In between two places: Growing Our Own Gardens

[The following blog post reflects on the most recent creative residency for Growing Our Own Gardens, directed by DX Associate Artistic Director Matthew Cumbie. This residency in December 2017 was the first time that the full creative team was coming together in almost a year, and culminated in a works-in-progress showing at Dance Place. Join the creative team again on February 24th and 25th at Dance Place for the DC-premiere, and at the engagements in partnership with the DC Center, Dance Place, and other local partners leading into the week of the performance.– Tyler]

I am picking up where I left off in the writing about Growing Our Own Gardens with the assistance of 16 other beautiful movers and makers who joined us in the studio during the second module of the Summer Institute. Ellen Crooks, the Communications Work/Study, thoughtfully captured our time in the studio in these blog posts.

During the 2017 Summer Institute Module 2, we were able to open up the process, to begin to explore again what queerness might mean and also ask how worldbuilding relates to collaboratively making a dance in and outside the studio. I think this attention to and interest in dancemaking’s contribution to worldbuildling (as a model and as choreography – the shaping of space across time) was something we had not explored as fully prior to the Summer Institute. Inviting new movers into our process, teasing apart known choreographic structures, trying out new ones required us to try to answer, in dialogue and in practice: what are the conditions by which we are going to all agree to build a queerer world together?

I entered into our short December 2017 residency with these questions of worldbuilding, reflecting on how we have worked together to build this piece and in what ways dance can be more than a metaphor for social action and worldbuilding outside of the studio. I found myself asking, What tools do we bring to this work? The process itself is a practice in worldbuilding, from the community agreements we write and agree upon collectively, to the ways we navigate touch and consent in the studio, to how we invite/implicate the audience in helping us make this world.

That short weekend in December was the first time the core creative team for Growing Our Own Gardens assembled in full. It is like when the Avengers assemble, but so much less straight and our powers are that much cooler. Anticipating that assembly had me reflecting on where we have been so far, and what I am carrying from each of the core collaborators in how they show up to this work and we build (temporary, contingent, imperfect and loving) worlds together. (Although I am only including one of their powers here, know these collaborates are fiercely multiskilled and contribute in uncountable ways to this project.)

Jazzmin and Andy in Growing Our Own Gardens. Photo by Alison Waldman.

Michele Prince: I learn so much about facilitation watching Michele shape a space. They hold onto joy and criticality in equal measure.

Sam Horning: I learn so much about my head-tail connection and fluidity watching Sam dance. He demonstrates what it means to move in ways my body has been trained not to.

Andy Torres: I learn so much from Andy’s stories, not just what he tells, but how he tells it. He is a masterful storyteller and knows just when to pepper in the dirtiest jokes.

Jazzmin St. James D’Monaco: I learn so much about what it means to be a queen from Jazzmin. Being regal doesn’t require a crown (but it doesn’t hurt either).

Jessica Hale: I learn so much about my connection to the floor from Jessica. She moves in and out of the floor with such ease I sometimes wonder why we don’t flip upside down more often.

Elizabeth Johnson: I learn so much about moving a room from Elizabeth. Physically and energetically, she can shift a room with her presence.

Micah Salkind: I learn so much about listening from Micah. His musical contributions are keenly in tune with what else is going on in the studio.

Stowe Nelson: I learn so much about being a spotter from Stowe. His soundscore catches us, as do his reflections from outside the piece through support and tension both.

Juliana Ponguta: I learn so much about the way playfulness partners with a creative process, and how a simple hug can offer such grounding force.

Heather Doyle: I learn so much about the courage it takes to put ones body on the line. She brings this with her in the quiet and powerful ways she holds space for conversation and discovery.

Matthew Cumbie: I learn so much about leading from Matthew. His leadership is quiet and focused; he leads by demonstration. He is interested in each of our contributions and leads through his capacity to invite others into this dance.

Although Kyla Wazana Tompkins is speaking about how to create a classroom space that is driven by inquiry and asking good questions (a kind of worldbuilding), I think her conclusion to the article “We Aren’t Here to Learn What We Already Know” can apply to all acts of worldbuilding:

“But we don’t come together to perform what we already know how to do. We come together to be unlovely and take ourselves apart, in order to mutually construct even more difficult ideas. It’s not supposed to be easy. The labor is what makes it beautiful.”

I have been intentional to not call any of these attributes, or powers, gifts – as least in the sense of reading them as talents, or inherent to the bodies that possess them. Maybe we can think of these gifts as offerings, as a way of being with each other in kindness and generosity. I can move my body in ways I never would have dreamed two years ago when I first intersected with this project and have new vocabularies to labor together with these collaborators in building worlds both inside and outside the studio (the studio and the stage are porous). The offerings I note above, and the many others each of us offers to this process, allow us to be unlovely together. They allow us to ask larger and more difficult questions.

Matthew began this project with a curiosity about his own history as a queer person. He began to invite others into the process in order to better understand how these histories intersect, inform, and shape where we stand together. But those invited in have their own questions. So the driving questions behind the work must become bigger. The answers are tentative (this performance in DC is but one point in this process) and apt to shift. Our analyses and responses must be balanced between criticality and joy, find the relationship between fluidity and rigidity, tell a deeply serious joke, be regal, get close to the floor, shift energies, listen deeply, catch each other, and practice leadership as a capacity for inviting others in. When we talk about worldbuildling, our work is not done when we take a bow after the performance. Our work together has only just begun.

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.