On Saturday, July 11th an inaugural performance by BUOY R+R took place in Deep River Connecticut at The Peace Barn retreat center. BUOY is the relatively new performance art duo composed of Bailey Nolan and Viva Soudan, two artists who both work in the realm of physical theater and performance. For BUOY R+R (Retreat and Residency) Nolan and Soudan worked with twelve other artists to create a one time site-specific installation and performance that took us on a tour of the ten-plus acre Peace Barn property.
The retreat took place over one week, as twenty of us traveled by bus from NYC together, the final performance resulting in the culmination of the collective experience. It’s hard to capture the essence of that land in words, but it felt so deeply cared for, from the exquisite gardens to the well-tended trees. It felt like stepping into a realm of wooded artistry. Nolan and Soudan assigned locations and sections of the landscape to the performers over the week, encouraging them to work on creating performances that existed in dialogue with the land. When the BUOY R+R performance began, people were put into pairs and each group was given a pairing of words, such as absurdity and precious or manipulation and nurture to meditate on as they crafted their performances. Through a mixture of group activities from guided meditation to daily yoga practices, alongside individual and partner work, each duo came up with several performances.Viva Soudan delivered a high-energy introduction to the performance before ceremonially cutting a giant blue taffeta bow. Her raw playfulness quickly deconstructed the boundaries between performer, audience and space, blending everything together so that as we walked those wooded paths, we left reality behind and slipped into a fanciful world of art and mysticism.
As a whole the performances lacked traditional overarching narratives. Experiencing these works was like exploring a series of colliding vignettes, where different worlds and different scenes opened up in front of you as you casually strolled down wooden paths and past ponds overgrown with lily pads. Along the way we discovered faeries trapped in a waterfall, Technicolor flower shamans, sirens singing 80’s power ballads and a childish sprite named Stinker, who was performed by Claire Christerson.
Yet even though each piece of work was unique in terms of visual style and performance modality, the multiplicity of experiences together created a space where one felt as if they had stepped into an avenue of raw mythic power. The unity of the piece as a whole came from the fact that everything was tinged with the same air of mystical spirituality, and one had the feeling that you were witnessing a series of archetypal stores that have been played out since the beginning of time.
Dance of the trio performed at BOUY R+R by Alexandra Marzella, Claire Christerson and India Menuez, 2015 (Video by Shelton Lindsay)
After being led to this massive field, the experience became an interactive choose-your-own adventure story. Some audience members received missions, others were tasked to go out and gather flowers from the fields, while the rest of us were free to simply explore the space and discovering his or her own paths. I was led through the fields and forest by artistic duo Ellen Robin Rosenberg and Angela Whitehead. Channeling faerie/nymph energy, they were constantly dancing around the other performers, weaving flowers into their hair and bathing one another and the audience with pails of silver glittery water. They invited me to join them in a follow-the-leader dance party and we leaped, jumped and rolled through the tall grasses while the birds sung overhead. We chanted and bathed each other in cool water and let the world fade away as we slipped into a space between time and expectation, giving over to softness, improvisation and intuition.
The dancing nymphs (Ellen Robin Rosenberg and Angela Whitehead) lead us deeper into the mysteries of this forested world, 2015 (Video by Shelton Lindsay)
The container that these performers developed was so immersive and comforting that it transported you to a different world. Nature blended with performer, costume with skin, and audience with experience until all notions of duality and duo were lost to a sense of radical inclusion and cohesion. We were all cavorting in fields of Jungian archetypes, discarding identities and essences as soon as they stopped serving us. By creating a space that encouraged and pushed creativity and development BUOY R+R crafted a truly unique event that made us as the audience feel empowered to be as creative and free as the performers.
As a cis-gendered man, I found the most interesting part of the experience to be how incredibly inundated with divine feminine energy the performance was. This is not something I say lightly, it was truly unlike anything I have experienced before in my life. All of the performers and organizers were women and they stressed in the artist feedback how the roles of sisterhood, communication and a worship/respect for Gaia/the divine feminine had informed the entire experience. At the end of the event watching all of the artists laughing and congratulating one another after such a lovely performance what I saw were the strong bonds of sisterhood that connected them all. Though the event may have been a singular event, seeing the respect and care they all exhibited for one another, I imagine the legacy of the experience will live on in their work for the years to come.