The alchemy of (Perma)Culture - a window into jill sigman/thinkdance's recent residency at Earthdance


In late April, I joined jill sigman/thinkdance for a rehearsal process at Earthdance, a dance residency center in northwest Massachusetts. I am a philosopher, working mostly on theories of object-based contemporary visual art. Jill, who also has a background in philosophy, invited me to participate in the residency and think about the process of making a work of dance.

There were studio rehearsals, of course. But there was also the hike: all of us exploring the mountainous grounds of Earthdance along with the groundskeeper and one of the founders, experts on the local environment. We learned to read the terrain, to understand its topography, to understand the potentialities of bark. Some of the things we saw there, the things we touched, the things we felt, the things we remember, are part of (Perma)Culture.

Salamander eggs, a big gloop of them, scooped fresh out of the quarry, poured into my hands. They’re cold and glossy and transparent and, yes, a little slimy. They are full of future salamanders, those black orbs in the center. They were left there, draped over a sunken branch, hundreds of them, by one mother salamander. From my hands to someone else’s hands, then someone else’s, then back into the water.


The deer scapula, bare on the ground next to a fallen tree trunk, laid against Jill’s own scapula.

An acorn cap, with all my failed attempts to use it as a whistle.

Birch bark scrolls gingerly transported back to Brooklyn.

A rich forest, subtly marked by a history of farming and mining.

How can salamander eggs become dance, I asked...

I can mimic their movements, trembling and oozing, floating languidly, clinging. I can imagine their myriad amphibian future.  

I can manifest my own experience, the shock of their coming into my hands, the tender cradling, the reluctance and yet relief of surrendering them.

I can explore their forms, regularity within vast complexity, vast complexity within regularity.

I can body forth concepts of life, the fragility of the individual, the obstinate calculus of strength in numbers, our power to corrupt and disrupt.

How can an acorn cap, a deer scapula, a gnarled apple tree, an electrical outlet, another dancer, become dance?  This is the alchemy of (Perma)Culture.

(Perma)Culture is not just a set of movements, if it’s a set of movements at all; it’s the outgrowth of a history. The hike we took, the meals we shared with visitors and staff at Earthdance, our brief participation in a 27-year experiment in communal living centered on art and nature: all of these are part of (Perma)Culture. All of these things inform the dancers’ thinking about relationships, about what is available, what is worth having, what the space needs and what we need.

- Sherri Irvin

Sherri IrvinSherri specializes in aesthetics and the philosophy of art. Her interests range widely, but she has written quite a bit on matters related to contemporary art and on aesthetic experience in everyday life. She has a strong interest in ethics, particularly the relevance of aesthetic considerations to moral agency. She is currently working on two books, both under contract with Oxford University Press. Immaterial: A Philosophy of Contemporary Art is a single-authored work in which she argues for a view of the ontology of contemporary artworks and demonstrates the view’s relevance for art appreciation and museum practice. Body Aesthetics is a multi-authored collection that treats the aesthetics of the body in relation to art, evolutionary theory, ethical considerations, race, age, gender, disability, sexuality and sport.