Dance Feature: The “Table of Silence Project 9/11” — Reimagined
By Thea Singer
“We will step to the edge of our humanity, expressing the commonalities that we all share, the threads that bind and connect us all.”
A Reimagined Table of Silence Project 9/11, presented by the Buglisi Dance Theatre and Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, in partnership with Dance/NYC, on September 11 at 7:50 a.m. EDT.
Part of Lincoln Center at Home (#LincolnCenterAtHome), the event will be streamed at LincolnCenter.org and on Lincoln Center’s Facebook Page. The video will also be available on-demand on LincolnCenter.org/TableOfSilenceProject and Buglisi Dance Theatre’s YouTube channel following the premiere. Featuring livestream and video by Nel Shelby of Nel Shelby Productions.
Choreographer Jacqulyn Buglisi’s Table of Silence Project 9/11, at once ephemeral and grounded to its core, began as a call to action in response to that day’s horrific events. Performed every year since its premiere, on September 11, 2011, at Lincoln Center’s radiant Josie Robertson Plaza, this multicultural, intergenerational ritual for peace, unity, and healing continues with a call that’s more urgent than ever.
But there will be a difference. After all, we are in the midst of a pandemic. Just 28 dancers will perform live — tracing the plaza’s concentric circles, intersecting lines, and Revson Fountain — for a 12-minute “Prologue,” as opposed to the usual 150-plus dancers who filled and transformed the site for a full 34 minutes in the past. The dancers will be wearing masks and fully social distanced. The rehearsals, which started last week, mark the first time since March that most have left the tiny squares on their Zoom screens to dance with others in the real world.
“We all felt it was imperative that we do a live performance,” says Buglisi, in a Zoom call from her apartment on 43rd Street, where from her terrace she saw the second tower hit 19 years ago. The soundscape — electric violin, spoken-word poetry, and conch-shell horn — will be live on-site as well. “To me, this is very powerful,” says Buglisi. “We will step to the edge of our humanity, expressing the commonalities that we all share, the threads that bind and connect us all.”
Presented by Buglisi Dance Theatre and Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in partnership with Dance/NYC, the piece, she says, “is reimagined for our current moment”: the realities of COVID-19, the systemic racism that has been repeatedly revealed and the outcry against it. In addition to the live “Prologue,” this year’s version will include the world premiere of Études, a three-minute film by Nel Shelby Productions featuring short works by more than 150 dancers from around the world who have been inspired by the Table of Silence Project 9/11, and the video of the full 2019 livestreamed piece, with its 182 dancers, nine musicians, and seven singers — all dressed in flowing white. Among Buglisi’s collaborators are composer/music director Daniel Bernard Roumain, spoken-word poet Marc Bamuthi Joseph, and Buglisi Dance Theatre cofounder/principal dancer Terese Capucilli.
“Just like in music, the ‘Prologue’ touches on what you’re going to see in the full symphony,” explains Buglisi, former principal dancer with the Martha Graham Dance Company. Some of those elements: the repetition of 12 symbolic gestures over a 72-count phrase recalls an ancient peace labyrinth; small white ceramic plates inspired by the artist Rossella Vasta’s installations, which the dancers clutch to their chests, hold aloft, and place in their laps; the bell master-cum-conductor, who maintains the inner resonance of the whole; counter and clockwise circling that suggests “the mandala,” says Buglisi, “the symbol for the creation of the Earth, for completion, perfection, harmony, achievement — a sacred geometry.” And the moment of silence, dancers’ arms stretched to the sky, at 8:46 a.m., the moment when Flight 11 struck the North Tower.
“The gestures happen in repetition,” says Meagan King, an apprentice with Ailey II, who is performing in the piece for the second time. “In a ritual practice things repeat, you almost go into a trance. The movement is ingrained in us — you can let go and lose yourself in it. That’s when you find peace. You’re lost in yourself but all together in this transcendent space. That kind of frequency resonates for the universe, too.”
Capucilli, a member of Buglisi Dance Theatre since 1991 and faculty member at the Juilliard School, echoes the sentiment. “This year, of any year, I feel the Table of Silence Project 9/11 needs to be heard,” she insists. “What is most poignant about our being in our 10th year is that the repetition of that call to action goes on because of the strength of hope. Hope is the thing that allows an artist like Jacque to commit herself to her vision, year after year: the unity of everyone in the world sitting at the same table, holding their plate, and eating together. Particularly in this day, we need that food, that hope, that peace and unity.”
We must remember, too, she says, how critical it is to be sensitive to one another, not just emotionally but also physically. “The pandemic has pushed us all into these protective bubbles,” says Capucilli, former principal dancer and co-artistic director of the Martha Graham Dance Company. “That is another reason why we needed to bring this work live to the plaza — to remind ourselves that we collectively need to work to bring touch, truth, the power of compassion, and the combined energy of the individuals that surround us into a very wounded world.”
The piece has both symbolic and personal meaning for King. Her uncle, Barry Galfano, a captain in the New York Police Department, was a leader in the rescue and recovery effort after the terrorist attack and later developed metastatic cancer from inhaling toxic materials at the site. He died on June 26, 2011. “That was my 13th birthday,” says King. “I am honoring him through this dance. It is a more formal and proper sendoff of him — a way to say goodbye. Holding the ceramic plate up to the sky two years ago — his heart was on that plate for me. The sun broke out once I raised the plate to the sky. I felt he was with me. There was a light drizzle; the sky was crying with me as we exited the space.”
Thea Singer is a longtime dance critic and science writer based in Brookline, Mass. Her articles have appeared in numerous publications including the Washington Post, Boston Globe, Scientific American, MORE magazine, O the Oprah magazine, Psychology Today, Huffington Post, Boston magazine, the Daily Beast, and Nature Outlook.