The Table of Silence Project: Remembering 9/11

There is beauty in tragedy, and devastating events can inspire works of art. Any form of art has the power to bring people together, whether in conversation or conflict. However, more times than not it serves as a healing mechanism and a common language that people share and understand together.

I attended The Table of Silence Project 9/11 held around the Revson Fountain in Josie Robertson Plaza at Lincoln Center on Thursday, September 11th, 2014. The performance, featuring over 100 dancers from various schools and companies, three vocalists, two percussionists, and three flutists, was brought into production by Buglisi Dance Theatre in partnership with Dance/NYC, The September Concert, and Rossella Vasta. The show began at 8:15 a.m. and concluded with a moment of silence at 8:46, the time when the first plane hit the North Tower, followed by a procession outwards as the dancers exited the plaza. Spectators viewed this performance circled around the fountain, as well as from the balcony above, for those who work at Lincoln Center and had access from the inside. The performance began with the dancers, dressed in white leggings, creme and white blouson tops, bare feet, and streaks of white paint on their faces, circled around the fountain, then progressed with them moving sporadically outwards and down the steps at Lincoln Center, until finally, they regrouped into concentric circles around the fountain. While NYPD officers stand at the bottom of the stairs, Lincoln Center security guards are stationed at the pillars around Lincoln Center, as well as at key points between the dancers and the spectators, manning pathways for the dancers to pass through. In many ways, both in character and in mission they are apart of the performance. In character they seem to play a role in helping the crowd remember the many officers who worked and lost their lives on 9/11, while in mission they serve as vital parts of the performance, making sure it runs smoothly, efficiently, and uninhibited by spectators. After the first circle begins to disperse the dancers glide onto the stairs freely, spontaneously pausing in five distinct positions; In one they stand perfectly erect with their arms crossed over their chest and their palms toughing each shoulder. In the next the same erect position is held except this time their gaze is directed upwards and their arms are lifted up in a V formation. In the third the dancers are in a lunge with one hand pressed out and behind them, and the other covering one of their eyes, their bodies twisted towards their outstretched arm. In another the dancers hold their hands clasped in front of them, in a praying position, and in the last, the dancers lowers down to the ground as if having fallen, their heads towards the floor, knees bent, and arms in a lowered push up stance as if having broken their fall. These five positions are repeated numerous times and in a different order by each dancer as he or she makes their way to the steps. At 8:46, during the moment of silence, the three vocalists each sing a resonating note creating a harmony that vibrates through the crowd and onto the streets. Each dances nobles leaves the grounds and descends down the stairs at the side of Lincoln Center. The crowd doesn’t waver until the last dancer has exited.

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When asked where he was on 9/11/01 and what this tribute means to him: “I was in third grade, and I didn’t really know what was going on, but I remember she was my favourite teacher in the world and she just cried her eyes out. I was a dancer in it for two years, and this was my first time getting to actually see it. I think it’s a really beautiful statement of what art and dance can do to bring people together. I mean I cried. People probably have work at 9 a.m., I mean like people probably have work in 10 minutes, yet they are standing here watching this ritual to the very end.” – Corey Snide, 20, spectator, former dancer.

When asked where she was on 9/11/01 and what brought her here: “Umm…I came here because um my friends father is dancing in it, and um, I was 11, I was in the city, I was 11 when it happened, and I was at school, and my dad came and picked me up, and I didn’t know what happened till he came. And then we got back to Queens somehow, I don’t remember, um, we got here late, so I didn’t get to see the beginning of it, but…. um… just now watching someone react to it, was very intense, cause I realize this is uh, like a visual for people who are still grieving, people they lost over a decade ago but that never goes away.” – Ali, 24, spectator.

When asked what it meant to be apart of this performance: “Whatever else happens, this is the most important thing I will do today. It has been such a privilege to be out here with my fellow New Yorkers and to give us all an opportunity to remember, to feel, to come together, to take a moment of silence with ourselves, with each other, and with the world.” – Helga Davis, performer.

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As I walk up the steps to the crowd at Lincoln Center I look at the busy street behind me and notice that on this one day, occupied commuters take a minute and pause, look up, and notice the memorial being performed. It is almost as if New Yorkers awarenesses are heightened on this day. I am curious to know if it out of fear and self protection, or out of respect and thoughtful remembrance. The silence resonates through the crowd. It is so hauntingly quiet that even the usual chaos of the city is tuned out by the reverberating sound waves echoing from the vocalists. The interrupting sound of a dogs single bark is sharp and piercing. Some commuters seem to divert their daily path as they pass by Lincoln Center, questioning at first if this is a worthwhile interruption on their journey, many of them deciding it is. A woman dressed in all black removes her sunglasses and dabs her mascara. She stands a minute more then slowly walks away from the performance. In some cases this performance seems to have become less about remembrance and more about a spectacle in a way. Spectators almost miss the beauty and presence of the show as they hide behind smart phones and cameras recording and picturing the event. However, you can see in the security guards faces, and in a select few viewers that this tribute is a very real memorial, something to bask in rather than capture. Though very few people leave their place, as some remove themselves from the crowd, the remaining spectators mosey into their spots, respectfully trying to get a better view. An older woman that is apart of the performance cries at 8:46. Before the moment of silence she claps castanets creating a noise which reverberates through the crowd. A man holds his Yankees cap, in his hands which are crossed at his waist. Three students walk by in clamorous chatter, with Starbucks in their hands, oblivious to the ceremony. Not one of them break their conversation to look up and notice the tribute. Spectators are interrupted and many look over at the teenagers, seemingly surprised at their ignorance. At 8:45 stage manager stationed by the drums give vocalists a one minute warning. She nods ten seconds before 8:46. At 8:46:50 she counts down alerting the vocalists of the time they have until breaking the note. A woman arrives in an I (heart) NY shirt, the phrase written on top of a hear shaped American flag. Her outfit seems intentionally selected for this day. For an outdoor performance, I found it very interesting how the crowd stood, unwavering until the last dancer descends down the stairs. Even after the performance is over, a stillness holds the crowd in place before they continue on to their daily journey. A couple, one performer, one spectator, stands in a long lasting hug, at the fountain after the performance. After the performance, dancers emerge from all openings of Lincoln Center in their pedestrian garb, once again blending in with the spectators.

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