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  • Helanius J. Wilkins

2020 in Review

What a year 2020 has been! Within a flash, the energy and plans that accompanied the ushering in of it was quickly interrupted by the emergence of a pandemic that brought everything we knew to a halt. Our realities were further shifted by something that felt like a long-time coming - the unrest and uprisings fueled by issues of police brutality and structural racism in America. 2020 manifested into something far from what I imagined it to be. A year of tremendous disorientation, loss, and grief, it was also a year of deep-listening, new beginnings, bravery, and creativity. Future gazing by keeping art close as a vehicle for optimism and confidence became more than a throughline, it became a driving force for me.

So much can be said about the lows and highs of 2020. The hardships imposed by the pandemic were tremendous. I recognize that I was fortunate to rebound and mobilize in a time when rebounding for many remains yet to be determined. My heart is with all the many performing artists and creatives at-large. I believe in the strength that is our field, our passion, our life’s work. I am grateful for and inspired by are all the ways I witnessed and experienced courage, resilience, and a reimagining spirit toward envisioning new futures and building back communities stronger through art making and sharing. I am also grateful for the opportunities afforded me through my art to contribute to the conversations, community building, and dreaming that encapsulates this year.

My Top Ten 2020 Memories:

  1. The Sweet Spot. Sometimes jokingly referred to as the ever-delayed project, Multiscapes premiered in March 2020. Following a series of delays resulting from a flood which caused an extraordinary amount of damage to the B2 Center for Media, Arts & Performance in the CU Boulder Roser ATLAS Center, the interactive installation that blends dance, technology, design and sound, was experienced by three sold-out audiences the week before everything went into a complete shutdown due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The project is the result of 11 artistic/technology collaborators, numerous crew and staff members. Shoutout to CU Boulder's ATLAS ACME Lab’s Ellen Yi-Luen Do. Our connection is what sparked the project.

  2. 3 Cheers for Touch. A project that may never see the light of day, this is a work that I began working on January 8, 2020, before the coronavirus was even on my mind. Set on a trio of CU Boulder dance students (Monica Weller, Olivia Sanders, and Constance Harris) with Iain Court (who is more known to collaborate with me on my projects as Technical Director/Lighting Designer) in a cameo role, the work was to premiere April 2020 as part of The Current, CU Boulder’s Dance Program’s annual faculty and guest artist performance series. A multimedia work that is a play within a play – part music concert, part pep rally, part contemporary dance concert, and full of behind-the-scenes moments under the spotlight, the completed work, and the theme of touch/don’t touch took on an entirely different meaning with the arrival of the coronavirus. Although never performed in all its glory, it was shared in a bare bones way as part of a private showing. It holds space on this list because I will forever hold the memories of joy, laughter, discovery, and togetherness that this project afforded me and everyone who was involved. It was a light from the start…and it continues to be a light shining bright within my heart.

  3. A Full Circle Moment. Although film & video has long been a part of my work, Dirt is the first screendance I released since my 2008 work Caution. Our spring 2020 pandemic reality ignited a renewed interest in the creation of screendance projects not necessarily intended to be incorporated into live performance. Premiered August 12, 2020 as part of the CU Denver Newman Center’s Midweek Boost Local Spotlight, this work presents a meditative exploration of identity and Blackness in a heightened time of unrest and uprisings fueled by issues of police brutality and systemic racism in America. It is the result of a collaboration with Roma Flowers (Video Design & Editing) and Andy Hasenpflug (Sound Composition, Arrangement, & Performance). The award-winning experimental short film project has been officially selected for screenings at multiple national and international festivals including in Miami FL, Dallas TX, Seoul South Korea, London UK, and Norway.

  4. Finding My Voice Through Words. I launched a newly redesigned website that includes a blog that has been favorably received with posts read by nearly 2000 viewers. My relationship to blogs prior to this year was limited and used more so as an extension of social media marketing/publicity practices. I grew confident in my words and strength in my vulnerability to share my thoughts in ways that I was unable to before.

  5. Finding Footing with New Project Launch. The Conversation Series is a byproduct of Multiscapes and emerges out of a creative process that spanned nearly two years. The Conversation Series is an original, intermedia project where two male co-conspirators, one queer Black body, one heteronormative White body commit to collective laboring toward personal, political, and environmental (un)doing and (re)constructing. The project embodies the response that I believe is necessary for manifesting a more socially just America. Unfolding as a series of episodes, The Conversation Series physically began to take shape in rehearsals that resulted in a duet for Avery Ryder Turner and I that was performed at Colorado State University in Ft. Collins, CO as part of a showcase in February 2020. This was followed by a summer intensive for the creation of a screendance episode (2021 anticipated premiere) that involved the start of working with a new collaborator, cinematographer and sound composer Carlos Flores. It is a dream project that gave me a sense of purpose in 2020 and is leading me into 2021 with much enthusiasm.

  6. An Inspired Reconnection. I was reunited with long-time Washington, D.C.-based friend, and an artist and human that I have admired for years, Holly Bass, for “Unapologetically Bridging Art & Social Justice,” a public conversation that was part of Dialogues on Art and Social Justice, a series sponsored by the Boulder County Arts Alliance and CU Boulder’s Office for Outreach and Engagement. This event created a special moment for engagement, understanding, remembering, and aliveness.

  7. A Commission of Joy. Currently in the editing stages of the creative process, Skin I'm In, a commission I received from the University of Northern Colorado to create a new work for students has been a total joy to work on throughout fall 2020. From the onset the spirit of the commission was to create something fun (of course the mention of contributing to an evening-length Prince-inspired project added even more of a spark…lol). Although COVID brought a halt to the original evening-length live performance project, where I have landed is a screendance that finds inspirations from the 80s, my love of fashion – particularly runway shows, and Prince, of course, with a hint of social commentary! …A shoutout to Keith Haynes for working with me in the editing process.

  8. Live Performance in a Pandemic. I gave my first live performance since March 2020 on August 14, 2020 as part of the Boulder Arts Outdoors Festival, a socially distanced pop-up performance. I performed Untitled Mediation, a solo work inspired by artist/activist /poet Sonya Renee Taylor and my 12-mile daily walks as a practice of unlearning fear in public and a personal protest due to the multiple police brutality events that stole the lives of so many Black men, women, and transgendered persons.

  9. A Moment in the Media. December 15, 2020 marked the release of an interview in ShoutOut Colorado. In many ways an introduction to me, my history of work, and my current focus, I am grateful for the opportunity afforded to me to expand my reach and network to continue to engage in the doing of making work that inspires, builds, and uplifts community.

  10. In Print. Melanated Voices, a book compiled and illustrated by Allan Capacia Carandang created in response to the systemic oppression uprisings. I am so humbled by my inclusion in this collection of stories and illustrations that humanizes the stories of oppression and brings to the forefront a history of resilience.

Honorable Mention: Assembling the cast for “Kanaval,” the final installment of my Ritual Gumbo: A Passage trilogy project, took place this year. Putting together the cast (Jamal Ari Black, Stacie Cannon, Keith Haynes, Arneshia Williams, and Trent D. Williams Jr.) felt particularly special because the members reflect my two halves coming together. The cast consist of dance artists who worked with me as part of my former D.C.-based company, EDGEWORKS Dance Theater, and post-EDGEWORKS. Although the full launch of the creative process for the project and its premiere timeline has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, my reconnection to these dance artists and our work together that is in our near future gives me nothing but good feelings.

With the conclusion of 2020, I say bring on 2021! I wish everyone a safe, peaceful, and inspired beginning to a new year of creativity, adventure, and collaboration!

Happy New Year to You!

Here's to welcoming 2021!

Images courtesy of Christopher Michael Carruth ©December 2019; Elliott Whitehead made possible by CU Boulder's Roser ATLAS Institute ©March 2020; Watcheye Studio / Carlos Flores ©2020; Additional images courtesy of Stacy Norwood & myself.

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