NEW YORK, NY
The performance begins on the cloudy morning of September 11th, 2016. The dancers pour out from escalators around the Lincoln Center plaza, the crowd moving aside for them to enter. As soon as all 165 dancers are all out, the hundreds of onlookers enclose the plaza once again. The dancers are of all body types, races, and ages; one of them is in a wheelchair. They have a white chalky substance smeared on their cheeks and foreheads, and are dressed completely in white, flowy tops enhancing the swan-like grace of their movements. White plates rest on each of their backs. They move to the slow, steady beat of the tympani- a metaphor for the heartbeat- along with sporadic flute music and singing from a choir. It’s at once haunting and peaceful.
This is the Table of Silence Project, established in 2011 by Jacqulyn Buglisi, devoted to unity and hope. The dancers and musicians come from around the state, many of them teachers or students at Juilliard, as well as members of the Buglisi Dance Center. After performers are selected from hundreds of applicants, they undergo about 15 four-hour rehearsals, according to performer Marina Grabda, 20, a student at NYU.
“It’s a very beautiful, constructive way to remember that day,” says Christine Dakin, performer and teacher at Juilliard, who was on her way to class when the plane hit. “I don’t want to remember it as the horror it was.”
The performance is live-streamed from the Josie Robertson Plaza, and has been seen in 85 countries; it has also been performed in Santa Barbara as well as Italy, because the inspiration behind the performance comes from Italian sculptress, Rossella Vasta, known for her installation of 100 terracotta plates arranged around a symbolic banquet table.
The performers each carry the weight of this message. The “bell-master,” as she calls herself, Terese Capucilli, says, “We are a threatened world- the hope is that one day we can all sit at the same table.”
The dancers will eventually detach the white plates from each other’s backs, and continue the show with them in hand.
The first part of the performance, however, they move individually. Some outstretch their arms while others covers their faces, kneel, or lay on the ground. They interact in clusters, their ritualistic movements laden with muted sadness. The crowd remains captivated the entire time, their faces serious. Many children sit atop their parents’ shoulders, and they too, remain quiet.
The dancers begin to line up, stepping with synchrony to the rhythm of the drum. As they move closer to the center, they form circles representative of a mandala, and which Buglisi calls the “Peace Labyrinth.” The motions are methodical and reminiscent of yoga and prayer. After removing the plates from another’s back, each dancer takes turns offering them up to the sky and then sitting down, cross-legged, as if to meditate. When the 40-minute performance is over, the crowd begins to clap slowly, returning almost from another world.
Beginning the morning this way, sharing this experience of art and community, is cathartic. It’s a reflective, optimistic response to a historic day spawned from fear and hatred.
Capucilli puts it simply: “Our stage is nature, our hope is peace.”