Baring it all for the audience

Erika Wilson Golightly entertains to a packed house during a performance of “Skins” Saturday evening at Fort Lewis College./Photo by Todd Newcomer.

Smell is one of those remarkable senses that has the ability to bring us back to events or places and make us believe that we have been transported there. I recently experienced this olfactory deja vu upon entering a dance studio shortly after a company's rehearsal. The warm aroma of perspiration in the air sent me back to 1977 in a dance studio near the University of Minnesota. I was truly back in that practice studio, in my 20-year-old body wearing a purple leotard and matching leggings, watching the modern dance company members finish rehearsal and head to the dressing rooms. I remember loving the sweet smell of their creative activity, which hung heavily in the studio atmosphere. Then as now, I equated this humanly produced scent to pure expression: practice and intention merging with inspiration. This was so compelling for me, I nearly defected from the visual arts over to dance, until one day a company principle laughingly told me I was "way too old, honey, to become a dancer." A propitious moment, no doubt, for later I discovered that I was painfully shy on stage. So I enjoy a historic love affair with dancers.those demonstrative souls that can take the stage, sharing the energy and elegance of their bodies, under the bright lights, for all to appreciate. Recently, I sniffed out a Durango dancer, Erika Wilson Golightly, to talk with her about a life as a performer.

JM: Dancer, teacher, choreographer, actor.where did these interests begin and how do they influence each other.

EWG: I've been a dancer always. Acting came later. I was pushed into choreography and teaching by my mentors and other teachers, originally, against my will. I now really enjoy teaching because I love to bridge art and the intellectual pursuit of trying to articulate it. And these disciplines each influence the other in such a way that I think contemporary art has to be co-opted, married, seduced, courted by many mediums- exploring what comes out of their relationships and what they can offer each other.

JM: You are an original member of the 3rd Avenue Dance Company. What have been the blessings and curses of being a big dancer on a little stage?

EWG: Durango is blessed with inspiring, brilliant, and creative forces. I haven't starved too much for inspiration. Durango is a tiny microcosm of the bigger stage. The curses here are probably similar to anywhere else in terms of competition, politics, money, etc. Because our community is smallish I find we have to work together, collaborate and support each other. The process of making art and the experience we have working with other artists may be different in Durango because we're neighbors.

JM: You are possibly off to a much bigger stage, La MaMa ETC in Manhattan, with the FLC production of "Skins." Tell me about your involvement in the performance?

EWG: I was in the original cast in 1997 as a student at FLC and I feel grateful to be able to explore new and deeper layers of this material, seven years later. In "Skins," there is a script to work from but there aren't characters or a plot. We, as a cast, are being ourselves. The piece is about more than just speaking poetry and moving around the stage. The content and message require no demand so much honesty, intention and energy that it is different than other performances I've been in.

JM: The content in "Skins" is pretty potent, slowly exposing statements and questions in the form of poetry, movement, and sound relating to our humanness, our strengths and vulnerability. How has your involvement in "Skins" influenced you?

EWG: I am in love with getting lost, or rather, finding myself in performing this material. It's very satisfying to be philosophically and spiritually aligned with the content of a work. As an artist, I feel really engaged in this piece and look forward to finding that depth in future projects.

JM: As a dancer and performer I would expect that you are comfortable with showing your body on stage. In "Skins," you appear nude. In what ways are you challenged by baring it all to the audience?

EWG: Originally I struggled with wanting my body to look as good as it could and working towards that end and, at the same time, feeling that was not in integrity with the message in "Skins." The piece requires that I strip off layers of my ego, my 'skin.' I'd rather be nude on stage than half naked, dressed in something skimpy, with a specific subtext. By that I mean feeling good in my body the way it is, comfortable in MY skin, with myself..that is the simple beauty of the piece.

JM: As an artist and performer, it is of utmost importance that your work be meaningful to you. Can you say more about what performing means to you?

EWG: Theater began as ritual and when I am performing I am in that ritual space. I go through a transformation and the audience is witness to that transformation. It is our hope, as performers, that we move the audience to feel changed. I perform for myself and to influence others.

While performing I find myself, lose myself, transcend myself. Spending hours dancing, 'being' a bird or a fish, or moving at a painfully slow pace to resemble a changing landscape, is the most meaningful contribution I want to make. I am interested in creating beauty but I also feel compelled to encourage a visceral experience in the viewer. So my definition of beauty doesn't necessarily mean prancing through zinnias. I find the dark parts of life to be lovely as well. Maybe, performing creates a safe distance for which to witness life and process some of the darkness.

Erika Wilson Golightly teaches dance at The Dance Center and can be seen in the final Durango performances of "Skins" on Nov. 11, 13, & 14 at the Mainstage Theatre at Fort Lewis College. Call 247-7089 for more information.




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