It’s seven o’clock in the evening on April 29th, and I’m photographing the third iteration of Zorya Arrow’s performance “This Disposition.”
Sixth months ago, Zorya performed the piece for the first time at the Rachel Browne Theatre as part of the Young Lungs Research Series. In the hour she performed, her partner, Scott Leroux, died suddenly, a fact she did not learn until a phone call from Scott’s sister interrupted the small after party she was throwing at her studio.
The events of that night shaped the evolution of the piece. Before Scott passed, Zorya had already lined up a residency in Vancouver, which would include a second performance of “This Disposition.” Now, that performance was scheduled on the three-month anniversary of Scott’s death.
Looking back, Zorya says of the Vancouver performance, “I thought I could just not go, because I felt like I couldn’t. Or I could go and see what I could do — not put pressure on myself.”
Tonight, Zorya’s performing “This Disposition” for the third time, and although a few elements from that first night at the Rachel Browne Theatre remain, tonight’s performance is quite different. For the first three hours, two videos play on loop in the small Poolside Gallery on the second floor of the ArtSpace building. The first is a series of short interviews with the people who were at the after party with Zorya the night she got the phone call. In the video, she starts by explaining that these interviews are a way of documenting that night as accurately as possible.
Intercut with these conversations, Zorya records herself making the imitation ashes she’ll be using in her performance. Sitting on the floor of the home she shares with friends, she adds ingredients, comments on the texture and colour, mixes intently, and explains each step to the camera.
Crouched with my camera at Poolside, I watch people laugh as Zorya’s friend comments on how good the cheese was at the after party, cry as another recounts the sounds she overheard while Zorya was learning the news over the phone. A number of the audience members knew Scott well, and they console each other: sitting close, rubbing backs, holding hands.
Shortly after ten, Zorya performs. She arranges the crowd along the perimeter of a square marked with tape on the floor. The room is cramped, and her mentor, D-Anne Kuby, has to help direct people to fill in the space. Then Zorya brings out her items for performance — a stationary bike, a cream-coloured slip, and two mason jars containing the ashes she made in the preceding video. She lays down the slip and removes the red button-up she’s been wearing, spreading it out on the floor. Then she pours the imitation human remains into the shirt. She carries the jars away, takes off her shoes, puts on the slip, and lays down in the center of the square.
She begins a series of movements on the floor, speaks to us, to Scott, has a conversation almost with herself. She moves to the stationary bike, peddling slowly at first, singing Cher’s “Believe.” Her voice grows stronger, more determined, she pedals faster, whips her hair around, singing at the top of her lungs now.
As she slows the pedals on the bike, her friend Sarah brings her an orange. Zorya begins to walk around the square. She's peeling the orange, eating some chunks and offering others to audience members. The orange eaten, its peel strewn in pieces across the floor, Zorya moves back to the ashes. She puts her feet in them, moves in them, steps away and flaps out the shirt, streaming the fine powder diagonally across the square. She slides her arms back into the shirt and buttons it up. She begins moving on the floor again, this time dancing in the ashes.
Finally, she gets up, saying simply and almost with a shrug, “That’s it.”
The room has grown hot, the doors open, people mill about, eating the oranges set out at the entrance, hugging each other, laughing and chatting. I pack up my gear and pause to eat an orange. As I ride my bike home, my fingers are still sticky with the juice of it.
A week later, I visit Zorya in her home to talk more about “This Disposition.”
FULL: Do you feel there was a palpable difference between the performance you did in Vancouver after Scott’s death and the performance last Saturday?
ZA: The performances were connected, and I was working with some of the same themes, but they were very different. In Vancouver, I wasn’t able to do much. I didn’t have much energy at all. I didn’t even have the energy to stress out or put pressure on myself. I just gave myself permission to do whatever I needed to do. I still rehearsed and practiced and wanted things to be a certain way, but I ended up getting rid of a lot of the material that I had been working with even the day before. It was a very minimal performance. I had a few landmarks that I need to get to, and activities I was going to do, but I basically just let myself be in the moment and feel what I needed to feel. That performance felt more like me being on display. That was very different from this time around, where I had a lot more elements in the piece, and I felt like I was performing rather than just being observed.
FULL: Where do you see the line being between performing and being observed?
ZA: I don’t know where the line is. That’s why I’m like, “Is this too far? Am I pushing this? I’m uncomfortable and that’s maybe good, but am I putting myself through too much?” With the performance on Saturday, I remember thinking, “Wow, there are people around me crying, and I’m not.” That’s weird, because I’d think if anyone would be crying it would be me, but I had to stay on the other side of that. My training in holding myself together as a performer and staying in my performance state helped there, because I didn’t let myself go into a personal place even though it was a personal performance.
FULL: That moment when you were on the bike swinging your head and singing seemed very raw.
ZA: It is and it was. I was following my instincts, but I also tell myself, “I’m just doing an action.” I don’t let myself attach an emotional state to it. I think there was a moment when it was starting to maybe cross over that line, but I think that I’ve gotten to a place when I can notice when I’m going to slip over onto the other side and reel myself back.
That performance was interesting for me, because normally I can let myself go further with things, but because everything is so raw for me, I couldn’t.
FULL: Do you see it as not being art if you’re simply being observed? Why is it not okay with you to simply put yourself on display?
ZA: I think it’s because it fucks me up. And I think it could definitely still be art, but at a certain point, I’m crossing my own boundary of what’s healthy for me. I think being observed or performing are both valid art forms, it’s just a very different thing.
FULL: “This Disposition” isn’t the first time you’ve drawn from your own life in an intimate way. Your performance of "The Genetics Project," at The Gas Station Arts Centre, were you drew portraits with your dad, also felt very emotionally raw. Is there a benefit you draw from these emotional performances? A sense of catharsis perhaps, or are you able to explore personal issues in a way that is healing for you?
ZA: Thinking about the piece that I did with my dad, which felt like I was teetering on the being-on-display line, I was extremely stressed during the process. It was very draining on me at the time.
People often asked after, “Do you feel like you’re closer with your dad now?” I didn’t. But I did feel a bit of a resolve on questions I’d been wrestling with before. So in that way, there is a bit of this personal need that is met in my process. With “This Disposition,” it might be too early to say. But I think in everything I’ve been doing since Scott died, I’ve been listening to my intuition with things, and that’s how I make most of my decisions these days. In doing the performances and working on the videos, it’s kind of a, “I just need to do this,” so it is fulfilling some sort of need within me.
FULL: Do you think there’s something inherently healing about allowing yourself to follow your intuition?
ZA: In this case, yes. Acknowledging where you’re at instead of where you want to be is, I think, crucial to actually moving forward in a realistic way.
FULL: How has “This Disposition” evolved before and since Scott’s death?
ZA: It all started around June of last year. I wanted to make a work in a small room around relationship dynamics and the pull between mind and body. I wanted to make it a one-on-one experience for a performer and observer.
I started working with D-Anne before I found out we had funding. I had a little studio where I was living, so we started working and playing in the studio together. I had it in my head that I wanted to make a repeatable dance, and I had this small room idea. I ended up getting some funding from Winnipeg Arts Council, and I got into the Young Lungs Research Series, and I got into this residency in Vancouver, so I had all these pieces lined up to support the project.
We took a short break and started up again around August working more in-depth. At that point, I was going through difficult times in my relationship. I think Scott and I were in a good place, but there was a lot of shit going on leading up to his death. It was all very intense and all feeding into this piece, particularly in the development of the script. I had been doing a lot of work that wasn’t working out, so I had some volunteers come in and sit with me. I came to the conclusion that I should drop the one-on-one audience/performer dynamic, because it’s asking too much of someone. But it was good to play around with.
It got to a point where my time was running out, and things just really weren’t making sense for me with the piece. The idea of a repeatable dance fell to the wayside because I just can’t seem to make something that I keep doing the same every time. I discovered I have a blockage there.
But I had this script, I had certain movements, and different qualities that I’d been working with, and I had the research. The night Scott died was the first showing of that project. It was an intense performance for me because I was going through so much at that time.
FULL: In the interviews on the video, one of your friends mentioned that you had seemed unusually nervous and that they didn’t know if you were going to be able to do the performance.
ZA: I remember texting D-Anne, worried that it was just going to be a self-indulgent performance. She was like, “Don’t worry. You don’t have to do anything, we can just talk.” I was in a really weird place. So then I ended up performing. I talked a little bit first, and then I did some things. I presented research bits and recited the script, and I did some movement phrase stuff. And it was that same hour that Scott passed away.
And I think because of that, there’s this sort of weird timeline. It ended up that the three-month anniversary of Scott’s death was going to be at the same time I was in Vancouver.
FULL: Do you have plans to continue the series?
ZA: I had been thinking that I would do something at the one-year mark, but after Saturday, I know I need to have time to myself on that day. In some ways, these performances have removed me from my own experience with Scott’s death. Instead, I’m focusing on the aspects of putting on a show and performing it. I can’t just be with my emotions, which I think was good for me at first.
FULL: It was something you needed at the time?
ZA: Yeah. And to be able to share the space with a bunch of people. A lot of people who were there were close with Scott, and so I heard from a few of them that it felt good to have a space to experience that emotion and sit with it. And it’s okay to be in a room with other people sitting in it too. Creating a space to facilitate open grieving was something I was happy to do, but I’ve realised I’ll need my own time to grieve at the one-year mark.
After Saturday, my mentor D-Anne told me that the piece deserves more work and another performance. She said that I should work with someone else next time, because she’s gotten too close to it.
FULL: But you can decide when to pick it up. It doesn’t have to be on the one-year anniversary.
ZA: Yeah, I had this timeline because I was performing when he died, and timeline was important to me. But at this point, I feel I can let go of that. Maybe one day I can pick the piece up again, but I need some time away from it.
FULL: One thing that I noticed come up in the video and the dance in different ways was the idea of knowing. In the video you talked about how remembering something changes the memory, and the interviews with friends were a way of trying to document the night Scott died as accurately as you could. And then in the dance, as part of the script, you said, “I know you.” and “No, you don’t know me at all.” So I was curious about how you think about knowing within the context of this piece.
ZA: I think it comes back to the mind-body thing actually, because there’s different kinds of knowing, and I think that’s where the “You know me” comes from. There’s so many ways you can know something, and that can get really confusing when one part of you knows something and the other part of you knows something else, and maybe they don’t work together. A lot of the script deals with the idea of knowing two things that don’t work together.
FULL: Could you explain more about what the mind-body connection means to you?
ZA: I am someone that can follow my intuition quite naturally. I can find myself in situations sometimes where my body has led me there intuitively, and all of the sudden my mind will kick in and go, “Wait a minute, maybe you want to think about this first.” I had been wondering what to listen to more. Which one I value more. How much weight I give either one. Because the mind makes a lot of sense, so it seems obvious that I should be listening to it. But I think there is a wisdom that comes from listening to your body and what it needs. Working through this, I had been in this state of thinking that my body was the thing to listen to, because it knows deeper than my mind. But through this process, I learned that you need both. Maybe that’s a really obvious truth. But for me it’s something tangible that I’m holding onto now that I wasn’t before.
Now I know you need to be able to access both. There are many different ways to know something, and sometimes you can be confused by the complexity of multiple ways of knowing. I think that’s the constant struggle of knowing. It’s what happens when you really look.
FULL: When you perform, are you thinking about what you’re hoping to offer your audience or the kind of response you want from them?
ZA: I know the themes that I am working with, and therefore I have an idea of how those themes might affect them. But specifically how they’re going to react or what specifically they’re going to take from it, I feel like I want to leave that to them. I don’t feel I can control that too much or maybe I don’t even want to. I like to make people feel things.
FULL: With the orange, you offered it to people in the audience during the performance, but also before and after the performance you had oranges piled and ready for people. What was behind the choice to make an offering?
ZA: Because I knew I was dealing with heavy stuff, I wanted to balance that. I felt like, “Here, look at all this. And also, here, have an orange.” Not that it would make it all better, but oranges were the first thing that I felt good eating after Scott died. For me, there’s a feeling that it will feed you something you need.
Peeling the orange in the performance, I wanted that zest, the smell to come into the room. Scent is so tied to memory. In this case, oranges become the symbol of life and healing. Even in this state of grieving, there’s still life, and it’s vibrant and colourful and still going on, so just eat it.