The power of RESPONSE 

The powerful message of RESPONSE.

On Wednesday, November 9, 2016, much of the world awoke to a shared panic attack. Millions marched. Many feverishly took to social media.

Sheri Bancroft did something familiar to her. She gathered with her creative partners and danced.

From this backlash grew Up in Arms Collective and a compulsion to share their mutual reactions with other performers and with the Memphis community.

The outcome was RESPONSE, a showcase of performance pieces by 45 dancers and 21 other artists over the course of three days last weekend at Crosstown Arts.

click to enlarge “Silent Night” - MARK ADAMS
  • Mark Adams
  • “Silent Night”

"Rebecca Cochran, Marie Dennan, and I were all very sad, and we met for brunch and decided we need to do something and we needed to do something right away," Bancroft says. "[Rebecca] put a call out to dancers in the Memphis community, and we had a great response."

After several meetings and opening up the dialogue, they decided to include other types of performance art and focused on a theme of responding to the election.

Bancroft's piece, which she collaborated and performed with Erin D.H. Williams and Jenn King Hall, was titled "Keepers of the Light," and the three, dressed in white, performed Friday and Saturday.

"It started with a dinner at Erin's house, and we had a lot of conversation about ritual and religion and what we remember about going to church growing up," Bancroft says. "Then we talked a lot about Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders and what a badass she is and she doesn't try to be. Then, during this process, Mary Tyler Moore died, which took us to a whole other level. She broke so many barriers with her show, being a single mom who was career driven and was focused on her friendships and work."

Lauren Stallings choreographed a piece to music by Youth Lagoon during which five female dancers performed in their underwear. Rachael Arnwine took the lead while others lined up facing the back wall and clapping to represent "likes" on Facebook, until they eventually followed Arnwine's studied movements.

My tears came during Kristen Osborne Lucas' and Louisa Koeppel's "Mixed Messages." Theirs was a reaction to the cognitive dissonance currently plaguing our world, first explaining in their introduction that "truth" and "fact" no longer mean "the body of real things, events, and facts," or "the quality of being actual," as defined by Webster's. We must all believe what the man himself says: "Bitch," "Nasty," "Piece of Ass," "Miss Piggy," and "No one loves women like me."

There were call to actions in a piece by Wayne M. Smith and Orixa Henry Bowers that included fortune cookies.

The fortune cookies read, "Don't argue with them. It doesn't work." And, "Resist, Persist, Resist." As well as, "Take care of yourself," followed with Bowers' quick, "That's white people shit."

Bethany Bak combined a love of J. Peterman catalogues with her experience reading Women Who Run with the Wolves as well as a recent collaboration with dance partner Sarah Ledbetter called Rosa.

"We are constantly giving ourselves, just pouring and pouring," Bak says. "It's about coming to a point where I nurture my creativity and take care of myself so I can take care of those around me."

Ledbetter's piece, a duet titled "After Hours," included wigs, Leggs "suntan-colored, control-top" pantyhose, knee pads, and brooms as one performer breaks down while the other encourages her to keep working to feel better.

"We have to do the feeling work, and we can't do it alone," Ledbetter says, describing the moment when the woman holding the broom, Bak, puts it down and begins to feel with the woman overwhelmed until they get to a place where they pick back up the brooms.

"It was important that at the end they go back to work," Ledbetter says. "The relationship is the cure."

Proceeds from the performance go to Planned Parenthood of Greater Memphis, the ACLU-TN, and the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center.

"We projected all of our hopes and externalized them on Obama," Ledbetter says. "We have to internalize them while the current president holds our nightmares.

"We are called to do more than we ever have been before. We have to be bigger and more voluptuous than ever."

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