Letters from the Road: AL-A-BAMA!

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by Catherine Ellis Kirk

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Day 1: Monday, January 12

 

Where do two flights with a challenging 5-minute layover time (don’t worry we made it), some lost luggage, and a two-hour drive from the Birmingham airport get you? To Selma baby! And I could not have been happier to arrive at the Comfort Inn at 3:00 in the morning. The trek to Selma was one I will never forget, but the stay was all the more memorable.  

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Shortly after arriving to the hotel I fell into the deepest, most beautiful slumber before my James Brown ‘Get Up, Get Into It, Get Involved’ alarm woke me up to assist a class taught by Kyle, Maritza Mosquera (our amazing director of Outreach and Community Programs), and local Alabama artist Charlie Lucas. The class was for the upperclassmen visual arts students at Selma High School and brought back so many memories of my angsty art-school teenage years.

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The students had previously worked with Kyle and Maritza separately so we brought everyone together for their last class to reflect on, and add to the descriptive action words they had thought of when told the title of Kyle’s work The Gettin’, and what they thought of after seeing the work. From there, we included even more participation by having the students create three dimensional pieces of art inspired by a word of their choice off the list. Watching some of the kids who were more shy and non-responsive at the top of class blossom into active, focused, and passionate students over the time given to create their posters was inspiring and honestly shocking. At my arrival it seemed like such a typical high school with the goody two shoes on one side and the angst filled know it alls on the other. But these students put one hundred percent into the art project and by the end of class they all, more than willingly, shared their pieces describing ‘hope’, ‘dreams’, ‘progress’, ‘faith’ and much more. It was by far the best start to my first day in Selma.

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After our class with the students Kyle, Maritza and I grabbed a tasty lunch before walking the Edmund Pettus Bridge where the Selma-to-Montgomery marches occurred in March 1965, almost 50 years ago. We all naturally fell silent and walked on our own. Crossing that bridge I felt like Catherine Kirk, age 22, year 2015. I did not feel like I could put myself in any of the unarmed, nonviolent marchers shoes, and I don’t think they would have wanted me to. I felt the progress that has been made just as much as the set backs, and I felt tears from my frustration of the lack of voting by younger generations today. I took all of my fortune, joy, pride, blessings, sadness, and conflict and felt safe enough to apply that to Kyle’s work in the upcoming performances in Alabama. We all met up at the end of bridge to see the memorial and walked back to head to the hotel.

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The car ride was just as reflective as the walk across the bridge until our wonderful Maritza said she wanted to visit a Salvation Army in Selma. Kyle and I ventured through old loafers and printed ties until finding some outrageous Jane Fonda workout records and a vinyl entitled ‘Dreams of the Everyday Housewife’. We had a necessary laugh and said goodbye to a loaded first day. I had the laziest afternoon at our hotel with my roommate Tamisha before getting an amazing dinner with some of the company where I had some unforgettable fried green tomatoes and zucchini muffins. 

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Day 2: Tuesday, January 13

 

SO! That first day was A LOT! But Selma mellowed out more than I expected.

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We all left the hotel in the morning for the theater at Selma High School in preparation for a small showing for the students and a Q&A after. It was at the tail end of the day and lasted about 45 minutes before the final bell rang for the students to be released from school. It was amusing to know what it’s like to want to run out of school and head home, or to your extracurricular activities, but all of the kids were respectful if they had to leave, and a large lot of them stayed around for the end of the chat which was quite flattering!!

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Shortly after our showing the company ran across the street to a church that hosted a fantastic and super southern meal (and I’m from Texas). Although it may not have been my first choice for a meal right before a show, we all ended up engorging ourselves with as much food as we could hold and then boxing the rest to-go. It was fantastic. Rolls for the Gods were made, and we ate them. #blessed ;)

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We got back to the theater to go over notes with Kyle, warm up, and here comes show time! We performed Quiet Dance for the first time, followed by Hallowed, and welcomed Vince to his first performance with the company in The Gettin’! The show was intimate which made me connect even more to my experiences from the day before and the pieces were all very well received!

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After the show we ran off-stage for a quick change into real life clothes before going back out for my, and a majority of the company’s first Community Forum. We split up the audience and went into designated areas to talk about certain topics related to progress, freedom, hope, and the future—with one company member leading each discussion and writing down the main topics of conversation.

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I chatted with a small group, a mother and daughter from New York who had been living in Alabama for most of their lives. The mother, Rosa had participated in all three Selma to Montgomery marches and had danced in Carnegie Hall for Shirley Temple, Ladybird Johnson and many more. She was spectacular, adorable, and a sweet sweet sight to behold. My dad was upset I didn’t ask for a photo with her! As fun as Beyoncé is, and as many ‘Break the Internet’ jokes as I can make, these are the people who were the heroes and idols to my dad and his contemporaries, and are now to me. People like Rosa, who you may now just see as your cute neighbor—are life changers and political activists for human rights. We discussed the disappointment in the lack of voting, issues on being mixed and not being “black enough” or  “white enough” to feel like you have a home, and how continuing to bring arts and talent from the outside world to small towns like Selma can help to inform the community and promote progress.

Day 3: Wednesday, January 14

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The following day Connie, Vinson, and I were safely chauffeured to Birmingham by Matthew for out next set of classes and shows (yes we sung along to Taylor Swift with the windows down, and yes I know the words). We had a good amount of time to settle into our hotel before going to Green Acres Middle School for an interactive movement workshop with a great group of middle school students that had little to no dance training. The class was in a giant gymnasium led by Matthew and was a hoot! The kids were as receptive as could be with a distracting basketball practice happening on the other side of the gym, but they seemed to appreciate all of the movement games Matthew created.

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From there we trekked to a late night rehearsal at Samford University Wright Center to work on some of the repertory for the upcoming show before heading back to the hotel to spend our first night in Birmingham!

Day 4: Thursday, January 15

The next day the ladies and I went to a fun spot in Uptown to grab some lunch before leaving the hotel for the theater to warm up, familiarize ourselves with the theater, and prepare for our first lecture/demonstration without the bossman himself! (Kyle was off being fierce in San Fran performing Restless Creature with Wendy Whelan).

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When that was a wrap, we left the theater to hang out at the hotel for a short while and cool down. I then taught a Unifying Uniqueness Workshop to a group of high school dancers from a dance ministry program at a studio in Birmingham-Southern College. The group ended up being totally diverse with ages ranging from teenagers to the elderly. It was a fantastic time and I had the easy, breezy, and beautiful Matthew, Connie, Penda, and Vinson to help me out. I taught them a blend of multiple phrases from our repertory and allowed them to alter the meaning behind it by adding in motifs and gestures from one of their favorite memories that they shared at the start of class.

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Once that was said and done, we went back to the hotel and passed out like champions. I wish our nights were filled with more drama and excitement, but in my reflections it seems like sleeping is a big theme in my Birmingham downtime.

Day 5: Friday, January 16

There’s no way to celebrate Friday like having an early morning call time! We all departed the hotel bright and early for the Lecture/Demonstration for students in Birmingham hosted at Samford University. We opened with a section from Watershed, and performed sections from Quiet Dance and The Gettin’. We demonstrated how we create movement in the company in a collaborative way, and by catching steps from Kyle as he improvises. The students got up and moving as they learned gestural work we perform in Quiet Dance, and some volunteered to come up on stage and improvise action words that Kyle may throw at us to create phrases such as “reinvented slash, dive, 2 jumps, swivel turn”. They were eager to participate and it was fun to see dancer and rehearsal director Matthew and Jeremy lead the lec/dem without Kyle.

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After that was said and done we met with a large group of female dancers representing their schools dance teams. We continued a Q&A kind of conversation from what they saw in the lecture demonstration and I learned everything I know about being a majorette. I even learned a couple of moves and got to see some of them perform their routines! It was my Nick Cannon Drum Line dream come true. And surprise surprise we had a fun company dinner and a chill night in before I caught some z’s.

Day 6: Saturday, January 17

Tamisha, Penda, and myself had a cozy morning. We went downstairs for the pool/gym/sauna area to have an active, yet relaxing time before our impending show.

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We departed the hotel in the afternoon for Samford University Theater to meet the dancers from Troy school who were going to share the stage with us that evening to perform an excerpt of Kyle’s work ‘Protest’ that Jeremy set on them. And boy, were they top notch! They were all so open and hard working and I caught up with a dancer who I’d met summer 2013 while at a residency at the University of Arts in Philadelphia who is now at Troy! What a small world…

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Along came showtime and the Birmingham audience was yet again so kind, welcoming, and receptive of the program. After the show, Penda and I caught up with an NYU alumni who we didn’t know came to the show, which was a fun reunion before everyone enjoyed THE drummer, Otis Brown III’s company. He had flown into Birmingham with Kyle that afternoon for some work they were going to be doing in Alabama over the next couple of days.

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We then joined the second and last Community Forum of our Alabama tour. Connie and I ended up sitting at a table with about 10 other women whose discussion fixated on freedom. We spoke about what freedom is in the first place and how boundaries and rules enact more independence in some people’s lives than others, but mainly how we as humans need to respect and understand everyone’s differences and beliefs to not stifle anyone else’s freedom in the path to increase our own. We also spoke about the woman’s body and the wanted censoring of something that has always existed and most definitely will continue to (I’m talking boobies y’all!).

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Overall the night was fantastic. I love to connect with our audiences after our shows as more than just a performer but as a human sharing the same planet, trying to get the absolute most out of my life just like the rest.

Day 7: Sunday, January 18

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The next day we got to sleep in a little since we didn’t have to leave for the airport until 1PM. Once we checked out of the hotel the ladies and myself went back to a restaurant in Uptown to say goodbye to southern comfort food and grab some tasty brunch. You might as well believe chicken and waffles dominated the table. Yummy in my tummy. We then headed over to the hotel to find a beautiful sunny day, perfect for selfie lighting and hilarious videos so we wasted our time doing that before hoping on a plane and heading back to NY.

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So long sweet home AL! I’ll never forget you.

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