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Rehearsing 9/11 Table of Silence Project Has Resounding Effects

by Bonnie Rosenstock
September 7, 2016
Gibney Dance Union Square
890 Broadway, 5th floor
New York, NY 10003
(212) 677-8560
Since I am unable to attend the 9/11 Table of Silence Project. at the plaza at Lincoln Center on Sunday morning, September 11, I was invited to a two-hour afternoon rehearsal at the Gibney Dance Center. It was the fifth of the ten rehearsals that would take place before the actual event. Even at the halfway mark, you could feel a powerful process of transformation taking place among the dancers, collectively and individually, as the piece began to take shape. This was not to be an ordinary performance, given the emotion involved. But then, how could it be ordinary when it was conceived and choreographed by the extraordinary Jacqulyn Buglisi.

This year there are an astounding 160 dancers, who represent all ages and backgrounds, with the majority young women. Buglisi pointed out to me that some of the dancers are well-known and are drawn from some of the city’s premier dance companies and schools, including Buglisi’s own company, the Buglisi Dance Theatre, plus The Ailey School, the Julliard School, the Martha Graham School & Company, Steps on Broadway and Dance Theater of Harlem, among others. Other participants are part of the New York City arts community, with many hailing from around the globe. Participation is through audition, with accommodation made for those who cannot perform some of the more strenuous parts, including one woman in a wheelchair who ably performed the arm movements and strongly snaked her vehicle along concentric circles, which will create a peace labyrinth symbolizing eternity, purity and the continuous life cycle at the plaza.

The rehearsal began with warm-up exercises, reflecting and building up to the final choreography. Either Buglisi or her three assistants gave instruction to the group as a whole as well as offering individual corrections. The emphasis was on the breath, energy of the spine and body, tension-release-contract-release-drama, reminiscent of Martha Graham’s powerful technique. (Buglisi was a principal Graham dancer for 12 years during her 30-year association with the company.) Buglisi is infinitely quotable and could very well have her own little Red—or White—Book of her inspirational sayings and imagery, gleaned from her vast knowledge of literary, historic and mythical themes. During the teaching process she offered, “Energy is sending beautiful messages to your body.” “The ocean never sees itself, but you do.” “A few people aren’t releasing because they don’t love themselves.” “There’s a fine line between sanity and madness.” “Look over the river, cross the river, you can make it.” “Open your heart.” “Tell a story.” “Each step you take has a power with your intention.” “The vessel holds you.” “Your energy is always going into the future, for transformation.” “Awaken for humanity.” When she said, “There’s only one race,” the dancers responded, “The human race.”

The inspiration for the Table of Silence Project originated with Italian visual artist Rossella Vasta’s 100 white ceramic plates, or sculptures, a repeated image created on the white surface with glazing, that represent a banquet table uniting humanity. Buglisi said that white is the color and purity of silence. “[The plate] is an offering from your heart. It’s sacred ground. It’s the symbol of living your life,” she explained to the dancers.

Buglisi mused over whether the dancers should bring a piece of cloth, “something meaningful to you to hang and leave,” she said. “I breathe my pain in and send it into the universe and let it go.”

At the brief break, I interviewed Brian Cedric Jones, freelance musical theater dancer, who is participating for the third time. He said the choreography and ritual offering are the same, but many of the people aren’t. For him, it’s his way to give back to the dance community, to the city and country—and it’s streamed worldwide. “It’s my remembrances, condolences and hope,” he said.

Dancer and choreographer Andrea Beeman, a first-timer, is in awe of the project. “It’s amazing how Jacqulyn and her team get this huge group to come together. It’s organized around breath and energy. I feel lucky to be part of it,” she said.

In addition to the dancers, who will be dressed all in white, there will be five musicians (bass drums, a conch, a gong, flutes), two bells with bell master Terese Capucilli and three vocalists.

This year’s sixth annual ritual and prayer for healing is especially poignant, since it marks the 15th anniversary of 9/11, but also “because its message of peaceful co-existence is timely, and essential to our daily lives,” Buglisi was quoted as saying. The event begins at 8:15 a.m. and concludes at precisely 8:46 a.m., when American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower. At this moment, the performers will extend their palms and arms skyward for one minute signifying universal peace. Spectators are invited to join.

I ran into Christine Dakin as I was leaving. Dakin, a co-founder of Buglisi Dance Theatre with Buglisi, Capucilli and Donlin Foreman, all former Graham dancers, observed that this work transforms the dancers. “So many young people haven’t had this experience before working with their breath and interior,” she said. It will also markedly affect observers, even those who attend fifth rehearsals.

The 9/11 Table of Silence Project– A Movement for Peace
Created and choreographed by Jacqulyn Buglisi
The Revson Fountain, Josie Robertson Plaza, Lincoln Center
Columbus Avenue at 64th Street
Sunday, September 11, begins at 8:15 a.m., ends at 8:46 a.m.
Free Public Performance
Info at 212-719-3301 or www.tableofsilence.org
Live stream begins at 8:15 a.m. Access at www.tableofsilence.org or www.buglisidance.org.
URL to a one-minute preview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9m6UklFeL-A
Choreographer Jacqulyn Buglisi explaining her process to the dancers.

Choreographer Jacqulyn Buglisi explaining her process to the dancers.

Photo © & courtesy of Bonnie Rosenstock


Rehearsing, with three assistants working with the dancers. In background, dancer in wheelchair.

Rehearsing, with three assistants working with the dancers. In background, dancer in wheelchair.

Photo © & courtesy of Bonnie Rosenstock


Assistant So Young An helping Brian Cedric Jones work from his center.

Assistant So Young An helping Brian Cedric Jones work from his center.

Photo © & courtesy of Bonnie Rosenstock


Rehearsing with the plates.

Rehearsing with the plates.

Photo © & courtesy of Bonnie Rosenstock


Choreographer Jacqulyn Buglisi assisting a dancer.

Choreographer Jacqulyn Buglisi assisting a dancer.

Photo © & courtesy of Bonnie Rosenstock


A prior year's performance of the work.

A prior year's performance of the work.

Photo © & courtesy of Terri Gold


A prior year's performance of the work.

A prior year's performance of the work.

Photo © & courtesy of Paul B. Goode

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