This summer in Vermont, the Art Monastery’s collaborative theater-making process was rooted in the development of a new physical training technique: CATALYST.
Now I’m writing from Denver, CO where I’ve spent the last 2 months launching a series of public “Catalyst Training” classes, and directing a new dance-theater performance as “Catalyst Arts” (both under the umbrella organization CATALYST). Last summer in Vermont at the Art Monastery’s summer Laboratory laid the groundwork for everything I’ve been building this fall. I’m so excited to be continuing this work—plans are already underway for the Art Monastery and Catalyst’s collaboration next summer. Stay tuned for you how could get involved!
So, what was this past summer like? Read on…
Catalyst Training Development
Every day we did physical training for about 2 hours and rehearsed for another 2 hours. The training technique developed and changed slowly over the course of the season. The whole summer saw a steady stream of new arrivals and departures, so each day brought new participants—people from their early twenties to their late sixties, people of all different body types, shapes, and experiences. It was a gorgeous process to get to teach so many different kinds of people and hear their feedback on what was helpful to them—what worked and what didn’t work for each person. Each day I made a new music playlist, crafted new physical exercises, changed the sections of class, switched the order and length of those sections, and experimented with different teaching techniques. After 7 weeks of teaching five days a week, I arrived at the class format I’ve been offering in Denver and Boulder this fall. It’s a combination of free movement, strength training, cardio, and yoga. It’s a full body workout with a strong focus on building awareness, embodiment, confidence, and self-compassion. I’m thrilled to finally be teaching something that combines many of my passions for training the body and mind into one technique. Visit the Catalyst Website for more info about the classes that have been happening in Denver and Boulder this fall.
The other branch of CATALYST, cultivated during last summer’s Art Monastic Laboratory, is a performance company rooted in physical training. For the first four weeks of the summer we worked with a constantly shifting group of different performers. After that initial period, and the artistic input of so many different visitors, we had developed tons of small pieces—movement phrases, stories, poems, rhythms, songs, characters, and thematic concepts. From there, we spent the last three weeks culling, organizing, and crafting all that material into a cohesive evening of dance theater.
Meanwhile, the whole community of Artmonks was watching and reading about protests erupting all over the US in response to police violence, and the growing importance of the Black Lives Matter movement in major cities, while we found ourselves isolated in the little paradise of our Vermont Art Monasticism. It drove us to ask questions like, “What can we do here in rural Vermont to help stop racism and oppression?” “Why aren’t we somewhere more diverse, participating in rallies, offering direct allyship?” It actually felt sometimes like we couldn’t talk about anything else, much less make art about anything other than the racism (and history of racism) taking place in the US and how this relates to other types of oppression. So we brought these questions into the studio with us.
We turned the magnifying glass on ourselves. We examined our own racism, our upbringing, our culture. We practiced calling each other out and holding ourselves and each other accountable. For me this process was incredibly vulnerable—unpacking my own prejudices, my ignorance, my shame about my family history.
We ended up with a highly-charged dance theater piece that we performed to a barn full of our (white) neighbors. The piece featured personal stories of the performers’ own life experiences of race, paired with physical partnering, gestural movement, and poetry. It was a stronger political/social stance than I had ever taken in my artmaking before.
We followed the performance with a facilitated conversation, and our audience met us in the full intensity of their own experiences with race in America. The success of the piece was in the way it opened door open for our rural, mostly white community to start a public discussion about race, and begin to collectively acknowledge the systems of oppression at work in our country.
Between developing Catalyst Training and working on this politically-engaged piece, this summer was full of growth and creativity, opening new doors for me both in process and content. I’m so grateful to have gotten to work with the fantastic, inspiring artists that joined us in Vermont. And I’m especially grateful to Jess and Raphael for their authenticity, intelligence, and ability to hold me accountable in our very personal explorations of race and racism.
These Artmonk Labs are such a gift, and I’m so glad to help host a program that encourages such deep work. I’m already looking forward to summer 2017!