Winter Institute 2015: Collective Questioning

[Editor’s Note: The following is the final blog contribution in a series of blogs by Emelia Martinez Brumbaugh. Emelia was the Communications Work/Study for Dance Exchange’s Winter Institute 2015, and is a dance artist who splits her time between Maryland and Mexico City. Below is post-institute conversation facilitated through email, initiated by Emelia, that included Maureen Shea, Bikem Ozturk, Shula Strassfeld, and myself. These are a few highlights of the questions that came up, and some of what is lingering as we move back into our everyday. We have tried our best to organize these reflections into a series that reflects our ‘conversation.’ — M.C.]

DX Winter Institute participants making with community members at the New Hampshire Avenue Rec Center. Photo by Emelia Martinez Brumbaugh

Emelia:My personal practice that carries over from organizing spaces includes conversations around power, identifying what kind of power and privilege I bring into the room and how my experiences of trauma or oppression are also present. I was struck by Liz’s wisdom around renaming and recategorizing for the sake of building connections across differences rather than sticking with names that immediately refer back to a hierarchy. I wonder about the usefulness of both practices. How do the tools explored in the institute help us make connections between people when we are navigating consent around sharing stories as artists?

Matthew: For me, this work we do as artists is really about the space in between these stories (probably an idea I’m borrowing from Maxine Greene or John Dewey) and the possibility that lives in that space. While I do think it necessary to acknowledge the many different hierarchies that might exist in the room, knowing that the many different selves we bring to the space inform how and when we are experiencing power and privilege (ideas of intersectionality), I also feel like in the sharing of stories and in the moving towards ‘untapped possibilities,’ we are helping to dismantle those societal structures that may be creating hierarchy to begin with.

Shula: I like the idea of allowing stories to be told without trying to shape them as they are told and without judging them for content, tone, emotion, etc. The story, the experience, the memory simply is. When we choose to make art from the story, we then get into that grey area of how much authenticity must we maintain and how much artistry may we allow to shift the narrative. It is a slippery place to stand- maybe less so for dance because our storytelling is often not entirely literal, but the obligation to the story as much as to the storyteller is real. In the same way that Liz shifts the hierarchy of significance to a continuum, this idea of decision making about work can live on a continuum from totally collaborative to totally maker directed. It is interesting to me to look at the telling of another’s story in this way- where is it someone’s story, where is it content for a collaborative work, where is it , or is it ever “mine” to share?

Bikem: My question would be how to define identity: how do I take responsibility for Self and the World at the same time?

Maureen: I’m working on solos for each of the fifteen Dance Generators dancers this year. The solos are short: between 3-5 minutes, and each one is a little window into that person. Each dancer tells me stories about themselves when we begin. Some stories I can tell have been repeated many times. Other stories have not been shared before. Some people are easy to engage in this process, and others have resistance. I’m using all the tools we explored during the Winter Institute since returning home. In the solo process, I act as “interviewer” and “collector-generator.” I assure people that these are their solos, and that they won’t do anything that they aren’t comfortable with, though I may challenge them to do so in rehearsal. I listen for the “elephant in the room” and ask questions about this. I share things about myself when asked, or offer information about myself when we are in an uncomfortable area. I strive to be as engaged in rehearsal as the soloist is. I really look for the “untapped possibilities” that we might explore: those places that with a little support from myself and other resources from outside rehearsal, might amount to “full dancing” whether it’s in movement or text or a task. So far, the soloists have surprised themselves in what they have accomplished, they’ve gained confidence and we keep questioning the many choices and we keep working at it. I think performance is a powerful venue for trying something different on (as an individual, as a culture), and also for peeling away the layers of our personal onions: it inspires the viewer to do the same.

Matthew: There is something inherently powerful and illuminating in reflecting back together that, I think, invites us to see things from a different perspective or directs our attention to a space not yet seen. For me, my role as an artist is just that; it’s not to share someone’s story for them. How can I? It’s not my story to know, much less to tell. My role in that process is to help us vision, or reorient (as I like to think), towards what can be.

Emelia: I remember being so taken aback by my own vulnerability that I only came to see through the stories of seniors in the workshop we did at the Rec center. I didn’t realize before that I was struggling with a sense of belonging until I heard stories of their “homes”. When we arrived back at Dance Exchange, this question of “what makes a place a home” was my main mode of inquiry. I fell back on an exercise I’ve done before with Diego Piñon. I took the time to see my mother’s face, my father’s face and the face of my ancestors in the people around me. I was brought to tears. I would guess that my emotional reaction was not about bringing the past into the present; it was about bringing the multiplicity of all beings to the forefront of my heart. It all depends on the place and people we find ourselves with.

Bikem: Our thoughts, our reactions, our ideas, and our lives matter. They create our future and the future of the World. We are responsible for our Selves and the World. And everything we do, everything we say- every movement matters.

About Emelia Brumbaugh

Emelia Martínez Brumbaugh is an emerging movement artist living and working between Maryland and Mexico City. She trains and performs in a wide range of practices and offers classes that encourage critical thinking and honest movement exploration.