When asked what her inspiration was for creating A, My Name Is…, Stefanie Nelson said, “my mother in-law…do you want me to say more?”.
I didn’t think she needed to say more. A, My Name Is… said everything that needed to be said in a beautiful, dense, 45-minute dance piece.
The piece begins in a delightful way. The central dancer of the piece, Christine Bonansea, comes out onto the stage and starts by saying happy things to the audience. “Hello. Good to see you. Today is my birthday”. Christine smiles, and we smile back, but not a smile of pure enjoyment; it’s a smile of uncertainty. Why is she telling us these things? I wondered. Quickly, we realize that Christine represents the main person in this story; the person that is losing themselves to a terrible disease: memory loss.
There was a captivating moment about ten minutes into the piece. After a series very fluid movements by Christine, two fast-moving sequences downstage by Becca Loevy and Emily Tellier in space that was lit like a long, thin rectangle, and a lovely solo by Cameron McKinney who, as Stefanie explains it, is the “God and all-powerful character in the piece”, I began to feel as if the company was building towards something. Sure enough, they were. Amidst the heightened energy and movement of the other company members, Christine began reciting the same lines from the beginning. “Hello” and “today is my birthday”. This reminded me how different each individual person’s perception of time can be. A healthy mind would see the past events as linear events. One happens, then another, then another, and so on. But when Christine repeated the lines with so much happening at once, it made me believe that this chaotic clump of events could be a representation of how a person suffering from memory loss feels when they try to remember the past. There is no linear recollection. Everything is thrown together. It is uncomfortable, and sometimes, these people feel ashamed. Everything is scattered, and only pieces of what was a once completed puzzle remain.
The main conflict is set up early on in this piece. The central dancer is trying to gain control; Over herself, over her thoughts, and over the world as she knows it. However, the rest of the company (Cameron McKinney, Becca Loevy and Emily Tellier) are responsible for her demise. The mentally healthy versus the mentally unhealthy.
There were moments during the piece where I wondered if the mentally healthy knew that they were fighting a battle with Christine. Sometimes they passively did things that confused Christine, but other times they actively did things that felt intended to confuse her.
I felt as if the company members were actively trying to confuse Christine when she decided to play “human bowling” with them. She grabbed the basket of plastic apples, and the entire company stood facing her, like bowling pins. Christine would roll an apple at them, and the people that the apple hit would fall to the ground. This is logical. However, when she turned her head and went to pick up another apple, those people would again be standing; as if the apple had not knocked them down. This is illogical, and perhaps another attempt to show trials and tribulations of memory loss: at one moment, things are completely normal and makes sense. The next moment, 2 + 2 = 5, and you are speechless, confused, and upset.
Loosing control. Memory loss. A, My Name Is… is centered around loss. However, the end reminds us that with a change of perspective, something lost is also something else gained. There is a beautiful solo that Cameron McKinney has at the end of the piece, in a spotlight that slowly fades to black. The movements are long, flowing, and fluid. I remember feeling something similar to calm ripples of the ocean when watching him dance. Being the almighty power source of the play, I kept thinking that if his movements could talk, they would say, “don’t worry, it’s okay. Even though things do not make sense, everything is going to be okay.” Cameron’s dancing at the end made me think about how, even in the face of adversity and hardships, we must live. We must value our everyday, because life is too short to not do so. If anything else, as a gift to the rest of the world, we should live fully and openly. Because even if we don’t remember what we do, somebody else will.
That’s why Stefanie made this piece. For her mother in-law. Someone who could not remember that she sent three separate birthday texts to her daughter in-law, gave to the world the inspiration for a beautiful piece of dance. I am grateful to have been in the room for that.