Report from Captiva
Text by Douglas Dunn - Photos by Jules Bakshi & Paul Singh
Captiva is a slim island off the west coast of Florida. The Foundation's long narrow piece of property crosses it, so you have bay on one end, gulf on the other. Of the many small abodes, Charles Atlas and I are residing in the Beach House, windows looking over the water toward Mexico. I think of Manhattan as given background, my and others' activities as foreground. Here the dynamic is reversed, our human actions not as potent as what's going on around us. What better example than the mercurial sea. No matter at what moment you look upon it, its color, the texture of its surface, the way it touches the horizon, the sky it is in conversation with, all have changed, and each appearance, in flux as it is, is worthy of contemplation. To take only the colors, and not by any means all of them, many of which I have no name for: navy blue; celestial blue; light cornflower blue; royal azure; celadon green; jungle green; olivine; old lavender; Payne's gray; rocket metallic; silver chalice; manatee; slate; rose quartz; charcoal; turquoise; verdigris...you get the idea, your eye gets the savor.
A legacy of generosity---
At several retreats I've been called an artist as if the word had value, and been attended to with loving care, but never one established by another artist. To keep others empathically in mind while doing one's own work is an achievement. Next to this desk in his Beach House is a photo of Mr. Rauschenberg, his arms folded over the top of a ladder, his smile as warm as our beneficent sun. The property, with its many small houses, dance studio and huge art studio, represents his bountiful esprit, and the staff is inspired by and infused with the same wide and supportive vision. This sort of big-heartedness generates more of the same.
The work of our residency is twofold: first to continue making Comme si ils dansent avec des autres, a short dance begun for NYU students, now being expanded to be part of Christopher Williams' gig at the 92nd Street Y (see below); and second to begin consideration of an evening-length piece for Peak Performances at the Kasser Theater at Montclair State University toward the end of January, 2014.
---leaving doors unlocked without worry
---several people telling us daily to ask for whatever we want and need, then delivering it
---living next to a swimming pool surrounded by palm trees; sharing it with two female mallards
---riding a bike; leaving it unlocked
---hearing the sound of the surf
---being besieged by various sweet aromas of natural matter as one moves about the compound
---living and working on a property dedicated solely to artistic pursuit, no sight-seers, no tourists, no shoppers
--- so many windows and skylights, never by day having to flip switches
---having to greet, to avoid stepping on them, two little lizards that sun all day on the first step of the outdoor stairway to the house
---resisting staying in touch with one's stressful life in NYC, giving in, that is, to seclusion and peacefulness
The variety of vegetation is unending. Leaves and other herbaceous extensions of all sizes abound, on plants and off, from deep green through dusky browns to decaying black, with all hues and colors in between, the ground littered with myriad shapes, shades and textures. While still attached to their parental plants, the many extenders rustle in the winds and breezes, making for continuous if capricious sensuous music, from intimate chamber works to full-throated symphonies. Frequent solo and ensemble birdsong adds accents.
In their lively action the pliable fronds of the palms evince emotions without cease, the bigger the tree the more emphatic the feeling: languor, petulance, sweetness, sadness, pride, bemusement, angst (and more) ebb and flow and mix depending on the direction of the wind and its gusto.
The beautiful blond-wood dance floor, sprung, finished the day before our arrival, is smooth, inviting a delicate touch. It provides the illusion that one is light on one's feet. Compared to 541's rougher surface, may we call it feminine?
The bed is high and vast, a king I suppose. The pillows likewise are out of scale, three times as big and heavy as those at home. Late at night, when from my stirring one of them falls off the bed, the image that arrives to my three-quarters-asleep mind is of a giant chunk of Antarctic glacier breaking off and crashing into the sea.
On our blue bikes we appear youthful-the kid comes out.
after-dinner moment on beach
thinnest sliver of moon ever; new?
starting at the horizon the sea
darkening, blackness moving
toward me; above, the cerulean sky
is in my eyes, as are the stars
Department of ornithology---
bird arrives on dead branch
demi-turns for better purchase
two pelicans winging against the wind
osprey makes slow arc, wings still,
then goes straight while turning
two large but lithe flyers high above the pool
long wings at rest, following the up, down and cross
drafts, riding the currents, limning unpredictable
arcs, moving sometimes sideways even backwards
drifting now closer, now farther, to and from
each other, complex lyrical spiraling of serene communion
Perhaps the two female mallards recently dallying at the pool warrant further attention. It's an unusual pleasure to be able to see the paddling action of the feet of ducks as they sail without above-water accents across the surface of the limpid water. The two, physically matched in size and color, stay together, seeming even to be experimenting with unison, in any case continuously sensing each other. Keeping their necks most of the time folded down makes all the more extraordinary how long they look when unexpectedly the heads elevate. The action getting from pool to poolside is invisible, a jump with no discernable push-off. Then they stand around, desultorily involved with their toilette, moments of stillness turning the actions into accents: sudden turns of the head, the beak jabbing into the feathers, the head and neck able to rotate a full 180; a rapid double flap of wings, the body rearing up, the chest pushing out, what's that for?; faster than a cat's paw a lifted leg vibrates against the forward underneath torso; equally remarkable, and more mysterious, a leg comes up and extends backward, very slowly, straight along the underside, in what can only be called, despite the limb's comically not going beyond the body, an adagio dèveloppé arabesque. Satisfied with cleaning, they stroll, awkwardly. I think they have no knees, so are obliged to advance the way we would with similar restriction; namely, the torso must participate, a lift of the entire side of the body, then the other; a rocking motion for us, they manage, by taking extra small steps, to make the move a waddle. Accepting of my observing presence during these lovely if required acts, the second I glide into the pool they are gone.
These are some of the delights and opportunities Mr. Rauschenberg has bequeathed to us. We thank him, as we do those who emulate and sustain his munificence.
Douglas Dunn & Dancers in residence April 7 to May 4, 2013