written by: Nat Alister
adjective: originating or occurring naturally in a particular place; native.
Modern research estimates that about 80% of all information our bodies receive is provided by our sense of sight. Earlier tonight, I carried this daunting statistic with me as I entered Indigenous Soul, Dominique Warfield’s visionary journey into a world that many of us have never experienced before.
The setting was Lush Works, a newly-opened downtown gallery and digital studio run by documentary-filmmaker Brian Olson, and featuring many of his stunning photographs from his humanitarian work in Latin America. These images were accompanied by the vibrant paintings of Tommy Lee, aka Sir Tom Foolery, whose towering depictions of animal-clad men and women gave the atmosphere much of its color and fire.
When I entered the gallery, I was given a blindfold, and beckoned to stretch and warm my muscles on the main floor until the dance began. I was gradually joined by twenty five others, and after an opening prayer by Warfield, we tied the blindfolds across our eyes, and began.
Nothing could have prepared me for what came next.
Over the course of two hours, the dancers embarked on a musical and shamanic journey in total darkness, using only our remaining four senses (and several newly-discovered others) to navigate the room. The music was performed with heartbreaking mastery by River Guerguerian, Peter Levitov, Jeremy Schewe, Alex Caruso, and Geri Littlejohn; a rich tapestry of instruments from all over the world that slowly morphed in energy and intensity, carrying us through a dynamic variety of tones, polyrhythms, harmonies, and earth-shattering drumbeats.
The fundamental concept at work was an attempt to recapture our indigenous nature. As a lifelong academic, the theme admittedly made me nervous: I’ve witnessed firsthand Asheville’s (at-times) unhealthy obsession with neo-tribalism and the developing world, and was scared that the atmosphere would water down our planet’s “primitive” peoples and rob them of their individuality.
Not so. Indigenous Soul was not trying to make me ashamed of my skin color; it was, rather, offering a simple reminder to us: that humans are, fundamentally, Animal. That we are all natives of this earth that we call home—but too many of us have stopped acting like it.
I’ve been a frequent participant of ecstatic dances for years, but tonight I realized that in the past, I’d always been practicing some level of restraint. During the first half of Indigenous Soul, I released all but the barest shards of Homo Sapiens Sapiens, and became, once more, Animal. There was no one to see me, no one’s eyes to meet my own. I did not have to worry that others might deem me over-the-top, over aggressive, frighteningly savage…and so I let go of society’s hand and became the beast, the hunter, the primal and chaotic forces in my blood that are so rarely allowed to run free. And it felt very, very healthy.
Understand, there were no acts of violence committed tonight; no hatred was expounded or harm wrought. Too often we associate dark energy with destruction, almost never with creation. And so the Western world bottles up its aggression, safe only to be used in sports arenas and maybe the occasional rock concert.
No one was injured tonight. Not once did I get hit, ran into, elbowed, or stepped on, nor did I do any of these to others. Our primal energy was not directed at each other, but rather the world itself. I fought against the pains of being a man, the pains of being an adult, the pains of being a friend, a son, a lover. The stress of all that is dependent on me, and the disappointment at my own failings.
And soon, I had no more energy left to fight, and I was at peace. And then the music was moving into the ethereal, into the divine, and I became something altogether different. Not a human, not an animal, but a god in a room full of gods, of goddesses, drifting through space and across each others’ bodies, drifting through each others’ dances.
I reached out to find my companions, and I found them. Hands, that began to explore my hands. Arms, that began to explore my arms. Each body I encountered moved with an unnatural lightness, a delicacy that I knew could only be reached by having gone through the same cathartic experience I just had.
What an amazing thing, to dance with someone you cannot see. At times, I was not even aware of the person’s sex, only their emotions, radiating out through fingertips. And suddenly, I realized I was entranced with a specific body—one that was reaching out to me, maintaining touch, responding to my every movement. I had found a partner.
During the final phases of the dance, this body and I engaged in one of the most curious experiences I have ever known: meeting somebody purely through touch. We explored our foreheads, our ears, our hair. We found each others’ feet and wiggled our toes. We melted together into the floor, rose back out, rolled across each others’ backs. And soon, I sensed the dance was ending, and I wondered, Should I slide away? Should I let this person remain a mystery, before the blindfolds come off? Will I be able to look her in the eye? Will she be able to look me in the eye?
I removed my blindfold, and slowly began to reorient myself with this strange place, a dimly lit room with four walls and a ceiling, with a door on one end and windows on the other. I wondered if I had truly been in this small space the entire time. I wasn’t sure I wanted to be back. But then we were directed to turn our heads, and had the pleasure of getting to watch Daniel Sabio’s exquisitely crafted video-art projected on the blank wall while renowned poet Truth-I finished the night with simple, honest and heartwarming spoken word. It allowed me to return to earth, to Asheville, and I realized I was happy to be home.
Truly, a night to remember.
This holiday season, may we all to take a minute to consider our own nativity. May we take an hour each day to do something we truly love, or to explore something we’ve always feared, in ourselves or in the world. May we consider what our inner animal wants, and needs; what nurtures our indigenous spirit, the things that we are unable to see because we’re afraid to look away from normal life.