I’ve worked with Buglisi Dance Theatre for a little more than four years. One of my first pictures of the company was of Lauren Jaeger during a rehearsal at the Ralph Pucci Gallery. She looked so beautiful in the light streaming down through the skylights. I’ve captured Lauren through my camera during each of the rehearsal periods for The Table of Silence beginning in 2011. Each year she has taken a bigger role in the rehearsal process, helping to direct the 150 dancers who perform on 9/11 atop the Lincoln Center Plaza.
In my next issue of VISION, I am featuring Jacqulyn Buglisi’s Table of Silence Project. Along with Jacqulyn Buglisi and Stephanie Van Dooren, Lauren has written one of the essays to accompany the photographs in the article. I’ve already had Lauren do her essay twice. I wanted her to write a personal, passionate piece, not an easy task even for an accomplished writer. Lauren turned in a beautiful essay but as the magazine came together, it turned out I only had space for part of her writing and the magazine will only feature excerpts from her piece. Since I have this journal, I felt it important to share Lauren’s essay in it’s entirety, here, where so many people can enjoy her words. Lauren’s essay follows.
LAUREN JAEGER — Four years ago, during the summer of 2011, Jacqulyn Buglisi mentioned that she wanted to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. She told us, the dancers of Buglisi Dance Theatre, how inspired she was by Italian artist, Rossella Vasta’s Table of Silence and that she wanted to base a new piece inspired by the work. The piece was to be performed on September 11th, at Lincoln Center’s Plaza and would include a minute of silence at exactly 8:46am. We were enthusiastic about taking part in the project and were excited to bring to life Jacqulyn’s vision.
We began by exploring movement that represented the unique nuances of Ms. Buglisi’s style, but could also be performed by 150 dancers working in unison. One of the more challenging aspects of constructing the piece was seamlessly weaving the dancers from opposite ends of the plaza into three tightly-knit, concentric circles around the fountain, evoking the spirit of mandala energy. Each Buglisi company member would be instrumental in contributing to the development of the movements of this piece.
Having structured the body of the piece, we then turned to the challenge of infusing it with the collective spirit of 150 dancers, musicians, vocalists, and crew. Jacqulyn Buglisi encourages each person to find their own inner truth in every single movement. Our pains, our sorrows, our hopes and dreams, individualized as they may be, serve to unite us in humanity. This collective soul is a perfect representation of the diversity that is New York City. It is this transcendent voice, which begins as a whisper on the outskirts of the plaza and culminates in a deafening silent outcry for peace that is the essence of The Table of Silence Project.
One of the first things we do in rehearsal is stand shoulder to shoulder and walk across the room. Everyone must step at the same time while maintaining a straight line. If the person next to us miss-steps or over-steps, we must be able to adjust instantaneously to maintain the cohesion of the group as a whole. The dancers’ sensitivity to one another is imperative to making The Table of Silence Project a continuing success. Sometimes I worry that because I spend so much time instructing this process, I will miss out on the camaraderie that has developed. However, every year there is always at least one moment when I know I have not been left out.
Last year, I could not participate in the performance due to an ankle injury. However, as is the case every year, there is always one rehearsal towards the end of the process that takes place at Juilliard. Because not everyone can fit inside of one studio, we must split up into two spaces. Ms. Buglisi sends me into an adjacent studio with about 70 dancers entrusting me to come up with a pattern the dancers can follow that will get them into place without collisions. Every year I am honored to play this small role in choreographing the piece. I also become the temporary leader for this group when we enter the plaza for the first time.
During one late night dress rehearsal a Fashion Week event also on the plaza, was contributing loud music to the usual cacophony of outdoor Manhattan. We could barely hear each other standing side by side. I was concerned the dancers would not be able to hear instructions from me or Ms. Buglisi. Running across the plaza (on my bad ankle) was the only means of ferrying instructions to the dancers, musicians and crew. Before the final run-through of the evening, I turned around to give Terese Capucilli who was half way across the plaza the cue that my group was ready. Suddenly, all 70 dancers behind me began applauding and cheering. I turned around and was shocked to see that I was the target of their affectionate outburst. I didn’t think I had done anything special, but then I realized that all of these dancers were supporting my efforts and feelings, letting me know that I was one of them.
This year I was lucky enough to participate again. Each time that we have performed this piece on September 11th, (with the exception of this year) the weather has been just like it was in 2001: a clear, beautiful, blue sky with the sun just starting to warm up the day. It feels as if we have gone back in time, but with the knowledge of what was to happen later that fateful day.
Before the event takes place, we always have one final dress rehearsal early in the morning that same day. I never sleep the night before. I worry about not waking up for the 6:15am call-time. I also worry about my group being alright without me running around, looking at spacing, and making adjustments. But, what I get most nervous about is stepping back into my place, as a leader of a completely separate group, with different cues and movements that I haven’t rehearsed since the year before (or in this case, two years ago). Luckily, after that first run-through of the day, my confidence has returned because everything has gone just fine. For the event itself, I am able to experience everything fully and truthfully.
The improvisational section in the beginning of the piece is a foreshadowing. I feel as though we are spirits, not necessarily humans, perhaps Ms. Buglisi’s “Divine Normals”. We know something is wrong about the day, but are powerless to stop it. We may not know exactly what will occur, but feel the ominous undertones in the atmosphere. As we place ourselves into our lines, my spirit knows there is no way to avoid what will happen, and I must follow my path through the events with my fellow dancers.
As we take our steps, there is no gesture without meaning. I look through my “window” and see the unknowing people go about their lives. I ring “Helen’s Bell” as I contemplate what will happen. I reach to the heavens and try to pull myself up and then reach down to lift another’s soul. My heart flutters, fueled by my growing anxiety. I try to break free from my chains, but I’m too late to do anything to help. I can’t bear to see or hear the events. There is nothing I could voice to change the situation.
I form a prayer, not of words, but feelings and send them out to touch as many souls as possible. I thrash impatiently, while waiting to see if this has helped. It has not. I collect myself once more, “sewing” my heart to my divine center and bite my fist to prevent myself from screaming into the void. As all this is happening to me, I am becoming closer to the other dancers as we form our circles around the fountain. Our voices unite and erupt as though a megaphone has been placed to our lips. We send our prayers out together.
The drum beats again and we all work in unison to save as many souls as we can. The drum stops, but we continue. This time we move gently as one, guided by the voices of flutes. We sing together once more looking at each other across our circles. I always connect with Stephanie who is directly across from me and plays the same roles as I do. This is the one point of the piece where I must return briefly to reality. The inner circle, my self included, returns to our anxious “fluttering hearts”, while the middle and outer circles are the first to touch their plates and raise them to the sky in an offering of peace. We will join in our offering shortly, but first we must lift our plates from the fountain.
The fountain dance ritual lasts as long as it needs to for us to have our minute of silence at exactly 8:46am. This means it can be relatively long and there is a lot of time for reflection. My spirit has come to terms with the fact that I cannot change my path. I now solemnly prepare myself, my soul and anyone else who will listen. At 8:45am, the vocalists start their lament. The time will be soon. We reach to each other across the fountain and then face away as we place our plates in our laps. We have eyes in all directions and will see and be aware of everything that happens. Suddenly, the vocalists gasp at what they see. We now see it, too. We raise our arms, open to the heavens and observe the events that began at 8:46am on September 11th, 2001. We have a minute to contemplate what has happened since then and to hope that things will change for the better. We send positive thoughts and energy into the sky through our megaphone constructed of open arms, which has now extended to audience members as well.
Every year, during this exact moment, a single plane manages to fly overhead as we are looking up into the sky.
At the end of the minute, a bell rings and we collect ourselves and our plates. We feel our prayers in the air. We stand, then continue along our paths while embracing our plates, our wishes for the future.
There is nothing like the feeling of dancing in The Table of Silence Project on September 11th, at Lincoln Center with this group of the finest and most kind-hearted people. It is not a performance. It is a ceremony. It is a tribute. It is a remembrance. It is a prayer for peace. It is a coming together of a community in the heart of New York City, planting seeds in hopes for sowing a brighter tomorrow.