A month or so ago (life has gotten in the way of blogging recently, hence the delay in talking about this) I was lucky enough to see Anushyie Yarnell perform her adaptation of a Deborah Hay solo I Think Not at York St John University.
I met Anuyshie whilst studying at the Northern School of Contemporary Dance, as she was doing her Masters whilst I was in my third year, and have been continually inspired by her skills as a performer, creator and artist.
With I Think Not Anushyie is exploring what is to be both a mother and an artist, having given birth to her daughter Hephzibah last December. According to the promotional blurb 'Her adaptation of "I Think Not" draws upon her daily practice of the score with her baby daughter since 3 months before the birth. She is constantly undoing who I think I am. Joyful, beautiful, at other times maddeningly painfully impossible.'
The space at York St John's University is small an intimate and in the round, with pew like seats built in to the walls. Anushyie's performance started with her sitting in the audience, breast feeding Hephzibah, while her partner Peter played the guitar. After Peter finished Anushyie moved to his chair in the performance space, with Hephzibah still feeding, and asked him to help her put her shoes on. She also asked the technition to open some of the curtains that had been drawn across the windows. Then she spoke to the audience and said something along the lines of 'I would normally do this myself, its just taking a bit longer because Hephzibar is still feeding. You are probably going to think I'm really cruel in a minute because I will have to give her back to Peter and she might cry'.
She then went on to talk about how being in the studio with Hephzibah, and trying to get back to the place she used to be before Hephzibah was born changed her practice everyday, and that these changes seemed to both be very slow and really quick at the same time.
She then handed Hephzibah to Peter and performed her solo. Peter remained in the audience, cradling Hephzibah, for the majority of the performance. When he did decided to take her out he walked through the performance space, gave Anushyie the chance to gently reassure Hephzibah, and then carried on.
The issues around childbirth - how to get pregnant, how not to get pregnant, how to work and have children etc etc, are obviously not a new thing for women. They have been around since the start of time, and in my opinion they always will be. For female artists who work in an industry with little financial or job stability, and where 'they', their self, their body is often key to their work it is no surprise that mother/parenthood (or lack of) occurs in female work much more predominately than in males'.
Watching Anuyshie perform her solo with Hephzibah (does that make it a duet?) I felt very privileged to be witnessing an honest exploration of how to be both a mother and an artist at the same time. In my eyes she her intention hadn't been to make a feminist a piece, or a piece 'about' motherhood - through this work she was genuinely trying to figure out how she can maintain her identity as an artist whilst being a mother, but in doing so performed something both truly special and importantly female.