October 17, 2019 • 6 minute read
by Edisa Weeks
multi-disciplinary artist and Director of DELIRIOUS Dances
The United States Declaration of Independence states that, “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
As a child I believed in these three unalienable rights, however as I grew up I began questioning how our government guarantees Life, Liberty and Happiness? In an era of Citizens United, NAFTA, Black Lives Matter, Me Too, health Insurance, unratified treaties with Native Americans, the internment and deportation of Latinx people, and the longest war in America’s history, how and for whom are life, liberty and happiness being protected, promoted and pursued? These questions have resulted in three performance rituals (rites) that interrogate the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness in America.
The US Declaration of Independence also states, “That to secure these rights [life, liberty happiness], Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.” I’m paraphrasing James Baldwin and a long legacy of activists when I say that, because I LOVE America, I will critique America, and demand that America lives up to and fully embodies its ideals as articulated in our Constitution, Bill of Rights, and the Declaration of Independence!
This past summer I had an NPN Phase II Development grant and a Choreoquest residency at Restoration ARTS in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, NY to workshop THREE RITES: Life. The residency culminated in two work-in-progress showings on Friday and Saturday, Sept. 6 & 7, 2019. THREE RITES: Life is a durational performance installation that advocates for a radical revolution of values, where corporations and citizens become better stewards of the earth.
In researching Life, I was saddened by the statistic that the average American consumes four to five pounds of trash a day, and it was angering to realize that our current environmentally destructive use of fossil fuels and disposable products such as soda cans, plastic bottles, plastic bags, plastic packaging, etc., was carefully cultivated by corporations.
In THREE RITES: Life two performers blindly and repetitively decapitate sunflowers and attach pieces of trash to the sunflower stalks, to create artificial flowers. I choose sunflowers because, depending on your cultural background, they symbolize long life, good fortune, vitality, a bountiful harvest, adoration and loyalty. In THREE RITES: Life they represent the lives and ecosystems that are being destroyed by our consumption habits.
During the Choreoquest residency the performers and I developed The Manager and the Shadow/Trickster characters. The Manager has several tasks. They invite the audience to color in the mural and help build a “model city” out of trash. When the dancers, whose eyes are sealed shut, begin moving, the manager makes sure they do not crash into a wall, pillar or audience member. The Manager also invites people to wear a Consumption Coat, which has five pounds of trash attached to it, so as a person walks around the installation they can visualize and carry the weight of five pounds of trash.
The Shadow character is still evolving—right now they are a combination of Eleguá, Loki, and the collective subconscious. The Shadow moves freely through the installation, and as a trickster and change agent, they create havoc in the effort to get people to “do the right thing.”
The installation included an amazing black and white mural by Sophia Dawson, which the audience colored-in with chalk. The mural integrated quotes by environmental activists such as:
“We have not inherited the earth from our parents, we are borrowing it from our children.” — Wendell Berry
“If you change the environment, you change the people.” — Richard Buckminster Fuller
Each showing concluded with a workshop. On Friday John Gershman, Clinical Professor of Public Service at New York Univ., led a discussion on the Buen Vivir Movement, which started in South American and loosely translates into English as “good living” or “living well.” Buen Vivir advocates for a shift in values, where corporations and the Gross Domestic Product do not determine a nation’s success. What determines a nation’s success is the well-being of its citizens—how many people have access to health care, education, food, affordable housing, and are living above the poverty line. It redefines values, so humans are not owners of the earth and its resources, but we are stewards of the earth.
On Saturday Pamela Issac, with Materials for the Arts, taught a creative re-use bead-making workshop out of plastic straws and fabric.
THREE RITES: Life is an appeal for people and corporations to be better at taking care of ALL LIFE on earth. The earth has a finite number of resources, and corporate policies based on the endless consumption of resources are destroying life. If we don’t become better stewards, we will eventually be suffocating in our own waste.
You can watch a short video of the THREE RITES: Life showing here:
THREE RITES: Life, Liberty, Happiness, is a seven-hour interdisciplinary interactive experience by DELIRIOUS Dances/Edisa Weeks, that integrates live music, dance, text, two visual installations, community discussions and shared meals to humorously and poignantly examine how America has protected, promoted and pursued life, liberty and happiness, and how these rights manifest in the body. The individual performance rituals (rites) can be performed separately or all together. THREE RITES is produced by Marýa Wethers and presented by 651ARTS. It will premiere in Brooklyn, NY in Fall 2020.
Founded by multi-disciplinary artist Edisa Weeks, DELIRIOUS Dances seeks to erase the barriers between art and life, between performance space and audience space, and between mediums. We are interested in finding ways for the audience to interact with and influence the experience of a work. We believe that art revitalizes the everyday to reveal something new about ourselves, and the revelation is an energy, a spark that has the power to change the world.
THREE RITES: Life
Skylight Gallery at RestorationART in Brooklyn, NY
Fri. Sept. 6 and Sat. Sept. 7, 2019
Concept: Edisa Weeks
Choreography: Edisa Weeks in collaboration with the performers
Performers: Devin Oshiro, EmmaGrace Skove-Epes, J’nae Simmons, Johnnie Cruise Mercer
Muralist: Sophia Dawson
Buen Vivir Discussion: John Gershman
Creative Re-Use Workshop: Pamela Issac with Materials for the Arts
Videography and Editing: Darryl Hell Montgomery
Photos: Rebecca Fitton & Julie Lemberger
Producer: Marýa Wethers
Community Programs Coordinator: Rebecca Fitton
Creative Advisor: James Scruggs