                                                           tethered mature fruit



                                                           is new and unknown

                                                          necessary to life

                                                          of the fruit because this is how the seeds are spread

                                                         and buried by the soil

                                                         and buried

                                                         and buried

                                                         somos semillas

                                     as we approach those who are also on the ground from their tree


Aptly placed,  Burger’s piece proceeded a re-staging of Charlie Vernon’s Slumber Party Bench Dance Solo, a piece I contend is also about settling into oneself, and into the world which encompasses the self. Slumber Party Bench Dance Solo was created by Charlie Vernon and the re-staging was danced by Zachary Nicol— having been recreated by Kristina Isabelle, with the bench prop recreated by Bryan Saner. First the bench was placed on stage, then we— the audience, were shown footage of the original piece, after which Zachary appeared from behind the bench and started to move. Moving with what I reflect on as a purposefully rigid fluidity Zachary told a story about what I believe was in part the feeling of, thinking.


                         No problem can withstand the assault of sustained thinking. (Voltaire)



               “Get past the fence

                I must be desperate.


              what, does Shangri La mean ?

                             will my past cause me trouble


              is Monday the 1st day of the week”


Self-portrait, Study of a Hand and a Pillow (recto); Six Studies of Pillows (verso) Albrecht Dürer


The Apple Orchard

By, Rainer Maria Rilke

Come let us watch the sun go down

and walk in twilight through the orchard’s green.

Does it not seem as if we had for long

collected, saved and harbored within us

old memories? To find releases and seek

new hopes, remembering half-forgotten joys,

mingled with darkness coming from within,

as we randomly voice our thoughts aloud

wandering beneath these harvest-laden trees

reminiscent of Dürer woodcuts, branches

which, bent under the fully ripened fruit,

wait patiently, trying to outlast, to

serve another season’s hundred days of toil,

straining, uncomplaining, by not breaking

but succeeding, even though the burden

should at times seem almost past endurance.

Not to falter! Not to be found wanting!

Thus must it be, when willingly you strive

throughout a long and uncomplaining life,

committed to one goal: to give yourself!

And silently to grow and to bear fruit.

My seat in the audience happened to be behind— whom I met after the show, Charlie Vernon— Links Halls co-founder, and their wife Marybeth Schroder. Marybeth magically mentioned that Links Hall had been a major part of their 20’s and 30’s, also mentioning that one time when seeing Charlie perform, their son— then four years old asked: Is that my dad? Performance is this magical space where we often recognize but learn multitudes about who we are witnessing perform… Charlie Vernon’s Slumber Party Bench Dance Solo was first performed at Links Hall in 1980. Now, returning to Links Hall— in a new location, during the 40th year anniversary, and all of this seems like concentric circles. Orbits intersecting. Links Hall is now, too, maturing in the world by which it is encompassed. And too, probably wondering how to do it, and what it means as it approaches everyone and everything also on the ground from their trees.


Maya Odim is an interdisciplinary artist with backgrounds in poetry, dance and agricultural work. Smuggling art into her politics, she works to host workshops, write curriculum and publish. Most influential to the development of her movement work are practices she has learned from studying under Yoruba Andabo, Pedro Alejandro, and with Jam Master Crew. Her movement work currently explores the impact of sociocultural topics through varying forms of communal dance. Maya has been presented at Elastic Arts & Links Hall (Chicago, IL), 99¢ Plus Gallery (New York, New York) Wesleyan University (Middletown, CT), and with Espiral Danza (Antigua & Guatemala City, Guatemala). Maya holds a BA in American Studies— with a History concentration, from Wesleyan University ‘10 (Middletown, CT). She has recently founded the, Community and Cosmos Dance Company. Maya’s lineage is Black American, Nigerian, and Cuban. 

(*) PRJ is partnering with Links Hall to celebrate their 40th anniversary by providing a platform for artist-to-artist responses to the work that is presented as part of the Pay-the-40th-Forward season. Thank you, Links Hall, for all that you do for the dance and performance communities in Chicago. Congratulations on 40 years!