Reciprocity and Choice

In my practice I see the keys to success as activating reciprocity and choice in the audience. I chose these words after careful consideration of my interests and values. Today I’d like to discuss my thoughts on performance/audiences/something meaningful by describing my own work. I performed a ritual today about sensitivity with a classmate I will call Timon. The only instructions I gave her were to respond to me as much as she could and felt comfortable. It was silent performance focusing on nonverbal communication and the phenomenological. My interest was sharing the connection and understanding of the life around me that I’ve had to develop through intentional engagement. What I have learned in doing so is that connection is about understanding beyond the self.

The performance began when Timon sat across from me. I looked into her eyes until she looked away – this is a kind of performance art trope. When she did look away I offered her my hand and she gave me hers. I clasped her hand in both of mine and closed my eyes. I waited and listened to her. I listened to what I felt she felt and thought. I tried to gauge the relationship she had with me and with nature. Also, to guide her I needed to understand her level of comfort. Before proceeding I needed to know how far I could go with her. Permission/consent is a key principle of my shaman work and related practices (like Reiki healing). Feeling that she was more or less at ease I raised both my hands with my palms up and waited for her to do the same. Then I ran a feather down both her arms from elbow to palm.

After that I offered her a series of choices. Roses of various lengths, glasses filled with different amounts of water, salt or sugar from a glass… All of these small elements each held a significance to me about what Timon’s unconscious relationship to nature was and how it was telling me to guide her through the piece. It ended when I offered her five rose petals and she picked a single one. “This is my gift to you.” I said and the performance was over.

Then the critique began with her talking about her experience of the piece. She first described it as feeling similar to a personality quiz, but her notions of choice engaged me. Being given options that changed the course of the performance and her experience was powerful and different than most works that guide you. What I don’t think I properly conveyed today was that I wanted my piece to be equally controlled by myself and my audience. Although I had in my mind what it could or should look like when I begin to work I let go of everything. That is a founding principle of performance and shamanism as I understand it. Being wholly present. Alive in that moment as it occurs. I wanted my work to share that feeling with my audience. I felt in sharing this they would understand my relationship to nature and how they could experience vicariously through/with me.

All of this is contingent on reciprocity and choice. Relationships are sites of negotiation where power must be dissolved. As artist and shaman I do that actively and daily, though I often fail. Letting Timon choose gave her as much power as I had and was essential to creating reciprocity. I really enjoy what I do and look forward to getting better at doing it.


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