“Becoming Tree” in Nomad The Blue Road (Berkeley 2015)
I was asked to choreograph a small installation along Strawberry Creek as part of this durational performance that went along the length of the creek in Berkeley. I led the audience through an imaginative becoming plant score. (words are below)
NOMAD: The Blue Road
May 17 & 18, 2014 at 11 a.m.
FREE & OPEN TO THE PUBLIC
MEETING PLACE: Entrance of UC Berkeley Campus
(Oxford at Center Street)
NOMAD is an outdoor ritual performance that follows the (now mostly underground) path of Strawberry Creek in Berkeley. The guided walk begins at the base of UC Berkeley campus, passes through Center Street and ends at Strawberry Creek Park with live interdisciplinary performances along the way.
In response to the California drought and other water crisis around the world, NOMAD honors our often forgotten, vital relationship with water and brings together renowned environmental artists including: Rodrigo Esteva & Mirah Moriarty, Dohee Lee, Adria Otte, Jose Navarrete, Debby Kajiyama, Kevin O’Connor, Pauchi Sasaki, Jennifer Curtis and international guests through dance and live music.
The event is held in support of the current international movement to “daylight” (bring back) creeks in urban places and re-imagines the use of public spaces. Come walk with us!
Text in the tree by Kevin O’Connor: an iteration of Natasha Myers’ “Becoming Botanical Sensoria: A Kriya for Cultivating your Inner Plant.”
I invite your wherever you are to find a spot on the ground and sink into it. Today we are going to play with imagining becoming-plant. Simultaneously visual and kinesthetic, these imaginings carry an affective charge.
Lets start by considering trying on the habits and sensitivites of the Alder, Cedar and Magnolia tree present here amongst us. Becoming with and alongside these three earth beings, may entice us to see with new eyes, smell with a new nose, taste with a new tongue or discover another kinds of sense we have not yet imagined. Consider this an invitation to cultivate your inner tree. This is not an exercise in anthropormophism- a rending of plants on the model of the human. Rather, it is an opportunity to vegetalize your already more than human body.
Lets begin. Close your eyes
sinking into the ground while reaching your arms outward
feeling the sun warm your skin. Drink it in.
Imagine the skin and flesh of your arms thinning and fanning outward, becoming membrane thin. Your bones dissolve, and your muscles melt away. Begin to pump water through your veins until they elongate and branch into turgid vessels. Draw water up your growing stem into your leaves. Play with this new buoyancy, feel the lift and lilt as your leaves and stems reach for more sunlight. You are becoming phototropic. Lap up the sunlight through your greening leaves. Feel a cool pocket of air forming on the underside of your leaves as you release atmospheric vapours. You are photosynthesizing: eating sunlight, inhaling gaseous carbon, exhaling oxygen and releasing water.
Now drop down into your roots. Extend yourself into the cool, moist earth. Feel your strength as a downward thrust that inspires an upward lift. Feel the rush as you redistribute your awareness through this thin, tangle of roots that branch and branch until they reach the width of just a single cell. Find one of your root tips.
Taste the wet, metallic soil; smell that musty gradient of decaying matter flush with nitrogen and phosphorus. Experiment with your strength. Push yourself up against the soil; grow through minute crevices between crumbling pieces of earth.
Paying attention to one of your root tips, dig deeper until you come into contact with a cement wall. You are touching the culvert- the cement wall seperating you from the fresh water creek that flows beneath this ground. This cement wall links you to stories of gentrification, privatization, occupation, genocide of the ohlone people, radioactive and chemcial releases from UC Berkeley, grizzly bear and elk extinctions and the death of salmon run.
Feel two searching root tips on the cement barrier. Then four. Can you extend your awareness to five? What would it like to feel over one thousand root tips extending through the soil? Feel the rush as you expand your awareness to millions of sensitive root tips.
As you feel along the cement culvert find a crack in the cement and release your chemical stores to dissolve whatever is in your path. As you slowly move through reach into the cool flowing water. Do you remember the taste of the salmon isotopes you would suck up when when the fish would swim up this stream? Can you still taste the deep ocean?
Draw water and nutrients in and up through all of your roots simultaneously. Feel your whole root system humming with an electric charge. You have become one giant nerve cell merging with soil and water.  As you travel, hook yourself into a thickening mycelial network of fungi, microbes, and other roots all around you. Feel the energetic thrill of multiple connections from the ocean to the surrounding hills. How far can you extend your attention?
Without letting go of this excitation, draw your attention back up from the tips of your roots, up to your stem and into your leaves. Can you feel the play of light and shadow across your leaves? Each of your leaves is visual organ registering and remembering minute shifts in light intensity. Imagine your entire body becoming an sensory organ sniffing out the richly fragrant world around you. Indeed, the atmosphere is a collaborative ecology of volatile chemical signals to which you actively and volubly contribute. Take pleasure in the art of synthesizing and releasing complex bouquets of fragrance from your tissues. This is your way of telling the world what you are up to, moment to moment. You can talk to other plants and animals, reporting on the condition of your leaves, flowers and fruits. You will be able to lure pollinators and complain audibly about the damage done by feeding insects.
Indeed, you not only feel insects crawling up your stem and slicing into your tissues, you can discern the distinct species eating your leaves by tasting the specific chemistry of its saliva. If you are quick you can synthesize volatile compounds to warn your neighbours so that they can prepare their tissues with toxins to keep the offending insects at bay. Or you could call out for help from other insects who will prey on these herbivores. Soon you will discover that you are an effusive catalyst at the centre of an affectively-charged chemical ecology.
Now, it’s time to let go. Draw in your roots until your rhizome remembers its feet. Let your leaves thicken into arms. Feel your turgid vessels soften. Drop your arms back down to your sides. Come back to your breath. Come back to your body.