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Inside the Isolation: Actively Doing



For the longest while, technology was the source of concern, a looming evil that would force a global reset. Thoughts of automation and robots replacing humans triggered pushback. There was reinvestment in products and systems that provided many people with a false sense of being needed and irreplaceable. We were bracing for “when that day comes…” Little did we know the global reset would come in the form of the COVID-19 virus pandemic, and that technology would become the necessary tool to attain a new mode for business-as-usual as well as a sense of belonging and community.

First act. Monday, March 9, 2020 was the day when an ominous feeling infiltrated the air. It was very clear that something was descending upon us. I could see and feel it as I continued my daily paces on the CU Boulder campus where I spend a significant amount of time. It was just a matter of when normality would begin to fall apart.

Rewind to before that day, I had just wrapped up a sold-out run of “Multiscapes,” an intermedia and interactive installation project that centers on a male duet and explores uncertainty and intimacy through visually and sonically active environments. It was jokingly referred to as the ever-delayed project due to setbacks from a flood which caused an extraordinary amount of damage in the performance venue. It was thrilling to see this project come to life after a two-year creative process. It was also a relief of sorts because I was ready to focus my energy on other projects and activities, some of which emerged as a byproduct of “Multiscapes.” These projects included the launch of a new website, a performance scheduled by Movement Research at the Judson Church, an archives for my former company EDGEWORKS Dance Theater, and my return to ensemble work for the completion of my “Ritual Gumbo: A Passage” trilogy project. The announcements of these activities would then be followed by the launch of a multi-layered fundraising campaign to support the creation and touring of two evening-length intermedia choreographic works: “The Conversation Series,” a male duet that is a byproduct of “Multiscapes” created specifically for Avery Ryder Turner and myself, and “Kanaval,” an ensemble work for six dancers that is the final installment of my multi-year trilogy project. The timing as well as my excitement for all these things conjured a feeling that felt like a form of arrival, a heightened moment. The confluence of these activities would create attention, positioning my work to activate creative spaces and interface with other artists on national platforms. But, within the blink of an eye, the landscape suddenly shifted. All things became caught in a total breakdown that resembled a non-stop shuffling act of rescheduling, postponing, letting go, and reassessing immediate needs. Cancellation after cancellation juxtaposed conversations about not changing anything and holding on until further notice. In what seemed like the longest two weeks ever, my landscape shifted so quickly that the days of the week began to mesh. The idea of “holding on” almost seemed like a desperate act to maintain some sense of normalcy.

Intermission. Inside this moment of my isolation, stillness to reflect and activate newness is amplified. I have come to recognize this surreal moment in time to be a true test of stamina and resilience as well as a reframing of my relationship to uncertainty. These are the core themes that lie at the heart of my art investigations and making. I recall a text exchange I recently shared with one of my greatest fans (who just so happens to also be one of my cousins. Thank you, Tim!) reminding me that my “creativeness is at its best now.” This pandemic is a disruption fashioning as intermission to press pause, step out of what was and away from routines, and ask something different of myself. It is demanding what I perhaps could not schedule to gift to myself in my previous normal. It has manifested a generative place where I’m challenged to take what I have, repurpose it, and be open to the cultivating of newfound tools necessary to make the next normal, and uncover different ideas about the art of assembly.

Second act. What I know for sure is that humanity will not survive this global reset without nourishment. Nourishment, in this sense, is respite from what seems all consuming and potentially hopeless. Moments of joy, laughter, embracing a memory that leads to a smile, and connections through whatever forms of communication available becomes medicine for achieving balance. It becomes medicine that allows for exhalation, release, and grounding oneself. It becomes a source of strength and courage to believe we’ll see the other side of this pandemic, and that there will be possibility.

What I also know for sure is that this moment repositions our relationships with uncertainty. It interrupts patterns and autopilots. It is reminding us that creativity is a part of all our lives. It is reminding us that perhaps we anchor ourselves in beliefs, systems, calendars, and habits that lead us to feel that things are more certain than they really are. We are creatively navigating uncertainty in dynamic ways and doing so with great levels of achievement on a continual basis. As artists, we have some basic skills to survive this pandemic.

Pause: Inside this moment of my isolation, I sense our new normal is a dance that is quite possibly the most complex choreography being created to date. There is a familiar, yet different, effort needed to read the various spaces that I must show up in to gain a clue about how and when to support, how to be available, and how to yield encouragement without being insensitive. There is a tenderness needed to be able to hold space for grief and courage to coexist. Navigating conversations around privilege and perceived privilege, and all the isms, becomes a delicate throughline in the dance for recognizing nuances to acknowledge and embrace difference –and how difference is essential to community. Perhaps this new normal is the most complex choreography being created to date because it is truly a dance of necessity. When making work, guiding questions (“Is this material essential?” “Why is it essential?” “Can the work withstand without it?”) often keeps my finger on the pulse of what the work wants to be and is uncovering for me to see. …But, before I can get to any of that, I must remember to hold space for me to be human too. I cannot be that guide or supportive framework if I am in pieces.

Epilogue: Experience is a teacher. This moment in isolation reconnects me to some of my darkest days––days that most people do not know about––that included homelessness (resulting from a combination of circumstances and my ego not allowing me to ask for help), suicidal tendencies, and fears that my life’s work (at the time EDGEWORKS Dance Theater) would crash and burn. Had I not been able to stand in my uncertainty, holding on to some ounce of hope and confidence, I would not be here now. I would not be available to be a support, a son, a brother, a friend, a teacher, a colleague, a community builder who can encourage and hold space for compassion, empathy, creativity, and dreaming while actively doing. I’m no different from anyone else in that I too am experiencing loss, sadness, and grieving all at the same time. But experiences have taught me a thing or two about endurance and how grace can appear when least expecting.

The work continues even as the world is on pause. I’m future gazing by keeping art close as a vehicle for optimism and confidence. History has demonstrated time and again that radical change often emerges from extreme conditions. It has also demonstrated that creativity has been central to healing, recovery, inspiring, re-imagining, and building our sense of belonging – and a pathway to deeper, stronger communities. My heart bleeds, and my soul holds space for hope.


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Supported by: Fiscal Sponsorship for Helanius J. Wilkins is made possible by the Boulder County Arts Alliance (BCAA)

 

Photography (unless otherwise specified) by Christopher Michael Carruth. Copyright 2019.

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