by Silva Laukkanen
The late Jean Kennedy Smith, former ambassador to Ireland, was also the founder of Very Special Arts (VSA), an internationally recognized non-profit dedicated to creating a society in which people with disabilities can engage with the arts. At Smith’s memorial service this year, Lori Kissinger, the executive director of Borderless Art, was reminded of Smith’s diplomatic efforts which were integral to the Northern Ireland peace process, and was inspired with the idea of creating art with the theme of peace.
I was honored to be invited to be part of the collaborative process of creating this art through dance. So, for the past three weeks, I have been meeting virtually with dance students from Middle Tennessee State University and dancers from Borderless Art Tennessee to create peace-themed dances.
“ Peace comes from within. Do not seek it from without.”
So how does one make a dance piece about peace on Zoom, in seven classes, with people that you have never met before and with those who have not yet met one another in person? You need to find the right tools.
A couple of years ago, I met Stephanie Simpson, a dance educator whose sister is a special education teacher here in Austin ISD, at the National Dance Education Conference. There, Stephanie introduced me to a tool that she had created for her high school dance students which analyzes text as a motivation for your choreography. You can take lyrics, poems, metaphors and more, and analyze them by finding shapes that arise from the text, to see what speeds are present and what size and level are derived from the meaning of your text. Then, you create movement phrases and improvisational structures based upon your findings. This tool guides the creator to move away from imitating, or the literal representation of, the words, to being able to create more abstract movement. Perfect for this situation!
“How rare and beautiful it truly is that we exist.”
It is hard to not dwell or feel sad about missing the in-person experience with these students, and to be able to be there in person. I visit the breakout rooms in our Zoom classes in which the different groups are working together and it is so wonderful to witness their enthusiasm and creative processes. And yet there is still a strange juxtaposition. On the one hand I feel happy and excited to see the work, but, on the other hand, I feel the sense of loss that we are not in a big dance space all together moving, talking, exchanging ideas, and dancing. On the plus side, I’m getting more used to this virtual platform, and I recognize the accessibility and what it has done to break isolation for people with disabilities. There will be a virtual component in our work from this point on, but I’m also looking forward to being in-person in the dance and creative spaces with people.
“The sun will rise and we will try again”
Through it all though, we persevered with this project, and I can’t wait to see the results of our work. The final product will be a video that is a collage of each group performing their dances. It will be posted in our social media and YouTube channel so, make sure to check it out.
Thank you, Lori Kissinger and Borderless Arts Tennessee, and Meg Brooker, Associate Professor of the Department of Theater and Dance at MTSU, for inviting me and for collaborating with us on this project. And thank you to the Tennessee Arts Commission for supporting this work.
Silva Laukkanen, Integrated Dance
Art Spark Texas