Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Artists Reach Out: Marion Spencer

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


Marion Spencer

Marion Spencer in Rosalie
(photos: above, Laura Bartczak collaboration,
and below, Whitney Browne)



Marion Spencer is a dancer, choreographer and educator currently based in Brooklyn, NY. Her work has been presented by Danspace Project (DraftWork), Gibney (WorkUp), Brooklyn Studios for Dance, Green Space, Triskelion Arts, Center for Performance Research (Fall Movement), Movement Research at Judson Church, DanceNow NYC, Dance HOLO and the Domestic Performance Agency. Marion is a 2019-2020 season artist at The Chocolate Factory Theater (creative residency, December 2019) and Gibney (Solo for Solo, Spring 2020). She has held residencies at MANA Contemporary, Brooklyn Studios for Dance, Turkeyland Cove Foundation and the Peaceable Barn, among others. Marion’s work is an energetic and tonal collaging--sourcing intuition and imagination, in addition to our very real world. Her dances call for transformation through an undoing of ourselves, inviting us to feel, ask questions, and consider what else, both imaginatively and constructively. As a performer, she currently dances for BAND|portier and Laura Peterson Choreography. Since moving to NYC, Marion has had the pleasure of working with Yackez/Larissa Velez-Jackson, Michelle Boulé, Athena Kokoronis, Shandoah Goldman, Melissa Riker, Annie Kloppenberg, and Shaun Irons & Lauren Petty, among others. In addition to choreographing and performing, she is on faculty at Gibney, Dancewave and Greenwich Country Day Middle and High School. Marion has toured her choreographic work and teaching practice nationally to New Orleans LA, Seattle WA, and Amherst MA. She graduated with honors from Vassar College in 2009 with a BA in Geography-Anthropology. www.marion-spencer.com


Marion Spencer in Rosalie
(photo: Scott Shaw)


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

Yes. I am in process with two creative projects--a solo and a group work--that live in conversation as part of a larger project. My solo has been in process for a little over a year, while the group began working together this past December. The group work is a collaboration with Ogemdi Ude, Symara Johnson, Tara Sheena, s. Lumbert, Kimiko Tanabe and Slowdanger (aka Anna Thompson + Taylor Knight).

The reality of the pandemic necessitates the loss of three performances and two residency periods (thus far). In addition, the week that the pandemic caused New York City to shut down was the first week of my residency at Gibney through the Solo for Solo program, where Darrin Wright and I were to initiate a creative process together through the Spring. I am still not sure if we will be able to reschedule all these lost opportunities. I know that every venue, festival and organization is working hard to figure out how to support artists and their work during this time.

I, personally, am working to sit with the pause that is happening right now and let that be part of my practice--part of the creative process-- and consider that, in and of itself, part of the progress of these projects.

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

I have always loved to dance, and I have always loved to do other things too. I love to sing, I love to be outdoors, gather with people, draw, read, write, take photographs. I love to quietly witness. My parents are both from Latin America--Caracas, Venezuela and Balboa, Panama--and they are archaeologists who primarily work in southern Mexico. So I was raised in many places.

I developed a practice of quiet witnessing and a wild imagination--in the back of a car driving for hours through rural Oaxaca, playing in the dirt at an archaeological site all day, so many airports and so many airplane rides to visit family. I loved listening to books on tape, I loved the memory game, I loved staring out the window, looking at the sky, and dreaming. I still do that. I'm doing that now as I write this.

I see dancing and making dances as a way to dream, to make dreams alive, and to invite others to witness your imagination. I see my makings right now as an invitation into a world, an environment, a journey, that hopefully the performer and witness go through together. That might be an aspect of what excites me about this new world we find ourselves in--the possibility of building an environment and a world in your own intimate space and sharing that with others so easily.

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

I am practicing singing. I have been vocalizing as part of my practice for several years, and I just started weekly voice lessons with an incredible performer and composer in our community, and it feels important to be a student and be learning right now. I am practicing dancing and taking class as often as I can. I am practicing conversation with mentors and teachers every week. The connections with community and commitment to learning and curiosity feels like an important part of my practice right now.

I am practicing being, rather than doing--which has been part of my process for the last year thanks to lessons from Michelle Boulé, Marion Woodman and studies in Conscious Femininity, and also it has never held more weight than it does now. I am practicing listening. I am trying to let this time of slowness be part of my practice. It is opening up spaces in my imagination, it is offering me the opportunity to dream again. Instead of seeing limitations, I am starting to see possibilities. That is exciting.

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

What I care most about right now is that we get through this with as few losses as possible. What I care most about is that my parents stay alive and well, that my family in Caracas don’t have to go to the hospitals there that were completely nonfunctional and chaotic before the pandemic began, so I can't even imagine what they will be like when this hits hard there.

What I care most about is that I do all the practices to ensure that I don’t unknowingly carry this to another person in my home, neighborhood or community. And, I care greatly about our dance community. I want artists to make it through this. I want us to have spaces to return to after this is over. I want to be part of working towards that.

It has been a gift to be part of conversations happening right now in our community about care and about action, and I am excited to continue putting my energy towards that. I want as few losses as possible, and also as many disruptions and transformations to the broken system we found ourselves in, as possible. The world we return to after this will never be the same. I’m wondering how we can see the possibilities in that.

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

I have always been called to home and to making art at home. AND, I hadn’t really been doing much of that since moving to New York City. Before this pandemic, my home space was a space of rest, of sanctuary, of returning from work, making dinner, spending time with my housemates (two dear old friends who are NOT dancers), resting and sleeping.

In former homes of mine--New Orleans, for example--I had a strong creative and embodied practice at home, my home was also my canvas. Since moving to NYC, my work as an artist has been full time, and I leave home to do it, and then I come home to rest.

This pandemic has necessitated a shift. I have moved all of the furniture out of my bedroom to make it a space to move in, teach dance classes in, rehearse in, dream in, lay on the floor in. I am practicing moving my practice into my home space, allowing imagination and dreaming to open up for me at home. I had created a boundary between work and home, and that is becoming blurry now in a way that is exciting--and, to be honest, also exhausting. I need a day off. I need rest. I need to redefine my boundaries, that's for sure.

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

I have a regular practice of taking baths. That is no exception now. Sitting submerged in hot water calms me down, slows me down, brings me into my body, to be held by my element. I’m needing self care practices like this right now. Full disclosure: my biggest guilty pleasure is to take a bath in the morning.

During this time, I have been trying to offer and remain active in my care of my home and household, my family, my community and myself. AND, I am trying to embrace this pause. I had a call with my collaborators last week to check in + discuss, dream and scheme how to move forward with virtual collaborations this spring, and as part of this conversation dear friend/collaborator Ogemdi Ude said, ‘I wish for every artist to take a nap every day until this is over.’  Can that be part of my practice right now? Can that be part of my progress right now? I’m listening.

******

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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Monday, April 6, 2020

Artists Reach Out: Danni Gee

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


Danni Gee

Danni Gee at SummerStage
(photo: JDH)


Danni Gee has over 35 years’ experience in the Arts and Entertainment industry, both on stage and behind the scenes. Her professional performing career began as a dancer with the Philadelphia Dance Company. After several seasons there as a leading soloist, Danni joined the world-renowned Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and remained there as a principal dancer for seven years. Danni’s dance career was ended abruptly due to injury, but she was able to then focus her energy on her vocal talent and has since gone on to provide backing vocals to artists such as Sister Sledge, Gloria Gaynor, and Cher. She also formed her own independent rock band, Suga Bush, and with Danni as the lead singer and songwriter, they perform regularly at renowned venues such as The Bitter End, The Blue Note and The Apollo.

Danni, however, has always kept one foot in the dance world, continuing to attend performances and classes. Danni accepted the position of Dance Curator for CityParks SummerStage in 2006. In her 14 seasons as Curator, she has engaged such established companies as Parsons Dance, Dance Brazil, Complexions Contemporary, Ballet, Kibbutz Contemporary Company, Morphoses, Martha Graham Dance Company, Limon Dance Company, Alonzo King LINES Ballet, and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater as well as many emerging choreographers and teaching artists. She has commissioned several new works for the organization, presented many World and New York premieres, and major cultural events, including the 40th anniversary celebration of the Broadway show, The Wiz; the Merce Cunningham Centennial; and the 10th anniversary of FELA! Danni, who is also a Music Programming Associate at SummerStage, assisting with the booking of domestic and international music artists, is also involved with the curation of SummerStage dance workshops, panels, and family programming. She also serves as an Artistic Advisory Board member for Brooklyn Dance Festival, Dancing in the Streets and Gibney and provides freelance administrative support to independent artists and companies.


Danni Gee at SummerStage
(photo: Melissa Cruz)


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

Not a personal project, but it is dear to my heart. My festival, SummerStage, is affected because normally by April 1st, we start building the Central Park venue. All of our seasonal production people start to return to work. It takes normally five to six weeks to get everything in place, from the stage to the dressing rooms, audience areas, etc. Our core staff is still working, albeit remotely for now, but I worry about our longtime seasonal staff who count on this annual chunk of income. And of course, all the artists that might be affected.

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

My arts journey started at the Performing Arts School of Philadelphia, a small private school that used to be on the campus of the University of the Arts. I started there in 6th grade and declared dance as my major in the 7th. When I was 14, an older schoolmate, Evelyn Watkins, suggested I audition for the summer program at Philadanco (Philadelphia Dance Company) where she was already a company member. I did and was accepted and, two years later, I joined the company at the invitation of the legendary Joan Myers Brown. Stayed there for six years before transitioning up to New York City and Ailey.

My current work as a presenter and curator came through the suggestion of a friend, Freedom Bradley, who was working with SummerStage as the Theater Director. The festival needed a new dance curator, and he implored me to apply. I was nervous as I had never done any “behind the scenes” dance work. But the amazing then-director of programming, Alexa Birdsong, took a chance and hired me. I guess she “saw something.” (smiling)

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

Right now, I am practicing focusing and flexibility. Being at home, I can get distracted easily. My mind bounces around a lot. So this has been an exercise in sticking to a daily program which includes, (especially during weekdays), morning coffee, making my bed, meditation, “going” to work at 10am, lunch at 2pm, giving myself projects to complete by end of day, working out after work, etc.

I am also using the time to watch, look and learn. Everything is going to be different. It already IS. That’s where the flexibility comes in. We all have to be open to sharing, collaboration, thinking outside the box, learning just a wee bit about technology than you already do because here we are. I see a lot more cross-pollinating. We can’t be selfish.

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

I care about people. Humanity. Our children. So, to that end, whatever I can do to safely bring people together, to bring light to our shared humanity while celebrating our differences, I will do it. And I hope to continue doing that through the arts. People need to express themselves. Our children right now are scared because their parents are scared. There is pain, grief, anger, confusion. If what we do can provide an outlet for all of what we are feeling individually and collectively, then I am all for it. When--and I say when with the utmost hope--we are able to safely gather again, I want to make sure we are focused and ready to proceed. I would love to do a second line that starts at Columbus Circle and ends at the venue, with us singing and dancing together all the way to the stage.

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

Well, I was/am an artist first, curator second. I love to entertain, so social media has always been a fun place for me especially as I’m not on the stage as much now as I would like to be. I am definitely using this time to focus on personal creative projects (book, website, etc.), building up my platform and fortifying my connections. But being flexible in knowing that, every day is not going to be a good day; every day is not promised. Staying flexible and grateful. That’s how I’m functioning.

******

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: Gus Solomons jr

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

Gus Solomons jr


Gus Solomons jr
(selfie courtesy of the artist)


Dancer Gus Solomons jr graduated in architecture from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and studied with Jan Veen at Boston Conservatory before moving to New York City to dance in Kicks and Co.! Solomons joined Donald McKayle’s company and studied the Martha Graham Technique but soon felt the constraints of modern dance. He was part of the collective of avant-garde experimentalists that eventually formed the Judson Dance Theater. Then, postmodern choreographer Merce Cunningham asked Solomons to join his company. Solomons began interpreting Cunningham’s postmodern concept of kinetic intention in his own choreography, founding The Solomons Company/Dance (1969-1994) and co-founding PARADIGM (1996-2011) with Carmen deLavallade and Dudley Williams. He has created over 165 dances and is known for his analytical approach, architectural concepts, musical collaborations, and use of video and other forms of media. Today, Solomons writes dance reviews and performs internationally with various artists.

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

At the moment, I’m in recuperation mode, healing form a particularly recalcitrant hip fracture, which has obliterated my mobility and limited my day-to-day life for nearly a year and a half. During recovery, I was still reviewing performances on my blog--www.solomons-says.com--until all live performances were canceled due to COVID-19. Now, I am doing a lot of contemplating the next thing I feel motivated to do.

I’m scheduled to complete a residency at University of Oklahoma, which was postponed from last fall, 2019, due to discovery of a medical crisis, which was rescheduled until this month, and now due to COVID-19, has been again postponed until November. Who knows?

I’m also starting to research a new solo for the 25th anniversary of DanceNow at Joe’s Pub, which I’ve been involved with since its beginning. Since suspending my company PARADIGM-dance in 2011 and retiring from teaching at NYU/Tisch School of the Arts in 2014, I have been mostly a choreographic advisor, both professionally--in the New Directions Choreography Lab at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and in the Alumni Choreography Workshop at NYU/Tisch and informally for choreographers whose work interests and/or inspires me.

Since suspending PARADIGM in 2011, I have been freelance performing for various choreographers in Europe. I’ve realized that my passion is to perform and have expand my range in that realm, rather than continue to make dances, per se. That’s the most fulfilling way I can use my experience as a performer with Martha Graham, Donald McKayle, and Merce Cunningham, among others, and as maker of over 170 dances of my own.

While all my proposed performance projects are on hold due to the state of the world, I have been exploring Tai Chi meditation with Sharon Smith and contemplating my next act of creation, whatever it may be.

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

I started dancing at age four in Sunday school at Rush A.M.E. Zion church in Cambridge, MA, and have been at it since, at first by just doing it, then by imitating movie musical stars, then finally studying formally at the Boston Conservatory, when I entered college at MIT to study architecture. Since then, I have done the next interesting thing that was presented to me in dance, acting, teaching, and performance.

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

Currently, my daily practice is therapeutic and strength exercises to regain and maintain what physical power I still have, adjusting to the new physical instrument life and injury have presented me with, and trying to remain useful to the field I have loved and been part of for over 75 years.

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

Since, at age 81, I am still being invited to create and perform, my daily practice is directed toward making that possible: maintaining physical and mental mobility and adaptability.

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

Although my practice normally used to involve daily weightlifting at the gym and bicycle-riding around town, I am trying to hold onto the hope that we will soon be released from the confinement imposed by COVID-19 and an out-of-control government situation and resume life as we knew it.

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

In the words of Bobby McFerrin, “Don’t worry, be happy.”

******

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: Grace Osborne

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


Grace Osborne


Grace Osborne
(selfie courtesy of the artist)


Grace Osborne is a healing arts practitioner from Pasadena, California currently based in New York City. Her practice includes sound baths, soundwalks, and body work informed by Usui Reiki and the practice Romiromi as taught by the teachings of Hohepa Delamere.

www.verdantvibration.com
Instagram: @verdantvibration


Grace Osborne in performance
(photo: Malcolm-x Betts)


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

This is truly a season of stop, cancel, and reflect, because a lot of my projects have been postponed. In February, I was going to do a workshop at Movement Research, and then 48 hours before the event, my grandfather passed away, and I just wasn’t able to do it. In March, I had plans to collaborate with the company Archestratus to facilitate a monthly Sound Bath healing salon with in-house brewed chai. In April, I was going to lead a workshop on DIY audio recording. For the month of May, I had plans to be in a writing residency at NYU’s satellite campus in Prague. Everything this season has been cancelled! I’m hoping that I can resume activities in the fall.

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

I come from a family of musicians and artists, so I grew up listening to the Jazz my great uncles would compose, listening to my cousins sing, admiring the clothes my aunt made, watching my grandmother paint, and reading the poems my mother wrote. Making art and being creative in my family is just who we are. I never saw it as something for an audience—just for ourselves and each other.

I started to seriously study Flute when I was 9 and went on to major in Music Theory and History at Mills College. From that experience, I started to take classes and make music with people like Pauline Oliveros, Fred Frith, and Roscoe Mitchell. I really pushed myself to participate in as much improvised and experimental music as I could.

I also worked as a stage hand. So, for years, I got to hear so many different types of music. It really blew my mind. When I graduated, I started to begin my own practice of improvisation. When I moved to New York to start my graduate studies, I took a break from my practice, but 2016 I started using sound bowls. I met [dancer, producer and curator] Marýa Wethers and everything changed. I felt inspired around her, and she saw something in me. She started to recommend me to other movement-based artists and, since then, I’ve become a part of this amazing community of dancers and movement artists.

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

Especially now more than usual, I am practicing becoming a better listener. My practice is about listening and healing through vibration. Even though this is a creative arts practice, it’s not about creating a work. This practice is about creating environments and experiences that guide others to pause and look inward, rest, and heal. I’m working towards and envisioning doing more collaborative work especially with recorded sound. I’m also excited to start curating more Sound Walks!

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

I’m really excited right now, because I feel like most of us in quarantine are already participating in the activities that I consider to be a part of my practice! So many people are taking the time to intentionally rest, listen, walk and connect with others. After all this is over, I look forward to hearing about how people engaged these practices and what it meant for them during this time.

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

Just stop and listen. Tune into the experience life is offering you at any present moment.

******

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: Jennifer Monson

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


Jennifer Monson


Jennifer Monson
(photo: LaTosha Pointer)


Jennifer Monson (Artistic director of iLAND-interdisciplinary Laboratory for Art, Nature and Dance) uses choreographic practice as a means to discover connections between environmental, philosophical and aesthetic approaches to knowledge and understandings of our surroundings. She creates large-scale dance projects informed and inspired by phenomena of the natural and the built environment. Her projects include BIRD BRAIN (2000-2006), iMAP/Ridgewood Reservoir (2007) Mahomet Aquifer Project (2009), SIP(sustained immersive process)/watershed (2010), Live Dancing Archive Vol. I & II (2012 and 2014), in tow (2015) and bend the even (2018). Monson has been on the faculty at the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign since 2008 and was a Marsh Professor at Large at the University of Vermont (2010-16). In 2017 iLAND published A Field Guide to iLANDing:scores for researching urban ecologies. www.ilandart.org


Jennifer Monson's Live Dancing Archive
(photo: Valerie Oliveiro)


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

My current project MOVE THING, comes as the 20th anniversary of BIRD BRAIN arrives. I am again thinking about mobility and migration but, this time, from the point of view of toxicity and human disturbances of natural systems--things like nuclear waste, toxic chemical and pollution disposal, extraction industries such as mining and forestry, and military sites such as ammunition plants and testing sites.

I am looking for the ways in which disturbed systems radically evolve towards new forms of survival and novel ecosystems--the unexpected and hard-to-perceive actions of life that adapt to what humans understand as drosscapes or perverted wastelands.

This work requires a quieting and deep listening. I am drawn to the abandonment of these places and the kinds of movement that happen there that is difficult to render, to endure or find comfort in. I am searching for  the echoing possibility in these places.

Dancing has become more and more a practice of disintegration and dissolving for me. I have been working with solubility--moving beyond the porous body to the material essence of presence that one can dissolve into, by becoming a part of while remaining a distinct yet morphing entity. It is a complicated idea as I read it through various cultural lenses. And it seems to be located in my interest in not doing harm, belonging with other entities, moving alongside with healthy friction and resistance when it is needed and sustaining movement and flow when it is not.

My own movement practice brings me to sensing vibration and frequency. Aligning with and strengthening patterns that I sense but don’t necessarily comprehend. Dancing lets me be with the animacies of the world without having to know and this unknowing seems particularly helpful in this moment.

This practice gives me a sense of belonging with the COVID 19 virus and others. I want to actually support it, be with it, as it mutates in our perception and then disappears. It is not the enemy. Our disastrous and ineffective health care system and economic system, rife with inequity, is the enemy.

So, sensing the mobility of this virus, attending to how it changes our behaviors and activates our sense of care for each other, is helping me to think through the larger issues of MOVE THING, and I am grateful for that.

Beyond that, all of my upcoming projects for the spring, summer and fall have been postponed indefinitely.

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

I spent a lot of time climbing rocks in the high desert in California as a child. For me this is dancing with animate partners of various scales and consciousness. I had two creative movement teachers from the time that I was 5 years, one in elementary school and one in afterschool. Those classes helped me find my way of being in the world and gave me a sense of knowing the world through improvisation and movement that set me on my path.

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

Before this COVID-19 stuff started, I was so busy in my life as an artist, professor, and director of a non-profit, that I decided I had to find a way to dance in small windows of time in my life. I started dancing with the trees on my morning dog walk.

What I noticed and was reminded of is how dancing while observing the world--and, in this case, trees--helped me to observe and know things about the trees that I hadn’t before. Now, I am seeing the “habit” of trees, the ways stems and branches angle, the rate at which buds grow in relation to their proximity to other trees and access to light. Texture of bark, and imagining the root systems and their interaction with mycelium.... I sense the diastolic pressure of xylem and phloem as transpiration begins to happen more fully in the spring.

The trees are still bare here in Illinois, so the ‘habits’ are quite clear and evocative. I have been thinking about how, in this practice, I move between metaphoric, embodied, poetic, scientific and associative understanding. This is improvisation to me, the simultaneous awareness of multiple modes of understanding something--moving with multiple potentials at once.

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

At the moment, one of the things that comes up for me is the hubris of humans. There is something humbling about sensing how my body hosts other life--all of the bacteria and viruses, for that matter, that survive in my body, how my bodily and psychic secretions excretions are a part of the world. I’m no more important than the asphalt on the street, the woodpecker out my window. I have to listen to the part I need to play to keep things moving, thriving, living and dying.

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

I’ve been dancing over FaceTime with close friends that I have known for a long time. My embodied practices give me tools for connecting across distance. I find myself listening into their spaces with more dimensionality. I don’t just stare at the flat surface of the screen, I send my voice and my movement into their space. I let their movement and sound enter the entire space that I am in. It’s like watching the first person walk on the moon. There is an intense feeling of empathy, connection and humanity and at the same time that pixilated echo of distance.

My work has always addressed scales of knowledge and comprehension through dancing, and this is functioning in new and exciting ways for me. The moon-walking metaphor continues to resonate with me, especially that description that astronauts give of looking back at the marble of the earth. At some point the scale of that marble would have been the scale of my laptop screen. And I sense the whole world in those moments of dancing through the screen with my friends.

I’m someone who really would prefer not to look at a screen ever, so this acceptance and embracing of the connection it offers is teaching me something new.

******

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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Sunday, April 5, 2020

Artists Reach Out: Yanira Castro

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

Yanira Castro

Yanira Castro at center; devynn emory at right
(photo: Anna Maynard)

Bio

I am a Puerto Rican interdisciplinary artist living in NYC for 26 years. Since 2009, I have made performances, videos, and installations with a team of collaborators under the moniker, a canary torsi. a canary torsi’s practice has involved creating systems, scores, and software programs that ensure that elements of performance (choreography, text, music, environment) unfold in real time in response to the presence/participation of the audience. This way of working complicates issues of authorship and asks questions about how we, the people in the space together, deal with image and meaning-making and the power structures inherent in performance. I am lucky to have made, shown, toured work consistently, to have received grants and awards, and to get to be in a working practice with amazing people, all of whom I am missing. acanarytorsi.org.


Court/Garden
with Luke Miller, Haley Fish, Simon Courchel,
Pamela Vail and audience
(photo: Maria Baranova)

Last Audience
Audience is pictured.
(photo: Simon Courchel)


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

I had my first dance festival gig get postponed. It was a week at the Bates Festival, teaching and presenting work. Occasionally there comes a situation that feels like a marker; this gig felt like one of them. Last time I was at the Festival was over two decades ago. I was twenty and making that turn on the road towards a future.

Returning to Bates felt like the future meeting the past, the circle coming around, the young and older self meeting in the studios. That won’t be happening quite in the same way. Now, those classes I was going to teach might go online. I didn’t even have an email address when I was 20. The word “web” was…well, you know, it was woven by Charlotte.

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

When I was 8 and I was asked what I wanted to do with my life by the school librarian, everyone before me had answered teacher or firefighter. I had no answer. Whatever it was, it wasn’t anything I could name. At some point the word artist got attached to the idea of “I don’t know but not that.”

I went to Amherst College because Emily Dickinson had lived there. I thought I would write novels. I thought I had written a few. Instead I saw Sankai Juku’s performance Unetsu at UMass and decided I had to be wherever the people were who got to do that. I had no idea what I was looking at, but it looked like freedom to me. In my imagination I stopped writing after that. I took a Scripts & Scores class with Professor Wendy Woodson at Amherst, and I haven’t stopped since.

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

I am practicing being in the unknown, which is something I should have already been practicing and thought I was, but I was kidding myself. Writing scores has always been about embracing what might happen and daring myself to not get in the way, but vision often gets in the way.

Practicing the unknown and envisioning are difficult bedfellows. Hence my addiction with performance. But now I am envisioning how we might re-enter gathering. What might be the things we will desire, need--what kind of assurances, what kind of understandings about space and proximity?

I envision us all at our first physical gatherings…unsure what to do with that 6’ between us. In my room alone, I practice with the few theater materials I had with me when we went into sheltering-in-place: light gels, Mylar. I am continuing that practice of shaping sight.

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

I care about the potential of seeing differently...creating spaces and circumstances for people, containers for potential experiences, with all the conflict inherent in that--the practice of embracing the unknown bumping right up with the vision of spectacle, which is to say control and authority. Gathering, for me, has always been about acknowledging a central conflict: “I want to be with you" rubbing up against “communing is hard work.”

I could argue my performance life is about discomfort with the power of the spotlight: on who and what does it shine and who decides? When I was 10, I was ill and paralyzed and was brought out with other kids in wheelchairs to shake hands with the Harlem Globetrotters. Who is the spectacle? For me, it was the audience.

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

My practice has been taking the shape of a score-writing class for this new online platform, @freeskewl. It started only three weeks ago, and it has a full roster of Zoom and Insta Live classes. How quickly and uncomfortably that became a way.

The class is called #PromptsforPlayandLightness which is really unlike me. I am not a particularly light person. But keeping things simple seems necessary (wasn’t it always?), and I am equating lightness with unburdening, which could be a release of the darkest bile in you.

In this class, I have allowed myself to create an environment from a score for the people taking the class as they work on their scores. This has kept me in the intentional process of scoring with the unknown, of playing with perception and attending to the liveness of the moment. It was always an important survival skill, but there is a way in which this virus has revealed the essential.

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

Spending time in the dirt trying to make things grow has been healing. I bought some wildflower seeds, and seeing the first signs of growth has given me something to attend to that moves me forward and yes, envisioning. I am imagining bright, red poppies.

******

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: André Zachery

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


André Zachery


André Zachery
(photo: Tara Lyn Pixely)


André M. Zachery is a Chicago-bred and now Brooklyn-based interdisciplinary artist, scholar and technologist with a BFA from Ailey/Fordham University and MFA in Performance & Interactive Media Arts from CUNY/Brooklyn College. As the artistic director of Renegade Performance Group his practice, research and community engagement artistically focuses on merging of choreography, technology and Black cultural practices through multimedia work. André is a 2016 New York Foundation for the Arts Gregory Millard Fellow in Choreography and 2019 Jerome Hill Foundation Fellow in Choreography.

His works through RPG have been presented domestically and internationally, receiving support through several residencies, awards, commissions. These have included the CUNY Dance Initiative, Performance Project Residency at University Settlement, ChoreoQuest Residency at Restoration Arts Brooklyn, 3LD Art & Technology Center, HarvestWorks and a Jerome-supported Movement Research AIR. Awarded grants have been from the Brooklyn Arts Council, Harlem Stage Fund for New Work and a Slate Property SPACE Award. Commissions have come from the Brooklyn Museum, Five Myles/BRIC Biennial and Danspace Project.

RPG has earned mentions and favorable reviews from publications such as The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Village Voice, Culturebot, InfiniteBody, Futuristically Ancient, Hyperallergic, The Brooklyn Rail, The Daily News and AFROPUNK. As a technologist, André has collaborated with various artists through RPG, the design team of 3LD Art & Technology Center and The Clever Agency. These works have included design installations, immersive media productions, film editing and performance collaborations.

André has worked on projects across artistic mediums as a choreographer, media designer and consultant with artists such as Daniel Bernard Roumain, Cynthia Hopkins, Davalois Fearon, Dance Caribbean COLLECTIVE, Arin Maya, Rags & Ribbons, The Clever Agency, Kendra Foster, and Spike Lee.

​As a scholar, André has been a member of panels, led group talks, facilitated discussions and presented research on a myriad of topics including Afrofuturism, African Diaspora practices and philosophies, Black cultural aesthetics, technology in art and performance and on expanding the boundaries of art making within community. He has been a panelist and presented his research at institutions such as Duke University, Brooklyn College, University of Virginia and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Zachery has taught at Brooklyn College and been a guest faculty member at the dance programs of Florida State University, Virginia Commonwealth University, The Ohio State University and University of California Los Angeles.


André Zachery
(photo: Tara Lyn Pixely)


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

The project I am working on at the moment is not affected by the pandemic because I am still in the development phase and have already considered making a large portion of the work for film. This pandemic merely rectifies that decision as film and media are a part of my interdisciplinary practice. However, several teaching and residency opportunities that were to occur this summer such as American Dance Festival have been cancelled or postponed.

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

With dance I had no choice: my mother put me in dance when I was 4-years old! However, the decision to become an artist was made around age 18/19 while I was studying architecture at Florida A & M University but got a scholarship to attend Dance Theatre of Harlem in summer 2001. While taking classes that summer, I stayed in Fort Greene, Brooklyn when the neighborhood was filled with Black artists. I could literally walk along DeKalb Avenue and see some of the most influential Black artists of the day along my route, and I had never seen so many  beautiful, intelligent and worldly persons in one area.

In these Brooklyn conversations, my background as being Haitian, my study of architecture and artistic pursuits of dance as a Black man actually furthered the dialogue unlike many instances where people would not know what to make of me. I was meeting Black artists talking about Fulbrights in Brazil, tours to Paris, collaborations in Nigeria. Over the period of that summer of 2001 in Brooklyn, I was hooked, and there was no turning back. I did one more year at FAMU then transferred to the Ailey/Fordham BFA program in 2002 and have been an artist in New York City ever since.

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

More specifically to my practice is the self-history I just mentioned. I am an interdisciplinary artist, and I identify with my cultural roots that extend across the African Diaspora in the Americas. My experiences studying architecture and technology, my being raised in the Black cultural enclave on the south side of Chicago, and my constant work ethic, my dance practice from my growing up with hip hop and house dancing to my studio training in classical ballet, classical modern and later contemporary forms, and finally an immersion into African Diaspora forms have made me what I am today. For some this may be a lot, but for me it is but a small experience of the complexity and beauty of shared experiences.

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

I care about fully humanizing and complicating stories of contemporary Black life across mediums. This includes movement invention, filmmaking, design and collaboration. I use history as an active partner in my practice to reconsider narratives, to illuminate forgotten and invisibilized moments, and to amplify muted voices.

My work has been influenced by choreographers such as Reggie Wilson, Okwui Okpowisili, Ralph Lemon and William Forsythe who I feel have stretched our possibilities of what performance can be and what the space can do. With my own work, I try to innovate with sincerity and lean into our emotions, reactions and feelings that ultimately make us human.

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

I am also a Gyrotonic® trainer and avid body conditioner through cross-training. So part of my function in the world is continuing to learn how to survive this crisis through healthy choices and then educating others on these best practices. My uncle (who is a trainer as well) had as his business motto: “Your health is your wealth.” In this moment in time there seems to be no greater truth. So my work is also getting people connected with their bodies online as much as through in-person sessions.

Also, we must also be honest of how the systems of inequity that operate in the world, and are exacerbating this crisis, came to form in the first place. As I stated earlier, my work actively engages history, and that includes understanding how these “systems” were constructed. I feel the arts and performance world, especially in the United States, loves to literally “dance” around these issues. Looking back, it happened in the 1980s and 1990s in the AIDS crisis and, yet, here we are again in another public health crisis where Black and Brown and immigrant persons are dying at a more rapid rate.

So within my work as an artist, my practice is first to give people the joy of moving the body which is a blessing. To experience being within the music and letting your body go. But to also embrace that our bodies and other bodies hold different and unique narratives inside them that tell the story of our time. How even through a virtual space (as something I asserted when I first started articulating my work through Afrofuturism) we can, and are still connected.

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

Create with your hands! I LOVE to cook and make repairs or building things. For me it is a cathartic release allowing me to unplug from the online world! I am able to talk with my partner, read and immerse myself into the world that is my own apartment. Even before this crisis, I gave continual thanks to the position I am in with my own place and the security it affords. So I treasure every moment in the real--making pancakes, fixing furniture, cleaning. I can go to sleep with an excited expectation for the next day!

******

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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