The Word in the Wings
From the studio: Anna Si on dancing in Walk This Road
By: KAYA PRASAD
Company artist Anna Si connects her performance in Walk This Road to a very personal experience with the grief of Holy Week, and she hopes the audience will feel hope through this story. Continue reading for a window into our conversation!
Kaya: Thanks so much for talking with me! I’m excited to hear your perspective on Walk This Road, in particular The Sound of Silence and other pieces that you’re in. One of the first things Melody said to me when we started talking about Walk This Road was, “You have to see Anna dance The Sound of Silence live!” I see a lot of strong emotion expressed when you rehearse this piece. Would you share some of your internal narrative? What’s the “story” you tell yourself as you’re dancing this piece that motivates your movement quality?
Anna: When Melody first introduced us to the concept of Walk This Road, and she said it was going to be a ballet about Holy Week, she said that each dance was like a day in the week–or at least, that’s how we thought of it so that we could remember where everything went in the storyline. She introduced Sound of Silence as the Saturday piece. As I was starting to think about it, I was learning the choreography, I was really starting to meditate on, what did Saturday mean? And I would try to put myself in the shoes of the disciples or in the shoes of the women who were at the feet of the cross where Jesus died on Friday, thinking: they became very close friends with Jesus during his ministry, so how does that grief look?
I pulled from when my grandmother passed away. She passed away in the spring of 2019, actually on Good Friday. I was very close to my grandmother. She’s the first person in my family who was close to me whose death really impacted me, and grief’s a funny thing. You feel like your heart is being squeezed and ripped out of your chest at the same time–like a crushing feeling is in your heart, but you also feel this emptiness. There’s a missing seat at the table; at my grandparents’ house it’s just the two of them, and her presence just isn’t there anymore.
So when I dance Sound of Silence, I try to tap into that feeling like somebody’s ripping your heart out at the same time there’s an emptiness in the room, like you’re the only one who’s there. I try to make my movement quiet but still big and loud, because when you’re grieving you still hear–you’re still crying and you’re still displaying all sorts of different emotions that grief brings about.
Kaya: That’s a really personal connection and a very visceral expression of grief, so I see the possibilities for physical expression in what you described. It also strikes me that we talk about deafening silence, and “the sound of silence” in the song even–it’s like the silence fills the space with emptiness.
When I watch you rehearse this piece, and when I pay attention to the words of the song, I get the sense that the “vision softly creeping” reveals a terrible alternative to the resurrection–a world where Jesus stays in the tomb, but you’re the only one who notices that anything is wrong. There’s a gesture you repeat every time the phrase “the sound of silence” is sung, and it looks like you’re recoiling from a silence that represents everyone’s unawareness of the life that could have been.
But I’m curious if “the sound of silence” might mean something a little bit different to you, so what does “the sound of silence” mean to you in terms of how Jesus’s disciples might have felt between the cross and the empty tomb?
Anna: Again, I tap into that grief that I felt with my grandmother. I hate the sound of not hearing her voice in the kitchen in my grandparents’ house; her and my grandfather, I don’t hear them bickering anymore or little things like that. Her side of the wardrobe is empty; there’s no cookies in the cookie jar.
I tap into that, but I also think about the world and how the world is stuck in Saturday. As believers, we know that Sunday is coming, so that is our hope, but I see a world that is still stuck in Saturday and doesn’t have hope. I know that Ain’t No Grave is coming, but some people don’t.
Walk This Road is very powerful in that we can minister to believers but then also reach non-believers and show them what they’re missing.
Kaya: It’s really powerful how your personal experience with your grandmother brings in this really vivid, visual and auditory experience that matches what I’m seeing when you dance. It’s coming through so clearly!
What elements of the choreography resonate strongly with you as you express “the sound of silence” in relation to Holy Saturday?
Anna: There’s a few moments of contraction, and I try to pull in that feeling of a crushing chest, as if somebody’s going in and ripping your heart out of your chest, and like you were saying, in the dance there’s almost a recoiling from “the sound of silence,” and then at the very end, the very last stretch out of the hand to “the sound of silence,” I look to my left, and that’s where Audrey is coming in. So I almost let the audience look at Audrey and say there’s more to this dance; something else is coming.
Kaya: That’s one of the things that I’m just starting to notice as the ballet is coming together. Those transitions, like the one between Sound of Silence and Ain’t No Grave, tie it together really seamlessly. I love that you’ve brought that out.
Also, the way that you talk about both contracting and feeling like your heart is being ripped out–that leans into what we talked about earlier, the paradoxical feelings that seem like opposites but happen at the same time. You have opposite movements that are in tension with each other like those feelings.
How do you experience Holy Week differently since dancing Walk This Road? You’ve talked about bringing your personal experience into the dancing; how does the dance and your experience in the studio and onstage then translate back into life and your observance of Holy Week?
Anna: Last year was the first year we did Walk This Road, and during Holy Week my sisters and I were like, “Today’s Sunday; today we’d be doing our trio,” and, “Thursday, we’d be doing Ubi Caritas today,” and “Saturday, Sound of Silence,” and we’d relate dances to actual experiences.
I think that because my grandmother passed away on Good Friday, Holy Week will always be a hard time for us as a family, but it gives a more vivid picture of how people close to Jesus were actually feeling during that time. But again, Sunday’s coming, he’s coming back again, so there’s always hope.
Kaya: Amen! What’s one thing you hope the audience will gain from seeing the performance?
Anna: Anytime I perform, what I try to do is invite the audience into the space and try to make it so that they feel like they want to jump up and dance with us–whether that’s in Coppelia and we’re doing a village dance or Nutcracker and they would love to sit in the seat of Clara and watch all the sweets. In Walk This Road, I really want people to feel the feelings that we’re feeling and want to get up and jump up and down in Ain’t No Grave with us, or celebrate in The King is Coming. Or if they’re feeling grief, let them grieve with me in Sound of Silence. It can be a very personal ballet for a lot of people.
Kaya: Thank you so much for sharing your own personal connection with it! I hope that as the audience comes into the theater, they will see it and personally relate to it as well.
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