[January 19 2016]
“A Ghost Story: A Psychological Thriller” by MONICA MIRABILE is a gritty, immersive performance about psychic processing. Eleven dancers stage family tableaus that fall apart and return to haunt the space. MIRABILE weaves political commentary throughout the performance, confronting aspects of society that are often hidden, but manifest in our bodies nonetheless.
“A Ghost Story” was performed at Signal by JEROME BWIRE, CIARA CLEMENTS, KATHLEEN DYCAICO, TARA-JO LEWIS, HAYLEY MARTELL, ALEXANDRA MARZELLA, MARTHA MOSZCZYNSKI, JES NELSON, CAROLINE NEWTON, SAMANTHA REGINA, & AMANDA SALANE.
ELISE GALLANT – Who are the Ghosts?
MONICA MIRABILE – The ghost is an idea. It’s a ghost story because you know there are ghosts there but you can’t see them. The basis of my work is about processing information. We absorb information at every moment, but we don’t always know how to process it intellectually or emotionally. Most of the time it comes out in ways we don’t understand, and often it shows up in our bodies – the way we stand, greet someone, walk around. And it comes out in freak outs, like crying.
ELISE GALLANT – Is there a specific emotion or process you’re communicating?
MONICA MIRABILE – I think so much about social problems, but my work is mostly from my own experience. “A Ghost Story” really came from my family. It’s about my upbringing, sort of. What really brought it out was that Donna died, my stepmom. The funny thing is I never even called her my stepmom before she died. She was my dad’s girlfriend who lived with us for fifteen years and she was really sick for most of it. She had a heavy vice using pharmaceutical drugs, which eventually weakened her fully. Her personality was that she did what she wanted despite those who suffered from it.
ELISE GALLANT – When did you hear about Donna’s death?
MONICA MIRABILE – In the fall my mom told me that Donna was doing really poorly. My mom was Donna’s caretaker. One day I went to yoga and there was a check-in where they go around to each student. I just started bawling. I was crying and felt crazy and didn’t know why. Three hours later my mom texted me that Donna was gone. I knew she was sick, I knew she was dying, I felt like she was finally at peace. Donna was a vulgar woman, she was a devoted warrior to herself. I respected her for being so raunchy and raw. But she was never sad, despite having all these problems. She never took it out on other people. She didn’t blame anyone else. I respect that a lot. I thought I could look at it objectively, but whenever someone dies you are reminded of how you are living, you know? So I was going through a really hard time at the start of this project and “A Ghost Story” became about psychic processing, how we are surrounded by decision-making and our responsibility to others as well as what we want for ourselves.
ELISE GALLANT – “A Ghost Story” shows a family, but each character seems isolated, they’re manipulating each other instead of really connecting.
MONICA MIRABILE – The family is represented as icons – the mother, the dad, the child, the dog. They are individuals, but they are objectified and stereotyped. Every person is locked into themselves. It’s about relationships as they exist in a system, and how that system destroys us.
ELISE GALLANT – A living room was the natural setting?
MONICA MIRABILE – The installation of it was a room with implied walls, fictional corners. I was influenced by the eight of swords tarot card that depicts a girl bound by a loose rope in a loose blindfold with the swords all around her. The point of the card is that you can easily choose to take off the blindfold and walk through the swords, but she doesn’t. There are these implied walls that are not really there. And the biggest thing is the couch. It’s something I’m obsessed with. It’s this funny thing that represents leisure and family. But leisure is so fucked up in our culture – it’s this nasty facade. I always want the couch to be fucked up. A gross couch is really gross. When you are constantly unsatisfied, leisure is your only escape. The couch is your best friend because you get to ignore everything.
ELISE GALLANT – There are three movements in “A Ghost Story” which loosely follow the same trajectory.
MONICA MIRABILE – Yes. The first family is in a state of darkness to begin with. They are stagnant and isolated from each other. Then they start to move in a way that reaches a peak of freaking out, and they all kill each other in this suicidal war technique.
ELISE GALLANT – That’s when the gun soundtrack comes in? They all shoot and fall?
MONICA MIRABILE – Yeah. The next group is the ghosts of the family, but the dog is still there. The ghosts of the piece are tricksters. Their bodies are deforming. The structure of reality does not confine ghosts. They don’t care about the walls.
ELISE GALLANT – Tricksters mocking the family or mocking humanity in general?
MONICA MIRABILE – I brought in some more political aspects. I took the sound from an incident where a police officer, Deputy Sheriff Ben Fields, threw a young student out of her desk because she wouldn’t give up her phone. It was in South Carolina, and another student filmed it. The cop throws the desk with her in it, and then rips her out and puts her hands behind her back. It’s police brutality to a child. I took the sound from that, and was repeating this awful reality that is happening in our world today. In the choreography one of the dancers hooks up to a harness and elevates, trying to rise above, but she’s pulled back down by another dancer who is like a child saying “stay here with me, stay here in this darkness”.
ELISE GALLANT – The second scene ends with an attempt to escape, and then falling back into the fray, but then the third act starts with an uncanny florescent light, a really stark contrast, almost painful. It’s not a light of salvation.
MONICA MIRABLE – Yeah, a few things are happening there. I wanted to audience to recognize themselves in the space again, to show them they are a participant watching this happen. The third act is when a new family moves into the house and essentially they reach the same fate at the first family.
ELISE GALLANT – When the lights come up, for me, it represents this veneer of how we’re supposed to act. The sense of codified behavior, or like the perfect family whose fake smiles become like daggers.
MONICA MIRABILE – Things can waver between seeming really nice in the facade, but then being really dirty on the inside. There was the dirtiness of the white light that eventually becomes really sick. The ghosts start fucking with the family that moved in, which brings them to their ultimate fate, the freakout.
ELISE GALLANT – How do you choreograph such chaotic moments?
MONICA MIRABILE – I don’t work with professional dancers, I work with people who move on their own. So I ask them to bring a lot of psychology into the movement. How does your body move when you’re feeling sad? How do you move in a state of ecstasy? It’s a lot about them, I’m removed at a certain point, but I try to harness the way that emotions naturally appear in the body. It’s really interesting to see people who are not blinded by technique; you really start to see their psychology. It creates a loving sense of community. It’s a real joy. It’s funny because the whole thing is really dark, but rehearsals are the happiest times of my life.
ELISE GALLANT – Can you describe some specific exercises that prepare the dancers?
MONICA MIRABILE – There are three techniques that I’m constantly working with: gapping, glitching, and gushing. Gapping is when you’re feeling empty inside, and you don’t know why so you start to try to fill it. Usually you start buying things, consumerism’s dregs. Or you go out and try to find someone to fuck. Glitching is when your body starts to react to that, and you start to freak out and lose control. You get sick, you can’t handle it. Gushing is when you are so full of shit that you explore, you go out and throw yourself on others. It’s obnoxious, you put out so much because you really need something, so you gush in these terrible ways.
ELISE GALLANT – The performance is dealing with scary, visceral emotions. It confronts these dark places but through a really energetic physical experience, there’s a freedom to act on things that usually cage people up.
MONICA MIRABILE – As a society we are damned by the inaccessibility of mental health. I think that the mental balance with the darkness that we are constantly facing and the ecstasy that comes with it is so hard to deal with. Gushing is a mania, gapping is a depression. “A Ghost Story” tries to understand that. We are dealing with really hard emotions together.
ELISE GALLANT – Outside of the main stage the dancers are frequently antagonizing the audience, going into the crowd, or crawling up the walls, is this a way to activate the audience?
MONICA MIRABILE – Just because something is out of the picture doesn’t mean it has gone away. You never get ride of your monsters, you only learn how to deal with them.
ELISE GALLANT – “A Ghost Story” ends with all the dancers directly confronting the audience. It’s not an answers, it’s an invitation for the viewers to come on stage, to touch the feelings of the piece.
MONICA MIRABILE – As a choreographer, I think a lot about permission. Something we lack in our lives is the permission to look at other people, and to actually look at bodies as they really are. The only time that this really happens is in sex. I think it’s a special moment that happens, where you are given access to look at body in all of it’s sweat and blood and tears and snot. I think it’s beautiful. It’s complicated because as a performer when everyone is doing that to you it is really scary. But if you can surpass that and realize that you are a body of beauty — that is really important to me.
ELISE GALLANT – If a curtain drops a performance is more digestible, but being able to go on stage and right up to the dancers made me feel like I wanted to do more, to be more a part of it.
MONICA MIRABILE – I don’t say goodbye. I don’t have the dancers bow. It ends when the audience walks away, but really there’s no end to the piece. You are not allowed to close the book, because that is the truth.
Interview and Photo Elise Gallant