Brian Turner, Benjamin Busch, Siobhan Fallon, and Exit12 @ West Point


This event brought together three great authors–Brian Turner,  Siobhan Fallon, and Benjamin Busch–to speak about their efforts to portray the turmoil of war.  As each of them had been profoundly affected by the war in Iraq, it seemed fitting a decade and a month after the invasion to ask about their whereabouts in March 2003 and then have them describe when the war became manifest in their art. The remarks subsequently ranged over many subjects, but focused most specifically on the damage enacted on individuals and relationships by deployment and exposure to death and killing.

Asked to read selections from their works that generated strong audience reactions, Turner read “At Lowe’s Home Improvement Center” from Phantom Noise, Fallon read from her story “Leave” from You Know When the Men Are Gone, and Busch read passages from Dust to Dust that described his decision to join the Marines and his first few days of training at Quantico.

Later, each of the authors read passages or poems that had been written pre-2001 that had influenced them then or seemed important now.  Siobhan Fallon read from Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried.”  Benjamin Busch read Joe Haldeman’s Vietnam War poem “DX,” which he had copied into a green military-issue notebook and carried with him in Iraq.  Finally, Brian Turner recited from memory Israeli poet’s Yehuda Amachai’s “The Diameter of the Bomb”—an especially appropriate poem in light of last week’s Boston Marathon bombing:

      The diameter of the bomb was thirty centimeters
      and the diameter of its effective range about seven meters,
      with four dead and eleven wounded.
      And around these, in a larger circle
      of pain and time, two hospitals are scattered
      and one graveyard. But the young woman
      who was buried in the city she came from,
      at a distance of more than a hundred kilometers,
      enlarges the circle considerably,
      and the solitary man mourning her death
      at the distant shores of a country far across the sea
      includes the entire world in the circle.
      And I won’t even mention the crying of orphans
      that reaches up to the throne of God and
      beyond, making a circle with no end and no God..


Exit12 performed two dances:  “Aggressed/This is War” consisted of two solo pieces that together depicted the story of a returned vet struggling to reintegrate into peacetime life.  “Yarjuun,” which means “We hope” in Arabic, was a piece written by Exit12 director Roman Baca in Iraq in collaboration with an Iraqi dance troupe.  Both dances were in turn playful, sad, sexy, and politically-charged, with inspired music, props, and choreography that dramatized the effects of war without being either too obvious or too elusive.

I had a hand in organizing this affair so I definitely want to thank the artists, all those in the audience, and all those helped make it happen.  Wish everyone reading could have been there, too!

Below left to right:  Siobhan Fallon, Brian Turner, Benjamin Busch:


Exit12 below–Adrienne de la Fuente, Joanna Priwieziencew, Roman Baca, Chloe Slade, and Paige Grimard:


War Dance: Exit12 Dance Company

Exit12 Dancer

Many veterans want to be writers or filmmakers, while others aspire to be photographers or painters.  But few, I’m guessing, dream of becoming ballet dancers or directors of contemporary dance troupes.

Veteran artists use their art to explore and comment on their war experiences. But how do you tell a war story using dance?

Roman Baca, the director and manager of the Exit12 Dance Company, is a USMC veteran of Iraq.  Prior to joining the Marines, he was a ballet dancer and instructor.  Below is his account of how he started Exit12 :

Five years ago, 2007, I was still enlisted in the Marines, and fulfilling my end of contract in the IRR, Inactive Ready Reserve. I had purchased a condo in Connecticut as an investment, and had a secure job as a CAD technician for a firm that manufactured stormwater chambers.  Five years ago in February was the day that my girlfriend Lisa, who is now my wife, sat me down in my condo and told me that things were not ok. She told I was different from serving in Fallujah and that she couldn’t handle my mood-swings, lack of purpose, anxiety, and depression. She challenged me to make a change in my life, and asked me what I would do if I could do anything in the world. I told her I would start a dance company, that it was something I always wanted to do, thinking that she would call me an idiot and move on. Instead she said, “Then why don’t we do it?” So we, along with a ballerina she knew from before, started working on my choreography at a dance studio in NYC. That studio wasn’t far from exit 12 off of FDR drive, so to be true to our small beginnings, we called ourselves Exit12.

Baca’s statement speaks to the desire to serve, related to the desire to see combat, those strong compulsions that grip so many young men and women of all backgrounds, including dancers.  It also speaks to the love and wisdom of his wife, who recognized how different and unhappy Baca was upon his return from Iraq, confronted him about it, and stood by him while helping him reach a better place.  Third, Baca’s statement raises the notion that art is both therapeutic and a reason-for-being.


Exit12 uses dance to explore martial themes and contemporary events marked by hostility and violence.  A dance titled  “Conflicted” addresses US military attitudes toward women in the Muslim countries in which they have been fighting.  Another, “Re-E-volution,” dramatizes the Arab Spring revolts.  Ambitious subjects, certainly, and as one watches the mind contemplates the link between theme and action.  Dance, it seems to me, is both highly literal and highly suggestive.  Deprived of words, the dancers convey meaning through gesture and pantomine.  Deprived of words, the swirl of movement and sound creates space for speculation and imagination.


Exit12 Dance Company website

CNN profile of Exit12

UPDATE 23 Feb 2013:

“A Dancer’s Tour of Duty,” a long “as told to” story in the Village Voice featuring Roman Baca, the impresario of Exit12, the NYC/Connecticut based modern dance company I wrote of in an early post:

“A Dancer’s Tour of Duty”

From dancer to Marine to Iraq to dancer to Iraq.  Wonderful vignettes of both a Marine’s life and a dancer’s.

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