by angeliska on November 27, 2022

music – dance – altar

6701 Lakewood Dr.
ATX 78731

free / donations for the artists welcomed

featuring dance by:
Kelly Goetz
Jonathan Hiebert
Debra McAdoo
Amy Morrow
Ellen Stader
Caroline Wright

& music from:
David Quick
Biomusic by Plantonics

Wire sculptures by

conceived of and curated by
Angeliska Polacheck

This was a co-created, site-specific collective grief ritual featuring live improvisational music and dance, moving in harmony with the landscape of Bull Creek Park and the spirits who inhabit that land.

As a society, we have become bereft of collective spaces to mourn. Grieving usually happens only in private, and we have developed so much shame around the heavy feelings deep loss can bring.

This ritual of art, music, and dance was a way to crack open our hearts, and feel all the things that are too weighty to carry on our own.

We have all been through so much since spring of 2020: millions dead to Covid, and millions more disabled by Long Covid. We’ve witnessed (and participated in) civil unrest and anti-racist uprisings, speaking out for collective liberation and dignity.

Our entire government and the notion of democracy has been under attack by deluded fascists who staged a violent attempted coup. Reproductive freedom and rights are once again restricted, as the bodies of women and uterus-having folks are controlled and dehumanized by right-wing politicians.

In February of 2021 here in Texas, we lost human, animal, and plant lives to a devastating freeze – and experienced unnecessary suffering and fear due to the greed-driven neglect and mismanagement of our power grid. Massive forest fires have raged and hurricanes ravaged other states, reminding us of the constant terror and sorrow of climate collapse.

And nowhere is all of this truly held and acknowledged. We are expected to carry on and keep calm – go to work and continue to shop and do our chores and participate in late-stage capitalism as if we’re not living through the chaos and upheaval of a mass death event and multiple other apocalyptic scenarios.

The most vulnerable people in our communities were hit the hardest by the effects of these simultaneous tragedies – most especially our unhoused neighbors, Indigenous, Black and Latine people, our precious elders, the chronically ill, medically vulnerable, and physically and intellectually disabled people. So many were considered disposable, and allowed to perish under terrible circumstances. We honor their memories, so that they might not be forgotten.

Many of us went through complex losses that got lost under the weight of greater tragedies – businesses folded, opportunities and dreams were dashed, relationships and friendships fell apart, friends, family members, colleagues and pets died. This is space to bring and hold anything and anyone you are grieving – and to know that you don’t have to do it all alone.

I conceived of this project in spring of 2021, after the ravages of Winter Storm Uri. My beloved dog Grrizelda had been diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer, and I was taking her to receive chemotherapy at vet’s office off 2222, near Bull Creek. We would get barbecue afterwards, and sit at the park, watching the water and eating brisket. The prickly pears were frozen and melted looking, and the desolate landscape spoke to the raw grief I was feeling, knowing that my best girl’s time on this earth was growing shorter.

I had a vision of dancers moving in the water, and a collective altar around the big oak tree there. Dance always cracks my heart open, and allows me to cry. Altars are a way of honoring and witnessing all those who we are mourning. This ritual is the fruition of that vision – a seed planted, and hopefully the beginning of a way of gathering and grieving together that we can nurture to grow and continue, in the years to come.


I’m still processing this experience, and everything I learned from bringing it into being with such an amazing group of people, and witnessing it all take place – but I wanted to take a moment to try and share some reflections about what it was like for everyone who couldn’t be there to see it in person. I’m going to focus on the dance part for right now, and share more about the altar tree soon – because there’s just a lot to hold here!

I am so floored that this vision came together the way it did, and very humbled by everyone that heeded the call to come be part of making it happen, and who showed up in support, and to receive support from the ritual.

I am curious to see if there’s a way for this Collective Grief Ritual to take place every year, in the same places, but with new visions and collaborators (and perhaps not competing with East Austin Studio Tours, schedule-wise!)

I know these public rituals of grieving are deeply needed – and I love the way that nature, art, dance, music, and altar-making allows us to transmute and alchemize the emotions that often feel too heavy to hold alone, and in private.

If you feel like you would want to be involved in the continuation of this ritual, and especially if you have a background in grant-writing, arts-funding, dance, and music – please reach out! It can happen again in the future if enough people are interested in helping to co-create it!

I’m still really in awe of everyone who chose to participate and share their art and soul with such grace. Dance is something I get so much out of witnessing – though my body doesn’t really allow me to participate in its expression the way I used to. So, being able to facilitate a space for these dancers to do what they do so beautifully was truly an honor.

The ensemble of dancers was comprised of: Kelly Goetz / @kellygrooves , Jonathan Hiebert / @jonathanhiebert , Debra McAdoo / @d.sweetpea , Amy Morrow / @thetheorists , Ellen Stader / @ellenpuppystader , Caroline Wright / @thewrightcaroline – and they each brought so much wisdom and emotion to this ritual, and moved me deeply with their movement, and their bright spirits. Deep bow of gratitude to all of them, and to the musicians, artists, helpers, and everyone who contributed their gifts towards making this thing happen.

I was really delighted to be making music for the performance with the brilliant David Quick / @davidquick59 on guitar and sitar loops, with the assistance of the PlantWave / @plantwave device held in my hands, playing energy from my body, and from my grief, and occasionally from the new child leaves of the mother oak I was leaning against. Denver / @denverartaustin was with us, making a silver tree from wire and it all came together in such a lovely and powerful way.

There were elders and children, infants, mothers, and puppies, family and lovers, old and friends and new all in attendance – a small but very welcome turnout on a chilly but absolutely gorgeous November afternoon. We gathered on spread blankets and folding chairs by the water, and observed the dancers across the falls, moving together at times, sometimes alone.

It was a bit of a balancing act, trying to stay present to allow the catharsis of this big moment finally occurring, while also holding the piano part of the music with the PlantWave, and trying to simultaneously document what I could, but I’ve always been a fairly decent multi-tasker.

What occurred to me most during the dance ritual was how living through multiple, continuing tragedies (a pandemic and mass death and disabling event, climate collapse, political unrest, the cumulative effects of injustice, racism, fascism, and late-stage capitalism, mass shootings of our most vulnerable) causes our own personal losses and griefs to tend to get lost in the mix of all of the above.

This is what grief feels like: sometimes, the weight of it all brings us to our knees. It’s too big to hold, completely overwhelming. We shake our fists at the sky, our faces contorted in rictuses of agony. Our guts get knotted up from the stress of it all – and we try to move it through our bodies, so it doesn’t tangle up inside us. Pain bends you into new shapes, changes you in big and small ways.

Often, we’re just wandering lost, numbed out, going through the motions, looking for something we’ve misplaced, that isn’t there anymore. Like walking into a room but forgetting why we came in there in the first place.

We’re alone, trying to meditate, centering, finding peace, laying on the ground, breathing. Then a heavy wave comes and we’re beating our hands on the earth, reaching out towards the sky, towards what and who has gone now, calling, praying, screaming, wailing. Begging to god or anyone to please help, please let them come back, please make this easier somehow…

Then there are the moments where we come together – to help one another wring out the salt-sodden linen of sorrow we’ve been trailing behind us, hang it out on bare branches, let it dry. Let ourselves be held, helped, seen, witnessed in our lostness, in our pain.

Then there’s the letting go – that happens in pieces, slowly, and then all at once. The softening happens, the forgetting, the smoothing of jagged edges, of tightly holding finally released, of allowing this to be what is.

Then there’s the time when we ourselves will walk away from the the dance, the party, the table – and cross the water to the place beyond, where everyone we’ve lost is waiting for us. We will go, trusting that we will be grieved, remembered, brought to the altar, candles lit – and brought back to earth, from whence we came.

That’s what I saw and felt, watching the dancers move with the water, the earth, and each other. What do you see? What do you feel, watching them? This is the ritual. This is the work, the alchemy, the process. As it was, as we created it together, on November 13th, 2022.

The vision for the Grief Ritual started here, with the tree – a mighty grandmother oak, branches curling and twisting above me, wise and majestic. I saw her standing so graceful and strong, and thought – she can hold it for us, with us.

We made a collective grief altar to honor everyone and everything that we have lost over the past few years of ongoing pandemic, and throughout our lives.

The purpose of this site-specific, free public ritual was to have a place to hold it all together. A friend I was messaging with prior to the ritual thought I was saying “hold it together” as in “don’t let yourself fall apart” – but what I meant was that here we can hold it, TOGETHER. As in, YES, FALL APART – and let yourself be held.

When I first saw the green octagonal metal bench around the tree I thought it immediately invited a communal altar – room for everyone’s dead, everyone’s offerings. This year’s was small, and simple – but I brought some of my dead, and there are so many, they filled up a lot of the space.

I would love to see this round bench space, with plenty of seating for denizens of the park, transformed once again next year into an altar to honor our dead loved ones, our losses, our griefs. This is not a traditional ofrenda – but an earth space where the dead can be with the strong roots of the oak, and dance around her.

It was very healing to build the altar this year – to lay out the images of my beloveds, and invite others to do the same. We lit the candles, looked upon their beautiful faces with cherishing and reverence, and remembered their light. There’s room for more – next year. Will you bring yours to the tree?

I wanted to print out the numbers of everyone we’ve lost to covid, just in this country alone, to add to the altar, to be witnessed. But it’s another grief that I found it impossible to find an accurate count – as everyone in charge has decided to stop keeping track of the dead.

I also wanted to lay lists of the species lost to extinction there, the acres of rainforest and old growth woodlands, the precious wetlands being decimated – but how best to represent those losses, when the numbers keep adding up to quickly to keep up with, and the amount is too high to really even process fully?

I would love for any artists that feel moved by these conundrums to contemplate how to visually reckon with these staggering statistics that are too large and abstract for anyone to hold. Please reach out if you have inspiration to bring to future iterations, or would like to participate next year, in any capacity.

My Grrizelda, whose illness and passing sparked all of this.

Matthew Varvil / @varville – left this earth on July 25th, 2022

Mary Ann Atkinson / @milkweedpollen – left this earth on November 2nd, 2022

The 21 victims of the Uvalde school shooting:
• Makenna Lee Elrod, 10
• Layla Salazar, 11
• Maranda Mathis, 11
• Nevaeh Bravo, 10
• Jose Manuel Flores Jr., 10
• Xavier Lopez, 10
• Tess Marie Mata, 10
• Rojelio Torres, 10
• Eliahna “Ellie” Amyah Garcia, 9
• Eliahna A. Torres, 10
• Annabell Guadalupe Rodriguez, 10
• Jackie Cazares, 9
• Uziyah Garcia
• Jayce Carmelo Luevanos, 10
• Maite Yuleana Rodriguez, 10
• Jailah Nicole Silguero, 10
• Irma Garcia, 48
• Eva Mireles, 44
• Amerie Jo Garza, 10
• Alexandria “Lexi” Aniyah Rubio, 10
• Alithia Ramirez, 10

Fiona’s beloved dead

Fiona / @fiiiyoniii holding it down at the altar tree

Tigre Bailando / @tigrebailando – left this earth on October 1st, 2022

The Grief Ritual could occur again, and continue year after year, in new forms, brought by collaborative visions – if there is interest and desire, and the willingness to co-create and participate. If you want to be a part of making this happen again, and especially if you have ideas and resources for helping to secure funding and grants, please get in touch.

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