'From Silence to Power'

Bonnie Cox stages dances drawn from traumas to move through them

Bonnie Cox in Quieted, a solo in <i>From Silence to Power</i>
Bonnie Cox in "Quieted," a solo in From Silence to Power (Courtesy of Matthew Sachs)

Dancer-choreographer Bonnie Cox and I are trying, over the phone, to define "psychological trauma." "I see it as a spectrum," she says. Physical abuse and rape are discrete traumatic events, while psychological abuse and negative body image – any "experience or pressure that has taken a toll on the person," she suggests – result, over time, in a trauma not unlike post-traumatic stress disorder. "When we internalize, it can be traumatic. It has been for me."

Cox's own processing of and healing from psychological injury instigated From Silence to Power, a concert of dances by herself and seven other choreographers, all based on traumatic experiences. While she originally conceived the show as focused on the traumas of abuse and negative body image experienced by women, she broadened the theme after discovering that male colleagues wanted to be involved, too. It was the invitation to actively create something out of a negative experience, she says, that appealed to artists of both genders.

Initially, I knew Cox, a recent graduate of the Texas State University dance department, as one of the deeply committed cast members of Sharon Marroquín's The Materiality of Impermanence. In that 2012 work's roller coaster of vignettes recounting Marroquín's experience with breast cancer, Cox's powerful limbs, groundedness, and forceful torque from the waist, softened by her broad, open face, its olive skin dotted with freckles, channeled the terrors of illness and the freedoms of life.

Her freshness and strength remain in my mind as we talk, making doubly disturbing her disclosure that, during work toward that performance, she was a victim of abuse. The movement was cathartic for her. In particular, an unhinging trio in which the dancers struggled to come to terms with their reflections in framed mirrors encouraged Cox to reflect on her relationship. I told Cox that I was hesitant to oversuggest parallelism between her project and Materiality, but Cox assures me that Marroquín's influence on her project, and herself, was vital. Cox left her abusive relationship and began work on the dances that would become part of From Silence to Power: "She gave me the tools and inspiration."

The pressure to use those bestowed tools and inspiration to the hilt, to craft good dances, and to commission valuable work from others makes for a doozy of a first full-length production. But, like Marroquín, Cox seems driven by a fast-moving drive to connect, in empathy, with others shaken by similar traumas. Why, in the age of oversharing and information gluttony, I wonder, do people have such urgent, unfulfilled needs to connect over traumatic experiences? Sure, our Facebook statuses and tweets may be filtered to show only glossy, unscathed selfies, and, Cox reminds me, art isn't a raw, unfiltered product, either. But the vulnerability of the dancer and the empathy of one physical body for another, maybe, leave little room for victim-blaming and defensiveness to cloud the audience's experience. "In dance," says Cox before hanging up, "there's an automatic permission that's given to the audience to just watch and take it in."

From Silence to Power: Dance as a Response to Trauma will be performed Oct. 18-20, Friday-Saturday, 7pm; Sunday, 2pm, at the Boyd Vance Theatre, Carver Center, 1165 Angelina. For more information, visit www.dancetoempower.org/silencetopower.

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Austin dance, From Silence to Power, Bonnie Cox, Sharon Marroquin, The Materiality of Impermanence

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