Faraway figures dancing through a window, and the melody of vibrating strings from a sitar were my guide down a stone path to the entrance of Indian Boundary Park. I passed a giant wooden jungle gym and small, stone hovels and came across an old bear habitat from a decommissioned Zoo, rehabilitated into the Nature Play Center. There was no doubt I had found “Tend,” an integrative performance experience produced by Khecari, conceived and orchestrated by Artistic and Executive Director Julia Rae Antonick.
The Khecari website describes “Tend” as: “A haptic, phatic, and kinetic service providing a much-needed place to rest, recharge, reflect, reconcile.” “Tend” is part of the VACINTIY DYPTICH series and is one of two separate works. The other, “as though your body were right,” by collaborator and Co-Director of Khecari, Jonathan Meyer, was created in tandem, but is performed as a separate piece.
I was greeted by Gina Hoch-Stall, who was to be my technician, and we washed hands together in a small basin before going through a brief tutorial. She asked me to move my own hand over the parts of my body that I was comfortable with being touched, which she then traced with her own hand. We grabbed each other’s wrists and leaned back trustingly. We pressed the palms of our hands together and applied gentle pressure.
She led me into a room with dark wood paneling at the center of which was a blonde wood stage surrounded by long, rectangular overhead mirrors on metal stands. In the center of the “stage” was an amalgamated structure of two chairs facing opposite directions, blankets galore, and smaller sidecar seats for a guest. I went alone.
A large, transparent door, propped up a few feet from the floor, let in plenty of natural light and a refreshingly chilly breeze. Both complimented the soft instrumental music —dripping hand drums, ghostly violins, the winding sitar — produced from speakers placed front and back. Another session was already in progress, a person sitting in one of the chairs, their back to me, while technician Enid Smith moved lithely around them, sometimes touching, other times drifting away.
As I sank into the heavily padded chair, my shoulders and lap were wrapped in grey pillows and blankets. I got the feeling as if I were in a fancy spa. Gina began rubbing and massaging my hands and arms and making small talk based on a semi-biographical pre-show application that I was asked to fill out. The massaging moved to my knees, then my shoulders, across the back of my neck and back to my hands. We used the techniques previously established and we pressed our hands together and performed an exercise much like that of controlling a Ouija board — was that me moving our hands, or her, or something else…
Meanwhile, in the overhead mirrors I could see Enid and the other patron behind me, a voyeuristic sensation. To my left, I caught my own eye and couldn’t help but smile at the sight of my twin wrapped in so many blankets.
In an act that was part staged, part serendipity, a cold breeze blew in from under the door and seemed to carry Gina away, blowing her backwards into a small back bend, one arm circling loosely overhead. In that moment Enid, too, moved into my sphere of perception, and the two performed in tandem, totally unexpected. Dressed in matching coral-colored robes, it was impossible to discern who was who in the mirrors above, and for a moment I was disoriented and floating amidst a whirlwind of arms and bodies flowing back and forth, above and around me.
And then we were back to massaging and making small talk, as if nothing had happened. There would be other moments where I slipped in and out of lucidity, and this sense of spatial disorientation pervaded the entire experience.
Gina would break away and perform spins in place, her arms lilting up and down, again as if carried by a breeze. She would drop and curl up on the wooden floor, threading her legs through the metal poles holding up the mirrors, coming dangerously close to whacking a foot. Even at such close range, whether sinking to the ground after a long back bend or rolling across the length of the floor, she barely made a sound.
Afterwards, I was asked to sit on a small stool in the corner of the room while the next participant was led into the room, giving me a sense of déjà vu. Gina and I had a brief conversation about the experience, got to know each other a little better and ended our time together with a satisfying hug.
As I left “Tend,” I felt light, like walking on air. The memory of the dancing, performed in such a small space, was tight and technical, but also spontaneous and organic. The touching and massaging felt like a vacation from the body. I missed talking with Gina. All these elements were present in me, yet their combination produced something greater than their parts, something phenomenological that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. But what? I’m not sure, but I decided to hold on to that feeling a little while longer and took a long stroll around the park, my feet barely touching the ground.
“Tend” performances are Thursdays – Sundays, September 8th – October 15th, from 1-6pm, at the Nature Play Center on the Northwest side of Indian Boundary Park, 2500 W. Lunt. Each session is approx. 1 hour long and audience members are asked to arrive 15 minutes early for their appointment. Information on how to schedule an appointment can be found at Khecari.org.