Dear Patient X,
I watched as you walk amidst the glimmer of confetti towards the stage, achingly slow, eyes bright. You are to be part of a troupe, performing. You are a dancer. No matter the IV drip trailing behind you, a ghost. No matter the green scrubs hanging loose by your shoulders. You are a dancer. What is in a hospital break? A desire for movement, freedom. These things I gleaned within the first few minutes of meeting you.
And it is this that I keep in mind as I watch you struggle, dance ecstatic, revolting against your body as it fails you, listening to your body as it gives into the music and dances despite itself. Patient X, you call yourself, but I know you to be Shanice. Shanice Stanislaus. For an hour, your name reduces itself to a singular alphabet, ‘X’, attached to a role, ‘Patient’. An act of renaming and I think of the thousands of people entrapped in the hospital, hoping to get better. Hoping for a “cure”.
Dancing Queen by ABBA blares through the speakers, and there I am, with you, dancing in tandem with my toes and tapping my fingers to the beat. I think of what Emma Goldman once proclaimed, that if she “can’t dance, it’s is not [her] revolution.” The performance is framed with these words as your troupe, comprising Yazid Jalil, Dennis Sofian and Tan Rui Shan, dance alongside you. And it is this, an act of bold rebellion, that I keep in mind as I watch you struggle, dance ecstatic, revolting against your body as it fails you, listening to your body as it gives into the music and dances despite itself. My eyes and body respond as though in celebration, as the upbeat music seeps and fills the space. They celebrate in spite of myself, in spite of the awareness that you are sick and not well, that this costs you something unimaginable to me, someone physically healthy.
So I am there, with you, as you falter, fall. It hurts, you say, it hurts so much and I don’t think I can carry on. I don’t know what to do with myself when you fall. Do I leap from my seat, break your fall? Do I respect that you are trying to perform despite pain, and stay rooted in my role as an audience? Before I can cohere my thoughts, your troupe surrounds you and the show carries on. We carry on, dancing and smiling with the conviction that this is your hour. This is the hour you’ve stolen from the hospital, from illness, to be onstage. No matter the stage manager’s repeated reminder that you only have an hour, that there is no time.
In the face of such urgent exuberance, the logistical constraints of a theatre performance falls apart, strikes me as unimportant. I don’t care if there is no time; you have all the time in the world as you try and compose yourself, to continue dancing. Of course, not everyone thinks the same way. Least the stage manager who is just trying to do their job, to keep everyone “on schedule.” Is there still time to dance in this world we live in? What you are doing is a revolution, against time, against illness, against everyone and everything that tells you dance is not for the sick, for those not trained in it. This is more than your pure impulse of wanting to dance. This speaks to the ways in which we have been conditioned to see illness, to decapitate those who are ill without even allowing them to tell us what they want to do. What they can do.
In that precious hour, I forget that I am in the theatre, that I am watching an actual performance. It is not just a performance about illness. It also speaks about dignity, especially when part of the ensemble who are intimately involved with caregiving in their personal lives stand unyielding onstage and try to keep the show going. Who is to say the sick cannot celebrate, are not entitled to joy? Who is to say the process of grappling with illness has to be one doomed for gloom?
When you no longer find the strength in yourself to dance, I watch as Z props your body up and holds you against his trembling yet steady body. My own body tenses up with the tender gesture, of the inevitability of your hour ending. You get dressed to return to the hospital. The green scrubs find themselves back on you, hanging loose. This is not just a performance about your pain. This is about what we do when pain is a given, this is revolution, rebellion.
I do not forget your lithe and small body at the edge of the stage as the troupe dances on, trying to keep the energy up. I flicker my eyes between your standing silhouette, and the troupe moving electric and realise—no. It is not an attempt to keep the energy up; the energy is buzzing, rapturous. The struggle is present but it does not take primacy. The struggle does not get to monopolise the limelight. At the end of this precious hour, we send you off, back to the confines of a hospital, with triumphant song. A glimmer of confetti yet again, dance music fading down to a pulsing beat. I watch as you slowly disappear from the stage.
I will think and remember you for a long time, Patient X. Let’s dance together again sometime. Till then, till then—
This letter is written in response to the full dress rehearsal I witnessed on 20 June 2019, of La Mariposa Borracha staged by Creatives Inspirit. The show runs from 26-28 July 2019. More information can be found here.