- Deceleration as Decolonial Intervention in Lara Kramer's NGS:Native Girl Syndrome
I'm concerned with what sensations I can incite and provoke; this is my access to my public, feeding sensations.—Lara Kramer1
Two dancers, ANGIE CHENG and KARINA IRAOLA, are already swaying in place when blue lights flood the stage and brighten their movement. They stand at an angle with their backs to the audience; the fringe on their leather jackets rustles as they teeter to the low revving of motorcycle engines streaming from the speakers. One behind the other, the two dancers appear unaware of each other, in separate orbits but in the same atmosphere. Antique prams are parked in front of them. Slowly, the dancers each outstretch digits to grip the prams' handlebars, steadying their involuntary sway; each looks on the verge of vomiting or falling [End Page 575] asleep. The combination of the droning sound and repetitive movement over a ten-minute period gives the audience time to observe minor details that might have otherwise gone unnoticed: the broken heel on one of IRAOLA's boots; the red string tied to CHENG's pram that drapes down toward the wheels; the beaded round pendant sewn onto the back panel of IRAOLA's black jacket; a dreamcatcher. Inside each stroller are plastic bags filled with accumulated things, such as shoes, nylons, T-shirts, and beer cans.2 Then, sluggishly, IRAOLA attempts to straddle the handlebar on which a plastic bag of empty beer cans hangs from its center. As she grinds her pelvis onto the bag, gripping it with one hand and holding onto the handlebar with the other, her thrusts become increasingly more aggressive until the plastic rips open and beer cans scatter, creating an atonal symphony of solid floor meeting hollow tin.
This is the opening of Lara Kramer's NGS: Native Girl Syndrome (2013), a one-hour dance piece that embodies the intimate haze and afterlife of drug use, sex work, and poverty through a dissociative and slow movement score. Kramer, a choreographer of mixed Oji-Cree and settler heritage, creates movement that confronts dispossession through aggravated and slow actions. Waste, found objects, and the detritus of self-medication litter the set of NGS. Sharing temporalities of decay, the choreography and the very nature of these discarded objects stage an embodied decomposition, a peeling away of the elements that constitute the performance as a whole. In the unraveling of embodied action, we see how trash transforms into possessions and how women's bodies become discarded within the structural violence of settler-colonial societies.
Informed by her grandmother's experience in the Canadian Residential Schools—a nationally organized effort to "kill the Indian and save the man"—Kramer draws her title from the vernacular diagnosis deployed among Residential School authorities (such as social workers, nuns, foster care administrators, among others) to pathologize obstinate behavior by young Native girls.3 This was a syndrome, they determined, that would transform malleable and innocent Native girls into reckless prostitutes and drug users. By deploying this same term in the title of her 2013 piece, Kramer stages an embodied deceleration of another meaning for Native girl syndrome: a way of searching for presence in [End Page 576] the wake of overdetermination—that is, part of an aesthetic strategy of slowing down and stalling the momentum with which national narratives seek to assimilate First Nations people into Canadian settler-colonial life. In this essay, I show how the pacing and movement of Kramer's piece activates decolonial deceleration as an interruptive force. The dancers in NGS are moved and transformed by the waste on stage—these are animate objects to which the artists respond and react, embodying a shared temporality of decay. Onstage, deceleration looks like bodies collapsing onto a vinyl floor and then waywardly, dizzyingly, trying to stand up, over and over again. This affective weight is the force through which audiences are asked to dwell in a space of ethical remembering of colonial histories, including past, present, and future colonial impact, rather than simply to think or know of them. Feeling this history emerges through witnessing the rough silence and stillness of embodied...