Wednesday, March 8, 2017

International Women's Day

Today is International Women's Day.

We only get one day? Internationally? I have a childhood memory of a discussion of why there are specific months or days for specific populations or people - Black History Month. LGBT Pride Month. Hispanic Heritage Month. Polish American Heritage Month. Caregivers Month. V-Day. International Women's Day. Veterans' Day. 

I understand the positive intention of bringing awareness to "minority" populations, but at the same time, by doing so, don't we recognize, encourage, and proliferate those populations remaining in the minority? Why don't "we" (the collective majority?) see these people as special every day? And yes, I recognize this could be true for Mother's Day, Father's Day, Grandparent's Day, and Valentine's Day,  (or where ever you want to place the apostrophe), Earth Day, International Dance Day, the list goes on... 

Maybe it is important to have these days to pause and reflect on the importance of diversity, service, family, and love. Perhaps, at this point in time, it's most important to bring these values back to the forefront of our awareness and action. 

How did you celebrate International Women's Day?

I'm celebrating by sharing a new truth, a recent journey, and a new path on my adventure. 

I'm in the process of Becoming Mom. 

Becoming Mom is scary to finally admit publicly because I've privately struggled with accepting the changes to my life and my body. 

During this process of Becoming Mom, I've become painfully more aware of how the government is trying to control my access to health care and the way health care providers are responding. 

I've found new friendships and deepened existing relationships with women who have passed into and through this portal of motherhood. 

And I've faced the challenge of a largely patriarchal society that (for many years) has tainted my view of femininity and beauty; questioning not only the aesthetic (and perceived) value of a woman, but the aesthetic value of the mother. 

Many of the challenges I faced in the first few months have specifically brought this question to light. My body is changing and growing and my appearance is changing and growing. Would my dance career be over? Would I need to stop performing? Would I be accepted? Could I still do everything that I've been doing - both in terms of physicality and schedule? 

I'm lucky because the Philadelphia Dance scene is rich with women who are negotiating motherhood and a professional dance career. Here, there is a wealth of knowledge, support, and movement to keep moving. 

I've been told that my pregnant body is aesthetically unappealing for the professional stage and particular work (by men), but I am finding more support in the female community by women who have gained a deeper awareness of self and others and their own artistry through this process.  

Many years ago, a good friend and somatic practitioner told me her "ah-ha" moment in coming to terms with Becoming Mom. She was hesitant to embark on this journey for some of the reasons I mentioned previously; "But," she reflected, "if my work is to embody the human experience and share that experience through art making and movement education, aren't I denying myself a very important part of that experience by resisting Becoming Mom?" She know has two children and continues to be a leader in the community. 

I'll write more on how Becoming Mom is influencing my dance performance, choreography, educational and advocacy practices, but for now, I want to express my gratitude for all of the women who have paved the way for me to talk about and experience this openly. 

As I do, I process through my body and through my dance. Here's a moment from a new work, that is researching the process of Becoming Mom and reflects on sections of Michael Lancaster's poem, Heading Old. 

"...poems tracking generations
long past, generations
deeply forward, life after life
arriving, being, passing to 
life matter: mud, water, new life, 
grasses, birds, fish uncountable, 
crustaceans, shellfish, 
food and life, immortality. 
In consciousness, I am
circular life, yet limning its cadences
in cadences as urgent as life even as
my cadence slows from its 
primal assertion to be my father
miming his pace as I sought his side and 
then strode strongly past succeeding
his dreams immortal in me. 
In time my children and their stream
my immortality in their urgency...."

How are you celebrating International Women's Day? 

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

KYL/D's 31st InHale is Friday

KYL/D's 31st InHale is Friday! 

One thing that's really special about this InHale is that our entire program of featured artists is presenting at InHale for the first time! InHale continues to grow and bring fresh faces and voices, as well of those that are seasoned and well-established, to the Philadelphia area! This performance features artists from Philly, NYC, Washington DC, and Ohio! KYL/D and InHale help to make Philly a cultural destination. (In addition to artists applying and traveling to Philadelphia for KYL/D's InHale from all around the country, KYL/D has also hosted international dancers at the company's auditions). 

I always love the intimacy of the day and the way that KYL/D's CHI MAC becomes a home for more than just the company. Dancers, audience, and community members can chat, collaborate, and get to know more about each other during this time. 

Check out Friday's artists:

Questions? Learn more!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

NACHMO Chester - what's it about?

This weekend is the inaugural weekend of NACHMO Chester!

NACHMO is a national organization designed to give dancers, dance makers, and dance supporters a "choreographic kick in the pants". The challenge (to those who choose to accept it) is to spend January in creative research and possibly share elements of the process in February.

I've been informally participating in NACHMO for several years - following the social media prompts and using the catalyst of the New Year founders to break through the doldrums of winter hibernation - physically and creatively.

With the support of Widener University and The Artist Warehouse, through Boundaries and Bridges (which is in turn supported by the Barra Foundation), I'm sharing NACHMO with Southeastern PA.

So, if you're coming to celebrate dance and the grand opening of the MJ Freed Theater's Dance and Photography studio, here are some questions you might have:

Dance in Chester?
Yeppers! There are a lot of folks in Chester and at Widener University that love and support dance! Philly's just a hop, skip, and a jump away and Philly has a pretty amazing dance scene, so its been easy for dance enthusiasts to just leap over to Philly for classes and performances... not that that's an excuse! Dance everywhere! NACHMO Chester and Boundaries and Bridges provides an opportunity for folks from the Chester, Philly, and other places in Southeastern PA to come together and share resources, dance, and thoughts.

What should I expect to see?
You'll see dance pieces that have been well-rehearsed and polished and others that are in process. Choreographers have been invited to show works in progress to utilize NACHMO and the performance process as an element of their continued research. Much like a chef needs to "try out" a recipie, choreographers often find it helpful to "try out" ideas and get feedback from an audience. (Did you ever "try out" a recipie on close family or friends before making it for a special occasion?)

This sharing is designed to provide a wide range of intention under the umbrella of DANCE. You might see sharings of:
Concert dance (dance with an artistic or abstract intent or focus)
Entertainment dance (dance that is meant to provide enjoyment)
Praise dance (dance with an intent to engage spiritual practice or worship, usually Christian)
Social dance (dance often performed within a communal setting)
Competition dance (dance designed for the intent of being judged by a group of professionals within the field)

In addition, you'll see a broad range of genres under the umbrella of DANCE: ballet, modern, contemporary, jazz, hip hop, African...

Of course, these are very broad generalizations and most dance genres can fit into one or many of categories of intention. For example, Hip Hop began as a social dance and is still often performed as such. However, with battles and popular commercial shows like "America's Best Dance Crew" the dances are performed for competition. Rennie Harris, Raphael Xavier, and others take Hip Hop to the concert stage. Again, I'm making broad generalizations for the purpose of understanding that "categorizing" dance is a very complex, and sometimes unnecessary task for a novice (or seasoned) dance enthusiast. But, why is this important? There's an on-going argument of the value of ART vs. ENTERTAINMENT. NACHMO Chester doesn't seek to explore that argument, just the process of making the dances (that might add to the conversation or not).

Can I provide feedback on the works in progress?
YES! We will provide you with paper to write "love notes" to the choreographers. There will also be time to chat with the artists, informally.

How do I give feedback?
Giving feedback is as unique as the person and process is itself. Choreographers may have specific questions they want answered, or they make be looking for general impressions. I suggest going into NACHMO with an open mind and the expectation to have your own notions of dance challenged. That being said, I encourage you to provide feedback beyond "I liked it" or "I didn't like it." Ask yourself "why?" Sometimes the experience of art tells us more about ourselves as a viewer than it does about the intention of the artist...

Here are some prompts for feedback:
What feelings or emotions did the work evoke?
What colors did you see, sounds did you hear, were your other senses engaged? Did these evoke any memories?
Did the work provide a narrative or story for you? What was it?
Did the work give you a sense of place or time?

When is it, again?
Friday, Feb 17th and Saturday, Feb 18th at 7:30pm each night. Each night boasts a different program, so come for both days at the MJ Freed Theater's brand new studio!

I'm presenting two new works in progress. Silence(d) will be shown tonight and Broken Open is being performed tomorrow.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Shelved and sat down: a new soup

I often think of my work as a collage of research and ideas. A choreographic soup, if you will. Time and the heat of performance allow it to simmer and cook. I'm sharing a new work in progress at NACHMO Chester next weekend.

In her book, The Creative Habit, Twyla Tharp reveals that she keeps all of her choreographic research in a box - one for each new project or idea. I don't have a box (maybe I should), but I do have a journal, a pintrest page, this blog, and a folder for each project that contain ingredients for the choreographic soup.

(Read more about how I cook a choreographic soup)

In no particular order, here are the ingredients for the soup I'm presenting on Friday night:

1. Working title: Silence(d)

2. A single white chair

3. A long white costume

4. Notes and articles from "real" and "fake" news sources from the past few weeks. (ie, The Washington Post and NY Times)

5. Memories.
Particularly one. About 10 years ago, we were at a community fair and there were several old women in a booth with some very loud (and by any terms obnoxious) callers. The booth was promoting anti-gay ideas and for some reason they became louder when we passed by. Justin (my husband and combat veteran) got really offended. "I've had a lot of friends die so you could stand here and voice your opinion. But they also died so that those people that you're condemming could live peacefully. You don't get to pick and choose which freedoms or rights you have and which ones other people can have. I fought for the freedoms of everyone. That includes you and that includes people who are gay." The women kept screaming and we ended up walking away. That wasn't the first or last time I listened to Justin defend the rights of people to respectfually and authentically think, look, act, believe, live, love, or choose what to do with their bodies without fear or threat of violence. I'm honored and humbled by his model.

6. Veteran, artist, and high school art teacher, Ron Whitehead's "FACADE". Thanks, Ron for allowing me to share this!

"FACADE" by Ron Whitehead

7. The Act of Valor Soundtrack

8. Previous performances and research for the HOMEFRONTLINES series

9. Jim and Lynna Woolsey's "Freedom". Thank you, both, for sharing your artistry and allowing me to share it, as well! Included below is a verson of the song:

The shows are Free and open to the public. Come and share your thoughts and ideas about how dance can be a catalyst for non-violent, positive social change, on many fronts.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

National Freedom Day

And all of a sudden, it's February.

Michael, a dear friend whose poetry you've read here, informed me that today was National Freedom Day. I'd like to take a moment (because I am free to do so) and reflect on some of the wonderful things that have happened because of the freedoms I experience in the US.

January 18th The Embodiment Project presented "Deshong's Chester: Left Behind", an iteration of the Left Behind series supported by Boundaries and Bridges - a collaboration between Widener University and The Artist Warehouse in Chester to build community through the arts. After the show, one audience member wrote, "Brava to Jessica Warchal-King and dancers for their moving piece exploring what it might mean for a city... a community... ourselves to be 'left behind'. The 'movement mandala' capped off the piece perfectly - a wonderful way to build community through the power of the art."

With an audience of over 30 in a very small space, we traveled together, saw each other, felt each other, and moved together. As it has always happened in the number of times I've led the Movement Mandala, strangers came together and created something. I am grateful for the freedom to create art and build community in a "safe" environment. I put safe in quotes because art making is not and should not be safe. It is a place for taking risks and failing and growing; challenging and being challenged and becoming a more developed and whole person and artist from those experiences. It's about the messy process of creation and unknown and fear and perseverance and trial. It's downright unsafe and scary - but it's the art and the artist that reveal the power and the beauty in being honestly human. It's "safe" because in art making, sharing and experiencing, there is an opportunity to be vulnerable that might be foreign to everyday life.

On January 22nd, the Philadelphia Dance community celebrated "The Rockys".

"The Rocky Awards celebrate outstanding achievement in a production, a performance, set design, or other accomplishment in Greater Philadelphia's dance community. There are no categories, committees or ballots. Each recipient wins the honor of selecting a 'champion' to receive a Rocky Award in the subsequent year. The Rocky Awards are presented in collaboration with FringeArts with support from DanceUSA/ Philadelphia." - from DanceUSA/ Philadelphia's website.

I received a Rocky from last year's awardee, Cory Neale. Cory has watched me grow and develop as a performer, choreographer, artist, advocate, and educator over the past several years. I am grateful for his tenacious dedication to art making - through music composition and performance, architecture, and visual art - and the beacon of light he shines through this model.

Philly's dance community truly is and continues to be a "Rocky story". It's a little gritty and a bit of the underdog but sustains and even thrives despite an undercurrent of trying times. And like the "Rocky" series, I can always count on Philadelphia artists to be "face to face, out in the heat/ hanging tough staying hungry/ They stack the odds still we take to the street/ for the kill with the skill to survive/ it's the eye of the tiger/ it's the thrill of the fight/ rising up to the challenge of our rival/ and the last known survivor / stalks his prey in the night/ and he's watching us all with the eeeeyyyyyeeee of the tiger..."

(Come on, I know that's what you were thinking... go ahead and belt it out. I'll wait... we (still) have the freedom to sing and shout and gather and disagree and challenge and "don't lose your grip on the dreams of the past/ you must fight just to keep them alive...")

Dancing for non-violent, positive social change.

Dancing for community.

Dancing to bring awareness to violence against women.

Valentine's Day, Feb 14th is also V-Day/ One Billion Rising. Communities all over the world participate by performing the Vagina Monologues, dancing together, and joining thousands of others across the globe using art to bring awareness to violence against women. My students at Widener are excited to be a part of this movement.

And the following weekend (Feb 17th &18th), is NACHMO Chester's sharing of dance and community. NACHMO is a national organization designed to be your "choreographic kick in the pants". I'm the Regional Director for Southeastern PA and excited to launch this new project in Chester. Interested in participating as a mover, a collaborator, or audience member? Check out our site and apply!

What are some of the freedoms you hold dear? How are you ensuring their survival, and yours?

In addition to making the calls, participation in marches, and being a pillar of support for those being oppressed in your community, here are three examples of how people I respect are exercising their freedoms of humanity:

1) S.T.O.P. for Kindness
2) Gather Philly
3) Hugs and High5's

And because I hope it makes you smile... (and I know it's in your head now...)

Monday, January 16, 2017

We cannot remain silent

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." ~Martin Luther King, Jr.

I spent a lot of time in the quiet space of Widener University last week - the week before school starts and the students and staff return. I silently drove through Chester, PA, the city in which Widener exists, observing the near-empty streets. Like much of what I experience these days, the area seems to exist in a world of contrasts.

Wednesday we'll perform Deshong's Chester: Left Behind, the latest research in the Left Behind series. The performance is sandwiched between today, MLK Jr. Day - a national day of service - and Friday's inauguration. The enormity of this week and this performance is not lost on me.

Katherine Kiefer Stark, Jennifer Yackel, and Laura Baehr have been on The Embodiment Project's journey with me for almost a year. We'll be joined by community members Marcy Morris, Victoria Archer-Owens, Mafalda Thomas-Bouzy, and Caroline O'Brien for this performance.

Throughout last week, we've been meeting and sharing stories of being and feeling left behind. What's special and different about this performance is that Chester really is a place that's been left behind... but it's reemerging.

I first walked into the Widener University Art Gallery housing Alfred O. Deshong's collection last year and was overwhelmed by the beauty and opulence of the artwork and the frames in which they lived. I felt as though I needed to step away from the art work - that it was too rich for my blood, in a sense. The quiet sense of awe, respect, and wealth overwhelmed me and I wondered about the connection between the Chester of the past and the Chester of the present.

Who was Alfred O. Deshong? How could an environment where this artwork was held in a residence be the same place that people were afraid to walk after dark? What happened?

In conversations with the community members both performing in this project and others that I encountered on my silent journeys, I learned that for about 100 years, Chester was a wealthy city; a giant ship-building and industrial community that boasted several cultural centers, including music and dance studios. The Deshong family was prominent in the community and active philanthropists.

I learned that, as happened in so many US communities, the manufacturing industries left quickly, leaving behind a workforce with nothing to create. I've also been told that there are political issues surrounding the low-income status of the community and racial tensions that can prevent conversation.

Enter Boundaries and Bridges, a collaboration between Widener University and The Artist Warehouse in Chester to rebuild one of the main streets through the arts. AWESOME! Boundaries and Bridges is sponsoring Deshong's Chester: Left Behind.

The project has allowed me to build a bridge between the University and the community in several ways:

Sharing stories
1) Each of the community dancers participating has a story to tell about their experience with the Deshong Museum, now closed and abandoned. The Museum held much of the artwork that is in the Art Gallery at Widener.
2) I'm hoping that the community will feel welcomed in the new gallery with the familiar artwork, on the University's campus.
3) I'm raising awareness of concert dance in the Widener community and the Chester community while simultaneously raising awareness of Chester's artistic rebuilding process to the Philly (dance) community.
4) By inviting stories of being "left behind" and "mattering" I create a connection between people who otherwise might not have been connected. What I'm learning is that many, if not all of us, hold a story of being "left behind" or feeling like we didn't matter. Through dance, and the Left Behind series, I'm hoping to reveal the humanity in sharing these stories, connecting through a common feeling, and bridging together to take action.

In my initial research of Left Behind, I discovered that the work was also exploring grief. According to psychological research, there are five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Through Deshong's Chester: Left Behind, I'm finding that there is a space after grief that involves action and rebuilding.

It is my dream that this week, we'll not only grieve what has been, and could be lost, but we'll also take action and rebuild to move forward - as individuals in our own personal journeys, as communities, and as a country.

"In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends." ~Martin Luther King, Jr.

Come see Deshong's Chester: Left Behind Wednesday, at 7:30pm in the Widener Art Gallery in the University Center. 

Program info:

Deshong's Chester: Left Behind
Choreography: Jessica Warchal-King
Performance: Victoria Archer-Owens, Laura Baehr, Caroline O'Brien, Katherine Kiefer Stark, Marcy Morris, Mafalda Thomas-Bouzy, Jessica Warchal-King, Jennifer Yackel
Music: Paul Fejko

Dancers from EVERY community find themselves at home, warming up on the floor!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

In other news...

I've been sharing my performance practice and experiences with KYL/D on the company's blog.

"Kun-Yang invited the audience to share their thoughts, questions, and reflections after we performed... The comments from the audience reminded me that HOME/ S 9th St is not just about story-telling, but is also a call to action to listen to members of our communities, share common space, and work together to build a more beautiful world..." Read more of my reflection from Kaatsbaan International Dance Center

"Traveling to NYC's City Center shortly after the New Year begins feels like a homecoming.... It's overwhelming for a dancer and a participant, but so much fun!... I'm reminded that the dance community is so very intimate, but so very vast..." Read more of my reflections on the benefit of APAP and KYL/D.