July 24, 2003. I arrive home from work. Kalaea, the co-director of my dance group, has left messages on my voicemail: “The Technology Center is burning! You have to come and see!”
I had spent a few moments that afternoon looking up the Hindu deities Radha and Krishna. I’d found a reference to them that intrigued me: “Radha, Krishna and Kali are One Reality.” The divine lovers and the destroyer/redeemer rolled into unity. Another writer called Radha “The Power of Burning,” with Krishna as the fire itself.
I had also that day sent to the performers in my group some ideas about new possibilities for rehearsal sites. Our former studio had closed a few months earlier, its building slated for demolition to make way for the new YMCA.
Despite its name, the Technology Center was a sprawl of art spaces, small businesses, and a theater. A glassblower worked in its cavernous center. Clancy’s Fancy hot sauce was manufactured there. Artists, musicians, and dancers had studios and held exhibitions and performances. The original Performance Network Theatre was housed in a corner off the parking lot.
So now it’s on fire. I head out, thinking of the phoenix, the Firebird, Radha as the Power of Burning. I smell the fire as soon as I leave my house, and imagine art-seed parachutes flying through the air. As I emerge from under trees that lap my street in gentle shade, I see smoke distributing itself over the city.
I join a small crowd at First and Huron. Salmon-colored clouds rise in great billows and stream over our heads on a west wind from the otherworld. Firefighters pour huge sprays of water into the smoke.
I stand by the RelaxStation. An outdoor massage continues as if nothing were happening down the street. I train my eyes on the corner where our studio was. At our final dance party, Ben chanted wildly, sonorously, a phoenix-voice rising, as though the place were already burning. Now I watch: it’s all smoke, smoldering dark. I want to see a flame there.
Suddenly a tall, bright one spurts up, straight from the old dance floor. Kali is dancing goodbye.
I walk home in the twilight. Fireflies flame everywhere. Helicopters buzz all the night, the sky is smoke-darkened, and a friend and I, while talking on the phone, hear unnerving, firecracker-like explosions.
The smoke was visible, I find out later, all the way to Detroit Metro Airport. Our own city is pervaded by it, breathing in the seeds. (“Now everyone has to inhale our art,” musician Josh Sanchez said.)
After work the next day I walk by the site again. The shell of our old corner of the building still stands, with black ruin visible through the window. Now I cry a little, thanking it from my heart for many good years and gatherings.
A wet meadow now grows where our studio was. I’m rather grateful for that. Toads and chorus frogs churr loudly enough to be heard above traffic. Though my group did find other indoor spaces, we also explored more thoroughly the challenges and joys of dancing outside, extending our reach into the living system of the city, the dream of the land it grows on, beyond what we might have were it not for the fire.