I dedicate SBDP’s 2020 season to the body. My body, your body. To the bodies of those murdered, displaced, lost to one or both the pandemics: racism, COVID-19. To the community body, to beloved teachers lost to cancer. To the earth body. To the winged, the furry, the scaled, the rooted, branched and blooming bodies. To the wonder that is resilience, the hope that is creativity, the pause that is listening, learning and unlearning, the motion that is change. A toast to dancing, against all odds, to community, to BIRDS!
The best parts of 2020 were because of YOU, and the blessing of being in process with this flock of artists:
Audubon California partner and birdsit teacher: Molly Tsongas
Dancers: Frances Teves Sedayao, KJ Dahlaw, Risa Ofelia Diaz
Dancer and photographer: courtney hope
Dancer and collage artist: Julianna Cressman
I am deeply grateful to this core group of artists. The seven of us spent 9 months in deep weekly creative connection with birds and with each other.
We were also joined by the incredible:
Musician, Sound Designer, Videographer: Miles Lassi
Filmmaker: Lindsay Gauthier
Video Effects Artist: Olivia Ting
Couture Designer: Colleen Quen
And three Guest Dancers and Mentors: Sue Li Jue, Richelle Donigan, and Joan Lazarus.
These dancers are all folks who I invited into this project because I love them, and because of the “bird-like” quality I see in their movement. And the sound and visual artists are all folks who, like me, are inspired by the natural world. It is my honor to be on a creative journey with all of them.
2020 didn’t go the way we thought it would.
I spent three blissful months learning about Richardson Bay Audubon Center and Sanctuary, how to dance in harmony with the environment. But the very week I planned to bring dancers to the property, it had to close because of the pandemic.
So, we danced on Zoom. We tried choreographing and teaching. We gave each other direction. It was not easy. We tried improvising. Learning how to follow and relate to each other through a tiny screen. Sometimes there was magic and discovery, sometimes it was fun!
And sometimes it wasn’t. Sometimes the technology, the logistics, the uncomfortable places we had to dance in, were frustrating. Our connections felt unstable.
So we tried dancing outside with masks. We worked and worked to find intimacy without touch. We learned that a big part of our dancing this year would be about sitting still. We became students of the birds and of our own bodies. We danced on rooftops. In a giant nest found in the redwoods. We learned about color, about framing, about editing. About fitting ourselves into boxes.
We learned about George Floyd’s murder. We learned about the violent threat Amy Cooper perpetrated against birder and Audubon board member, Christian Cooper.
I learned about the characteristics of white supremacy culture and how they live in my body, in my language, in the institutions around me, in my style of leadership and creative practice. Hierarchy. Perfectionism. Individualism. Dominance. Colonization. Appropriation. Efficiency.
It was time to let them all go.
I asked the dancers if they were ok with me trying some new ways of being in creative process, ways that felt, for me, untested. I told them I didn’t know if they were good ideas or if I’d be good at them. I’m so grateful they said, “yes”, “sure” ,“ok”.
Our zoom rehearsals became half check-in. How are you? Is this work serving you? If it’s not, let’s change it. If we could create anything together this year, what would it be?
This openness made room for so much brilliance! “Let’s do an outdoor workshop!” “Let’s do an online movement workshop and pride party for LGBTQ birders!” “Let’s do bird-drag!” “Let’s make a dance film!” “With fabulous costumes!” “Let’s do more writing!” “Let’s make a zine!” (“What’s a zine?”) “Let’s start a communal blog where we can each share written reflections and whatever content we want whenever we want it.” “Let’s share weekly creativity prompts with our community that follow the seasonal behaviors of the birds.”
We created the hashtag #sixfootwingspan and many of YOU shared your bird-inspired brilliance with us on social media. We did birdsits alone and with Molly live on Instagram as a therapeutic practice to center ourselves in our bodies and in our interconnection to our intimate and wider world environment.
I appreciated workshops with the organization Weaving Earth that encouraged us to refer to the birds with gender-neutral pronouns, that gave us permission to name the birds anything we wanted to name them, and invited us to see if we could learn from the birds about systems of relationship other than dominance.
In our zoom rehearsals we tuned-in to each other with the same wonder and attentiveness. We were able to witness each other like birds and name and recognize each individual’s unique voice and movement qualities.
I did my first Instagram live birdsit from inside my living room because the air was too smoky. I danced to the comments that participants were posting about their birdsits. I felt in my body how the birds and technology really do connect us across distance.
During those worst days of our fire season, (remember that day the sun never really seemed to rise?) we thought about the birds, we wanted to know how they were impacted. Molly connected us with Dash, Olivia & Sonjia at Audubon’s Bobcat Ranch and we learned about their approach to fire management and sustainable ranching practices to help restore and sustain grassland bird species and habitats.
This season, I’ve learned more about leadership, art-making, community and myself than in all 12 previous ones. I’ve always had a vision, and a plan for how MY vision would be created, and staged, and presented to you. 2020 taught me about letting go of ownership, about listening and transparency. About letting care and quality lead over efficiency. 2020 said, “you can not be attached to form, or timeline, or to seeing art as a product.” This year we learned that the art is in the process. And we were determined and excited to share all this art with you.
Thank you for being part of this journey. This journey that started as a residency on the Richardson Bay Sanctuary and pivoted into a partnership without borders with Audubon California and Molly Tsongas.