I had thought the water would frighten me. Five hundred feet deep – a depth I can’t wrap my head around, can’t picture or imagine – impossible to see the bottom or anywhere remotely near it. Walls straight down, a sheer drop, no gradual slope or wading in. Just – ground, and then not. Granite, and then not. Like stepping off a cliff into air, only it’s not air, it’s the most beautiful water I have ever seen, unlike anything I’ve known before. The brightest, most glorious green, a milky, jeweled shade I can’t describe, but at the same time, perfectly clear and not at all cold. Or, in some lights, dark, a deep, piney blue-green, almost black, but still that startling clarity. Enthralling. I had thought it would frighten me, but I was wrong. That gorgeous, gorgeous green.
The flooded Quarry is striking from above, breathtaking from inside at the surface of the water. Walls of granite, towering, streaked by weather and rust, by the ends of ancient cables that used to have a purpose but now just drip down, down, flowing into the depths beyond my sight. Moss, reeds, small trees and scrub grow from the cracks in the granite. They are dwarfed by the hugeness of the great crags and corners and sheer drops of stone. I could lie on my back forever, on this stage beneath these walls, looking up into rock and leaf and sky and the solitary bird circling.
I have spent every afternoon and evening of these past two weeks in the Quarry, learning, moving, laughing, swimming, working, singing, giving astonished thanks. The Quarry Project is an undertaking the size and complexity of which is almost as vast as the Wells-Lamson Quarry itself, the oldest and deepest of its kind in the country. Flooded and no longer in use, the Quarry is a quiet, dragonfly bowl of ruffled stillness and breeze, surrounded by spoil tips and slag heaps and centuries of history now grown over and greened with trees and brush. It is here, on the jade surface of the water, that we are dancing.
Our stages float, and we move them on the water with ropes, with quiet trolling motors, with our hands and feet. We move them when we dance. Each stage, each World, is different – different in size and shape, different in feel beneath my feet. The way they move on the water is different, too – unexpected and impossible to predict, because of the number of people dancing on them and the ways they are attached together – or not attached at all.
Somehow, being in the Quarry for so many hours makes me more aware of the outside world once I leave it. On my drive home everything seems more vivid, the colors more real, the clouds close enough to touch, the way the hills roll and rise like a painting. I hear the music of the quarry and the music that we make there, twined together, for hours after I’ve gone home. It’s haunting, enchanting. Mystical, reverent, a rich and sacred hallelujah. And the echo – like another voice, whole seconds behind ours. The musicians say they can almost sing a duet with themselves.
In dancing with the world above the water, I waste so much time wondering if I’m good enough, if I fit in, if anyone notices me, if I matter. I so much want to belong, and I am so unnecessarily afraid that I don’t. Here in the Quarry, in this family, there are no doubts. I am in love with this art and these people. I am secure in just being here among them, just listening to them tell stories and laugh and sing, just watching them sit, wait, feet in the water, fingers in their hair, sun in their eyes. Just reaching out while we dance, the connections we make, the ways we steady one another, rely on each other, trust that someone will grasp our wrist and pull us back from the brink if we lean out too far.
At the end of the day, my body is tired but my mind doesn’t want to sleep. When I lie down I still feel the movement of the stage underneath me. My bed is in the Quarry. I hear the music, even into my dreams, an undercurrent to every breath. I don’t want to leave this community.
These last nights, I linger. I swim out across the Quarry, climb to a ledge of granite just above the water, perch there, look back, look out, look at all the things that we have made together. I feel the ancient warmth of the stones pressing into my back, see them disappear into shadows far below the surface. When it’s time, finally, to go, and there are no more reasons to put the leaving off, I walk slow. Pick fruit from the wild apple tree by the road, eat it at the top of the Quarry, looking out over the water until the fiery sky begins to dim. I grasp for every moment. I grasp for every image. I grasp for every second of time in this glorious, sometimes dysfunctional, always exuberant family that we have become. This time is a deep breath.
The Quarry Project is a site-specific dance piece created for the Wells-Lamson quarry in Websterville, the oldest, deepest granite quarry in the country. It is now flooded and in reserve. The Quarry Project is currently in its third phase of development, and slated to perform during August of 2020. Visit Hannah Dennison’s website for more information.