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"Happy New Year!" 

Published September 2, 2009 at 4:00 a.m.

 Last night, I went to see Selene Colburn participate in "freedom of information."

Colburn was one of 31 dancers across the country who took part in Miguel Gutierrez's day-long dance/protest piece, a response to the U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Each of the dancers agreed to move for 24 hours — while blindfolded, and wearing earplugs. Gutierrez says the grueling performance is intended to evoke the experience of refugees in war-torn countries. It's also a reminder of how easy it is for us in the U.S. to become desensitized to the wars being fought in our names.

Here's an excerpt from an article about "foi" in Monday's New York Times:

Mr. Gutierrez is all too aware that he cannot know what refugees endure. He emphasized that he was not attempting to equate, even indirectly, his willed action with forced suffering.

“What I can be direct about is a sense of solidarity with the other artists who are doing this, and this, at least, notion of a shared commitment to saying, ‘We will take these 24 hours together to go through some intense state of contemplation,’ ” he said. “I’m inviting people to consider displacement and war. I am sure a ton of other things will enter people’s thought processes: about their lives, about death, about life, about all kinds of things. And that’s exciting to me.”

 I took my almost-3-year-old son with me to witness this. Not sure how much of it he understood. We know Selene, so he recognized her and thought it was neat that she was dancing.

We stopped by the Firehouse Gallery around 5:15 or so, on the way home from City Market. The first floor was packed — lots of kids, lots of parents, lots of noise. Graham and I rode up to the 4th floor dance studio in the elevator. We stepped out into silence. We were the only ones there.

Selene was sitting near the far wall of the room when we came in. She'd already been moving since midnight the night before, and she looked tired. She was wearing loose-fitting black pants, a blue skirt over those, a black shirt and a couple strips of fabric wound around her head. A plastic tub in the center of the room held a thermos, a couple travel mugs and a couple bottles of juice. Some black curtains formed a cubicle in one corner of the room, possibly to give her some privacy if she needed it.

There were a few chairs lined up against one wall, so Graham and I sat down. The room wasn't exactly silent. There was a kind of high-pitched noise that might have been from the ventilation. I noticed a camera and a laptop set up against another wall for the live video stream. I was nervous being there at first, because it felt like we were disturbing her. I thought I should say something, let her know that we were there. Then I remembered that she couldn't hear us.

After a few seconds, Selene slowly got up and started to move. First, she stretched her legs. When she lifted her feet, I noticed that they had been blackened over the course of the day. She reached for one of two pillows that she had with her. When she had it, she found the wall, and dropped the pillow nearby. She propped her feet up against the wall, and lay down with her back on the floor. She spread out her arms. Every movement was slow and deliberate, but even after so many hours, still graceful.

We stayed for 20 minutes or so. Every so often, the door to the elevator or the stairwell would open, and a family would arrive, then leave. "What's going on here?" whispered one guy to his female companion. "Nothing," she said. They left.

The only people who stayed while we were there were a woman with two young kids, both of them older than Graham. The woman quietly explained to them what Selene was doing.

All five of us left around the same time, and waited for the elevator together. The doors opened to reveal a festive family of five, with their colorful hats and coats and First Night buttons on. "Happy New Year!" they shouted. The kids ran out of the elevator into the dance studio, as the parents wondered aloud, "what's going on up here?" We let them figure it out on their own.

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About The Author

Cathy Resmer

Cathy Resmer

Deputy publisher Cathy Resmer is an organizer of the Vermont Tech Jam. She also oversees Seven Days' parenting publication, Kids VT, and created the Good Citizen Challenge, a youth civics initiative. Resmer began her career at Seven Days as a freelance writer in 2001. Hired as a staff writer in 2005, she became the publication's first online editor in 2007.


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