Monday, May 18, 2020

Artists Reach Out: Yvonne Montoya

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

Yvonne Montoya

Yvonne Montoya
(photo: Dominic AZ Bonuccelli)

Yvonne Montoya is a mother, dancemaker, bi-national artist, thought leader, writer, speaker, and the founding director of Safos Dance Theatre. Based in Tucson, AZ and originally from Albuquerque, NM, her work is grounded in and inspired by the landscapes, languages, cultures, and aesthetics of the U.S. Southwest.

Montoya is a process-based dancemaker who creates low-tech, site-specific and site-adaptive pieces for nontraditional dance spaces. Though most well-known in the U.S. Southwest, her choreography has been staged across the United States and in Guatemala and her dance films screened at Queens University of Charlotte, NC and the University of Exeter (UK). In addition to being the founding director, Montoya is the lead choreographer for Safos Dance Theatre; under her direction, the company won the Tucson Pima Arts Council’s Lumie Award for Emerging Organization (2015).

She is currently working on Stories from Home, a series of dances based on her family’s oral histories, set to premiere in Fall 2020. From 2017-2018, Montoya was a Post-Graduate Fellow in Dance at Arizona State University, where she founded and organized the inaugural Dance in the Desert: A Gathering of Latinx Dancemakers. Montoya is a 2019-2020 Kennedy Center Citizen Artist Fellow, a 2019-2020 Dance/USA Artist Fellow, and a recipient of the 2019 NALAC POD grant. She continues to work as a thought leader and collaborator on Dance in the Desert.

Yvonne Montoya with Buddy.
The Motherhood and Performings (MPA) Project
Photo of mother and son doing cartwheels
on the back porch outside their home.
(photo: Dominic AZ Bonuccelli)

Yvonne Montoya in Dancing the Mural,
courtesy of Safos Dance Theatre
Photo of dancer jumping in back of a light blue truck
in front of an outdoor mural.
(photo: Dominic AZ Bonuccelli)

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

Yes. I am working on Stories from Home, a series of dances embodying the oral traditions of Latinx communities in the American Southwest. Stories from Home is set to have a soft premiere at Kennedy Center Millenium Stage in early September, but that performance is now up in the air. I have already experienced two development residency cancellations and face possible cancellations for July and August as well.

The cast of Stories From Home originates from communities throughout Arizona and New Mexico. This intentional geographic spread addresses the isolation of Southwest-based dance artists, instituting a community of Latinx dancers. The far-flung group of artists also allows for an embodied sense of the array of landscapes that are integral to the work.

Site-specific creation residencies play a key role in developing Stories From Home, providing spatial and historical context for the performers. Coming together in person for rehearsal is very important to our practice. The cancellation of these residencies is a deep loss for me and the cast. It is a loss of income, yes, but also a loss of community and the opportunity to do what we love, with people we love and in places we love.

That being said, I am grateful for the flexibility of our art form and the Stories from Home cast as I re-envision what’s possible over the next few months (details below).

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

Dance has always been a part of me; it is my first love. I have been making dances for as long as I can remember. One of my very first memories is choreographing to Strawberry Shortcake and Tina Turner on vinyl.

I performed with several Tucson-based companies before starting Safos Dance Theatre in 2009. In 2015, I transitioned my company away from a full-time operation with a set season into a model that is more sustainable for the funding realities of the Southwest region. Since then, I have been balancing a solo practice with work as a member of Las Fronterizas ensemble and as an artivist founding and co-leading Dance in the Desert: A Gathering of Latinx Dancemakers. I am grateful to have two fellowships this year--the Dance/USA Fellowships to Artists and the Kennedy Center Citizen Artist Fellowship--that have sustained me and my work at this time.

I am a process-based dancemaker interested in the transformative places and spaces movement creates for dialogues and discoveries. I really enjoy creating low-tech, site-specific pieces that can be staged in non-traditional dance spaces. I am influenced by the Southwest deserts in which I was born and raised. The warmer weather and endless blue skies inspire endless possibilities for outdoor performance.

My work has been staged in many places including on the back of a 1965 Chevy CT pickup truck. I intentionally created Stories From Home to be flexible; it can be performed as a full-length dance work for the traditional stage; as single, brief solos; paired with a keynote address for conferences or educational events; and outdoors, on proscenium stages, in blackbox spaces, digitally, or in classrooms. I love creating dance beyond the stage.

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

I am currently in the process of re-imagining, shifting my artistic practice, and moving towards a virtual version of Stories from Home that will center my experiences as a working artist mom. I am enfolding previous work,  Motherhood and the Performing Arts (MPA) Project, into Stories from Home. The pandemic opened up unanticipated connections between the two projects. This virtual offering will premiere July 15, 2020. More information will be available on my website shortly:

I am also gearing up for my very first remote rehearsal with the cast. I am approaching the online rehearsal process as an experiment, and I look forward to the many lessons that I will learn. I am envisioning new ways dance artists can come together to build and sustain communities of practice across geographies.

I am also practicing patience as I am currently working from home and homeschooling, which is nearly impossible to do! I look forward to the end of the school year and envision an easier work day at that time.

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

The thing I care about most is my son and raising him with a deep understanding of our cultura nuevomexicana. Stories from Home came about after my father’s passing in 2015. My father was the family’s storykeeper, and I am compelled to continue his storytelling tradition for my son in the language I know best, dance.

Stories from Home shares personal and cultural histories, including stories from my great-grandmother, grandmother, great-aunts, and father. Given the shift in my artistic practice as a result of the pandemic, Stories from Home will now also center my relationship with my son and our collective pandemic experiences. Through dance, many generations will come together across time and space.

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

I am not sure how my practice functions within the current world, because the world seems to be changing on a minute-to-minute, day-to-day basis. In the pre-pandemic world, I think that my practice largely functioned on margins. As things shift and spaces open up, I think my practice may shift more towards the center as digital dance spaces may offer more visibility for dancemakers who live and work outside of major dance centers.


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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