A man walks slowly onto the shimmering stone plaza and lifts a pink conch shell to his mouth. A low note sounds, rising and falling with pauses like a gasp for breath between sobs. It is both a cry and a call to gather: more than a hundred dancers dressed in white rush onto the plaza, circling the musician like a hurricane.
This is the beginning of Buglisi Dance Theatre’s The Table of Silence Project 9/11, which was created for the tenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks and has been performed annually ever since. The dance is part commemoration, part meditation, and part call to action. Set in motion by the summoning conch—an instrument considered sacred in Hinduism, Buddhism, and other traditions—the dance becomes a choreographed requiem, an embodied liturgy.
The Table of Silence Project 9/11 is a site-specific work made for the Josie Robertson Plaza at Lincoln Center in Manhattan—the space bounded by the Metropolitan Opera, the Koch Theatre, and David Geffen Hall—which looks like a giant spiderweb with a fountain in the middle.
Award-winning choreographer Jacqulyn Buglisi, who was a celebrated member of the Martha Graham Dance Company for many years, says the project “creates an opportunity to commemorate the loss of life and the bravery of all those affected by 9/11. At the same time, it will celebrate our determination and the strength of our belief in freedom for all humanity.” She refers to her ensemble as “peace warriors” who are professional and recreational artists from all over New York City, including members of the Martha Graham and Alvin Ailey American Modern Dance companies and Juilliard students. The project is performed for a live audience and reaches thousands of viewers all over the world through its livestream.
As that initial call of the conch subsides, the dancers break out of the cyclone, line up on opposite sides of the plaza, and march forward in procession to the sound of a bass drum. As they reenter the plaza, they repeat a series of twelve solemn gestures, each performed ten times.