A Journey to Enlightenment
Many of you may have already read this in the latest issue of the Point. Thank you so much to the APP for publishing this, and to James Weber for his help getting it in at the last minute. Your help and hard work was greatly appreciated.
The 16th annual Association of Professional Piercers’ conference marked more than just another year of learning for many of us visiting Las Vegas that week. For those involved with the suspension community, a major highlight was celebrating CoRE’s 10th anniversary with their outstanding performance, “A Journey to Enlightenment”. I said once before that Constructs of Ritual Evolution is the hardest group I have ever written about, and I think somehow it became even more difficult after seeing them in person. There is just so much that can be said about them; even the fact that the show managed to happen was a testament to the hard work and dedication of this group. With some major setbacks, including the original venue cancelling at the last moment, it took a tremendous amount of work to not only relocate the show but to also adapt the performance to fit the new space in which it was going to be held. If it were any other group, this show could have easily been a disaster. But it wasn’t just any group; it was CoRE. It was 10 years of experience with true performers on that stage and behind the scenes pulling it all together. The result was nothing short of breathtaking.
On stage, a traveler has come upon a man who is preparing to carry the Vel Kavadi. Those around the man carefully place spears through the altar and against his skin as dancers move to the steady drumbeats in the background. The crisp green of the apples at the end of each spear glows in contrast to the dark colors of the setting and the paint streaked on the bodies of those in view. The scene unfolds, and our traveler keeps a cautious distance. The kavadi bearer stands and begins to dance, swaying and moving with the heavy altar as the spears drive deeper into his flesh. Even as we watch the skin stretch and move under the long skewers that are pressing into it, his face remains calm and focused. Although the traveler seems intrigued by this new and unusual practice, he chooses to move on, seeking something we don’t yet comprehend.
CoRE was first formed in Houston, Texas when a former member of TSD began to branch out and find his own place in the body suspension community. Through performances that combined artistic expression with influences from both ritualistic and spiritual practices, CoRE began to form the foundation from which they would continue their growth. I’m sure that many of the individuals who were involved in those early days, including CoRE’s founder Steve Joyner, had no idea where this path would take them. As CoRE grew, so did their ambition for what they wanted to present on stage. This wasn’t going to be people simply hanging from hooks; it was going to be bigger. Through the combination of suspension, theater, performance art, live music, and an array of talented individuals bringing their skills to the stage, CoRE managed to create their own place in the world rather than fitting into any one, already existent mold.
Act 2 –
Our traveler moves onward in his journey, and finds himself in an almost angelic setting, where every surface is bathed in halos. A queen wreathed in shimmering white is sitting on her throne as statuesque guards stand before her, the metal wings framing their back held in place by hooks in their flesh. The queen rises and begins to sing, her enchanting and powerful voice filling the room with its otherworldly song. It’s enough to bring the traveler to his knees as he watches this magnificent scene unfold before him. As her voice carries through the hall, two women rise in the air. Draped in silver fabric and moving gently on the hooks that hold them up, they are a vision of grace and beauty. Both gently and suddenly, the queen is raised into the air without missing a note, and her song grows louder, more sinister. She floats in the air, and the women at her sides seem to move at her command. They are raised and lowered at the simple wave of the queen’s hand. She reaches for the crown of needles pierced through her forehead, and pulls them free. Small streams of crimson blood run down her face, and the traveler begins to back away. She descends back to her throne, with the guards stepping to her sides. The frightened traveler departs overwhelmed, but still searching.
Where CoRE has been and the things they have managed to accomplish in their 10 years is only the beginning. Although their past has shaped who they are as a whole, where they are now certainly isn’t the limit of where we will see them take their beautiful craft in the future. As they continue to move forward, Steve Joyner has stated that he hopes to see CoRE working with more performers and artists as they did in this scene with Hilary Lobitz of Operafication. I think the decision to branch out and work with people outside of CoRE will be a move that adds freshness and diversity to an already immensely talented group of individuals. The future of CoRE is an exciting and inspiring thing to imagine. They are a group with no limitations to what they should be; a performance as unique as theirs has no mold to follow and no precedent set to say where they can or can’t go from here.
We are led deep into a cave, where our traveler, in his quest for enlightenment, has come upon a conjurer. He watches cautiously as she works her spells, moving among the bottles and powders scattered around her. Shadows writhe and crawl across the floor, and the cave itself appears to come to life. The conjurer’s work continues and the pace quickens. Two dancers slide into place, their bodies moving in sync with one another as the ritual unfolds. The bones that hang from their waists sway and tap, working in rhythm with the music. From behind a rock rises a woman in red, her back arched and her body relaxed as she is lifted into the air by the hooks in her stomach. The spell is complete, and she is resurrected. From her hands drops a key – the object of the conjurer’s final manifestation. As this captivating scene comes to a close, our traveler departs, still not finding what it is he has been searching for. His quest has taken him to the ends of the earth, from forests and caves to heavenly palaces, but still he has yet to find what it is that he needs to complete himself; that certain place or practice that will lead him to enlightenment.
Many of you familiar with CoRE probably already realize that there was more than one story being told on stage that night. The past, present, and future of CoRE came together to create the scenes for this performance. In a production that took 62 people an entire year to complete, their inspiration derived from CoRE’s early performances, present characters they portray, and their vision of CoRE’s future. Through their many years of searching for who they were, the journey is what has shaped CoRE into who they are now. I truly believe that this past decade provides only a glimpse of what we will see CoRE accomplish before they are done.
Our traveler seems to have failed in his search for personal enlightenment. The rituals he has witnessed were not the things that he had set out to discover. Suddenly, he finds himself surrounded by the people he observed along his journey. He is cornered, and as they close in around him, he tries to escape. His arms flail as the mass of bodies pushes inward. His panic and fear turn to clarity; it becomes apparent that what he was hunting for could not be discovered at any one destination. All of these bodies looking into his very soul remind him that it is he who most needs to be looking inward. The enlightenment is within him, and has been found through the journey itself. As he rises in the air from the hooks in his chest, he lets out a cry that is one of victory rather than pain, and the only thing louder than the driving music on stage is the sound of applause from the audience as the curtain drops.
I had wanted to see a performance by CoRE from the first time I saw photographs of their work. Watching them on stage was such a reminder of all the things I love about body suspension: the beauty, the emotion, and most importantly the people with whom we share this amazing experience. I found myself leaving with a renewed excitement about suspension, as well as an anticipation for knowing what CoRE will move on to from here. I hope that as they enter into their next decade of performing, all of those involved will keep in mind the story they were a part of that night. As important as it can be to focus on where you want to be, it’s often the journey that has a lasting impression on who you are when you arrive.
Thank you to all of CoRE for 10 years of hard work, education, and stunning performances. Also, a special thank you to Patricia and Steve for all of their patience and help in writing this.