Oakland, CA
October 16th, 1999
The drive up to the site is mostly through the city of Oakland.
Only the last half mile or so suggests that you are going to a place different from any normal urban neighborhood. The road goes up into the Oakland hills and into the trees. We park the car and the four of us walk up a dirt road muddied from the rain from earlier that day. The road is wide enough for a car to pass. All around us are trees and hills, the upper reaches bathed in mist. It is a sight that I was familiar with in Costa Rica, not Oakland, California. The sight gives me a dreamy feeling that I can get when a memory merges with a current situation.

We stop at an open and relatively flat part of the road to warm up. I do not warm up very often so I spend this time exploring the area and tuning myself to the landscape. Soon we are all in the landscape. We move up the road in a different way that before, dancing and follow opportunities opened up by our interest: the slippery mud, the trees, embankments beside the road. We approach a nondescript opening in the forest labeled with a plaque. We enter.

When we step into the woods our world changes completely. There is no need to make things happen or consciously explore anything. Everything is quiet clear. Our senses absorb the forest without effort. Our interest piqued by the pureness of this place. We spend several minutes just looking up at the trees. Seeing their slow subtle movements gently scratch the sky. And then we began to move.
The next two hours were full of exploration. I could not begin to encapsulate the breadth of this exploration in these words on this page. I can only offer what sticks in my mind and body as experiences that I want to process and revisit. Images that stick because of there lasting beauty in the memory and in the senses.

I had a sight sensory realization as we played amongst the majestic trees in our all orange outfits (orange is the clothing color of choice for most BodyCartography events as a way to unify and stand out). With all the dead needles a orangy brown hue covering the ground we blended in more than we ever have before. Maybe more than any a band of orange people would anywhere.

On the ground amongst the needles were the fallen branches of the redwoods. Bones. Specificity. The way that the sticks made contact with trees, ground and bodies. Balancing and then arcing away toward the earth in ever present gravity. Redwood branches are arcs. Playing with these branches made me touch into the fact that movements of animals are always in arcs in relation to earth’s gravity. No matter how hard you try to make a straight line with your arm it will still be an arc and in relation to the earth. I kept playing and testing what happened when I compressed the arcs and let them go. Seeing their powerful spring back showed me forces in the spinal column.

At different points in the exploration all of us experimented with stacking and balancing sticks. On trees, the ground and on each other we played. Creating small skeletal systems that change as we moved, mirroring and reacting to our own movement. We played at making our bodies like sticks. Hanging in gravity, balancing on fallen trees. Playing with the differences between a hanging body and a moving body.

After two hours we left the grove. Transported out on a high of time spent in direct communication with life. We walked back to the car and made the journey via car to the Berkley Contact Improv jam.

Entering the jam I was struck by the extreme difference between were I had been and where I was now. Though the jam was peaceful it was a far cry from the serene silent world of the redwood grove. Different bodies clad in varying colors and personality moved together in relief against the hardwood floor.

Needing a chance to assimilate I moved to the side of the room and lay on the floor. I was instantly struck the hardness of the floor. In the context of playing on redwood needle padded soft earth the wood floor felt like stone. This feeling combined with all the work I had been doing with the skeletal system made me feel fragile like a bag of stick tumbling on stones.

Luckily a friend came to dance with me giving me a dose of the softness of human contact. Our dance moved around the room amongst the other bodies. We were in the improvisation, paying attention to each other, the sensation of gravity and the earth. In the midst of our improvisation I realized that we were using the experience and material I had gained in the redwood. Our bodies pivoted around each other, arcing in the pull of gravity just as the stacked sticks did. I felt the sensation of the bones falling into gravity with every movement. I felt my constant context of the earth.

Performers in orange: Alex Zaphiris, Otto Ramstad, Steven Kessler, Wang PoShu
Oakland, CA
December 25th 1999
Dancing in the redwoods on Christmas day before the mille
Performers in orange: Beaker Prince, Kate Gibson, Lawrenzo Share, Louisa Bertleson, Olive Bieringa, Otto Ramstad, Steven Kessler, Wang PoShu
The dance came to an end and I moved off by myself the edge of the dance floor to watch the room. When the jam ended I left thankful for the learning that I had gained that day. From the outside to the inside. From the inside to the outside. Thankful for other being and the earth that we share. Thankful for the gift of my ability to pay attention. Thankful that the very act of doing  opens me to learn from the world.
Text: Otto Ramstad