a canary torsi, Paradis. Photograph: Kevin Kwan.
a canary torsi, paradis @ garfield conservatory, 8 August 2013.
Dressed in white, the dancers approached, slowly, out of the trees and bushes, in a V-shaped formation, dipping to the left and the right but marching steadily toward us in the audience as we sat or stood in the field behind the Garfield Conservatory. It was a cool, beautiful August night on the South Side, and you could here people partying in the distance, the hum of traffic, the rattle of the Green Line, and an occasional police car. The light glowed warmly from the glass roof on the Conservatory. The dancers moved around us, between us, through us.
A white grand piano sat in the field though it did not seem particularly out of place. It tinkled a pleasant melody. The best sound of all, however, was our feet—both audience and dancers—as we brushed through the tall grass.
At first it seemed to be the dancers and us in the audience, interacting but distinguished from each other. Eventually the dancers divided us up into groups, asked us to follow them. We were no longer audience and performers, but rather subgroups snaking through the field toward the next act. The leader of my group took off her shoes, asked me to hold them for her. I did. The dancers came close to us. Then they drew back again, singing a chant-like song, once again separating into two main groups: performers and audience.
We were taken back to the piano, the dancers vanished into the trees and bushes, we were asked to sing the song they had earlier chanted from a distance. The dance was over and we all disappeared into the night.
Inspired by the final Dante’s Inferno-inspired segment of Jean Luc Godard’s 2004 film, Notre Musique, which pictures paradise as an island of young people playing on beaches until a man and a woman in a little hideaway bit into an apple by the ocean waves, a canary torsi’s Paradis is less surreal, less lonely, less sardonic, less bitter than Godard’s film. It is sweeter. A number of commentators (Matt de la Pena, “A surreal paradise, overshadowed by the shrubs, Chicago Tribune, 7 August 2013) have thought of it as a study in intimacy, and this is so, but it is the intimacy of strangers, not a community.
Indeed, it evoked how strangers in public connect momentarily, and the strange kind of intimacy generated by these temporary encounters, which involve no commitment other than a demand to be in the moment, fleeting yet present. This was the paradise invoked and it raised questions about what paradise is exactly—perhaps not something lasting and eternal but rather in time even as it gestures to experiences that are out of time.
Moreover, taking place in a garden, this was fundamentally a dance about urban paradise. These were not fauns in the countryside or some small community in the hinterlands. Performers and audience alike became bodies of the city passing each other for a pastoral moment among the grit. The delicate intersection of lives was sustained precisely because all involved knew full well that they would never meet again. Or better said, their meeting would never gain the deeper roots of community. There was no pain here, only an ephemeral erotics, an Edenic charge. It came for free and it was liberating. Then it sent us on our way, out the gates of the Garfield, where guards stood with walkie-talkies. We exited one by one with the knowledge that we could not reenter.