Responding to Ecclesiastes 1:8-18; 2:17-26; 3:11; 6:7-12; 8:6-17, 2016 Artist in Residence Stephanie Miracle chronicles the unfolding of her project's final performance for a beautifully unexpected audience.
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14 I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit. 15 That which is crooked cannot be made straight: and that which is wanting cannot be numbered. 16 I communed with mine own heart, saying, Lo, I am come to great estate, and have gotten more wisdom than all they that have been before me in Jerusalem: yea, my heart had great experience of wisdom and knowledge. 17 And I gave my heart to know wisdom, and to know madness and folly: I perceived that this also is vexation of spirit.
17 Therefore I hated life; because the work that is wrought under the sun is grievous unto me: for all is vanity and vexation of spirit.
18 ¶ Yea, I hated all my labour which I had taken under the sun: because I should leave it unto the man that shall be after me. 19 And who knoweth whether he shall be a wise man or a fool? yet shall he have rule over all my labour wherein I have laboured, and wherein I have shewed myself wise under the sun. This is also vanity. 20 Therefore I went about to cause my heart to despair of all the labour which I took under the sun. 21 For there is a man whose labour is in wisdom, and in knowledge, and in equity; yet to a man that hath not laboured therein shall he leave it for his portion. This also is vanity and a great evil. 22 For what hath man of all his labour, and of the vexation of his heart, wherein he hath laboured under the sun? 23 For all his days are sorrows, and his travail grief; yea, his heart taketh not rest in the night. This is also vanity.
24 ¶ There is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labour. This also I saw, that it was from the hand of God. 25 For who can eat, or who else can hasten hereunto , more than I? 26 For God giveth to a man that is good in his sight wisdom, and knowledge, and joy: but to the sinner he giveth travail, to gather and to heap up, that he may give to him that is good before God. This also is vanity and vexation of spirit.
7 All the labour of man is for his mouth, and yet the appetite is not filled. 8 For what hath the wise more than the fool? what hath the poor, that knoweth to walk before the living?
9 ¶ Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the desire: this is also vanity and vexation of spirit. 10 That which hath been is named already, and it is known that it is man: neither may he contend with him that is mightier than he.
11 ¶ Seeing there be many things that increase vanity, what is man the better? 12 For who knoweth what is good for man in this life, all the days of his vain life which he spendeth as a shadow? for who can tell a man what shall be after him under the sun?
6 ¶ Because to every purpose there is time and judgment, therefore the misery of man is great upon him. 7 For he knoweth not that which shall be: for who can tell him when it shall be? 8 There is no man that hath power over the spirit to retain the spirit; neither hath he power in the day of death: and there is no discharge in that war; neither shall wickedness deliver those that are given to it.
9 All this have I seen, and applied my heart unto every work that is done under the sun: there is a time wherein one man ruleth over another to his own hurt. 10 And so I saw the wicked buried, who had come and gone from the place of the holy, and they were forgotten in the city where they had so done: this is also vanity. 11 Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.
12 ¶ Though a sinner do evil an hundred times, and his days be prolonged, yet surely I know that it shall be well with them that fear God, which fear before him: 13 But it shall not be well with the wicked, neither shall he prolong his days, which are as a shadow; because he feareth not before God.
14 There is a vanity which is done upon the earth; that there be just men , unto whom it happeneth according to the work of the wicked; again, there be wicked men , to whom it happeneth according to the work of the righteous: I said that this also is vanity. 15 Then I commended mirth, because a man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry: for that shall abide with him of his labour the days of his life, which God giveth him under the sun.
16 ¶ When I applied mine heart to know wisdom, and to see the business that is done upon the earth: (for also there is that neither day nor night seeth sleep with his eyes:) 17 Then I beheld all the work of God, that a man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun: because though a man labour to seek it out, yet he shall not find it; yea further; though a wise man think to know it , yet shall he not be able to find it .
For there is a proper time and procedure for every matter,
though a person may be weighed down by misery.
Since no one knows the future,
who can tell someone else what is to come?
As no one has power over the wind to contain it,
so no one has power over the time of their death.
As no one is discharged in time of war,
so wickedness will not release those who practice it.
It was November 26. A typical monochromatic winter afternoon in Germany, drizzling rain and unpleasantly cold. Huddled together waiting for the bus I stood with my group of ten performers hailing from France, Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, Germany, and Italy. The city bus arrived. We piled and were transported further away from the city into the winding country side of horse pastures and mustard fields. On our journey we exchanged nervous, excited questions about the place we were going and the people we were to meet.
Our destination was a newly constructed refugee welcome center just 20 minutes up the hill from us. It was designed to temporarily house up to 700 refugees before placing them in permanent residential units across various cities all over Germany. Our invitation was to to present was a kind of “welcome” and “here is something to enjoy while you wait” performance.
I had been asked to create a piece of choreography for this event back in October when I was contemplating my final post for this Spark and Echo residency. Originally I had set a goal of making two dance films based on the selected passages from Ecclesiastes. One was to be a solo and the other a Fakers Club performance in a public space. My 2nd and 3rd posts are variations on these ideas but for my final posting I no longer felt compelled to push in this initial direction. When the opportunity to create something for the refugee camp arose I decided to shift my focus in this direction for the final posting. Working with the last passage from my selection of Ecclesiastes 8:6–17, I took inspiration from ideas of time, future, power, meaninglessness, misery, seeing, wisdom, understanding, what is fair and unfair, and joy.
We arrived at the complex of building several hours before the schedule performance. First step was to get through security. The refugee building was under very strong protection and entrance required a criminal background check plus lots of paperwork. Patience was difficult to muster with so much anticipation surrounding the event. Once cleared we wound our way through a network of buildings to the enormous mess hall characterized by a shiny, stainless steel industrial kitchen and hundreds of pine tables, chairs and matching plywood walls. We cleared an area of the space to create a makeshift stage. Families with young children, men young and old trickled in and shuffled around to find a seat they liked. The performers also found a seat in the “audience” area. All together about 200 people waited in silence, staring at an empty space.
Photo from “3, 2, 1, the future.”
And then orchestral music begins to swell. One by one the performers stand up on their chairs among the audience. The performers call out each other’s names and begin pass a glowing blue ball above the audience. The music shifts to Afro-Funk and a wild game of toss explodes. The children go nuts. Seamlessly the ball disappears but the game continues and intensifies with an invisible ball. The performers jump and tumble all through the space, catching and passing the imaginary ball. The music stops everyone freezes. The performers slowly and quietly return to their chairs. The audience is trying to contain the giddiness the sport just stirred up. Two girls begin to whisper to each other across the room. They crawl out of their chairs and meet. The other performers come to find them and carry the two girls overhead. As their conversation continues they are floated above audience heads. A new person is picked up and transported through the space as the discussion continues. The group congregates and bodies assemble together to form a house like structure. One girl explores the house as a thunderstorm soundtrack plays in the background. The house of bodies collapses around her. Out of the rubble it rises again and lifts her up on its shoulders. She find pulls out a small bottle in her pocket, looks at it carefully and begins to blow the bubbles through the air. The children gasp with glee. The performers reach out to gently catch the bubbles and they transform into glass marbles. The clunk of marbles hitting the floor relates the silent burst of a thin soapy sphere. One man begins to collect all the marbles one by one. Momentarily halting the play. Who gets to have the marbles? For a tiny moment time is suspended. The man with the marbles looks around and begins to place one in the hands of audience members. The performers return to their seats and dance miniatures dances with the marble. So small they are only intended for people sitting closest to them. The music quiets and everything returns to stillness. Long after the performance the young and old continue to roll the small marble gifted to them through their fingers.
Photo from “3, 2, 1, the future.”
I have almost no documentation of this final project in the series. The reason being security measures meant that video was completely prohibited and only few people were authorized to take photos. Although we have more photos available we are not allowed to use them because the faces of the audience are recognizable. Because most of our performance was intended to be in, among, and through the audience nearly all of our photos have faces of refugees in them. The photos I am posting here are permissible for use.
Like all time-based performances, this piece disappeared almost instantly after it emerged. What lingered were only the smiles and beaming eyes. A feeling of joy hovered. It is hard for me to discuss dances in verbal language because I am more interested in visceral and emotional gut reactions. This is why I was drawn to the passages of Ecclesiastes originally. Because I feel the writers ideas through his language. I feel his frustration and confusion and joy and release. The writing is circular and moving around. Not landing on a final answer. It attempts comprehension but finds that it can’t. It can’t understand. I feels disappointing, absurd and hopeless. Yet in the end it feel that the writer focuses on joy.
While studying this final passage in my Spark and Echo series I was reminded of another verse in scripture. “At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.” (Luke 10:21)
Photo from “3, 2, 1, the future.”
After our small performance vanished it was the laughter of the children that remained. And at the end of my year long residency it is the joyful promise that what is hidden and confused and darkened will be revealed to little children that remains with me.
Stephanie Miracle is an American born independent choreographer and performer currently based in Essen, Germany with her husband visual artist Jimmy Miracle. She earned her MFA in Dance at the University of Maryland and a BA in Dance from Belhaven University. She is also a teacher of Klein Technique™ and holds prestigious honor of being a 2014/15 German Fulbright Fellow in the Performing Arts. In 2015 she joined as a full-time dancer with the Folkwang Tanzstudio/FTS. In addition to performing with the company she often works in collaboration with Henrietta Horn (DE), Carla Jordao (PT), Ana Farfan (MX), Paola Ponti, (IT) and Anna Shchkleina (RU). She is the director of Fakers Club, a site-specific performance experiment based on film and serial television.
Stephanie's choreography has been described as “iconic and nuanced…with an irreverence that makes you smile unconsciously”(Rick Westerkamp, 2014). Often in vivid technicolor, Miracle’s works are crafted with a cinematic sensibility and follow subtle narrative threads. In addition to creating choreographies for traditional proscenium theaters her unique aesthetic finds special significance in common spaces for example, parking lots, bus stops, woman's prisons, hallways, staircases, and rooftops. in Germany, Hungary, Mexico, Russia, New York City, and Washington DC by various institutions including MetLife Foundation, Exchange Festival, Dance Place, Supernoval Festival, Open Look Festival, Performatica, Belhaven University, ES WIRD SOGAR SCHÖN, Barnes Crossing, The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center.
Other awards include the Smith Scholarship Grant to attend ImPulsTanz in 2012, dance artist-in-residence at OMI International Residency 2012, DC Innovation grant in 2013, Bates Dance Festival Merit Scholarship 2013, Goldhaber Travel Scholarship 2014, and NextNOW new work grant 2014. Her collaborative piece “Drafting Plan” was awarded Best Duo at Barnes Crossing Festival 2015 in Cologne and at the 2016 SzoloDuo Festival in Budapest. She is honored to be a 2016 Artist in Residence at Spark and Echo Arts.