Part One- Growing Our Own Gardens: A process for falling in love

[The following is Part One of a series of writings about my experiences within the process of making Growing Our Own Gardens, directed by Associate Artistic Director Matthew Cumbie. This writing reflects on our most recent residency, held at Dance Exchange in January 2017, in preparation for a return to this process during Dance Exchange’s Summer Institute. Join us for a showing of this work-in-progress at Dance Exchange on July 21st, and make sure to mark your calendars for the performance of the DC-iteration at Dance Place in February 2018.–Tyler]

Jazzmin (Darryl) warms up before rehearsal. Photo by Jessica Hale

Jazzmin (Darryl) warms up before rehearsal. Photo by Jessica Hale

The creative team assembled by Associate Artistic Director Matthew Cumbie for the January 2017 Growing Our Own Gardens’ residency have returned to their home cities after an intensive week of working together. I am writing from my desk in Providence, RI, missing the physical company of my collaborators, missing the flexibility I temporarily found in my shoulders now undone by a return to my non-creative residency life spent primarily in front of the computer. As I write, I am activating the tendrils connecting me to the rest of the creative team. They stretch across the city to Micah Salkind, down the east coast to Jessica Hale in New York, continue to Matthew, Sam Horning, Michelé Prince, Elizabeth Johnson, and Andy Torres in Washington, DC, finding their full extension at Darryl Pilate in Dallas, TX. Even though we have not all been physically together since the work-in-progress showing / dance party capping off the week, I feel these connections just as strongly now. I remember the ways in which I moved and was moved, and I carry their fierce creative contributions and vocabularies with me into this writing.

Tyler, Jessica, and Michelé in rehearsal. Photo by Matthew Cumbie.

Tyler, Jessica, and Michelé in rehearsal. Photo by Matthew Cumbie.

Each us of desired to spend time together with Growing Our Own Gardens’ central questions concerning queer worldbuilding, futurity, and liberation, because we knew we could not answer these questions on our own. We grew together through these questions, attempting to know better how our answers differed and how these differences might be held in the worlds we were building through the week, the worlds we continue to build in our work beyond the week. This building together requires this kind of love – a love that is not about agreement and all good feelings, but holds room for disagreement, for productive tension and bad feelings, pessimism, and anger; a love that is not in spite of difference, but with and through, that can acknowledge the boundaries of the body both permeable and impermeable; a love that requires a holding closer even in moments of intense disconnect. This love is tenuous, never freely given, and always in process.

In reflecting on our January residency, my experiences of the process, my conversations with collaborators and audience members beyond the residency, and the photos and video of the performative outcome, I am attempting to begin articulating a process for falling in love with your collaborators as constitutive to the labor required in imagining and building queer(er) worlds.

Tyler and Sam in a works-in-progress showing of Growing Our Own Gardens. Photo by Sylvana Christopher.

Tyler and Sam in a works-in-progress showing of Growing Our Own Gardens. Photo by Sylvana Christopher.

The structures we created and worked through as a cohort to generate the material for January’s performative outcome allow me to sketch three principles that may illuminate this process of falling in love with your collaborators: performative co-witnessing, willful vulnerability, and being in suspense. Although specific to our process, I hope the values, principles, and reflections offered here may be useful for other creative projects attempting to transform the ways in which we relate to one another and our world. These sketches are not only metaphors for how me might be in the world, but ways to understand our own agency in the present, while also attending to the historically oppressive structures with which we are yoked.

What would it mean to set forth, as the goal for a creative residency, a process for falling in love instead of a process for making a performance? Through making a dance together that does not forgo process over product and invites the audience into that process, we interrupt circuits of reproduction and may make together, if temporarily, new worlds.

About Tyler French

Tyler is a poet and baker, and a recent graduate from Brown University with a Masters in Public Humanities. His interests focus on community-based arts programming and queer aesthetic practices.