Gravity in lieu of grief

These have nothing to do with this performance.

There are three lasting images from Niall Jones’ Blown October lash—two of them mostly funny, one of them beautiful and serene—that I am glad not to get out of my mind since watching the performance: the non-exit, the not very suspenseful tight rope walk and the body untethered.

Image no. 1: the non-exit

Energetic flailing ended in an exhausted climax which, given the partnered cry of ecstasy, resembled a stellar orgasm. Suddenly, having just started, the performer retreats out the open doors of the space, and the theater lights dim. We are sitting along the wall opposite the open doors, so to watch Jones walk through them and out into the well-lit lobby is not to witness any kind of conclusion. The “exit” is instead a comedic distancing of Jones’ self from ours, a blurry continuation from one realm into something different. Outside the theater Jones is fixing clothes that have shifted out of place, preparing for another go at the stage, with perhaps another representation of a transient self. The performer glances at us to check if we’re watching still, and because of course we have been looking and chuckling the whole time, the scene is funnier still.

Image no. 2: the not very suspenseful tightrope walk

Singing “I want to be with you forever,” Jones mounts an imaginary line on the floor, and proceeds with utmost caution from one corner of the stage to its opposite. Instead of one tip toe after the other, contrary to classic circus style, here the tight rope walker revamps the ballet pique. Jones says the word “you” in falsetto every time the ball of their foot hits the floor. Knowing another “you” is coming with every extension of the leg is fun. I felt (and sounded) as giddy with anticipation by the end of this stint as when a toddler plays peek-a-boo: inordinately entertained by the suspense when a familiar face disappears behind two hands, wildly proud of herself for having a compelling intuitive sense that the face is not gone for long.

Image no. 3: the body untethered

The strongest image I can recall of the dance, like most of the others, repeated itself. While repetition felt overused — as a device for punctuation, it seems to be among Jones’ most favored — for all I care, the final spectacle of the work could have lasted the rest of the night. Jones rotates in a circle while performing a pensive, melancholy head-bang until the lights dim one more time, like he is remembering something or trying to capture it still. Though tethered to the ground like we all are (curse you, Gravity!) Jones as a simple, calm, stark intersection of mourning and missing, and whatever else one feels on stage alone in their final moment, seems to hover somewhere out in the ether.

In a short twenty minutes, the playful performer worked to present a spectrum of selves and embodied identities. They were emotional, responsive, reactive. There were moments, including the simple/calm/stark moment mentioned above, that gestured toward grief. At one point, Jones gave a loud cry and collapsed in a bout of unprovoked anguish (which was in fact a humorous moment.) At another, Jones spun in unwieldy circles ad nauseam. However, most moments were driven by the performer’s multi-directional personality, and felt more exploratory than anything else. With spurts of galloping, head-banging, and waltzing, the dance is fun, often nostalgic of youthful spirit and play. And that sense of nostalgia, though a grey area between happiness and sorrow, is maybe what makes us laugh.

Jones himself seems to enjoy our presence. The way a stranger thanks you profusely when you take their photograph on a day that clearly means a lot to them, after showing you the button on the top right of the camera that you could have found yourself, is the way I felt in Blown October lash. I felt quite satisfied with myself for doing what little I could do to facilitate someone’s capturing a particular moment of their own pliable identity. Watching Jones dance felt as archival to the performer’s exploration as if I’d taken a photograph.

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