On a midsummer night in Austin, in an abandoned construction site, aerial dancers are suspended mid-air, as if in flight across the black night. The abandoned space, the doomed offices of the Intel company, once stood like a ruin in downtown Austin, a symbol of financial disaster in the aftermath of the dot.com bust. Sally Jacques, founding director of Blue Lapis Light, saw a new possibility for the skeletal structure, a cradle for comfort, hope, and awareness. Her pivotal performance piece, Requiem, memorialized the 300,000 lost in the 2004 tsunami.
From her earliest public performances to her most recent site-specific work, Sally has integrated the political, the spiritual and the aesthetic, to create what she calls “prayers for the planet,” moments of transcendent beauty and heightened awareness meant to transform audience consciousness.
I met Sally in 1991 and worked with her to create events for Day Without Art/World AIDS Day. With her pitch black hair and distinct British accent, Sally was a force, standing up for the disenfranchised and bringing comfort to the sick and grieving. During, Body Count, her World AIDs Day performance, hundreds of Austinites lay down on the cold walkway of the Texas State Capitol, flashlights illuminating their faces like ghosts, standing in for the dead. Body Count created a time and a place and a ritual for grief, rendering what had been hidden and shameful, visible and human and real. It mimicked death, but it gave life.
Over the years, Sally and I drifted apart, although I followed her work, impressed with her evolution from individual artist to founding director and visionary of a non-profit aerial dance company. In the spirit of Creative Mix, I wanted to know how she came to found Blue Lapis Light, the pragmatics of it, as well as the pragmatics of staging outdoor works with dancers hanging from the sky. I kept trying to bring her back to the nitty-gritty, but her passion lay in her vision, her sense of service to something larger. Eventually, I gave up, recognizing that her sense of mission drove everything, from attracting the right collaborators to filing permits, and that’s what made the work go.
Saundra: Let’s talk about the work you were doing when we met, and how it’s evolved over the years. I think people will be interested to know how an individual artist transforms her life and becomes a founding director of a major company like Blue Lapis Light, which is getting a lot of attention lately.
When we met in 1991, you were doing a lot of public work. You had recently completed 64 Beds, and then you and I worked together on Day Without Art to make Body Count happen. I thought we could review those projects and what drove you to create them.
Sally: In 1986 I was one of 52 women to participate in Windopeace, a performance work conceived by Susan Kleckner a New York based artist. We lived in a window on Canal and Broadway, inside a bookstore that was also a place where you could get secondhand clothes. A guy named Stanley owned the building. Living there and having experiences and interactions with so many people – for example a plumber who brought tea or coffee every day for each of the women that lived there –affected me. But also, you learned about the other women who had spent time in the window through a journal we all wrote in. Every night at closing, Stanley came and pulled down the grating in the window, so you had a lot of time to read.
Windopeace was performance art, and I had chosen to do seven different women characters, all oppressed in their roles. I had the Texas sorority ball gown and Marilyn Monroe and the 1950s yellow pantsuit lady who’s an alcoholic and always waiting for her husband. Each of these characters had movement meditations. So at 12:00 and 3:00 and 6:00, I would stand up in the window and perform the characters and do these meditations, and the public outside could join.
One day I was a performing the sorority sister — I’ll never forget this — I had this giant blue ball gown and a lot of makeup – and this car screeches to a halt and out jump these guys. The next thing I see is a gun. I had been reading Thich Nhat Hanh on being peace, and my instruction to myself as a performer was to be peace every moment I was in that window, that nothing would disturb that energy. I was very dedicated, so I see this happening while I was doing my Tai Chi, and I just continued. There was this moment I was thinking, “Oh, he has a gun. Keep going. Be peace.” And then they shot, and it was a water pistol and they covered the window with water.
When Stanley returned, he was upset and wanted to know what the mess was. When I told him theses idiots came and pulled a gun, he said, “Why didn’t you tell me?” Apparently the women in the Windopeace had been threatened, so they had applied double glazing to make it bulletproof. I had no idea.
Another night I heard someone banging on the grate. I looked out from the little bunk bed, and there was this beautiful African-American woman. It was the 23rd year of Nelson Mandela being incarcerated, and the Guerilla Girls had made these cutouts of him as an action figure and tied them to the parking meters on Broadway. But then a garbage truck came by and knocked them all down. Someone brought me one of the Mandela figures to put in my window. I had all these images of figures for peace, collages of Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King, and then this giant six-foot Nelson. The woman knocking brought me a copy of Part of My Soul Went with Him, by Winnie Mandela for me to read while I was in the Window.
And then there was another incident where all these African-American children came by. They were supposed to go to a nearby museum, but it was closed. I was in my Marilyn Monroe character, with the blonde wig and the dress. And the teacher asked, “What do you think she’s doing?” and they said they didn’t know. “Do you know who Nelson Mandela is?” he asked. “Do you know who Martin Luther King is?” The answer was no. So he told them and said, “Now you can go in and talk to her.”
They all piled into this small space and some of them were spilling out. “Now, you can ask her anything you want,” he said. And the first question was, of course, “Where do you go to the bathroom?” And then the teacher said, “Now, if you notice, she speaks with an accent. Does anybody know what an accent is?” and this little boy goes, “I do, I do. That’s the way them white folks talk.”
I had that experience of the Window in mind when I conceptualized 64 Beds, which almost didn’t come about because the city of Austin did not fund it. It had the word “bed” in it, which the arts panel at that time was not into. But the NEA funded it
Saundra: Did you conceive 64 Beds while you were in New York?
Sally: No. I had been disturbed by what I was seeing in Austin. When Reagan was elected, he removed 77% of affordable housing, which meant women and children were forced out onto the streets. It was brutal. And so I started thinking about the bed as being essential to a human being. It’s not even a basic human right. It’s a need for body and health and being a person in society. That became the impetus to create a political, social, artistic piece.
I’m very much an artist who wants to keep the message in the form of art, even though it’s a social or political statement, there is an aesthetic beauty, even if it’s pointy and dark. It’s the most important aspect really, because that’s how it gets integrated.
Saundra: You hit people on a visceral level
Sally: Exactly. The publicity and awareness that 64 Beds brought to the issue of homelessness helped HOBO (Help Our Brothers Out) receive a million grant. I think it came by the Hogg Foundation. And the national media came down for it and the mayor opened the evening. It was a huge all-night event.
Saundra: I want to make a connection between your early events like 64 Beds and what you’re doing now. What I see is a powerful artistic vision backed by a lot of organizational know-how. How were you able to pull these things off? What kind of skills and assistance do projects like these require?
Sally: Once I set an intention, I connect to a spiritual source that brings and attracts people who will be part of whatever is going to unfold. But if try to determine that it all goes a certain way and there’s no room for breath, or if I’m trying to control it, there’s no inspiration. Inspiration is to be in spirit.
So for 64 Beds, I had the vision, the idea, and Linda Speilman showed up. I met Linda through my ex-husband, and she had the administrative skills to balance out mine. I also worked with many artists including Heloise Gold and Beverly Bajame (dancer/choreographers) who took over the performance. The idea was to stay awake all night as performers, to be in empathy with what a homeless person experiences, and then bring the homeless in to sleep in the art beds, to be nurtured all night and served breakfast in the morning.
It was important the piece not be about voyeurism of homelessness, so I went out and I slept on the streets for a period of time. I remember getting on the bus to go to the Presbyterian Church – one day a week you could go and get breakfast and a toothbrush there – and sitting next to this young man who was dying from AIDS. I remember thinking, “What is it that in our society we can bypass populations? We can just throw them away or pretend they’re not there.”
He told me that he’d outlived his friends and no one wanted anything to do with him. He looked at me and he was so tired. “I just need a place to die,” he said. He did have some friends in Houston but had no way to get there. It broke my heart. When we got to the church, I grabbed him, and found someone and said, “You have got to get this person to Houston. You have got to get him a bus ticket. I’ll help with the money, and you have got to make sure and take care of him and feed him.” And they did.
But it was horrifying to me in the same way it’s horrifying to me that we can put old people or children in the street and say, “Oh well, you know they’re poor, they’re—it’s their fault.”
Saundra: Those populations become invisible.
Sally: Invisible. I kept saying we’re bypassing populations of people. That’s what Reagan’s policy did. People who were able to squeak by month-to-month suddenly couldn’t anymore when affordable housing went. And there they were living in cars and facing the dangers of living on the street.
Saundra: So Linda Spielman had complementary skills?
Sally: She had ability to do paperwork, which at that time I was doing in the form of grants, but it was too big. The piece grew into all these different components—the visual art aspect of making the beds, the performance, the volunteers, the other performers that were Keepers of the Sleepers.
Saundra: So you needed a project manager. But also, you pulled in people like Beverly and Heloise, people you’d worked with before.
Sally: Tina Marsh.
Saundra: People you trusted, and you let them go.
Sally: Absolutely, and I still do that to this day.
It is my belief that for every art form, the power of that form is created by the synergy of the energies of all of those involved. You’re the visionary or the inspiration, but in order for you to hear a note of music you need a player. In order for you to see dance you need dancers. But if you stifle the energy of the other artists or their collaboration or their creative gift from the universe, you’re not getting the power of the vision.
I talk about the work being a mandala and every point of the mandala is essential, down to the volunteer, down to whoever is cleaning the space. It’s all connected. It’s exactly like nature. If you don’t have the sun we don’t have food. If you don’t have water, we don’t have food. Everything is a seed of possibility. But if you determine that the seed has to grow a certain way and it’s only going to grow that way, what can the seed do but wither?
Saundra: So the same principles apply to Blue Lapis Light, to the company as well as to performances?
Sally: Well, you can put a group of likeminded people in a room and in thirty minutes they will be disagreeing. In order for the work to have its strongest voice, there has to be cohesion and there has to be a center, and from the center it radiates out, like a spiral. But if you don’t have a focus, a conception and intention and vision and focus that everybody understands, you get anarchy. It’s not, show up and do whatever you want. There’s a definite intention around homelessness or the Gulf War or whatever I’m addressing. I tell people what I need them to do within a given section and ask for their collaboration and their energy.
Saundra: Understood. Where were we?
Sally: We must be getting to the Gulf War. I remember when the war started, we were told, “We are at war.” But what does that mean? As an individual, I’m not at war. I want to be at peace.
My heart was breaking, and so I came up with of Inside the Heart. Thirty-six people were in black bags on all fours, close together to emulate a shape of a beating heart. I worked with Thana Lahakaikul, who was not happy about the war either. “Well, we could do oil drums,” he said. So we also had thirty-six drums, eighteen on either side of the great walkway of the Texas State Capitol. My part was to do the banquet table, a metaphor for the Last Supper. I worked with Suze Kemper and she came up with pigs’ heads and gold cups and all kinds of indulgent stuff to set on the table. And then there were twelve performers and choreography about pouring these gold goblets. How much can we take in?
It opened with everyone walking up and down with cell phones, wheeling and dealing, and meanwhile there were these people in black bags, breathing at the foot of the banquet table and the oil drums. In the next movement the heart breaks and the dancers in the body bags rolled along the walkway and stop at a designated oil drum.
Around the base of each oil drum was a white bag, and inside each oil drum, these beautiful cages. I’m proud to say I used the arts funding to rescue thirty-six doves that were going to get shot, and they were inside the cages with these beautiful bouquets of grasses with wildflowers that Suze made. They were magnificent.
We came up with the choreography, facilitated by Darla Johnson, where the heart breaks, the body bags roll all the way to the end, and each one goes to a drum, but you never see them. They get into the oil drum pull off the black bag, pull up the white bag over their heads, and light the bag from inside with a torch, Tina Marsh sang, “Imagine.” As they released the grasses, and the doves flew up and away
I remember the media showed up the day before and Jim Swift, the newscaster, said, “Look, if I show this, we’re going to get calls about it.” And I said that was okay. I was an artist living in these times. This was about beauty and us living on this world together. The next day was the event and a huge storm was about to blow in. Thousands of people showed up, including protesters. And the trees were blowing and sky was cloudy and created all these effects with the light. When the bags broke, the sky turned a pinkish gold. It was wild.
In the last movement, the performers representing the ruling class walked down and picked up these bouquets. I was in that group and decided to walk over to the group of protesters, and I could hear one of them crying. As I walked away, I turned my head and noticed one dove lying on the ground. I picked it up and at sat with it. It was one of those moments of cosmic wonder, a mystery, where we merged, and I could hear the dove, telling me, “Yes. Yes,” a kind of a thank you. Honestly, Saundra, it seemed like it would go on forever. And then suddenly it took one last look at me and flew.
In all my history of doing site works, there are always these moments that are completely miraculous and nonverbal, beyond comprehension. When I did Requiem, one night a shooting star came between the two dancers who were balanced on fifty feet of silk. On another night a flock of white doves appeared by the Beatific angel. During the show at IBC Bank, a flock of cranes flew over. This is why being in a theater actually stifles me. I can’t be creative in it.
Saundra: That’s where I was going next. I remember you working in an abandoned pool.
Sally: Points in Stillness.
Saundra: Yes. And that it seemed from that point on you started working in abandoned spaces.
Sally: That’s right. Whenever I went into a theater, there was nothing going on for me. I would freeze, shut down. There is always mystery when you’re working with nature. You can’t control the rain or anything. But what it gives! People can see a moon while dancers are floating in the air.
Saundra: That’s outrageous. I love the way you create an experience for the audience. That’s what blew my mind about Body Count.
Sally: The intention and vision for every piece by Blue Lapis are prayers for the planet, to go to that place within and be touched by beauty, by something bigger than who you are. That is how you know you’re alive and you have a purpose. You live the vision of what you’re here for, whatever it is. And there’s no judgment for whatever you’re doing.
Saundra: Right, if you’re born to be an accountant, go total those numbers.
Sally: Thank God for accountants. But the message is that there is another way to be and live together on this earth as a human species.
Saundra: We are in kind of the pickle.
Sally: After having gone to so many parts of the world for peace and all the things I did, it’s worse. There was a time I believed we were at the beginning of in shift of consciousness, and maybe that shift is that we have to go so far down before the sustainability of light is possible. And that is very unfortunate. What hurts the most is what we’re doing to the environment, to other species and to animals.
I remember when we met. I think Rita Starpattern told me you had come to town and Austin wasn’t doing anything for Day Without Art.
Saundra: I moved here and didn’t have a job and was waiting to get into graduate school. I had the idea to organize events for Day Without Art/World AIDS Day, because when I worked at the DeCordova Museum in Massachusetts, and December 1st came around, they shrouded a single painting in the boardroom and they called in the press.
Sally: Just one painting?
Saundra: Yes. The rest of the museum was business as usual. I thought we should have done more than a public relations event. Which of course it was, as you know from working in public art. You want the media to show up. But I thought it should have been in the hands of artists, that curatorial could have selected artists to come up with something to bring attention to the AIDs crisis. So when I came to town I wanted to do something. I met Rita through Chris Cowden at Women and Their Work and Rita introduced me to the dancer, Nancy Dean, who said, “We have to get Sally Jacques involved.”
Sally: Do you know I almost went to jail for one of those Day Without Art performances? I covered the Capitol walkway with flower petals, and a representative of the state preservation board, Charlene, said, “Now, Sally you’re going to stain that walkway.” It had recently been renovated with $60,000 worth of marble. “It won’t stain,” I told her. Of course when people walked on it, it stained. And then someone wrote in flower petal, “We heart you, SJ,” on the marble steps.
After the performance, around midnight, I saw that and absolutely freaked. Jose Bustamante, Andrea Beckham, and the other artists helped me try to scrub it off. We were there for hours, and I thought we did a pretty good job. But in the morning, I got a call from one of the other artists. “Charlene’s calling me and she’s looking for you,” she told me. “Tell her I’m in a meeting with myself until noon,” I said.
I phoned her up later in the day and she went on and on about how it was $60,000 worth of damage, so it was going to be a big legal case. And so we went to this meeting with a bunch of lawyers and members of the state preservation board and it was really heavy. One of the people who came with me, Rob Abraham, was writing down all these notes and I was trying not to look where it said, “We heart you, S.J.” And at the same time, I was trying to see if in daylight you could still see it. And then I felt like I needed to confess. We had scrubbed it with Ajax and they said you can’t use anything like that, and so we had to clean it again. A bunch of teenagers joined us, so it was a massive day of cleaning. People would come by and ask, “Oh, is this community service?” And these wonderful young women would get up and say, “No, we’re just trying to keep our friend out of jail.” I wished I had filmed it. It was so classic.
We cleaned and cleaned and this big guy said to me, “What is going on? That woman over there, she says that this isn’t good.” So Rick, who was the head of the state preservation board, a big republican guy in this suit – and I will never forget this – he hitches up his pants, gets down on his knee and says, “Well, that’s mighty fine.” But it still wasn’t good enough. He said, “We’re going to try to wash it down and if it’s not right, I’ll be on calling you on Monday.” On Monday he calls me and says, “Well, there’ll be no more retribution.” “Retribution?” I said. “Yeah, there’ll be no more retribution. “Does that mean you’re ok with it?” I asked. It was like two worlds colliding. He thought I was completely insane.
Saundra: What does someone like that make of someone like you?
Sally: This is one reason I love site work, because you get to meet every type of person. You’re dealing with bureaucracy, with insurance companies, with the law, which is the bane of this work, but also part of the art form.
It’s part of it and you are either dedicated to it and you do it or not, because you can’t pretend. You have to have the passion for it because it stops you every place you’re going. Everybody will say no. No, no, no. Years ago, someone finally said to me, “I’m not even going to bother to say no to you. What do you want?” So, it’s gotten easier over the years.
Saundra: That’s actually useful, Sally, because I think about the administrative nightmare of some of this work and then trying to deal with the city or whatever municipal body, and I wonder how one manages all that. To get this work done, in addition to having the skills and the knowhow, the work has to come from a deep place. Something important has to be driving it.
Sally: Do you remember Sue Edwards? She worked at the Culture Contracts for years, but she’s assistant city manager now. She thinks Blue Lapis is great, and if I’m not getting anywhere with city, I can contact her and she will share my point of view with others and then there’s movement.
Saundra: You have people that are connected to you and know your work. You’ve built that.
Sally: They trust that I’m going to be respectful. Every building is well taken care of. We have many walkthroughs and a lot of pre-planning.
Saundra: How did you transition from the one thing, being an individual artist working on public projects, to anther, becoming a founding director and artistic visionary of a company?
Sally: I never had a plan. That’s part of the mystery to me. But when I did Requiem, several friends and supporters asked, “Why aren’t you becoming a nonprofit? You’re getting to this place.” But I didn’t want to do that. I didn’t want to deal with the IRS.
Saundra: So you were resistant to it?
Sally: Oh, totally. But people were were saying you can get more donations, etcetera. Well, you know how I was living back them. I was barely making any money.
Saundra: I remember those days, Sally. I used to worry about you because I didn’t think you were taking care of yourself.
Sally: I know. I was just driven. It was crazy. I’m glad I did it, though.
Saundra: I’m glad you’re taking better care of yourself, though, now.
Sally: Yes, I am. Eventually my assistant, Adam, started doing the paperwork. But I didn’t want the company named after me, because I knew what was coming through me in my meditations was that it was bigger than me. I was reading something by Gandhi and he talks about the blue light, that when you touch the blue light in meditation you’re merging with God consciousness. So I came out with Blue Lapis Light because the work came through in these sometimes very clear visions. And sometimes I know I’m being guided, that I just have to go with it, and if I worry or I get fearful, I’m interrupting the energy. And I have learned now to get out of the way.
Saundra: To trust what’s coming from that deeper place.
Sally: Right, and that can be challenging for the board and those that work with me, especially around finances, when I say, “Don’t worry.”
Saundra: You have people on your board who are lawyers and accountants and live in that world.
Sally: And real estate people. I want to acknowledge two important people, who are an intrinsic part of Blue Lapis Light: Nicole Whiteside, Associate Artistic Director, a co-collaborator, and principal dancer for eleven years with me. She also assists and oversees our technical equipment. Also, Lauren Peterso, our Managing Director who has amazing organizational abilities including writing and administrating our grants. She is also a photographer and has skills in creative design and layouts. They are both extremely talented collaborators and I know and understand what a gift this is to the vision of our work.
We lost our studio space, thirty acres of land that my friend gave to me basically free for six years, I did Requiem, which turned out to be a pivotal piece, in terms of that transition. It was my signature piece, inspired by the tsunami.
I was thinking about what happens when 300,000 souls transmigrate in one moment. I went to sleep with that thought and when I woke up, I saw the Beatific Angel, the Angel that endures the suffering of the world, as well as the Celestial Angels, and the Seeker. These are constant characters in my work now, and will remain so.
Saundra: How were you actually convinced to do the nonprofit? What changed your mind?
Sally: Adam was working on it and I had the name. Once I found a name that worked with my intention, I was good. But it took a year for that to come through. The IRS is very slow.
Saundra: Did that create any kind of shift in the way you work?
Sally: Yeah, it scared me. It was a whole other level of responsibility, the forms you have to get into the IRS and all. A good friend of mine, Lee Anderson, had worked a lot with arts organizations and nonprofit. She helped a lot. And at first I was not paying myself. But the work was shifting and I was aware it was shifting. After Requiem, Where Nothing Falls, and The Well Inside.
With Where Nothing Falls, my mother had died. I got a phone call to get over to England, because it happened sort of quick. She got pneumonia.
When I got there, my mother sat up in bed and she did this gesture really slow and I said, “Mummy, I’m here.” And you know my relationship with her was complicated. But I told her, “I’m here to help you leave,” because she was terrified. I filled the room with flowers and put up a picture of angels so that she could see it and I got in bed with her and told her I’d stay.
Day by day we’d wash her, change her, and I would sit every night and meditate over her and tell her, “It’s ok. You can go with ease.” I said to the universe, “When she goes, let me know you have her.” And so it went on for seven days. I will never forget this. Tina Marsh called me at 5:00 in the morning, because she was in the US, and we were talking and I turned over and realized that I couldn’t hear my mother breathing. “I think my mum’s died,” I said. “I’m going to call you back.” I turned on the light and looked, and then I phoned my sister and said, “You know, Mummy’s gone.” And then I saw her breathe and said, “No, she’s still alive.” It was like a cartoon.
I called the doctor and said, “I don’t know if she’s alive or dead.” It was 6:00 in the morning. “Sally, when you die,” he said, “the lungs are still expelling, so it looks like life, but it’s the last breath. So we were doing all this stuff with her body and I looked up and the picture of the angels was down. So I knew that the universe had her. Bizarre. I think when you open, when you live in faith, it allows for things to be shown. It becomes a deep, profound awareness and knowing.
That’s all I can say. At this point in my life, I still have no plan.
Saundra: But you cultivate that. Have you always had a regular meditation practice?
Sally: My strongest memory of childhood is praying in the orphanage. I would pray, pray, pray to get out of that place, and I could never understand when I woke up, why I was still there. I would think, “You didn’t pray enough.” I remember this at a very early age. I came in that way.
When I was 13 and in a regular school and living with my mum and stepfather, we were learning about the 1776 war, how we lost. But we have a nice way of saying how we lost, which is we let you have it. Anyway, I said to the teacher , “You know I’m going to go and live in America.” “Well that’s very nice, you’ll probably visit,” she said. “No, I’m going to live there,” I told her. I was 13 years old and didn’t know what America was, but I knew I was going to live there.
Saundra: You had a strong sense and the trust.
Sally: A few nights ago, I saw the movie by Paolo de Flori, Awake, about Yogananda, the Hindu swami. There were interesting parallels. He came to America, didn’t know anyone else. He was meditating at 11 years old and he knew he was seeing America, but never knew what America was.
So it’s interesting, that knowing, even though you don’t know you are open when you’re young. I certainly didn’t have any of that nurturing living with my mother or Eddie, artistically or otherwise, just a lot of rage.
Saundra: Well actually it’s a form of intelligence, that level of sensitivity. It’s a gift. Like everything else, it can be learned and cultivated, but I think that some people come in with it.
Sally: People always say, “Well, you know great art comes out of suffering.” I always find that statement disturbing. If you stay stuck in suffering, nothing is going to happen. You have to recognize that everybody has a story, some are more immense and dense than others, but everybody has a story.
Saundra: I’m around so many writers and many have stories they weren’t allowed to speak, a story that needs to be told. There’s so much drive to get it out. But at a certain point, and this is what I found for myself as well, it’s not so interesting.
Sally: It’s boring.
Saundra: I think you have to get to that place where you can tell your story, but then it’s not enough. It’s not going to sustain you.
Sally: We’re here to have experiences, and hopefully those experiences bring us into empathy and compassion for all and recognize that struggle is universal, suffering is universal. But if you stay stuck in it, it eats you alive. You can be there for someone in that journey of unfolding, but when they stay in that, it becomes indulgent, narcissistic.
Saundra: I’ve lost friends over that.
Sally: I don’t want to be around that kind of energy. If you’re on the journey, yes, I’m your ally. But if you’re indulging in the drama and the drama and the drama, it’s really boring.
Saundra: Mentors? Role models?
Sally: Probably the spiritual teachers, people like Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, Martin Luther. I think about all the people that have walked this earth with this message and all the people I met in the war camps, all the people that are faceless and nameless, those are people that I’m humbled by, that inspire me to wake every day in gratitude that I’m not in a rape camp or being tortured.
And some are not here anymore, including Petra Kelly, but you know those are the people I think about, and my dear friend Tina Marsh and Adam my assistant who died at 36, and another friend who died around the same time, all within 18 months left this earth. It was shocking. And I think every experience that we are privileged to have and witness and be part of. I think about the time I was in one of the rape camps and all these Bosnian women, big-busted women, and old women, and young children, who wanted us to stay for lunch to eat. We knew we were going to eat their food.
Saundra: They didn’t have what to give.
Sally: It was just potatoes and bread, but they wanted normalcy and we were their guests. Sitting there on top of this hillside and this wooden table, they stood around, beaming. I think about laying down and blocking the UN with them, getting medicine and medical supplies over there, going to Washington, all the places that I’ve never had a plan for, didn’t even know I could do. Organizing, getting the community to get thermal underwear, vitamins to get to the camps. I had no idea how to do any of it. That’s when you know there’s another force driving the whole thing. And then you’re not afraid to ask, “Can you give me this? Can you give me that?”
I always say to my dancers, “Remain positionless. “When if you’re in a position you’re going to the next thing. There’s never stillness in the cells, you’re in motion always, even in your meditation is a different kind of motion.
I’ve never been be goal-oriented. I don’t know how you do that or stick to a plan. Because when I’m making work, it’s always evolving. I can come up with the architectural design of the piece and how it’s going to sit in the building, the story, the concept, then once I get the bodies, what works, what doesn’t work, what’s going to have to shift and change, what’s possible with rigging. But it’s always shifting. It took a long time to get comfortable with that.
As you get older you think, “Well, I don’t have this, I don’t have that,” everything you’re supposed to have. But I never did. I’ve never lived like that, so why would I start now? I won’t even know how to do it. People think they’ve got to have this or that when you get a certain age. I never had it, but I’ve been given so much more in my sense of purpose and meaning.
Saundra: Any advice for women artists, maybe advice you would have given to your younger self starting out, wanting to create public work or form a company.
Sally: I would say that all of the doubts and all of the fears and uncertainty, recognize them as that, but don’t let them stop you doing what is in your heart, your passion, your vision, because you’ll get there.
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