Since I began my dance career I’ve imagined what it might be like to return to my hometown to perform. I recall joking around several times with colleagues about how fun it might be to do a “Hometown Tour.” This past week I got that opportunity when Abraham.In.Motion visited Ann Arbor, MI to perform both of our newest programs, The Watershed, and When The Wolves Came In, at The Power Center presented by the University Musical Society.
Perhaps it’s best summed up in a conversation I had with fellow dancer Penda N'diaye: Almost everywhere we go we get asked about how we got started dancing, or our background. We’ve heard the quick answers from our fellow company members so many times we could easily spout them off for each other… Penda launches into her scary good impersonation of me: “Well I started out as a gymnast.. and then ballet, sports, college, modern, dance.. etc etc.” It was a special feeling to return home and feel like that short bio has come to life in front of you in a complex and multi-layered community to appreciate and share. Another AIM dancer, Jordan Morley, said he felt like he didn’t really know me until this trip, until seeing where I was from.
We performed at the Power Center in Ann Arbor. When we arrived backstage the circuitousness of life stared me down. The studio where I started taking ballet (“Sylvia’s Studio of Dance” just down the road on State St) had their annual dance recital here. This was the first stage I ever danced on. Growing up here I’d seen countless performances as part of UMS’ rich performance series. I remember seeing Baryshnikov perform there when I was about 12. The place is filled with personal and family memories.
Before one of our performances I shared with the dancers one of those memories backstage: I performed my first solo on this stage, a solo that was probably more gymnastics than ballet. I was 9 or so and played a little frog prince. Being backstage in the same halls and dressing rooms I was filled with a familiar feeling from that day, butterflies, excitement, curiosity, joy, J.O.D. (or Joy Of Dance as one of my mentors Nicole Wolcott would teach me to call it). I felt bad for not being able to show the company more of the town and my community while we were here, but I was so excited, so over-J.O.D.’ed, to share us with them. I felt a deeper understanding for that oh-so-frequent post performance discussion question, that I’ll summarize as: “Why dance?”
The latter part of my dance background story Penda could tell you will always have to do with college and how I didn’t discover modern/contemporary dance until I got there. Western Michigan University across the state is where I ended up. Coincidentally so did my soon-to-be friend and future AIM colleague Jeremy Neal. I was nervous and excited back then when the modern dance professor, Carolyn Pavlik, plucked me out of the freshman crop to be in one of her pieces. Having never taken a modern class before or knowing anything about all the varieties of techniques and training, I fell in love with the endless potential I saw for movement and dance as I discovered this new form.
I felt some of that same nerve and excitement waiting backstage for the curtain to go up on our opening in Ann Arbor. I was honored and a bit nervous to hear that so many of Jeremy and I’s professors made the trip over to see the work. It was a special and all too short moment to visit with them afterwards and hear their impressions. They had each been an important step in making it possible for me (and Jeremy! I’m sure he’d agree) to be doing what I love. Performing for them felt like a chance to say thank you.
Along with my professors, family, extended family, friends, I felt synergy with the audiences through our Hometown/Ann Arbor/A2/Ace Deuce connection. I enjoyed getting to hear from the community I grew up in during the talkbacks and all the outreach and residency activities that the company participated in throughout the week. I felt a deeper understanding for who I felt I was in the work, and how my history helps inform that.
In addition to getting to connect with the community at the post performance talkbacks, it was wonderful to get to do so many residency activities surrounding the performance and really feel like we were experiencing and sharing with Ann Arbor rather than just being there. After carting us around and accompanying us on various events, Jim Leija and Mary Roeder from the UMS staff, and Clare Croft from U of M’s dance program felt like friends and colleagues as well, and their spirits, knowledge, and hospitality made the busy schedule not only manageable, but moving.
I taught a Master Class for some of the dance department students, accompanied Kyle on a lecture with alumni in the evening called Night School, and gave a lecture to a group of students in the Michigan Union. Connecting with the university and UMS in this way was very special for me. With a deep seated respect for the school’s history and reputation, I had to pinch myself getting to share and work in these spaces. Those were only a few of the many activities that AIM did in Ann Arbor. I wish I had time to experience more of them, like Kyle’s Master Class with the musical theatre majors. We also got to wrap up the week with a brunch and conversation at the alumni center that was open to anyone who attended the performances and wanted to know more. It was great to see so many familiar faces from the residency activities coming to the performances to continue the conversations.
I feel blessed to be a part of art that can transport and transform people and ideas. I feel thankful to have connected with Kyle and grown in our collaboration and to be able to support his vision. I cherish the relationships and bonds I’ve made with our other collaborators and the support we give each other and the generosity of the group toward the communities they visit. Somehow after leaving home I felt all those things a little stronger.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Day 2: Tuesday, January 13
SO! That first day was A LOT! But Selma mellowed out more than I expected.
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!!
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 ;)
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!
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.
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
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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!).
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
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.
The 26-hour travel day was A LOT. Our journey consisted of two planes including a four-hour layover, a bus, a train and a five-minute walk to “Hotell Grepen” in Vara. The city of Vara is a small and cozy town filled with friendly people and quiet streets. The town is a bit dark but I soon learned that during the winter Sweden is fairly dim all day. It is going to take some getting used to. Each morning there were five people at the breakfast table, which I did not mind at all. Breakfast was pretty delightful. Nutella and turkey sandwiches were my go to. The company’s first performance was November 18th at a venue in Vara and it was truly a blast. The crowd was very receptive to Pavement and we even got a few screams and clapping during the performance.
The following day we all traveled to our next stop on the tour, Stockholm! Stockholm is truly beautiful. The large buildings, lights and insanely large crowds of people made me feel right at home. The Scandic hotel was fairly massive and luckily it was one door away from Dansens Hus, the theater in which the company would later perform. The hotel had a snack shop, bar and restaurant on the ground floor which meant that I did not have to go too far for food. Whoo! The first night I enjoyed a Caesar salad and a chilled Sprite.
The following day on November 20th, 2014, the company had the day off. The morning of the 20th I woke up fairly early. While I enjoyed a cup of tea I listened to my morning playlist, which is a mixture of Max Richter, Luther Vandross, Whitney Houston and Jah Cure.
In the afternoon Maleek and I were off to explore the city. There were a lot of sites near the hotel so we walked quite a bit. We spotted H&M, Zara, and the body shop, just to name a few. We could not resist so of course we did some shopping. We walked around for hours, also admiring the natives’ stylish fashion looks and the talented people singing or playing an instrument at the side of the street. It had a similar New York City vibe, which intrigued us. Our day concluded with a satisfying burger at a place called “Flippin Burger.” I enjoyed a cheeseburger with caramelized onions and lettuce, along with a cream soda to wash it all down. Yum!
The following day we had two performances, a school performance and an evening performance. Dansens Hus is a beautiful venue. The stage was grand and each dancer was able to have their personal dressing room. The walls were covered with one liners or signatures of past companies who’ve graced the space. I even spotted the signatures of a few friends. The school performance was quite interesting. The students were incredibly vocal and they did not hold back at all, often randomly clapping or making a remark at the end of a section. This was a new experience for me. The evening performance was AWESOME. The audience was extremely quiet but when the performance concluded the audience went mad, applauding and screaming bravo, bravo! Following the performance there was a nice reception for the company. We enjoyed a few glasses of wine, small hors d'oeuvres and engaged in great conversations with other guest.
The next day we had the first part of the day off and to follow was an evening performance. Matthew, Maleek and myself ventured out to an area called “Old Town” which is known as the hipster side of town. On this 20-minute walk we passed a great deal of Christmas decorations, carolers, and a few monuments such as the palace and the Nobel Peace prize museum. There was a Christmas shopping area, which to me was similar to the festive shopping area at Union Square in New York City. It was incredibly packed with people shopping their lives away. It was only right to join in on the fun so I purchased a few Christmas gifts for my family.
That night the performance went well and the company added our names to the wall. The night was young so a few of us went out to experience the nightlife. Two people that currently live in Sweden, a native and another that moved from Italy joined us to kick off the festivities for the night. They were extremely friendly and willing to show us around. We ended up at a club called Strand, which was super fun. The music ranged from hip-hop to pop and a little reggae was thrown in the mix. We all danced the night away and even made up a gesture phrase towards the end of the night. Lol. The night was a success and the following day we were off to our next stop, Gothenburg!
Day 6 & 7
I was beyond excited to head to Gothenburg because I would get the opportunity to see a great friend of mine who’s birthday happened to be the day before we performed. Gothenburg was only three hours away from Stockholm so we got in fairly early. I was a bit exhausted so I stayed in until dinnertime. The following day we had the day off and my friend invited some of the members to take class with his colleagues. It was his birthday so I was beyond excited to see him. The class was amazing and it was so refreshing to be in a studio again.After class he gave us a tour of there beautiful facility, which was massive.
As we walked outside I saw a glimpse of the sun and I was beyond excited, smiling from ear to ear. My friend jokingly stated that we brought the sun to Gothenburg. For the remainder of the day I relaxed for a while until the evening.
Kyle, Winston, Maleek and myself went to an authentic Dim Sum restaurant and it was by far one of the best meals I have had on this trip thus far. I ordered shrimp dumplings, a spicy sautéed fish dish and a side of rice. The portions were fairly small but it was just delicious. That night Matthew suggested that we all go bowling and we were all game. It was a 15 minute ride to the bowling alley and we were joined by Brittanie Brown, a former dancer with the company, her partner, and my friend Nigel Campbell who’s danced with the company in the past also. We divided ourselves into teams and it was game on. We all had a blast. I scored a strike which made me very happy but that was no match to Winston’s 5 strikes in a row. He was on fire that night.
The next day was the performance and we had our usual day of spacing and dress rehearsal before the show at 7pm. Stora Teatern, the theater in which we performed was very intimate and it was just a 5-minute walk from the hotel. The renaissance style theater was such a beautiful space and we performed for a full house that night. After the show the company along with some of the dancers from Goteborgs Operans Danskompani went out to dinner at Vapiano. It was a night filled with great food, hilarious conversations and getting to know some really nice people. I was so sad to leave so soon but the next day we were heading to Kungsbacka, a fairly smaller city than Gothenburg.
Kungsbacka is similar to Vara in the sense that they are both quiet towns filled with friendly and warm people. The hotel was located directly across the street from the train station and the theater was ten minutes away from both. I arrived in the city a few hours before the other company members because I was scheduled to teach a master class. The theater was located in a school so there were students in the halls, some singing a tune and others rushing to there next class. The master class truly made my day; the students were so pleasant and eager to gain new information. After the class I walked around the town for a while, stopping at a nearby grocery store where I found these bag of chips that I have been on the hunt for. When I got back to the hotel I watched a bit of the news and devoured the bag of chips. I would say that I had a pretty great day.
The following day was November 27th, which was Thanksgiving as well as Winston’s birthday. I walked over to the theater earlier than usual to do my laundry and to just be in the space. The crew laid down a brand new floor for the company, which we appreciated greatly. Our official day began at 1:30pm to warm up and get ready for the dress rehearsal. After the dress rehearsal a wonderful dinner was prepared for us. Mash potatoes, lasagna, salmon with vegetables and delicious slices of bread. It was finger licking good.
The performance that night was sold out and I even spotted a few of the students that attended my class. A beautiful Thanksgiving meal was organized for the company after the show. We had a creamy soup with a warm baguette to begin, followed by sweet potato puree with a succulent turkey. It was by far the best turkey I have had ever. This was my first Thanksgiving I have celebrated away from my family and although it is not a big tradition in my household, they were missed. I definitely enjoyed the company of my colleagues and I am truly thankful to be on this journey with them.
The next day we headed to our final stop in Sweden, Falkenberg, which we were notified, is even smaller than Kungsbacka. The hotel was located across from a river, which was such a peaceful element to wake up to. It also had a really great wellness center equipped with a sauna, steam room and a massage chair, all of which I took advantage of. The day of the show I spent an hour in the center before heading to the theater, which was 10 minutes away. It was just what I needed to kick of our final show in Sweden. This was the earliest evening performance we’ve had thus far; it was scheduled to start at 6pm. My body was fighting me a bit but I made it through the performance in one piece.
The night was young but we were preparing to head to France the following day so I planned to stay in. A few of us got together for dinner and a game of spades. Endless laughter and phrases such as “yes diva,” “divaaaa,” “you did that diva” were thrown around. It was comical. This journey was an unforgettable one and I am so fortunate to be here performing with these amazing people. Off to France we go!