A Day In The Life: Accidental Euphoria
Written by Melissa Tuplin // @tupples @dancingmonkeylaboratories
Wednesday May 31, 2017, 10:17 am
I’m sitting in the Calgary Greyhound station with my father, petulant. He’s drinking less than mediocre coffee out of a Styrofoam cup, purchased from the bus station diner that looks like it is straight out of a David Lynch film. I’m on my way to Edmonton to perform my solo Accidental Euphoria at NextFest, and I do-not-want-to-go. My father’s a little confused at my lack of emotion, unsurprising given his almost 30 years of sitting mid-theatre at my performances.
It wasn’t the 4-hour bus ride I was dreading (yeah, the Red Arrow is better, but is it $50 better?), or even the performance itself. Accidental Euphoria is a good piece. No – it’s a great piece. Are artists still supposed to be self-deprecating? I can’t bring myself to do it because I’m proud of the work. It was the most difficult and most fulfilling thing I’ve ever made, and that’s why I don’t want to go. Self-sabotage doesn’t look good on me, so I suck it up and get on the bus.
Early January, 2016
Dancers’ Studio West has released a call for proposals for the Alberta Dance Festival. The theme is ‘Bold Moments in Time’. I propose a work about the invention of the anti-depressant as a pharmaceutical tool, which evolved into the piece Accidental Euphoria. I’m a few months in to my first cycle of medication after seeking treatment for depression and anxiety. Both conditions flared many times over the past ten years and paralyzed me for too long. My proposal is accepted, and I am struck with the realization that I now actually have to make something.
Iproniazid was an anti-tubercular agent used in the 1950s in TB sanitariums. The drug was not an effective anti-tubercular, but was found to be an incredibly powerful anti-depressant, causing one doctor to call it a ‘psychic energizer’ and remarked that the patients ‘were dancing in the halls tho’ there were holes in their lungs’. What an incredible image for a choreographer.
I am interested in how depression is as much a physical illness as it is a psychological one, and challenge myself to enter into the creation process from a purely physical place.
This is partly a point of safety, as to be in the rehearsal space in the kind of emotional state evocative of depression would be masochistic and destructive. As I explore the physicality of holes in my lungs and the physical manifestation of psychological paralysis, I realize that I have access to a greater depth of expression than if I had simply begun from the mental state.
It’s the last night of the Alberta Dance Festival, and I am sitting in the dark in an empty shower stall in the Pumphouse Theatre green room. I am so grateful for my fellow performers, who had watched the piece develop during a creative intensive the week prior, and who have had so much patience and understanding about the introverted and creepy way I prepare to perform the piece. “Melissa’s in her depression shower again!”
Accidental Euphoria is a punishing piece, both for me and the audience, but they go there with me, holding their breath and curling their toes as I do, suspended with me in the space for 10 minutes.
It is the most gratifying and vulnerable thing I have ever done as a performer.
As I stand to bow after my last performance, peeling myself off the floor, I am hit with a mixture of pride and fear. What if this is as good as it gets?
Early January, 2017
The Good Women Dance Collective has released a call for proposals for DanceFest at NextFest, Edmonton’s emerging artist festival. I’m literally on the edge of what could be considered an emerging artist, age-wise at least, and it’s time to perform. I’d never performed professionally outside of Calgary. I submit Accidental Euphoria.
It feels like I’m on some kind of precipice in terms of my career. I’m fearful that my work and trajectory will plateau. I’d recently had another dive into depression and restarted my meds, and I’m feeling all too aware that I don’t take care of myself well enough or consistently enough to be a dancer. Performing out of town means new networks, new relationships, a larger community, and applying to this festival is a kind of psychic recommitment to the art.
Wednesday May 31, 2017, 1:30 pm
The man sitting next to me on the bus is stealthily peeking over my arm as I watch rehearsal videos on my phone. I’m annoyed, and then annoyed at being annoyed. I listen to Max Richter’s Three Worlds: Music From Woolf Works as we drive. The album concludes with a twenty-minute composition featuring Gillian Anderson reading Virginia Woolf’s suicide note. I had chosen to use a quote from Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar as my program note for the piece, and it’s all starting to feel a little too on the nose.
“The floor seemed wonderfully solid. It was comforting to know that I had fallen and could fall no farther”
Thursday June 1, 2017, 12:57 pm
I’m lying on the floor of the massive Muriel Taylor Studio at the Ruth Carse Dance Centre, rolling my glutes out and feeling like a dumpster fire, thinking about my technical rehearsal last night. The team was efficient and organized, and there is always a relief in putting faces to the names that have been floating around my inbox for a few months. The L’UniThéâtre in La Cité Francophone is lovely, though the floor has seams and a disorienting amount of spike tape.
Ainsley Hillyard (of Edmonton’s Good Women Dance Collective) had been holding space for me on the stage while I sat with the lighting designer and stage manager to set my lighting cues. We were discussing when to start a transition, and she said, “at the split fall?”
The split fall? There’s no split fall in this piece, or at least there wasn’t supposed to be. At some point in the last ten months the movement, which was supposed to push the body off the ground from a prone position, extend out the left leg and then slam into floor, had formalized itself into a standard recital-fare split fall, which is fine, but not at all what I was going for. I’m thankful to know that the movement read that way, but I won’t rehearse it today. I don’t trust my body right now, so all I can do is store the information away for performance.
I call my chiropractor and book an appointment for treatment and a massage first thing on Monday morning.
Saturday June 3, 2017, 10:05 am
My sister and I are sharing a bed in my brother’s apartment. I’m stretching, and thinking about coffee, and suddenly I hear cackling. She’s taken a selfie of us, and I look terrifying – staring blankly, jaw clenched. “Who are you plotting to murder?” she says.
Sunday, June 4, 2017, 6:03 pm
My mother hugs me. “Beautiful and agonizing,” she says, “as always.” It’s hard for my parents to watch me dance like that – wrenching, wretched, arched painfully into lower back, hitting the floor with a force that sometimes I’m not even prepared for.
The three performances came and went quickly. Friday night I was caught off guard by the energy backstage. The other pieces have large casts of young dancers, and it was difficult to find a quiet space to prepare and warm up. The Saturday performance was the most difficult – I felt emotionally off, overwhelmed and wound up. I finished the piece through sheer willpower, fighting off tears. The choreography would not be strengthened by actual hysterics. Sunday, I settle. I give myself over to muscle memory and release myself of any self-expectation. Standing up to bow, I feel released.
My back and hips ache, I’ve bruised my shoulder, there’s a literal hole in my foot. We drive back to Calgary in the rain. I’m in the back seat of my parent’s car, with my sleeping brother’s feet on my knees. CKUA is playing Lee Harvey Osmond’s Blue Moon Drive. I’m thinking about my next piece.
Photo Credit: Amy Jo Espetveidt
Melissa Tuplin is a contemporary choreographer and performer, holding a BFA Contemporary Dance from Concordia University. She is a member of the performance creation collective Dancing Monkey Laboratories, and has created and performed for Sage Theatre’s Ignite! Festival, Springboard Performance’s Fluid Festival, Dancers’ Studio West’s Alberta Dance Festival, and Theatre Junction’s TJ LAB Sessions. Full length credits include Satellites, Karl Nimeni is Not Dead – I Killed Karl Nimeni, We Must Collide, and Humanoid – A Love Supreme. She is also an active teacher, focusing on contemporary dance technique and choreographic creation for pre-professional artists.
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