The pandemic (Covid-19) has been a major disruption to life as we know it or knew it. Aspects of our lives have been in crisis, some to devastating ends. The arts were hit hard. Theaters and performance venues still have the 'ghostlight' on. In a moment of stillness, I considered my 'ghostlight' as an artist. What, where, and how would I move forward and continue to move a needle forward in the field. This gave me energy/gas to charge ahead with creative justice and inquiry to be productive and still do the important work and engage with communties and organizations with and through art.
The coronavirus pandemic was like a vehicle slamming on breaks in a Nascar race of life. The vehicle stops and the mugshot is taken. From many sides, the view (mugshot) of our society and the world was being examined and scrutinized. The images/mugshots of this pandemic will document this moment in history. Even the mugshots/images of the Black Lives Matter Movement are profound in scope in how they capture black and brown people in inspiring, powerful, authentic, emotional, rallying, and innocent ways.
Here are two major examples of artistic projects that flourished out of the pandemic- "Mugshots" and "Hands of Power".
"Mugshots" Project- 2020 DANZINC International Virtual Residency- Singapore
These mugshots photos were taken during the pandemics as I searched for light, positive energy, hope, and inspiration during the challenging and stressful times. With Covid-19 and the Black Lives Matter Movement sweeping the world- anger, frustration, protests (peaceful and chaotic)- I turned inward to find moments and sources of grace and light. One morning while having tea and meditating, I noticed and focused on my mug in hand. I took in the vessel that held my sipping tea. Gratitude in the vessel…a container of gratitude. I inhaled the aromas of positivity. It was a metaphor for me…so I took a selfie- a mugshot. The result of this artistic process was a photographic series. As part of my morning meditation, I added an improvisational movement meditation for each mugshot taken. I brought into the process my spoken word collaborator, Michelle “Love the poet” Nelson, to create one stanza poems for each mug. From her poems, I then selected one line from each that resonated with each mug’s essence to create a collage poem- Spillage. This poem will be used as inspiration and motivation for a physical solo.
"Hands of Power"
I wanted to consider the meaning of silver lining? Traced back to the writings of John Milton about a cloud’s silver lining, I admit I had no real knowledge of him nor his writing. But I did have a memory of my grandmother teaching me the power of making the best out of the ‘not so best’. In other words, ‘making a way out of no way’, as they would often say in the southern baptist church. Big Ma (the late Mariah Brown) was a spiritual soul from the south, who always saw good in others. I am reminded of Big Ma and me making lemonade and sweet tea in the cosy kitchen. This memory of (as a child) taking sour lemons and making something sweet and delicious out of it, is what has stayed with me during these times.
This pandemic has been, truthfully, troubling and challenging on so many levels. Since March 13th, the pivot dance has been my Electric Slide, my Cupid Shuffle, and my Wobble. And this dance continued into the fall semester, as we pivoted into all online/virtual classes (teaching and learning). So in true Big Ma fashion, I decided to make some lemonade.
A huge pitcher of lemonade has been the Modern Repertory class. In early August, I decided to create a piece inspired by the 100th Anniversary of the 19th Amendment, Women’s Suffrage Movement, March on Washington 1963/2020, and Voting. It has been a thirst-quenching journey. The virtual platform challenges, the diminished individual moving spaces, the lack of in-person physical community and tactile connections were the lemons, and the research, creative processes, personal investigations of subject matter, new ways to connect with a larger university community, and the students were the cups of sugar. The result is the dance piece “Hands of Power”. The work has five sections: My first vote…, I am…, In my hands…, In my feet…, and In our Rights. For the section In my feet…, I reached across and within the university community to engage collaborative partnerships with others in an organized “artful” march. I work in the pageantry marching arts so I am very familiar with aspects of marching, but I wanted to bridge and fold social justice and social movement marches into this creative process for art. It was really important to share with the dancers, in practice, how life and art reflects each other. One of my favorite quotes is “Life imitates art far more than art imitates life” by Oscar Wilde.
What initially was going to be 9 dancers ended up being over 30 participants, two videographers, and one photographer. The participants were asked to create signage for the march and to consider what would be a platform they would march about. What would/do they stand up for? What cause do they value and want to add their voice? What issues would/do they vote for? It was an amazing gathering of folks across a spectrum, coming together for a common goal of common good. In my feet… is performed by Modern Repertory, TU Dance Company, Assistant Professor Alison Seidenstricker (Dept. of Dance), Assistant Professor Michelle Humphreys (Dept. of Music), Bria Bennett (Athletic Dept.- Community Partners Coordinator), Luis Sierra (Office of Civic Engagement), three members of the Women’s Track & Field, members of Towson AIDE, and several other Towson University students. Videographers: Rebecca Wolf (Dept. of Dance- Production Coordinator) and Ben Rosenbaum (Athletic Dept.- Director of Digital Media), and Alex Wright (TU Photographer).
At the beginning of the semester, I had no idea it would turn out this way. Throughout the creative process, I continued to listen to the art and allow it to blossom, stir, and evolve into a tall pitcher of lemonade.
My first vote… (Voting Booth)…maybe 4 solos
I am… (Profile Solo)…maybe 4 or 5
In our hands… (Hands)…maybe 9 frames…Text: The New Colossus poem
In our feet… (Marching)….Drumming- Michelle Humphreys
In our Rights… (Finale)….Drumming- Michelle Humphreys