Arrhythmia

 
Arrhythmia: an alteration in rhythm of the heartbeat either in time or force.

My initial inspiration for this piece was a description of a performance by dance artist Deborah Hay in an essay by Rosalind Krauss entitled Notes on the Index: Seventies Art in America. Instead of dancing, Hay announced that she wished to talk. She proceeded to explain to the audience that she aspired to be in touch with the movement of every cell in her body. Steps and gestures visible to the audience were to be replaced with the motion of blood, cells, and organs from within. With this performance, Hay reduced dance down to one simple fact: the presence of her living, breathing body before the audience.

Even when we are at rest, our bodies are in constant motion. My first thought was to simply provide the audience with a stethoscope and a short written statement and allow them to listen in to this inner movement. However, taking part in Lucy Cash’s Dance and Beyond: Expanding the Choreographic Field elective course and Joe Moran’s Points of Departure choreographic workshop had reawakened an acute awareness of my own living, breathing body; an awareness, I realised, that was last triggered over five years ago when my life was interrupted by the diagnosis and treatment of thyroid cancer.

Because of this, the stethoscope began to take on a whole new meaning as the focus of the piece shifted from installation to performance. The stethoscope would become the centre of the audience’s attention as they used it to listen to the beat of my heart; a beat that had been interrupted by illness and the intensive treatment I had received.

In order to treat the cancer, the doctors had to completely remove my thyroid gland. The thyroid gland produces thyroxine: the hormone that controls the body’s metabolism – in effect dictating the body’s tempo. It was replaced with the man-made metronome of levothyroxine: a synthetic form of the thyroid hormone. As a consequence I suffered from hypothyroidism – my heart rate dropped, my respiratory pattern slowed – until the doctors were able to once again find the correct tempo for the inner dance of my body by adjusting my levothyroxine intake.

The follow-up radioactive iodine therapy proved to be another major disturbance to the natural choreography of my life. Family routines were interrupted and normal, everyday interaction ceased, as I was twice confined to a lead-lined room until the amount of radiation in my body reached a safe level.

Although thankfully I have now passed the five year cancer milestone and am feeling fit and well, I wanted to give the audience some idea of how all these carefully planned and orchestrated treatments, procedures and interventions can impact on and interrupt the flow of everyday life, while simultaneously offering up the presence of my damaged and scarred but still living and breathing body as evidence of their worth.

Bibliography

Banes, S. (1987) Terpsichore in sneakers. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press.

Krauss, R. (1977) Notes on the index: seventies art in America. Part 2. October, vol. 4, pp. 58-67.

Lambert-Beatty, C. (2008) Being watched: Yvonne Rainer and the 1960s. London: The MIT Press.

 

Tutor Lucy Cash’s comments:

Congratulations. Firstly, you made a powerful and thought provoking performance piece which worked on several different levels: it brought our attention to the body and its rhythmical systems, it was a subtle and honest portrait of a particular body and its relationship to illness, and it was a sensitive and intimate one-to-one encounter which gave each participant the space to connect the real-time experience of what they heard with their own body and sensations of touch, as well as circular systems in general. Although framed within the abstraction of the biological body, it was a moving and very human encounter.

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