There is a kind of holy awe in feeling dwarfed by nature, going where our habitual self-importance dissolves in the face of grandeur. We feel ourselves as mere specks in a vastness, and yet to know our minuteness is in itself a kind of expanded consciousness. In our limited everyday sense of ourselves we are great and important, but also limited and mortal. When we are even a little bit aware of the immensity of the universe, we know that we are nothing, but also that in some way we are that vastness, for it has manifested in us in the form of awareness.
Last year, as the warm weather was just starting to give way to the first chills of autumn, I took a drive up to New York’s Ulster County with my friend the dancer and teacher Mariko Endo. Mariko has a background in butoh, the postwar Japanese performance movement. She wanted to dance under a waterfall. My great friend Alex Kahan, who lives in the area, took us to Awosting Falls in Minnewaska State Park, where we shot this video.
Awosting Falls is no mighty Niagara or Iguazu or Victoria falls. It’s just one of hundreds of cascades in the ancient, eroded mountains of the Eastern United States. It draws much of its majesty from its natural amphitheater, a nearly perfectly vertical semi-cylindrical backdrop around its rusty-colored plungepool that seems to contain and magnify the roaring cataract. It is a perfect proscenium to make a solo dancer look and feel small.
Mariko entered upon this stage to feel the frightful power of the water crashing around her, and to channel that power through her body in dance. Both Mariko’s movement and my shooting were improvised. We hadn’t known enough in advance about what the falls would be like to really plan or choreograph something. I had to shoot from a distance and we couldn’t talk to each other over the thunderous waters, so each of us entered into our own experience of responding to the energy of water and stone.
Mariko and I worked together to edit the video, returning to it several times over several months to try to find some structure. Mariko approaches editing as a kind of choreography, selecting bits of movement and sequencing and manipulating them to create a progression of feelings and transformations.
When I asked Mariko what the piece was about for her, she gave me this quote from Tatsumi Hijikata (1928-1986), the originator of the butoh movement in dance: “We should be afraid! The reason that we suffer from anxiety is that we are unable to live with our fear. Anxiety is something created by adults. The dancer, through the butoh spirit, confronts the origins of his fears: a dance which crawls towards the bowel of the earth.” Mariko added, “The wind and the sound of massive amount of water falling which occupies my whole body. Speed and movement is the energy itself. When you are there, Nature foces you to face yourself and where you really are. I wanted to make a film which the audience can feel the texture of the rocks and the speed of the water fall through me.“
I hope a little bit of that feeling of being surrounded by overpowering natural forces, and of surrendering to let those forces flow through oneself, is communicated in this brief video piece. We borrowed a piece of music by the great English composer Jocelyn Pook – I also hope this video will turn some people on to her wonderful music.
If you receive this blog by email, or if you want to watch in HD (strongly recommended), you’ll need to click this link to see the “Awosting” on Vimeo.