This week, I hustled over to SF to serve as a volunteer usher at Forum, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts' experimental theatre venue. I wanted to see Eiko & Koma's Fragile, originally produced as a gallery installation for the Walker Art Center but then recreated as a more formal performance piece together with SF's own Kronos Quartet. It was, I thought, just the thing to take my mind away from surveys and chitter-chatter, maybe push me into the light . . . or bury me in dark. Either way, I was ready -- I thought -- to sit quietly for four hours as the two of them lay naked barely moving, caught inside haunting bells mixed with the lapsed strings of the Kronos Quartet.
I would sit -- I thought -- as silently, as still as their unclothed bodies dusted with white rice powder and bits of leaves and feathers. I would be as naked as they, my mind my spirit as stripped as motionless, lying on mounded dirt, while the Kronos played.
Either I was caught thinking (again) or I should stop already with all this thinking.
I didn't know that my volunteer gig would remove me from the performance space, abandon me to the narrow space of an organized past. I did not know I would not be asked to seat the audience and then left to my own devices within in the womb of the performance space as expected. I was surprised and a bit chagrined that I was instead positioned as a "guard" of the 'archives,' asked to stand in a back corner behind the impervious black curtain separating the stage from an artificial yet "upfront" backstage where a suspended oversized rack holding costumes from past performances swayed above a floor littered with snapshots from past performances.
Nostalgia gone wild.
I was supposed to keep folks from walking away with the photos, from grabbing the costumes unceremoniously, from sneaking into the dark unexplored space behind the stage. Control the crowd. But I was alone in that corner. I was expected to guard the past, but, of course, no one was interested in visiting the past.
No one cared to dive headfirst into the sensuous floor to ceiling cascade of fiber, string, and paper that had been essential to the set of a previous performance. No one reached out to grab the over-sized kimonos, the faux bearskin wraps, or the silky scarlet camisole suspended above the hundreds of photos scattered about the floor. No one knelt to peer at those snapshots or picked them up to hold them closer to the light.
No one wandered into the corral of the past. The audience was dutiful and respectful. The door opened. The door closed. They walked in, turned left, sat down, and stayed neatly folded onto the benches inside the curtained performance space.
The musicians played. The bells tolled. The two naked dusted bodies curled and uncurled, and I, guard of the past, stayed in my corner, leaning on myself, splashed color, dim light, and violins, stretched past fragile.
I make a lousy guard -- not really my nature to guard things -- but in this case I was a ridiculous guard, a Beckettian guard, waiting for waiting, standing inside of standing, leaning on nothing.
I was extraneous.
I would like to believe that the audience was more focused on the present and thus ignored the carefully collected past, hanging unceremoniously off to the side.