The 9/11 dance tribute called Table of Silence premiered in 2011, a decade after the despicable attacks that toppled the World Trade Center’s twin towers in New York City. Conceived and choreographed by Jacqulyn Buglisi (Artistic Director of Buglisi Dance Theater), the free healing ritual was performed annually at the Josie Robertson Plaza at Lincoln Center for nine years – with approximately 150 live performers highlighted in a single show. This article includes personal insight about the Table of Silence piece from artists who participated in the work, as well as an outline of the special 2020 broadcast by Lincoln Center.
Choreographer Jacqulyn Buglisi of Buglisi Dance Theatre
Buglisi Dance Theatre (BDT) was founded by Jacqulyn Buglisi and three other artists, who performed together as principal dancers in the Martha Graham Dance Company. The modern dance company has an impressive repertoire of over 100 original works – some of which have been set on other companies, such as Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Richmond Ballet and North Carolina Dance Theatre.
Although based in NYC, Buglisi Dance Theatre provides educational residencies and participates in art outreach programs across the US. They have worked with the Joyce Theater Educational Residency, American College Dance Festivals and New Dances at the Juilliard School Lincoln Center, to name a few. The company received the American Dance Guild Award for Artistic Excellence, and Buglisi herself has won Altria’s Women Choreographer Award for her body of work in 2007.
“Using images, literature, poetry, heroic archetypes and a consuming physicality, I craft dances that explore human relationships revealing the bold visceral strengths, humor and exquisite vulnerabilities of the individual.”– Jacqulyn Buglisi, Artistic Director of Buglisi Dance Theatre
Table of Silence Artist Experiences
Buglisi’s moving 9/11 tribute dance, titled after an installation by Italian artist Rosella Vasta, is a ritual that calls for global unity and peace. Over the years, it has featured dancers from all over the globe; and the moving 9/11 memorial work has been performed at Syracuse University in New York and Cathedral San Rufino plaza in Assisi (Italy), in addition to the esteemed Lincoln Center. Here are three dancers’ experiences performing such a poignant work.
Meagan King, 22, first performed Table of Silence in 2018 and will dance the new Prologue this year. Lauren Marie Jaeger, 34, has performed every year since its premiere – as has Shaun Parry.
Thank you so much for taking the time to reflect upon your experience with us. Do you remember how you felt when you were invited to participate Buglisi Dance Theatre’s Table of Silence?
Meagan King: I felt honored to be part of a call to action that was greater than me. When the world is in need of healing, sometimes it can feel like a daunting task as an individual to make a significant impact. Though it is fully possible, there is nothing more powerful than artists joining together to make a statement. [I felt empowered] to dance alongside incredible artists and, together, call for peace in the world.
Lauren Marie Jaeger: As a Buglisi Dance Theatre company member, I have been an assistant rehearsal director for this piece since its inception. It felt amazing to be creating a piece that was to bring together over 100 dancers, musicians, and artists, to promote peace and healing on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. I remember being profoundly moved by the experience of so many individuals coming together to create something we believed in.
Shaun Parry: In 2011, when I heard this was being conceived, I was thrilled. I was at Ground Zero searching for survivors for a week after the attack. Every 9/11 after that was incredibly difficult for me. I felt guilt and all the images from the rubble and wreckage would come flooding back. The Table of Silence 9/11 Project became a beautiful place of healing and peace for me.
You all knew that this would be such a meaningful piece, and it doesn’t seem like a coincidence that the themes of community and healing emerged in your answers.
Does it feel different performing the work vs. rehearsing the work?
Meagan King: As is common with every performance, there is an extra hint of beauty and exhilaration in dancing live. Both parts of the process are equally important – the beautiful discoveries we make in rehearsal and the final moment of letting your fruitful work blossom to life in performance. I often connect more deeply with the emotional aspect of this work when I am performing. Since we so meticulously work out all the kinks in rehearsal, my spirit has the space to allow me to lose myself in the work, in the best way.
Lauren Marie Jaeger: It does feel different when we are performing rather than rehearsing, but that is not to say that there are not equally profound moments in rehearsal. As the rehearsals become larger, and Paula, and the other musicians join, there is an increasing feeling of oneness.
The difference with performing it on 9/11 is two-fold. The first reason is like with any other performance… We have to work together without the guidance of an outside eye. Our connection to the musicians and one another becomes palpably stronger. The second reason is because it is the anniversary of an enormous event. Most years, the weather has been identical to the way it was all those years ago: bright, sunny, calm. Those of us who remember, or who maybe lost someone that day, never fail to make the connection.
Shaun Parry: Rehearsal is by and large about the technicalities and formations and getting it all right. When we get to the performance, we get to let all that go. We have practiced it enough that the technique and our spacing and placement become second nature.
During the performance we get to transcend the nuts and bolts and create a moment of ephemeral and ineffable beauty. There is a power in the piece that only comes when we are performing. All the rehearsals are leading up to that moment of truth.
I love how you all inspected the whole artistic process and explained how the rehearsal process contributed to the live performance.
One more comparison question for you: how do/ did you feel when performing the piece? And how does this experience differ from watching the work?
Meagan King: When I perform in this project, I feel like a real peace warrior… I feel that dancing the work differs from watching the work because the artist has a deeper connection to the heart and pulse of the drum… To move in a large ensemble to the beat of the same drum, you feel a great vibration of love and belonging. It is then our job as the performers to radiate this feeling to be shared with the audience as best we can.
Lauren Marie Jaeger: Being amongst so many people (most years we have had over 180 dancers, musicians, technicians), all moving together, with the same intention, on the anniversary of the date when the world changed for me (I was 16, when the attacks occurred), and feeling all of these people with me, is both humbling and empowering.
One person can be such a small part of something so large, but each individual’s contribution is of the utmost importance. Every single person must commit and be focused and fill every moment with intention. That commitment, and intent is tangible throughout Table of Silence.
Shaun Parry: Emotions well up and surge through my soul like waves as I perform the piece. I go on a spiritual and emotional journey from the horror and chaos of the attack to the rescue effort at Ground Zero to the unity and love that transpired in NYC and across our nation after the fact. It has come to mean much more to me over the years as the message of hope and peace is not only about 9/11 but also responds to every human struggle, pain, prejudice, war, injustice and trial we deal with as a human race.
The difference between watching it and performing it is the same for me as watching a movie and doing what is happening in the movie. I can experience it vicariously through the screen but it cannot compare to experiencing it with my whole body and soul in real life.
It sounds like the feeling of connection permeates the piece – from moving to a unified beat, to sharing the same intention and remembering the unity that followed the attacks.
Are there any images that come to mind when you dance? From nature? Or from news coverage of 9/11?
Meagan King: I imagine that the processional of dancers represents continual hope. Our walk is militaristic and structured, symbolic of how we as a people are built to overcome. The visual of lines of dancers moving forward is the image of the human race moving forward, despite the turmoil we may face.
Lauren Marie Jaeger: The image of the dancers during the moment of silence has always popped into my head when thinking about the piece. I like to imagine us as a giant amplifier sending out peace, compassion, and hope to the universe.
Shaun Parry: The beautiful thing about ancient ritualistic movement is that it can have so many interpretations… I, personally, connect to images I saw while at Ground Zero; shards of light piercing through a crag in the rubble as I am peeking through a small opening to see if anyone alive is in the next cavern, … day after day [of] digging in the hopes of finding that one soul who managed to survive, pleading to heaven for those suffering and begging for guidance… the joy of finding a survivor, the apple that was the only thing we got to eat in a 24-hour period—taking a bit of it and sharing it with a fellow worker.
These are really powerful images that both emerge from and enhance your performance, including metaphors and memories.
Do you think of anyone in particular when you dance the piece?
Meagan King: This project is particularly important to me because I feel it is the most tangible connection I have to my Uncle Barry, captain of his police force on 9/11, who passed from cancer 10 years later, on my 13th birthday. He is the one I am dancing for. I feel his beautifully pure spirit with me as I am dressed in all white. I remember his joy, optimism, and overall love for people in the movement. He cared for people so deeply, so joining in this project to call for peace is the best way I know to honor him.
Lauren Marie Jaeger: This piece has evolved a lot for me over the years. When we first began, my focus was largely on 9/11 and the aftermath, and my own loss of innocence. However, throughout the years, other things have become part of this piece. Sandy Hook is very near to where I grew up, so that is also a very important part of that piece for me now. Sometimes I reflect on personal experiences, and other times things that are more global. During the minute of silence, I am always thinking of sending goodness, compassion, and healing out into the world.
Shaun Parry: The people who survived and those who died at 9/11.
Performing the peace ritual for a loved one must be so meaningful, and it’s interesting that the modern dance work can have such individual and global meanings. I can see why it resonates with so many people.
When you perform, do you feel the presence of the audience surrounding you?
Meagan King: The presence of the audience is one of the most magical parts of this experience. After my first live performance, I was walking in the processional with tears streaming down my face thinking of my late uncle. Yet, it never felt to me like a moment of shame or embarrassment to be vulnerable in front of the audience. Instead, as I passed by unfamiliar faces, I saw smiles and nods of encouragement sent my way. The audience is just as involved in the work as me and my fellow dancers.
Lauren Marie Jaeger: Yes, especially if I know my friends and family are present. In a more literal interpretation of this question, many times over the years, we have had to move through the crowd to get to our places.
Sometimes people need a little help figuring out which way to move, and we try to guide them by how and where we move. Sometimes people get wrapped up in what they are watching and are surprised when there’s another group of dancers suddenly behind them. The crowd has grown and become more and more supportive with each year.
Shaun Parry: I can tell their energy is flowing into and through us. They become one with us as they feel and experience it in real time. The energy of the piece is exponentially heightened when the audience joins their life energy to ours in the same yearning for peace, love and unity.
It does sound like the audience plays an integral role, as witnesses to the 9/11 dance memorial event.
How do you feel at the end of the work? Drained? Relieved? Uplifted? United?
Meagan King: After dancing this work, I feel more connected to my divine power. Dancing in such a powerful ensemble leaves me with a bit more power than I may have felt when I came in. To be in the presence of great power inspires exactly that. Performing this piece reminds me that great strength lies within me.
Lauren Marie Jaeger: At the end of the work, I tend to feel reflective. I think most people feel reflective. Everyone is pretty quiet. It usually takes a while for people to start having conversations again. I also feel inspired. I feel inspired to connect more deeply with people. I feel hopeful that we can effect change.
Shaun Parry: I am overwhelmed with gratitude and hope after performing the Table of Silence. I don’t talk to anyone for a short time afterward as I reflect deeply in my soul about what just happened and how I can take that vibration with me into my life. A healing has taken place for me and every person involved, whether watching or performing. There is a tranquility and a joy that I carry with me long after the performance ends.
Anyone who doubts the power of dance really needs to read this. I can imagine it would be an emotionally demanding piece to perform, but very rewarding.
Is there any other aspect of the experience that you would like to share?
Shaun Parry: The Table of Silence is a beautiful and profound expression of unity, peace and love spawned out of the horrible, devastating aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. It is the realization of the collective cry of humanity for Oneness. As we breathe as one, mourn as one, pray as one, and move as one, irrespective of color, creed, orientation or affiliation, we create a space where all are welcomed, recognized and respected.
The inspired sacred mandala of concentric circles imprinted around the fountain at the Josie Robertson Plaza at Lincoln Center provides a perfect setting for this one transcendent drop of hope to land, reverberate, ripple and vibrate across the globe and into the cosmos. The Table of Silence is a cry for peace, a confluence of love and healing.
Meagan, Lauren and Shaun – thank you so much for taking the time to share your insight and experiences of this moving 9/11 dance tribute and healing ritual that can apply to many varied, global events.
Your answers have truly touched me and will stay with me when I watch Table of Silence for the first time; and I have an inkling that other readers will feel the same.
Table of Silence 2020 Digital Program
This year, the Table of Silence performance is going virtual. 24 dances from Buglisi Dance Theatreand a handful of other NYC dance organizations (such as Ailey II, Ballet Hispánico’s BHdos, The Juilliard School, Limón Dance Company and Martha Graham Dance Company) will perform Jacqulyn Buglisi’s newPrologue, followed by welcome remarks from industry leaders.
Next, online viewers will be treated to an excerpt of Buglisi’s Requiem, which was choreographed as an immediate response to the 9/11 attacks in 2001. Then comes the three-minute Études film world premiere by Nel Shelby Productions. It will feature 100+ dancers from around the globe who have been inspired by the Table of Silence Project 9/11beforethe full 2019 Table of Silence Project 9/11 performance, marking the 10th anniversary of the work.
The program starts at 7:55am EDT on Friday, September 11, 2020. As part of Lincoln Center at Home (#LincolnCenterAtHome), the offering will be streamed at LincolnCenter.org and on Lincoln Center’s Facebook Page. The video will also be available on-demand on Buglisi Dance Theatre’s YouTube channel following the premiere.
Have you seen the Table of Silence performance live – or online? How did the dance make you feel during the piece, and how did you feel after it ended? We look forward to hearing about your experience, watching Jacqulyn Buglisi’s 9/11 tribute art.