Sunday, May 31, 2020

Inconvenient Black bodies




Inconvenient Black bodies

by Eva Yaa Asantewaa


Our blood runs red through inconvenient bodies

that mattered when we were profitable chattel

sold, bought, traded like cattle.

We mattered when raped, forced to birth property.

We mattered when building the white man’s nation

from his soil to the skies.

We mattered when our blood ran red in southeast asia,

when it was our blood--not the white man’s,

back in his comfortable home.

We mattered when our brains, our creativity built industries.

We mattered when our own money built white wealth.

We mattered when our ballots built white power.

We build it still, which is how we manage to matter.

But we are inconvenient people,

troublesome bodies, bodies in the way of progress.

Mouths to feed.

Mouths crying, mouths questioning.

Mouths telling secrets.

We are

bodies taking up space,

holding down space desired by others.

Holding stories never meant to be heard.

Resisting names we did not and

do not choose.

Resisting definition by others.

Resisting obscurity.

Resisting obstruction.

So, we are

bodies in handcuffs.

in prisons, in the crosshairs,

at the crossroads,

under the knee

that snuffs out breath as we

make one last cry to ancestors:

gather us, please; please receive

our inconvenient spirits.

derek chauvin confidently pressed his knee

against george floyd's black neck

for nearly nine minutes, each second

precisely measured out with deadly power,

a procedure well-practiced, one might say,

meticulous in its execution,

effective in its dispatch

of one more Black

and inconvenient body.


(c)2020, Eva Yaa Asantewaa

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DISCLAIMER: In addition to my work on InfiniteBody, I serve, at Gibney, as Senior Director of Artist Development and Curation and Editorial Director. The postings on this site are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views, strategies or opinions of Gibney.

******

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Friday, May 29, 2020

Artists Reach Out: Jasmine Hearn

Dear friends,

Welcome to Artists Reach Out: reflections in a time of isolation. I dreamed this series of interviews out of grief for my work both as a documenting arts writer and curator of live performance. In this time of social distancing, we are called to responsibly do all we can to safeguard ourselves and our neighbors. It is, literally, a matter of life and death.

But there's no distancing around what we still can share with one another--our experiences, thoughts, wisdom, humor, hearts and spirit. In some ways, there are more opportunities to do so as we pull back from everyday busyness out in the world and have time to honor the call of our inner lives.

So, let me introduce you to some artists I find interesting. I'm glad they're part of our beautiful community, and I'm eager to engage with them again (or for the first time) in years to come.

--Eva Yaa Asantewaa, InfiniteBody



Jasmine Hearn



Jasmine Hearn
(photo: Whitney Browne Photography)



Jasmine Hearn is a performer, director, choreographer, organizer, and teaching artist. A native Houstonian, they are a company member with Urban Bush Women and also collaborates with BANDportier, Holly Bass, Vanessa German, Jennifer Nagle Myers, and Alisha B. Wormsley. They have worked and performed with David Dorfman Dance, Alesandra Seutin’s vocabdance, Solange Knowles, Kate Watson-Wallace, STAYCEE PEARL dance project, Marjani Forté-Saunders, will rawls, Tara Aisha Willis, Helen Simoneau Danse, Lovie Olivia, and with Nick Mauss as a part of exhibition, TRANSMISSIONS. Awarded a 2017 “Bessie" Award with Skeleton Architecture, Jasmine has had residencies at the PearlArts Studios, Bronx Museum of the Arts, The Camargo Foundation, and Dance Source Houston. They have shared their work at Danspace Project, La MaMa Theater, New York Live Arts, BAAD!, and the Kelly Strayhorn Theater. They are currently a 2019 Jerome Foundation Jerome Hill Artist Fellow and a part of the 2019 MR AIR program.



Jasmine Hearn
(photo: Alisha B. Wormsley)



Do you have a current or planned project whose progress is affected by the pandemic?

Yep, I am in the thick of three projects. Before the order to stay at home passed, I was preparing for a string of performances carrying various roles as choreographer, curator, producer, and performer, while also navigating my first year as a company member with Urban Bush Women.

Since most performances have been either canceled or postponed, all the projects I am directing have had a moment to rest since I decided to rest. Currently, I am finding ways for collaborators and me to continue with the intent to focus our creative trajectory towards the detail and depth of our relationship to each other and our creative material. I’m also attempting to mirror how I learned to cook to how I choreograph and direct and teach and learn. My mother comes to mind...her opening the fridge and seeing what we already have.

But it all hasn’t been slow. Long-term collaborators and friends slowdanger and I released our first album, EchoLocation--a collection of live composition recordings from past residencies. Like many others I am talking with, this has been a time to reflect and be with footage, sound bites, text, and memories that were hastily collected and stored.

Briefly, tell me about how you got involved in the arts and in your particular practice.

I grew up craving to be creative in some kind of way—in love with colors, cutting up clothes, dancing alone in a room. Being creative gave me such salve and, over the years, I always returned to art movement song collage color as a way to be in connection with spirit and self. These were moments to express myself without the pressure of making sense.

Dance class was also something I was put into by my mother because I kept falling down the stairs and floating off utterly lost in daydream. I found that dancing with others was hard—judgement, pressure, and doubt sprouted when learning and performing step routines for the Knights and Ladies of St. Peter Claver talent shows, adagios in ballet class, or a part of the group at the club with my sister. It was different than dancing alone in a room or surrendering to color. I kept at it though learning movement, dances, counts, songs, form, choreography, lines, and cultures with encouragement from my mother, my aunties, my village, my teachers, and a voice deep inside saying yes.

And then there is performance—that way of being with a room. I return to memories of me dancing at my mother’s luncheons or at church events--these three minute solos where, all along the aisles, I would just dance in color-themed costumes. Sound played from the boombox. The click of the “play” button. The DIY-edited cassettes tape rolling out the voices of Etta James, Sarah Vaughn, and Carmen McRae. I got to perform what I had been practicing with color and spirit, and now also with witness. The energy exchange here different, intense. Finding pleasure in being seen and pleasure finding me. These moments paired with memories of performing with others who were committed to the counts, songs, form, choreography, lines, and cultures. Us listening. The energy here too different. Charged, powerful.

In a more specific way, what are you practicing? And what are you envisioning?

I am practicing
what I’ve studied with my teachers
vulnerability
performance
how my body dances and memorizes
how to expand and contract
how to listen on the spectrum
how my voice reflects sound
how to be in connection with myself and others
calling
answering
offering
how to make boundaries
feeling
changing
listening to Audre Lorde, Lucille Clifton, and Octavia Butler

while still practicing
cutting up clothes
getting lost in daydream
dancing alone in a room
surrendering to color

It’s easy and difficult most of the time.
I’m envisioning living in a tree. I’m envisioning with Alisha B. Wormsley that there are Black people in the future in the future there are black queer femmes that there are black womyn that there are black genderqueer gender non conforming people in the future in the future there is reproductive justice for all black people especially black women and girls I am dreaming of
pleasure being centered
gut feelings and the Earth listened to
spines moving, all our spines moving
all plastic and styrofoam reused
dancing and singing with you close by
joy
collective mourning

How does your practice and your visioning align with what you most care about?

I have kept returning back to dance, movement, color, fantasy, and sweat because they/it have taught me how to care for myself and be able to communicate with others. Over the years as the rooms, the places, the priorities, the people change, I am asked to change. And I am grateful for each moment that has cast me into discomfort and given me the chance to reconnect with myself—to check in with that deep feeling and see if it’s still saying yes.

I am given chances to learn how to change—be mercurial listen grow gather share bend stop break open make boundary give move
Easing loneliness when lonely
centering my body when scattered
Reminding my body where i am
Reminding my spirit its connection to source

My current practice supports myself as an individual and as a part of a network group many lineage earth. In company with others, I am a part of cycles of ideas that are timeless and connected. I am reminded where I come from. I am grateful for this.

How does your practice function within the world we have now?

My practice does a lot of bending to exist in this world. Sometimes the stretch is nice and other times it hurts. There can be resistance from others and/or myself. I am continuously learning to be in many different kinds of rooms and experiences and climates.

Self care tip

Move my spine move my heart cry eat laugh listen respond hydrate

******

DISCLAIMER: In addition to my work on InfiniteBody, I serve, at Gibney,  as Senior Director of Artist Development and Curation as well as Editorial Director. The postings on this site are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views, strategies or opinions of Gibney.

******

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Thursday, May 28, 2020

Artists Reach Out: Becca Blackwell

Dear friends,

Welcome to Artists Reach Out: reflections in a time of isolation. I dreamed this series of interviews out of grief for my work both as a documenting arts writer and curator of live performance. In this time of social distancing, we are called to responsibly do all we can to safeguard ourselves and our neighbors. It is, literally, a matter of life and death.

But there's no distancing around what we still can share with one another--our experiences, thoughts, wisdom, humor, hearts and spirit. In some ways, there are more opportunities to do so as we pull back from everyday busyness out in the world and have time to honor the call of our inner lives.

So, let me introduce you to some artists I find interesting. I'm glad they're part of our beautiful community, and I'm eager to engage with them again (or for the first time) in years to come.

--Eva Yaa Asantewaa, InfiniteBody



Becca Blackwell



Becca Blackwell
(photo: Max Bernstein)


Becca Blackwell is a NYC-based trans actor, performer and writer. Existing between genders, and preferring the pronoun "they," Blackwell works collaboratively with playwrights and directors to expand our sense of personhood and the body through performance. Some of their collaborations have been with Young Jean Lee, Half Straddle, Jennifer Miller's Circus Amok, Richard Maxwell, Erin Markey, Sharon Hayes, Theater of the Two Headed Calf and Lisa D'Amour. Film/TV includes: Ramy, High Maintenance, Marriage Story, Shameless, Deadman's Barstool, and Jack in the Box. Becca is a recipient of the Doris Duke Impact Artist Award, Franklin Furnace Award and the Creative Capital Award.


Becca Blackwell
(photo: Kevin Yatarola)


Do you have a current or planned project whose progress is affected by the pandemic?

I was in the middle of performing a new solo show called Schmermie’s Choice that was a bit of an extension of my prior show They, Themself and Schmerm. And the tour of Half Straddle’s show that I had worked on with creator/director Tina Satter, Is This a Room, had all the tours canceled (or postponed? Nah...most likely canceled).

Briefly, tell me about how you got involved in the arts and in your particular practice. 

I got an in-school suspension and my drama teacher (I took that elective instead of journalism because it was less work) said I should try being in a play. I loved rehearsal and realized I had horrific stage fright. My college counselor, L’Tanya Evans, pushed me to audition for theater, and I got a little scholarship at a small liberal arts college and went. I realized in 1991 that Ohio theater was not something that knew what to do with me and came to NYC where I eventually found more queer people to make art with. I joined Circus Amok in 1999 and blessedly have found more and more community that I connected with. As there became a more opening of queer work that could be in larger formats meant that I could start to figure out how to make a living in the arts. That and grants I have received have kept me in the game.

In a more specific way, what are you practicing? And what are you envisioning?

I am using this time to get to the root of all my beliefs, no matter how uncomfortable. And then envisioning a world where deep self love can allow us to let go of a lot of concepts that limit us. Realizing that micro and macro are right there together. I am prioritizing the things that my work to maintain a career never would give me the time to do. More music, more reading, more learning languages, skills I always wished I had the time to cultivate. Listening to my body and not my mind. Thinking about a world where health and connection to nature is considered the baseline not the first thing we need to give up in order to survive. Deep listening, not to figure out but to allow myself to truly see. Also, I would like to re-enact every Murder She Wrote episode with my favorite people. Word for word. Gesture for gesture. That is sometimes all I think about. It might save some part of the world if I made that.

How does your practice and your visioning align with what you most care about?

That is the biggest goal...to actually see what I want to vision in my practice! The more I can truly love myself and offer the same compassion to myself that I have been trying to offer to others, the more I can actually truly love others. I am realizing the art I am curious about is reaching out and expanding. And most of what I do is rooted in humor because, when we laugh, our hearts open up. I am trying to find that line of cracking things open and seeing the filth as a gift. And as a way of finding many ways to see things. Our perspectives are all we have...so how do I want to see the world? It goes back to what my beliefs are, that is how I see the world. That’s the circle I am in. And I’m unpacking it as best as I can, learning and learning and (fingers crossed) also growing.

How does your practice function within the world we have now?

I wake up every morning knowing that this is the biggest obstacle...my mind. My mind likes to take the train to "panic town" and "self doubt town," sometimes to "you’re an asshat and a has-been town" and ALL kinds of other mini stops along the way. I know that the world now is one in a lot of emotional crisis. Myself included in this.

So, that is what I am deeply trying to rewire, that instinct to go to the worst case scenario, but instead SEE the future of each of us expanding. That this time even in its deepest, darkest place can lead to a place of possibility and SEE myself in a world/community that reflects that, encourages that and embraces that.

******

DISCLAIMER: In addition to my work on InfiniteBody, I serve as Senior Curatorial Director of Gibney. The postings on this site are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views, strategies or opinions of Gibney.

******

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Artists Reach Out: Adrienne Truscott

Dear friends,

Welcome to Artists Reach Out: reflections in a time of isolation. I dreamed this series of interviews out of grief for my work both as a documenting arts writer and curator of live performance. In this time of social distancing, we are called to responsibly do all we can to safeguard ourselves and our neighbors. It is, literally, a matter of life and death.

But there's no distancing around what we still can share with one another--our experiences, thoughts, wisdom, humor, hearts and spirit. In some ways, there are more opportunities to do so as we pull back from everyday busyness out in the world and have time to honor the call of our inner lives.

So, let me introduce you to some artists I find interesting. I'm glad they're part of our beautiful community, and I'm eager to engage with them again (or for the first time) in years to come.

--Eva Yaa Asantewaa, InfiniteBody



Adrienne Truscott


Adrienne Truscott
(photo: Julieta Cervantes)



Adrienne Truscott’s work straddles many genres as a means of creative and financial curiosity and survival--choreographer/comedian/performer/writer and half of The Wau Wau Sisters, a 15-year-long boundary-busting cabaret collaboration. Her work over the years--as both performer and maker--crosses lines and methodologies between dance, theater and performance art, and these iterations appear as both seven-minute acts on the drag and club circuit to evening-length pieces. Her critically acclaimed Adrienne Truscott's Asking For It continues to tour, is being made into a documentary special and is considered a critical impetus to the evolving discourse about rape culture and gender.

She’s a 2014 Doris Duke Impact Award Artist (Dance) and a 2017 and 2020 FCA grant recipient for Theater and Performance. She’s been presented by or performed at such iconic venues/series as Sydney Opera House, The Moth, The Roundhouse, CBGB’s, PS122, The Kitchen, Danspace, Judson Memorial Church, MoMa among others. Director’s credits include David’s Friend, Lords of Strut, The Cockpainter, Glace Chase Is Talented, and currently AmericanMotherFuck. She’s an occasional writer for The Guardian, and her essays have been published in two Australian anthologies.

Shows currently on tour are THIS (2018 Bessie Nominee for Outstanding Production, Wild Bore (Green Room Award (AU)) and Adrienne Truscott’s A One-Trick Pony. She was about to finish development and rehearsal on Grey Arias with Le Gateau Chocolat (UK/AU) for Malthouse Theatre (Melbourne) before so many things were cancelled, and is currently rehearsing remotely with Brokentalkers (IR) and developing a new solo piece about genius and gender. Past collaborators include Deborah Hay, David Neumann, Split Britches, Sarah Michelson, John Cameron Mitchell, Kiki and Herb, La Soiree/La Clique. She has taught at Wesleyan, Barnard, Bard, Princeton and NYU.

She wears many hats and is attracted to the thrilling possibility of failure as a mandate for rigor.



Adrienne Truscott
(courtesy of Project Arts Centre, Dublin)


Do you have a current or planned project whose progress is affected by the pandemic?

I was in Melbourne working on a project with my friend Le Gateau Chocolat. We were mining our ten-plus years of friendship, correspondence and repartee that mashed up politics, allyship, the darkest of humor and trauma in a strangely easy and immediate way-- always covered with a coat of trashy drag and, often, all that ground would be covered in the same text, FaceTime moment, IG msg, etc. Although we’ve spent umpteen nights, days, two-show days, etc., making each other shriek backstage, attended countless festivals at the same time with different work, endured weird audiences and weirder reviews, this was our first time collaborating.

Grey Arias is a two-hander we had been waiting two years (ten?) to begin. We were on a tight schedule to complete and open this new work in three weeks and then run for three more; we both had reason to anticipate two years of touring work as a result. It’s a piece about race, gender and trauma through the lens of our shared and idiosyncratic performance modes, hurled against and exploiting the (awful) offerings of the problematic scaffolding of Madame Butterfly.

We had demanded that things around the show’s content be reflected institutionally and in our creative team, and we were working and collaborating in a mode that was deeper, funnier and more dangerous than anything else I’ve done, I think. It felt radical. It was thrilling.

We arrived on March 2, and were postponed and on flights by March 18, a day or two after our first off-book showing. We were already working in the modes and strategies performing artists contrive and develop in order to survive: en route to Melbourne, I had performed another piece in a group evening at On The Boards (Seattle) and then flown to Wellington, NZ to join a Philadelphia-based, queer cabaret cohort, doing yet a different piece of work, and Gateau was arriving, colliding with me, from similar circumstances. We wanted a dramaturg but didn’t have the budget for one from the institution. So, my dear friend John came to Melbourne and they worked with us for a week in exchange for housing and introductions.

I was supposed to finish that and leave for Ireland for 2 different projects via another different gig in London and Croatia. All gone for now. Making all of that happen was just another iteration of the ongoing tetris game of survival--turning one gig into two, letting one paid-for plane fare allow for another gig, maybe this gig could invisibly underwrite this other one nearby; use accommodation money to rent a friend’s place and pocket the rest for your cellphone bill. It’s a grift, isn’t it?

Briefly, tell me about how you got involved in the arts and in your particular practice.

I returned to performing the year I dropped out of college. At the time I thought I was just confused, bored, finding my way. I now know that dropping out was a common response to a (too common) traumatic event. I was wandering around a bit but found myself in the company of two important, life-changing groups: a hippie circus in the mold of Bread & Puppet and Wesleyan dance majors, and both of them changed my life.

In part, I realized that I had massive defensive, protective structures built up around me and something about performing--my attraction to it and my terror of it--made me know that, if I went deep into what it means, I would be able to actually be present in my own life. I don’t know another way I would have found that.

Most of my teachers--whether in improvisational movement, compositional improvisation--taught me to practice being present and lured me away from the kinds of "protections" that had, up until that point, made life seem strange and alien. Deborah Hay’s work involved grounding and practicing presence in different but profound ways that still reside in my body and practice regardless of what I’m practicing.

In a more specific way, what are you practicing? And what are you envisioning?

I lost a year’s actual work in a week, and the loss of that work was followed by the loss of anticipated work. Amidst all the confusion, my first move was to just rest. I hadn’t had nothing to do, for that long, in 20 years--for which I’m both grateful and exhausted! Then I got sick with COVID-19. So, I just concentrated on getting better and not infecting anyone else.

It’s clear to me that I probably won’t be on any kind of stage for at least a year, and that’s how I make my living--in theater spaces filled with people. I have other projects and collaborations that are text-based in some way. So, those are continuing (via Zoom with Ireland, but...).

In the meantime, I am envisioning how to build/create a place for artists on the property I share with my partner of eighteen years (who is also an artist) that imagines a way to offer space and refuge that is accessible, somehow, outside the traditional models of residency applications and in-kind support. I know this is possible, because I feel like I’ve been operating in a way that engages, straddles and avoids traditional models all at once. So that’s what I’m doing until further notice--yardwork and building.

I feel that my movement practice has become task-based and weather related--like some kind of artist-farmer consulting the weather as if it were an Independent Contractors’s Almanac for when to work outside (tear down, build up) and when to work inside (write, meet, consult).

How does your practice and your visioning align with what you most care about?

I have been wanting to create these little out-cropped cabins for years, but I’m always too busy and on the road. I care about making space for other artists and participating in community/chosen family. I care about artist-to-artist strategies that evolve and re-imagine how we exchange support, share a precarious economic landscape, provide for each other and which deploys many of the same strategies I use as an independent artist to something that supports a community.

I don’t know how "legit" it will be because a lot of "legit" places in the world (banks, local permit offices, etc.) don’t view my twenty years of art-making and bill-paying as proof that I can function responsibly or even exist! It’s kind of hilarious. I just don’t look like a real person or thing "on paper" unless it’s in an arts-industry context. So, I’m going the outlaw route to get it done my own way--weather permitting!

How does your practice function within the world we have now?

For now, my practice feels like some iteration that is adjacent to what it used to be--and will be for the foreseeable future--meaning, I am writing and conceiving and collaborating; I am learning to video edit, because I want to and I have the "time," and I want to be in control of if and how my live work translates to digital, if it comes to that (I’m resistant and protective of our live art for now); I’m mentoring some other artists. And, today I’m gonna work outside, building a second DIY structure for someone, an artist, who needs space, refuge, etc. "until the rains come" at 8pm tonight!

As a maker, I’ve always worked in a mode that first asks if an obstacle presented can be a gift or a solution that may be more satisfying than the direct route. For now, that means physical labor and imagining this little artists’ compound. My friend who is a trans production coordinator and lighting designer who is between housing for the month of June is arriving on June 2 to help us build in exchange for housing and (socially distanced) community. So, it’s already starting!

Briefly share one self-care tip that has special meaning to you now.

My self-care involves not hustling gigs online in a panic, meditating, curating my digital interactions carefully and mowing the lawn which is always a very rich creative space for me.

******

DISCLAIMER: In addition to my work on InfiniteBody, I serve as Senior Curatorial Director of Gibney. The postings on this site are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views, strategies or opinions of Gibney.

******

Subscribe in a reader

Artists Reach Out: Merián Soto

Dear friends,

Welcome to Artists Reach Out: reflections in a time of isolation. I dreamed this series of interviews out of grief for my work both as a documenting arts writer and curator of live performance. In this time of social distancing, we are called to responsibly do all we can to safeguard ourselves and our neighbors. It is, literally, a matter of life and death.

But there's no distancing around what we still can share with one another--our experiences, thoughts, wisdom, humor, hearts and spirit. In some ways, there are more opportunities to do so as we pull back from everyday busyness out in the world and have time to honor the call of our inner lives.

So, let me introduce you to some artists I find interesting. I'm glad they're part of our beautiful community, and I'm eager to engage with them again (or for the first time) in years to come.

--Eva Yaa Asantewaa, InfiniteBody



Merián Soto


Merián Soto
(photo: Martin Poucher)


Puerto Rican dancer, choreographer, video and improvisation artist, BESSIE awardee, Merián Soto, is the creator of aesthetic/somatic practices Modal Practice and  Branch Dancing, a meditative movement praxis with tree branches that investigates consciousness in performance, and provides an entry into conversations about the importance of trees to human existence, their stewardship of our waters systems, and our essential connection to nature.  Her Branch Dance Series includes dozens of performances on stage, in galleries, and in nature, as well as video installations, and year-long seasonal projects including the award-winning One-Year Wissahickon Park Project (2007-08). Soto is a 2019 United States Artist Doris Duke Fellow in Dance and Professor in the Esther Boyer College of Music & Dance at Temple University in Philadelphia, where she teaches improvisation and Modal Practice, a creative methodology centered on unifocal movement sustained and practiced over time.



Above and below: from Branch Dance practice
in Wissahickon Valley Park
(photos courtesy of the artist)





Do you have a current or planned project whose progress is affected by the pandemic?

All my work has been affected. Several performances in Philadelphia and Puerto Rico were cancelled. A residency project with Eiko Otake at Northwestern University has been postponed. I have stopped rehearsing with Silvana Cardell on Disposable Bodies, a new piece she’s creating linking gun violence and animal cruelty. The solo improvisational performance piece I had been building steadily now seems like a distant memory. Work on the documentary, ¡Fenomenal! Rompeforma 1989-1996, in collaboration with Viveca Vázquez, is pretty much at a stand still.

Briefly, tell me about how you got involved in the arts and in your particular practice.

I have always danced. My mom, Andy Soto, put me in ballet classes at a very young age. I grew up by the sea; I danced on the beach. There was always dancing in my family home in Puerto Rico. I learned partner dancing with my dad, Henry Soto. Dancing with my family is still a source of great joy.

I came of age as a dancer in New York City in the 1970s. Despite various injuries, I was intent on pursuing a life in dance. I landed a cheap loft on Canal Street where, aided by a CETA job, I dedicated myself to practicing my art 24/7. I set on a path of invention and self-transformation: decolonizing myself and healing physical and psychic wounds, through the practice of an original dance, one that honors the wisdom of my sensing, feeling, thinking, dancing body and validates my personal history, gender, cultural background and experience.

Working long hours in the studio, improvising, moving very slowly, I came to regard pain as my teacher and partner, not something to push through, but to work with, breathe into, release and transform. I came to understand the body as the site of interdisciplinarity, the place where all experience converges. This has evolved a creative approach that involves the energetic body and consciousness.

How does your practice and your visioning align with what you most care about?

Dance, somatic, and aesthetic practices can be powerful agents for personal and creative growth, wellness, good. Creating work and performing fill me with delight, energy, and inspiration. My practice celebrates creative freedom, the wisdom of the dancing body/mind/soma, and values the everyday/anytime as creative space. My (aging) body is my instrument and teacher. My vision is to dance ‘til I die, to inspire others to dance the energetic body, to debunk the myth of inevitable decrepitude in aging.

In a more specific way, what are you practicing? And what are you envisioning?

I am trying to stay calm, to not despair, to not give in to the uncertainty and sadness--breathe, wait, be patient, trust my body/self/creativity, ear to the ground. Two months into this pandemic, I’m just trying not to give into lethargy. Daily walks in Wissahickon Valley Park have been most helpful; I’ve reconnected with Branch Dancing which is all about connecting/responding to touch, gravity, place. Very much suited to current reality, the branch serves as a kind of social distancing insurance (smiley face). I also practice Keep it Moving, using a timer I commit to move the whole body continuously for 30 minutes. Sometimes there are sub-scores such as shaking, bouncing, spiraling, Be With What Is, Healing Dance for ________.

AND, I'm practicing gratitude; for my job, my family, my home near the park, and my friends and colleagues. I’m grateful for the opportunity to connect with you, Eva Yaa Asantewaa, here on InfiniteBody. I’m excited to  be included in upcoming books: Julie Lemberger’s coloring book, Modern Women Dancing Through the 21st Century, and Nibia Pastrana and Susan Homar’s, La danza experimental en Puerto Rico, interviewed by Alejandra Martorell.

I am grateful and heartened to see dancers online rally to stay strong and present, reinventing ourselves. Shout out to Maria Bauman-Morales for her brilliant moderating of Real Talk, the online discussion of Creating New Futures, and to the writers Jumatatu Poe, Yanira Castro, Amy Smith, et al., for their vision and labor. To Marion Ramírez who has opened a virtual studio for sharing her deep movement wisdom, Caracola, to Sarah Bush for Six Foot Wing Project in nature, to Megan Bridge for valiantly continuing to perform online with <fidget>, to Awilda Rodríguez Lora and Ying Yu for their daily dance practice shared on social media. 

How does your practice function within the world we have now?

Honestly, it’s hard to function. I’m in a kind of holding pattern, wait and see, become open to the new, while drawing from a lifetime of experience.  I’ve ventured into graphic art, and I’m trying to figure out how to effectively teach dance online.

Disasters force us to be on high alert. Pandemic art is an art of survival. It is also an art of submission. The world as we know has abruptly and fundamentally changed, and we must yield. We must adapt to restrict our movement and contact with others, forcing us to isolate and slow down. We must rely on the web for social interaction. Our delicious art of moving/playing with others has become deadly.

The lessons of improvisation can help guide us through. Self-care is not selfishness or narcissism, but an absolute necessity; survival requires that you put the air mask on first before helping others. Be With What Is is a practice of accepting whatever is coming up at the moment of dancing. It teaches that sometimes it is appropriate to retreat and prepare for an uncertain future.

Briefly share one self-care tip that has special meaning to you now.

Go to the woods, or the park, or the beach. Get out! Walk, breathe fresh air, soak up the sunshine, commune with the wind, find stillness by a stream, pond, or other body of water. Mirror water. Mirror the wind.

Go to the woods

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DISCLAIMER: In addition to my work on InfiniteBody, I serve as Senior Curatorial Director of Gibney. The postings on this site are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views, strategies or opinions of Gibney.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Artists Reach Out: Monstah Black

Dear friends,

Welcome to Artists Reach Out: reflections in a time of isolation. I dreamed this series of interviews out of grief for my work both as a documenting arts writer and curator of live performance. In this time of social distancing, we are called to responsibly do all we can to safeguard ourselves and our neighbors. It is, literally, a matter of life and death.

But there's no distancing around what we still can share with one another--our experiences, thoughts, wisdom, humor, hearts and spirit. In some ways, there are more opportunities to do so as we pull back from everyday busyness out in the world and have time to honor the call of our inner lives.

So, let me introduce you to some artists I find interesting. I'm glad they're part of our beautiful community, and I'm eager to engage with them again (or for the first time) in years to come.

--Eva Yaa Asantewaa, InfiniteBody



Monstah Black


Monstah Black
(photo: Lia Clay for the 2018 Queer|Art Community Portrait)


Monstah began his career as a performance artist with an emphasis on dance, costume design and music composition. He received an MFA in New Media Arts and Performance from Long Island University. He is currently one half (with his husband) of the electronic duo The Illustrious Blacks. Together they write, produce, record and perform internationally their original music.

Awards include Open Call The Shed NYC recipient, The Tom Murrin Performance Award, Franklin Furnace Fund, Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, American Music Center Live Music for Dance and NYSCA.  He has garnered support from New York organizations including Joe’s Pub at The Public Theater, The Field, Movement Research and New York Live Arts. Publications include New York Magazine, Billboard Magazine, Paper Magazine and The New York Times.

Monstah is a Queer Arts Mentorship and Yaddo fellow as well as a Long Island University New Media Art and Performance, MFA.

theillustriousblacks.com


Do you have a current or planned project whose progress is affected by the pandemic?

The Illustriousblacks (Monstah and Manchildblack) have had to readjust and remix most of our plans for projects in 2020. The quarantine has allowed us to take a deeper focus.

A residency project that was a year long at Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning (JCAL) in Queens experienced a complete remix due to COVID-19. Survival mode became re-imagining original ideas and remixing what was in our immediate surroundings. It caused me to reach beyond comfortable boundaries I’d created for myself (sound, visual and movement qualities). This is how our “Walk-in Closet” was born as a venue for Back In The Closet w/ Monstah Black.

It gave me, and continues to give me, a platform in which to share steps in the process as we build on new ideas. For JCAL, it became a direct opportunity as a marketing strategy to promote my film Cotton, screening in June.

Briefly, tell me about how you got involved in the arts and in your particular practice.

When I was a child, my parents encouraged me to practice and study all the things I showed skill in. They’re responsible for dance classes and church choir; most of my creative interests are inspired by them. Other responsible culprits would be Prince, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Donny Hathaway, Sylvester, Flip Wilson, Lola Falana, Cher and Parliament Funkadelic.

The choice to go to undergrad for Choreography/Performance at Virginia Commonwealth University sealed my destiny for becoming and staying an interdisciplinary artist.

In a more specific way, what are you practicing? And what are you envisioning? 

I am currently practicing bringing attention back to my rib cage and everything below it. For several years now, I’ve built tons of material and improvised structures based on my upper body, arms, fingers, facial expressions and spine articulation. The quarantine is bringing me back to a place of being more grounded, and that, ultimately, is affecting my vocal quality as well as my body.

I’m currently envisioning a life of streaming/film and television. I love performing for the camera.

How does your practice and your visioning align with what you most care about?

I care most about being able to influence and inspire younger generations to love themselves no matter how much they may feel marginalized and been told otherwise. My practice has been to reach beyond the boundaries and limitations that were put before me. I continue to do that in hopes that it inspires others to do the same.

How does your practice function within the world?

My practice (as well as The Illustriousblacks) flourishes in the idea of togetherness and joy. This is most apparent in environments where music, dance and visuals meet harmoniously (dance parties). That’s a language that is fluent in all cultures. Through music, dance and visuals our goal is to spread the idea of love and unity.

Briefly share one self-care tip that has special meaning to you now. 

Morning Movement Meditation and squats. Sorry that’s two lol.

******

DISCLAIMER: In addition to my work on InfiniteBody, I serve as Senior Curatorial Director of Gibney. The postings on this site are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views, strategies or opinions of Gibney.

******

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Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Artists Reach Out: Catherine Cabeen

Dear friends,

Welcome to Artists Reach Out: reflections in a time of isolation. I dreamed this series of interviews out of grief for my work both as a documenting arts writer and curator of live performance. In this time of social distancing, we are called to responsibly do all we can to safeguard ourselves and our neighbors. It is, literally, a matter of life and death.

But there's no distancing around what we still can share with one another--our experiences, thoughts, wisdom, humor, hearts and spirit. In some ways, there are more opportunities to do so as we pull back from everyday busyness out in the world and have time to honor the call of our inner lives.

So, let me introduce you to some artists I find interesting. I'm glad they're part of our beautiful community, and I'm eager to engage with them again (or for the first time) in years to come.

--Eva Yaa Asantewaa, InfiniteBody



Catherine Cabeen



Catherine Cabeen
(photo: Sherry Russell)



Catherine Cabeen, MFA, is a former member of the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company, the Martha Graham Dance Company, and Richard Move’s MoveOpolis!, among others. She founded her interdisciplinary performance company, Hyphen, in 2009. As a choreographer, Cabeen has received commissions from On the Boards, Donald Byrd’s Spectrum Dance Theater, Seattle Art Museum, the Visa2Dance Festival in Dar Es Salaam, and Alsarab Dance Company in Byblos, Lebanon, among others. The New York Times called the work of Cabeen's Hyphen “highly kinetic, complex” and “visually exquisite.” Cabeen’s 2011 evening-length work Into the Void, commissioned by On the Boards in Seattle, was documented for On the Boards’ performing arts library and can be seen at ontheboards.tv. Cabeen is an Associate Professor at Marymount Manhattan College and a repetiteur for the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company. catherinecabeen.com.



Kristina Berger (left) and Catherine Cabeen
in Glitter in the Gutter
(photo: Ira Landgarten)


Do you have a current or planned project whose progress is affected by the pandemic?

I was looking forward to performing as a community member in Bill T. Jones’ Deep Blue Sea at the Park Avenue Armory in April. Rehearsals for the project were profound and illuminating, specifically in relation to the spectrum between loneliness/community, and personal/collective agency. It is an important work for this time but, of course, the performances were canceled/indefinitely postponed.

Residencies and upcoming performances of the dance-theater comedy series Glitter in the Gutter, which I created in collaboration with Kristina Berger, have also been canceled/indefinitely postponed.

Figuring out how to best offer remote dance classes for Marymount Manhattan College has certainly taken up a lot of my time and energy in the last few months. Attempting to be an anchor for students, while their lives and dreams were turned inside out and upside down, has been extremely challenging. As a teacher, I have never felt more simultaneously needed, and helpless, than I have this past semester.

Briefly, tell me about how you got involved in the arts and in your particular practice.

The story I’ve been told is that I came out of my mother spreadeagle and screaming. I’ve lived most of my life that way. The viscerality of modern dance training, from a young age, helped me to use the intensity of my emotional life to communicate, connect, and transform.

My mother is an eco-feminist, visual artist. I grew up knowing that making had meaning, and that through creative practices we can lead a considered life. I was hired by Bill T. Jones at age 19. Jones’ articulate mentorship and unapologetically political work are hugely impactful in focusing my creative and educational work towards social justice.

Incorporating humor into my work in the last decade has been incredibly therapeutic and empowering. Humor requires precise timing, and I love that kind of exquisite craftsmanship. At the same time, humor enables us to speak truth to power as satire often slips under, around, and through all kinds of censors.

I perform as a clown as much in classrooms and in faculty meetings as I do on stage, in order to bring difficult conversations to the table in a way that can often permeate hierarchy’s defenses.

In a more specific way, what are you practicing? And what are you envisioning?

I’m practicing yoga and somatic meditation, as both are essential to my ability to stay calm in challenging situations.

I’m practicing a lot of video editing in order to participate as fully as possible in asynchronous classes, rituals, and performances. Glitter in the Gutter emerged in 2016 as a way to turn frustrations about aging as dancers, the cost of creative production in New York City, academia, etc., into joy. In line with the spirit of the work, we are now creating new vignettes remotely which reflect both on current and long-standing frustrations in an attempt to keep ourselves sane by laughing together.

I’m practicing being a loving and generous wife. In our tiny shared space, this dyadic relationship is giving us both a rich opportunity to practice integrity in our communication.

I’m practicing holding my ground with a college bureaucracy, insisting that we use this disruption of the perpetual motion machine that maintains the status quo, to move towards including anti-capitalist, gender non-conforming, and anti-racist dance practices in our dance curriculum.

How does your practice and your visioning align with what you most care about?

Yoga and meditation help me to remember the power of practices that go unseen. These are not performative practices, but they temper every social interaction I have--from intimate encounters within my family to standing up for social justice as an artist and educator. These spiritual practices hold space for my own mental health work, which in turn empowers me to hold space for others.

Laughter is an essential practice. It is also highly contagious. I hope that making myself laugh through the rhinestone-encrusted sidewalk crack that is Glitter in the Gutter will bring lightness and joy to others as well.

I care deeply about supporting the visions of the young adults I am honored to be able to work with as an educator. I don’t feel that as a teacher I need to have all the answers, but I do think that as a teacher it is my responsibility to hold space for new possibilities. It is my job as a teacher to support young voices as they articulate their visions, and that requires me/inspires me to imagine a future with infinite possibilities.

How does your practice function within the world we have now?

This pandemic has vividly exposed layers of injustice that have been made manifest by decades of biased American policies. It feels more important than ever to be disciplined with my spiritual practices, in order to build the inner fortitude required, to not look away.

I have been part of a team pushing assertively in the last few years to shift MMC’s dance curriculum towards anti-racism and gender inclusivity. I am very afraid that in everyone’s desire to “return to normal,” combined with navigating the financial crisis all colleges are in, that prior work to change the representation and inclusion of what we teach will get lost.

Balancing self-care--be it through laughter, expressive movement, or meditation, with the work of social justice--is essential to my current practice. I feel that aggressive advocacy and equanimity are not opposites but two aspects of my being. The current crisis is asking me to practice both.

Briefly share one self-care tip that has special meaning to you now.

I have always been a fan of late-night political comedy shows. As the hosts of my favorite shows all started to broadcast from home in the last few months, I found the transition both painful and fascinating. The uncomfortable silence following punchlines, which once was filled with live audience laughter, is such a painful emptiness. Awkward as it has been to watch these brilliant performers adjust to having no audience, it has also kept my faith alive that live performance is irreplaceable, and will return.

******

DISCLAIMER: In addition to my work on InfiniteBody, I serve as Senior Curatorial Director of Gibney. The postings on this site are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views, strategies or opinions of Gibney.

******

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