wait a moment

Dal Niente’s Piece Her Together: a reflection, a thank you

by Jill DeGroot

Piece Her Together consists of two staged compositions that examine how we construct identity amidst fragmentation of information. The first, Eliza Brown’s The Body of the State, is a monodrama about 16th century Spanish queen Juana of Castile, known as “Juana the Mad.” The work aims for a nuanced portrayal of Juana’s psychological deterioration in the context of her oppressive, hierarchical family and society… Katherine Young’s When stranger things happen is inspired by Kelly Link’s story “The Girl Detective,” a noir meditation on loss, myths of femininity, and the potential of the imagination.” The Body of the State was written in collaboration with 6 inmates at the Indiana Women’s Prison.
Excerpt from dalniente.com. Read more here.

How much of the female experience is pain?

My mother, and my mother’s mother, were pain receptors, their bodies heavy with poverty, violence, and assault. Absorbing the grief, porous with loss. They taught, by example, the power of stoicism. I learned to never give power back to the pain.

My most vivid childhood memories take place at my grandmother’s home. In the timeline of my life, my mother had just escaped domestic violence, my grandmother’s home a sanctuary. My sisters and I were refugees in the warmth of her life. She read the dictionary every day.

Like many of the women in my life, she was married to a man who used money, power, and manipulation to control her. My grandmother, with her bad back, slept on the couch. My mother, my sisters and I slept at her feet on the living room floor. He slept upstairs in his bed room.

Every morning, my grandmother and I would get up early to make his bed. A calculated ritual. 4 sheets, a quilt, the fleece blanket on top, folded twice back, 5 pillows on each end. I can still smell the sheets.

One day, I asked her, why do we make a grown man’s bed? A grown man, capable fully of making his own bed.

She looked away, tears welling up. She swallowed hard and whispered,

“Ours is not to reason why

Ours is but to do and die.

We finished making his bed in silence.

It wasn’t until many years after my grandmother’s death that I realized that these words are from Alfred Lord Tennyson’s The Charge of the Light Brigade. The poem tells of a brigade of 600 soldiers who follow command to ride into the valley of death, ultimate and knowing defeat. The poem stands as a tribute to courage and heroism in the face of Hell.

How much of the female experience is courage?

In the pre-performance interview with the composers, Eliza Brown and Katherine Young, the question of relevance was posed:

“What does it mean to write and perform these works in 2017?”

Amanda DeBoer Bartlett stood on the stage as Juana of Castile, in a burgundy leather bodiced dress, a wired crown on her head, but I couldn’t help but choke back tears as I saw many women reflected in the performance onstage. Her face contorted in agony as she belted over the moaning ensemble:

There is a chain on my ankle

Forged in links of land, of fields

Where my family hunts me.

This house is a trap where your lady is prey,

Her chamber a prison, your silence the lock,

Her body a cell, and love the incision

That you use to peel her flesh away.

She rushes toward the conductor, within inches of his face:

What is my body worth to you today?

The emotions surge, the bile in my stomach rolls over. My palms grow clammy as the film coating my mouth turns sour. Now it’s my grandmother, with her bad back slowly climbing the stairs to make her husband’s bed. Now it’s my mother, bruised but defiant in her refusal to ever consider herself a victim. I see my sisters and friends, women who I know and women who I do not. I see all the women who have lost their children, who have been controlled and abused and harassed and murdered. I see the pain and loss, the heartache and hurt of womanhood running through them. Running through me, too.

This moment was not the first in my life in which I was glad the lights were dimmed so that nobody could see me cry. This moment was not the first in my life in which I was the Girl Detective, desperately searching for my grandmother’s lost tears.

As the director Emmi Hilger states, “Women are many things all at once–a product of our history, the forces that limit us in society, our perceptions of our experiences, etc. The stories of Piece Her Together remind us that we have agency; hopefully we can piece together our narratives and take ownership over the way we tell our stories.”

Piece Her Together is a testament to the ache of womanhood, the violent injustices we face, and the power of our creative agency.

Thank you to Juana of Castile, to the incarcerated women at Indiana Women’s Prison, to Eliza Brown, to Katherine Young, to Amanda DeBoer Bartlett, to Emmi Hilger, to the women of Dal Niente, to the many women who have shared stories of assault and violence in the wake of the #metoo social media campaign. Thank you to the women who are sharing their stories, and thank you to the women who are helping other women share their stories. Pieced together, we give each other agency and the courage to ride on.

Storm’d at with shot and shell,

Boldly they rode and well,

Into the jaws of Death,

Into the mouth of Hell  

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