Tuesday, December 22, 2020

InfiniteBody Honor Roll 2020: And then everything changed

Radha Blank in The Forty-Year-Old Version (photo Jeong Park/Netflix)

Poster for HBO's Lovecraft Country, starring Jonathan Majors and Jurnee Smollett


Ruth Negga in Hamlet, St.Ann's Warehouse (photo: Teddy Wolff)



InfiniteBody Honor Roll 2020

Eva Yaa Asantewaa

Not a best-of list but a kind of memory palace

of remarkable arts events from the year 2020!

[Read last year’s list here.]



Performances by Emily Johnson, Adrienne Truscott and John Jarboe at The Poetry Project’s New Year’s Day Marathon at St. Mark’s Church, January 1

Atlantics, directed by Mati Diop, released on Netflix, November 15, 2019

Women’s Resistance by Urban Bush Women at American Dance Platform, The Joyce Theater, January 7 and 12

Indestructible by Abby Zbikowski performed by Dayton Contemporary Dance Company at American Dance Platform, The Joyce Theater, January 7 and 12

Soundz at the Back of my Head by Thomas F. DeFrantz at Gibney, January 9-11

Afro/Solo/Man by Brother(hood) Dance! at Gibney, January 9-11

A Prophets Tale: Portrait of the Lyricist (work-in-progress showing) by 7NMS|Marjani Forté-Saunders + Everett Saunders at Live Artery, New York Live Arts, January 12

by Mariana Valencia at Performance Space New York, January 9-11, 16-18

Five Hundred Years of Women’s Work: The Lisa Unger Baskin Collection at The Grolier Club, through February 8

David Vaughn’s The Dance Historian is In: Dyane Harvey Salaam at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center, January 29

Letters To Marsha with Viewing Hours (a diptych) by mayfield brooks at JACK, January 30-February 1

Ode to Mother Earth (The dark divine) by Brother(hood) Dance/Orlando Hunter, presented at Wise Fruit 9.0: Mama Earth at Hudson, February 17

Jordan Casteel: Within Reach at The New Museum, February 19-May 24

Ruth Negga in Hamlet, Gate Theatre Dublin, February 1-March 8

Burnt-Out Wife by Sara Juli, Dixon Place, February 21-28

Ti’ed (The Solo) by Christine C. Wyatt, WorkUp 6.1, at Gibney, March 5-7

Postwar a sci-fi love rage by Glenn Potter-Takata a.k.a. Gorn, WorkUp 6.1, at Gibney, March 5-7

Hope Hunt and The Ascension into Lazarus by Oona Doherty at 92Y Harkness Dance Center, March 6-7


 And then, everything changed:
Chadwick Boseman and Viola Davis starred in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom. (Netflix)

2020 Dance Magazine Award winner Camille A. Brown choreographed Netflix's Ma Rainey's Black Bottom. (Photo: Whitney Browne)

Two Gentlemen of Verona presented by The Show Must Go Online, streamed live March 19

Fire in my mouth (2019) by Julia Wolfe, New York Philharmonic conducted by Jaap van Zweden, streamed on NYPhil site and viewed March 28

Much Ado About Nothing (Shakespeare in the Park, The Public Theater) aired on PBS/Great Performances, viewed March 29

Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan (2016), directed by Linda Saffire and Adam Schlesinger (Netflix), viewed March 30

Revelations Workshop with Hope Boykin, Ailey All Access, viewed March 30

Afectos (U.S. premiere, 2014) by Rocío Molina and Rosario “La Tremendita” at Baryshnikov Arts Center, viewed April 9

Kathak: An American Story, Episode 4 by Leela Dance Collective, featuring Pandit Chitresh Das and Jason Samuels Smith at 2006 Kathak at the Crossroads Festival, viewed on YouTube, April 11

The Iliza Shlesinger Sketch Show, Netflix, streaming from April 1

Present Laughter by Noël Coward, PBS Great Performances (November 2017), viewed April 12

John Prine and Bill Withers In Their Own Words, a special by Anna Sale, WNYC, aired April 14

Fleabag (National Theatre Live) written by and performed by Phoebe Waller-Bridge; directed by Tony Grech-Smith and Vicky Jones (2019), Amazon Prime Video, viewed April 15

all decisions will be made by consensus, a Zoom opera composed by Kamala Sankaram, libretto by Rob Handel, directed by Kristin Marting, presented on Zoom by HERE, April 24-26

Balcony Bar from Home by ETHEL, presented by Metropolitan Museum of Art, April 24

Metropolitan Opera At-Home Gala, April 25

Take Me To The World: A Sondheim 90th Birthday Celebration, presented by Broadway.com on YouTube, April 27

Frankenstein by Nick Dear and starring Benedict Cumberbatch, National Theatre, streaming starting April 30

Ode by Jamar Roberts, presented by Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater on YouTube, April 30

Current and Former Ailey Women Dance Cry, video by Danica Paulos, Ailey All Access, YouTube, posted May 6

Rhiannon Giddens with Francesco Turrisi: there is no Other, presented by MetLiveArts, May 16

Hannah Gadsby: Douglas, written and performed by Hannah Gadsby, directed by Madeleine Parry, Neftlix, streaming from May 26

Pass Over, written by Antoinette Nwandu, directed by Spike Lee (directed for stage by Danya Taymor), Amazon Prime Video, viewed May 30

Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercado, directed by Cristina Costantini and Kareem Tabsch, streaming from July 8

The Old Guard, written by Greg Rucka, directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, Netflix, streaming from July 10

Met Stars Live in Concert: Jonas Kaufmann in Polling, Bavaria with Helmut Deutsch, piano, viewed July 18

Welcome to A Bright White Limbo, directed by Cara Holmes, starring Oona Doherty, premiered Dance on Camera Festival 2020, July 19

Uprooted: The Journey of Jazz Dance, directed by Khadifa Wong, premiered Dance on Camera Festival 2020, July 19

Gurumbé: Afro-Andalusian Memories, directed by Miguel Angel Rosales, streaming on KweliTV, viewed August 8

Beyond The Visible: Hilma af Klint, directed by Halina Dyrschka, streaming on KinoNOW, viewed August 27

Lose Your Mother by Saidiya Hartman (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007)

In The Wake: On Blackness and Being by Christina Sharpe (Duke University Press, 2016)

Breathe: A Letter to My Sons by Imani Perry, Beacon Press, 2019

The Farewell, directed by Lulu Wang (2019), viewed September 10

Met Stars Live in Concert: Joyce DiDonato in Bochum, with Carrie-Ann Matheson, piano, and I’ll Pomo D’Oro, viewed September 13

Taina Asili: Joe’s Pub Live, YouTube, streaming from September 17

Process Memoir 6: thenowlater, Journey Two, Mind by Johnnie Cruise Mercer and TheREDprojectNY, presented by 92Y Harkness Dance Center, September 25

RBG, directed by Julie Cohen and Betsy West. Magnolia Films (2018)

Herb Alpert Is…, directed by John Scheinfeld (2020)

The 40-Year-Old Version
, directed by Radha Blank, Netflix (2020)

Schitt’s Creek, created by Dan and Eugene Levy, Netflix (2015-2020)

Julius Caesar, directed by Phyllida Lloyd, Donmar Warehouse at St. Ann’s Warehouse (2016), streaming in October

David Byrne’s American Utopia, directed by Spike Lee, HBO/HBO Max (2020)

Lovecraft Country, created by Misha Green, HBO/HBO Max (2020)

King Lear--Virtual Reading, Crescent City Stage, October 17

Dancers on Film: Okwui Okpokwasili & devynn emory (with Kristin Juarez), The Getty Center, October 21

The School for Wives, starring Tonya Pinkins, Molière in the Park, October 24

The Tempest, directed by Phyllida Lloyd, Donmar Warehouse at St. Ann’s Warehouse (2016), streaming in October

DEBATE: Baldwin vs. Buckley, adapted and directed by Christopher McElroen, BRIC, YouTube starting October 22

Macbeth (film, 2010), directed by Rupert Goold, starring Sir Patrick Stewart and Kate Fleetwood, PBS Great Performances, streaming November

Between the World and Me (film, 2020), directed by Kamilah Forbes, HBO, streaming from November 21
Key & Peele (five seasons, 2012-2015), starring Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, HBO, viewed throughout November

Mangrove (film, 2020) in Small Axe, directed by Steve McQueen, Amazon Prime Video, streaming from November 20

Lovers Rock (film, 2020) in Small Axe, directed by Steve McQueen, Amazon Prime Video, streaming from November 20
Education (film, 2020) in Small Axe, directed by Steve McQueen, Amazon Prime Video, streainging from November 20

On the Sunny Side of the Street by Kayla Farrish, Louis Armstrong House, from November 29

Last Gasp WHF by Split Britches (Lois Weaver and Peggy Shaw) at La MaMa, streaming from November 20-December 12

nevermore by Taylor Swift
Dear Artist by Kelly Tsai, YouTube, from December 9

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, directed by George C. Wolfe and starring Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman, Netflix, from December 18
Canvas, written and directed by Frank E. Abney III, Neftlix, from December 14
My Octopus Teacher, directed by James Reed and Pippa Ehrlich, Netflix, from September 4


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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My Curatorial Highlights of 2020



I call on all Black creatives to preserve and tell our own stories.

We must center, treasure and tell our own stories, or others will tell them their own way for their own uses--or refuse to tell them at all.

The comprehensive story of Calendar Year 2020 is a difficult one, and there are different ways I could tell it. This day, though, I wish to acknowledge and celebrate things achieved before and, then, in spite of the pandemic. Things accomplished before and, then, in response to the rise of this year’s anti-racism uprising. Things created in joy and, then, in sorrow, in an effort to keep at least some movement happening at a time of stasis and loss and to build circles of mutual support.


Below is just a sample of notable events I curated for the Gibney organization during 2020:

Black Dance Artists on Masculinity, panel moderated by J. Bouey and featuring Du’Bois A’Keen, Thomas F. DeFrantz, Orlando Hunter, Jr. and Ricarrdo Valentine

Soundz at the Back of My Head, premiered by Thomas F. DeFrantz/Slippage, Bessie Award nominee (Quran Karriem) for Outstanding Sound Design/Musical Composition

Afro/Solo/Man, premiered by Brother(hood) Dance! (Orlando Hunter, Jr. and Ricarrdo Valentine), Bessie Award nominee for Outstanding Production and for Outstanding Visual Design (video)

Digital: Unidentified Fly Object (U.F.O) by Tendayi Kuumba with Greg Purnell

Long Tables: Latina/x in Dance and Performance (Alicia Diaz, Mariana Valencia, Yanira Castro, Larissa Velez-Jackson, Beatrice Capote) and Does Dance Matter to America?
(Danni Gee, Brinda Guha, Joya Powell, Ayodele Casel, Maura Nguyen Donohue, Aynsley Vandenbroucke)

Art + Action Artist Talks: Solo for Solo Artists, moderated by myself and featuring Marion Spencer, Darrin Wright, Zui Gomez, Wendell Gray III and Paul Hamilton. Spirituality of the Body, moderated by Charmaine Warren and featuring Laurel Atwell, Shamar Wayne Watt, Ogemdi Ude, and iele paloumpis

Sorry I Missed Your Show: presentations by Tess Dworman, 2020 Bessie Award nominee for Breakout Choreographer; LaJuné MacMillian; Michelle Boulé; Jennifer Nugent; Stefanie Batten Bland

Living Gallery: word-based performances by Linda La Beija; Nia Witherspoon; Melanie Greene; Kayhan Irani; Oceana James

Some of the many artists I met with during this year for consultations or discussions about developing work have included Johnnie Cruise Mercer, Leyya Tawil, zavé martohardjono, Kayla Farrish, Dohee Lee, mayfield brooks, Audre Wirtanen, Colleen Thomas, Olaiya Olayemi, Ahn Vo, Kazu Kumagai and Lisa LaTouche.


I was delighted to be recommended to the producers of Boston’s annual Dancing Queerly Festival to guest curate a digital evening of video works from New York-based LGBTQ artists. I selected J. Bouey, Ni’Ja Whitson, Maria Bauman-Morales, zavé martohardjono and Brother(hood) Dance! for this well-received program.

In years past, I have also enjoyed curating events for Danspace Project, La MaMa and 92Y Harkness. I'm still eager for independent curatorial or dramaturgical projects--specifically Black- or BIPOC-centered ones. Reach out!


This summer, I started organizing Black Diaspora, my pilot program designed for rising Black artists from a variety of cultural backgrounds and dance/performance techniques and traditions. I invited artists to apply following recommendations from more experienced Black artists in New York's community, and a cohort of eighteen was formed. Since September, sponsored by Gibney, they have met by Zoom to hold conversations on topics of their own choosing. Some of these informal community conversations have been joined by invited artists such as Ayodele Casel, J. Bouey, Jerron Herman, Kayla Hamilton, Ni'Ja Whitson, Raja Feather Kelly and Rokafella and Kwikstep and more are coming in 2021. Participation is free. Recently, I was offered additional funding to curate a series of workshops for the Black Diaspora cohort. These will run from February through June of 2021, facilitated by Cynthia Oliver, Gilbert T. Small II, Paloma McGregor, Nicole Stanton and Bebe Miller. I have invited this first cohort to return for a second fiscal year (September 2021 through June 2022). It is my intention to develop Black Diaspora into a full-featured residency program over the next few years.


Along with its newly-redesigned website, Gibney now has a bi-monthly online journal--Imagining: A Gibney Journal--which I have edited along with outgoing Curatorial and Editorial Coordinator Dani Cole. (Monica Nyenkan has now joined Gibney in the CEC role and has begun assisting me with Imagining.) Some of the writers engaged in our September and November 2020 issues were Ogemdi Ude, George Emilio Sanchez, Maura Nguyen Donohue, Conrhonda E. Baker and Aynsley Vandenbroucke. We are situated at the intersection of the arts and social justice and seek to make space for underrepresented voices.


I have awarded the EYABALA space grant at Gibney--funded through a generous contribution from board member Andrew A. Davis--to nia love, Jerron Herman, David Thomson, and Jordan Demetrius Lloyd. These artists will receive 50 hours of free rehearsal space when studios in both of Gibney’s centers can safely reopen.


In November, I convened a new independent group Black Curators in Dance and Performance, two-dozen strong, with a focus on mutual support, creative collaboration and advocacy. We have set January 22 for our third meeting.

The independent Artists and Advocates of Color Collective (AACCollective), which I proposed as a haven and support for BIPOC artists affiliated in any way with Gibney, finally began to take off this year, growing in membership and activity.

I have also had the honor of serving on the 2020 Bessie Awards Steering Committee for a short spell this year and joined some amazing community leaders on the advisory Dance/NYC Symposium Committee in preparation for the upcoming symposium (March 17-19, 2021).

Most of our journeys have been disrupted this year, and I have had to put aside or alter many things planned for this year and the next. But I’m happy to say 2020 still offered good opportunities to stay in motion and strive to make a difference.

Wishing you and yours all the best in 2021!



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, November 20, 2020

"Spirituality of the Body" with Charmaine Warren and guests, December 1

As curator for Gibney’s upcoming Arts + Action Talk: Spirituality of the Body (Tuesday, December 1, 7pm on Zoom), I’m truly excited to hear from a panel of artists whose work illuminates spiritual ideas and values, where the body is the site of spiritual expression and practice. We will welcome Laurel Atwell, Shamar Wayne Watt, Ogemdi Ude, and iele paloumpis, along with moderator Charmaine Warren, for a conversation that I hope will be the first of many--in Gibney’s digital space and beyond--exploring this rich topic. I spoke with Warren--a beloved veteran dancer and creator/host of the popular YouTube series, Black Dance Stories--about her experiences with spirituality and her hopes for the evening’s get-together.

Eva Yaa Asantewaa: How have you experienced dance as a means of expressing or practicing spirituality?

Charmaine Warren:  Many years ago, I was introduced to Ashtanga yoga, and this young dancer would run to a full day of rehearsal after my early morning yoga class. Someone pointed out the difference in my dancing, and then I started to pay attention. The light of acknowledgement doesn't go off right away but, with time, as I grew old and began to "own" my practice, I knew that it was the inner reckoning; my opening to spirit that brought my two loves together. Later, too, learning more about my Jamaican tradition and spirit in the African way has further helped me wake each morning and give time to my own spirit before I share the day with anyone else.

Eva Yaa Asantewaa: As you see it, especially as a dancer, what is spiritual about the body? Or what is the role of embodiment in spiritual practice?

Charmaine Warren:  Again, I have to acknowledge growing older and experiencing life as the answer. I dance now because I feel ready inside, and being ready inside means that I am one with my spirit. I work to be one with those around me before we "move" together. I work to be one with the space that I will "move" in. That may mean holding hands, doing sun salutations or taking time to breath together--and, now, land acknowledgements!

Eva Yaa Asantewaa: What do you hope for this gathering of artists?

Charmaine Warren: Mostly that we have an audience that will be willing to listen, but that we will share tools that we all use to stay connected to spirit during these trying times.


Come join us!

RSVP now for Arts + Action Talk: Spirituality of the Body here. It’s FREE!


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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Monday, October 26, 2020

New documentary explores the art of Crutchmaster Bill Shannon



CRUTCH, a documentary about the life and artistry of dancer Bill Shannon, will stream its world premiere through DOC NYC on November 11 and be accessible through November 19. A project of award-winning directors Sachi Cunningham and Chandler Evans (aka Vayabobo), the film follows the development of Shannon in his native Pittsburgh as an energetic youngster with a passion for skateboarding, hip hop and basking in the gaze of whatever audience he could find. His diagnosis with Legg-Calvé-Perthes disease--a degenerative condition of the hip--complicated but did not stop his trajectory as a performer. Instead, with crutches that alleviate the pain of walking and dancing, he built a unique movement technique and began experimenting with ways in which performers and audiences interact and how disabled and non-disabled people relate to one another.

CRUTCH is an introduction to Shannon's origin story and family life, his personality and creative process. I recall being immediately smitten with this dancer so sparked by the pulse, intensity and joy of the streets. That might have been in the early 2000s. I have not seen his work since his 2010 excursion through Lower Manhattan, Traffic: A Transit-Specific Performance, with his audience following and viewing him from inside a bus. In the intervening years, New York City's dance presenters and critics have grown more familiar with the spectrum of disability artistry, and this makes me hope that the worth of Shannon's skill and ideas will be better understood today than they were nearly twenty years ago.

CRUTCH (USA, 2020) 

SEE CRUTCH at DOC NYC, November 11-19

Instagram: @crutchdoc
Twitter: https://twitter.com/crutchdoc
IMDb: https://pro.imdb.com/title/tt4441460


Ellice Patterson of Abilities Dance Boston (photo:


Dancer-choreographer Ellice Patterson's troupe, Abilities Dance Boston, which includes performers with and without disabilities, uses dance as a tool to tell stories, process emotions and promote intersectional disability rights with an emphasis on artists of color and queer artists.

Celebrity Series of Boston will stream Abilities Dance Boston's concert (with audio descriptions) this Thursday, October 29 at 8pm EST

Tickets for the digital concert are free with your RSVP here.


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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Thursday, September 24, 2020

Open Letter from Dance Artist/Educator Dwana A. Smallwood

Dear Bed Stuy:

The Arts in NYC are dying...

My name is Dwana Adiaha Smallwood. I was a premier dancer with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater from 1995 - 2007. I’ve been on the cover of Dance Magazine three times. I’ve been featured in Essence Magazine and I have been photographed by Annie Leibowitz for Vogue Magazine.  I was also featured and danced on The Oprah Show.

I took everything I learned over my many years as a professional and created a dance program in South Africa at the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls. The program was designed for girls who needed validation and opportunities to harness the power within, so they too could exceed the expectations many have of black girls around the world. With dance, I was able to create a sacred space for them; that same space that saved me from the noise of the world to help me reach my goals. 

I yearned to continue that work and to create a space for the community that saved me but almost swallowed me whole.  For Bedford-Stuyvesant (still one of the most underserved communities in Brooklyn),  I wanted so desperately to be the answer to the prayer I often heard: “I wish I had a place to grow and to feel like I can be anything, do anything.” 

So in 2013, I founded and opened the Dwana Smallwood Performing Arts Center in Bed Stuy Brooklyn, a state of the art facility which is a place for artistic exchange that serves to empower and mold elite dancers and artists to develop, grow and compete on the world’s stage. Today I am writing to let you know that due to the COVID - 19 pandemic, in about four months, we will have to shut our doors…. 

I worked hard to create the space politicians said they needed, parents said they wanted, and children said they had to have. I could only imagine how many more of my community members would have had better options had they had a center like mine, to help guide them and keep them safe and provide validation to their lives. It wasn't easy to build. I almost closed before we opened. Each year since, I’ve struggled to keep the doors open and continued to offer opportunities to children and the community to thrive, but COVID-19 has hit us hard like so many other small arts institutions, and what I so dreaded, may actually be a reality. All that I have worked for may not survive. 

I was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, and have lived here my entire life. When I think about my upbringing, I think I had a childhood no different than anyone else in Bed Stuy. I had a single struggling mother mostly -- we were fatherless mostly -- and I was Black always. 

Somehow, through struggle, prayers, tears, hard work, the Creator, and the collective work of the community I was able to live my dream and travel the world. To most elite athletes, we would consider this to be a huge accomplishment; to make it out of millions dancing and training and auditioning to become one of only two elite dancers chosen that year. I was that girl; that black, bald, skinny, struggling girl who had made it past the expectations placed on all little dark-skinned black girls by the world. 

The Dwana Smallwood Performing Arts Center has been closed since March.  Due to NYC’s guidelines, we have not been allowed to open our doors even to rent out space. We will close for good if we don’t raise money NOW. I always wondered how something that means so much to so many and requires so little from each of us, will be allowed to die.

It would be among the greatest failures of our community if we close.

The arts have always been the answer when the healing of a nation is needed.  If and/or when this pandemic is over, the arts will be needed more than ever to replenish, refresh and rejuvenate our communities, our children, and their families.

The intention of this letter is not to ask for money (although that would be helpful and graciously accepted).  I’m asking that you help me to sound the alarm.  I have reached out to media outlets, government officials and others that I had hoped could help and some have, but in the world of fast news cycles, this message has been lost; not just for my organization but for many others like mine.

Please pass this onto ANYONE you know or think can help get this message out to the media (social, news, arts, entertainment...whatever). Any help you can offer will be appreciated.

The collective healing of our nation is going to need the ARTS. Dance is My Oxygen!

Dwana A. Smallwood
Dwana Smallwood Performing Arts Center, Inc.
(718) 443 - 9800


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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Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Artists Reach Out: Laurel Lawson

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

Laurel Lawson

In a rehearsal moment for Wired, Laurel is suspended in midair.
She looks joyfully to the right of the frame,
her hands extended below from pushing off the ground,
body diagonal to the gray marley floor.
A black cord at her waist leads upward and loops
of barbed wire are visible in the foreground.
(Photo: Grace Kathryn Landefeld, courtesy of Jacob’s Pillow)

Dancer, choreographer, and engineer, Laurel Lawson found that dance combines her lifelong loves of athleticism and art.  Featuring liminality, synthesistic myth, and partnering, her work includes both traditional choreography and novel processes for extending and creating art through technology and design.

Laurel began her professional dance career with Full Radius Dance in 2004 and is part of the disabled artists’ collective Kinetic Light, where in addition to choreographic collaboration and performance she contributes costume design and leads technical innovation, including the Audimance project, a revolutionary app centering non-visual audiences, and the Access ALLways initiative. Beyond dance, Laurel is an advocate and organizer, musician, skates for the USA Women’s Sled Hockey team, and leads CyCore Systems, a technology consultancy specializing in novel problems.

Laurel Lawson is a 2019-20 Dance/USA Artist Fellow.  Dance/USA Fellowships to Artists is made possible with generous funding from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.

In a moment from Wired, two dancers in wheelchairs
(Alice Sheppard, a light-skinned Black woman and Laurel Lawson, a white woman)
reach for each other while suspended above the ground by tethers.
The skin of their backs and arms is exposed and their faces overlap intimately.
If they let go of each other, the tethers will swing them like pendulums.
(Photo: Mengwen Cao)

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

I am a dancer, choreographer, and engineer; a member of Kinetic Light, a leading disability arts ensemble; a member of Full Radius Dance; and an independent choreographer, artist, and educator.

In January, my 2020 calendar was fully booked, mostly on the road, with the next two years filling up quickly. In fact, I arranged to give up my lease at the beginning of March since I would be away from home most of the year. I moved a few bags of what I would need for residencies and touring to Kinetic Light’s New York City rehearsal hub and the rest went into storage with only a few necessities for short stays going into the house my partner and I are gutting and renovating to rehabilitate it and make it accessible.

Instead, with incredible foreshadowing, I began the year with a tour cancellation in Hong Kong, briefly visited Vancouver for as a member of the USA Women’s Sled Hockey Team, visited Kirkland the day their nursing home outbreak was announced and then went to NYC for a showing. I left NYC one day before Gibney closed--thinking I would immediately return, my dance chair and most of my rehearsal gear is still there, five months later. We are lucky to have been able to move into the un-renovated house--very much not accessible, but temporarily habitable. I have a few pieces of shower board taped up over the uneven floor in one room to make an impromptu video studio for taking class, teaching, and filming.

Five months later, and it begins to sink in. The original premiere date at the Shed for Kinetic Light’s new work WIRED has come and gone. Many of the touring dates for that work and for DESCENT may never be rescheduled, depending on how large venues fare and when people can return to indoor environments. My artistic life exists in brief flashes of video--instead of intensive day-long partnering and rehearsal; instead of choreographing for commissions; instead of the day to day of touring.

While I am happy to be able to make some work, I do not relish the technical aspects of producing film. I am grateful to be able to work with funders for program-building and to create necessary and innovative software and products, but my body is not made for  administration and constant long days at my computer. And I cannot help but grieve the commissions lost, very much at the beginning of my choreographic career.

Likewise, in this shifting time: I do not, cannot, resent my work as an activist, as a community organizer, in this time. I absolutely can resent the need for it. I am furious as all the people and all the systems found they could change and shift massively, people still made choices to exclude disabled people; even as it becomes easier to provide access, as the necessity of change makes space for the change, people are making choices to deny access and promote exclusion. No longer shielded by the excuses of convenience or cost, it is revealed as we always knew it to be--bigotry and lack of care. Nonetheless, I am beginning or continuing several major projects, accessible software, accessible community and teaching practice; and perhaps when we are no longer in crisis I can even get to some of the (many) writing projects I’ve needed to backburner.

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

My professional work in the arts began in music. I was diverted from attending conservatory by sudden and severe repetitive stress injury; I successfully made the transition from classical music to folk and jazz and made part of my income gigging in college, also picking up theatrical tech & design along the way. Before grad school, I took a gap year and fell by chance (while working a physical acting job) into my first modern dance class with Douglas Scott of Full Radius Dance, who later invited me into his company.

As a dancer, I strive to remain grounded in the meeting of athleticism, precision, and storytelling. As a choreographer I make work that tells stories through ensemble, physicality, and partnering; liminal space, often structured with synthesistic mythology: old stories from a new angle. And as a designer and artist-engineer, my practice encompasses the fusion of technology and traditional work, creating entirely new ways of experiencing art.

In a more specific way, what are you practicing? And what are you envisioning? How does your practice and your visioning align with what you most care about?

My practice is built on the synergy of collaboration and the exposure of deep stories. While I cannot, in this moment, practice in the way I would prefer, the purpose remains. I am working to understand how I can connect the diversity of my areas of practice to create new things and to extend the things I already do. In addition to what people might immediately think of as dance, as art: I am practicing the understanding of how people are influenced by systems and environments. Art is neither immune nor somehow above the still-rising tides of surveillance and covert manipulation; art is itself a means of communication and influence. So my work in exposing those aspects in tech, in art; my work in inviting people to think about community, about ethics, about equity: these take practice, work, commitment, time, and support.

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

This is a time not of rest, but of building infrastructure--work that is traditionally undervalued in the dance world. Creating new systems, teaching, organizing. Not being a prophet, I am waiting to find out what world, what society, will emerge from this time--as well as working to bring about a society that shares my values. And moreover how the shifts that we can see happening, long overdue, will affect the arts: what does sustainability and justice look like? As remote work becomes normalized, how does that resonate outwards into geographic and economic equity? We are a vital and deeply interdependent part of the ecosystem.

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

I am now practicing: Patience. Care. Struggling to stay present with both the passage of time and work which might not be my preference but is nonetheless both important and urgent.


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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Saturday, August 15, 2020

There once was a union maid, she never was afraid

There once was a union maid/she never was afraid." -- Woody Guthrie

I just ran across my National Writers Union press pass from the 1990s. No publication I ever wrote for as a dance critic issued me a press pass which might have been useful for any number of things.


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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