dimly, dimly at first: a response to “action is primary”

Dimly, dimly at first: A Letter to Kristel Faye Baldoz

by Jai Arun Ravine

Dear Kristel,
On stage you bring Trinh T. Minh-ha’s book When the Moon Waxes Red as a pivot point during your improvisation. I ask Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Dictee to open to a page that could respond to you, and this is what she says:

Dimly, dimly at first
then increase just a little more
volume then a little more
take it take it no further, shut it
off. To the limit before too late before too soon
to be taken away. (130)

What are you humming? Nice mood light. I wonder how you will start. Each time you begin dimly, dimly at first. I went to a restaurant last night called Mood. This is a moody new moon, am I right? The way you chose to light the space may suggest one or more of the following:

  • a) You do not want to be seen all the way.
  • b) You only want to be seen by certain people.
  • c) It is difficult to be in the space; dimly makes it bearable.

Everything echoes intensely, the body echoing. I see the echoes in the dark. I sense the horror and pressure of being seen, of being seen as what? I’m writing to support you here on the edge. Light change, then increase just a little more. More light now, less moving. More seeing, less seeing. More writing. You’re wearing all gray and you talk about the color gray as possibility, what reminds me of third space or nonbinary space. You drape your gray shirt across a white chair and put your arm around it. Is this a companion or a jacket? You say that this assemblage approaches the feeling of another body on stage with you. You seem alone, isolated, singular, hair over your face as a fabric. Yet in shadow there are four of you like backup dancers against the wall. You attempt to frame yourself within the moving frame of the folded white chair. But what can really interrupt the imperialist gaze, the hegemonic frame, the audience’s visualization?

Tape. Now you’re taping off a corner of the floor with white tape. Hands clasping, grasping. Disregarding the tape. Pivoting around points of contact, grasping into the light. Felt, felted. Felted on the skin, felted skin. Skin felts. Searching for a fixture point, a point of attachment, a bonding point or border, volume then a little more shifting.

I like that you say your name first. “This is me trusting what I’m doing, rather than the randomness,” you say. This is me trusting the form of this letter, as it arises from the randomness of the notes I wrote while you danced. You take a light from underneath a chair and slide it across the floor. A mobile light source. Way to bring the focus, the stomp and the splits. I can see so much more of you in the space. I have a Kasugai melon gummy for you. You come downstage toward where I am sitting and ask me a question. In my hand I offer you the gummy and you take it. You say “Asian time,” tear open the wrapper, eat it and keep dancing.

take it take it no further, shut it. I haven’t written anything in a long time. You’re saying my name a lot and it’s embarrassing, but I understand that you are including me, that you are bringing me on stage with you. “Jai, where do you want to be?” you ask me, and I say “Over there,” and you nod, “Go.” I sit and lie down by the lamp and its electrical cord. From the floor in this corner I feel inside. I know you need me here.

You say, “I worked four jobs today. This is number four, maybe five.” I see the imprint left on the floor and the wall, and the skin. What’s settling now? Hair, words, lint, language, oil. Now you’re slowing down and crawling. Breath and thoughts, and maybe the edge. You settle into the edge of the stage. off. To the limit before too late before too soon

It’s amazing what a body goes through and what can never be known.

Now you’re back where you started from. You’re playing a voicemail from your mom in the blue light. This is very tender. “I’m from Delano, California,” you say. The room is now in between time zones. Then you play a song on your phone. It sings, shine on stranger. Clean down to your marrow, to your mama. Songs of our mothers and our mouths. Shining let your light shine. I close my eyes and sway in the blue light. Then you get up and pick up your things, walking off, to be taken away.

Notes: This piece was written after witnessing Kristel Faye Baldoz’s solo performances for Action Is Primary on April 7 and 13, 2016 in Philadelphia. I reference a copy of Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Dictee (University of California Press, Berkeley, 2001).