Tuesday, December 21, 2021

2021 Winter Solstice

Happy Winter Solstice!

How are you? 

Today used to be one of my favorite days of the year. The longest night meant that tomorrow would bring a little more light. And a little more. And a little more each day. Today always held the literal promise of a brighter tomorrow. 

This year, I've spent a lot of time with The Night Sky. She has encouraged me to be patient; to sit in the darkness and trust in time, mystery, and surprise. The Night Sky has enveloped me in the joy of new perspectives and new ways to experience light. What has The Night revealed to you? 

Serendipitously, today another episode of The Greater Reading Area Dance Exchange airs on BCTV at 6:30pm. If you're not local to Berks County, you can tune in by clicking here and selecting "Watch Now" and "BCTV.org". For this show, I had the opportunity to revisit Berks Ballet Theatre, where I danced as a younger person, and connect to the holiday classic, The Nutcracker, with a fresh approach. Join me. (And if you miss it, you can catch it again on BCTV's Youtube Channel.)

I also invite you to move and be moved today and everyday. Here's a short and simple seated sun-salutation dance:

I hope you're well, finding opportunities to connect with yourself and those important to you, and are creating joy within the journey of your stories. I look forward to hearing/ reading/ seeing them and you. 

PS. In case you missed the live-stream, here's the link for Epi3 of The Greater Reading Area Dance Exchange:

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

November events

 Violins of Hope performance: November 4th, Alvernia University Francis Hall

The Cherry Orchard, presented by Alvernia Theatre: November 4-13 (I worked with the actors to create several dances)

We Are StarDust Workshop presented by Widener University. Burst 1: My Body, A Star: November 14, Widener University Dance Studio

Mixed MESSages presented by Reading Theater Project: November 18-21 

Alvernia University Winter Concert: December 4, 3pm, Francis Hall Theatre

Preventing Violence through Dance - October

 Over the summer, I was invited to be a part of the Dance Committee for the YWCA's Week Without Violence Block Party. 

What an incredible experience of bringing together so many people, types of dance, and backgrounds for this events!

Elise Chesson, the Chief Advancement Officer of the YWCA to talk about the event on The Greater Reading Area Dance Exchange on BCTV.org. You can watch that here:

And - learn the dance because we'll be bringing it to the streets of Reading in the spring! 

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Dancing in the Community

Join me tonight on BCTV.org for the second episode of The Greater Reading Area Dance Exchange! I'll be talking to Barrio Alegria, a community organization using a variety of art forms to create positive social change! 

Click here to access BCTV.org's live streaming platform. Click "Watch Now" and then select "BCTV.org".

See you at 6pm!

But, if you missed the show, you can view it through BCTV.org's YouTube channel! Click play below:

Monday, September 27, 2021

Thank you, Harvest Moon!

Thank you to everyone who celebrated the astronomical calendar's harvest moon with JCWK Dance Lab's Harvest Moon! 

I'll be processing over the next few weeks and have the opportunity to share this research, again - in a new way - at the National Dance Education Organization's National Conference. I'm excited to look at the data, unpack feedback, and reflect on this journey. 

In the meantime, here are the additional two poems that were created as part of the audience engagement experience. 

From 9/20, the actual Full Moon

From 9/25:


Sunday, September 19, 2021

The Harvest Moon Rises

 Harvest Moon - JCWK Dance Lab's virtual event - opened last night. 

After a series of dance films, the audience collaborated on a Group Poetry Creation led by Dr. Phillip Tietbohl from Poetry that Works. The poem was in reflection of the films. 

Here is what the audience developed, together:

Dr. T created the images with the text from the Group Poem. 

Tonight, Alvernia University Theatre's Dr. Nathan Thomas is facilitating a more traditional audience/ artist talk back. Harvest Moon continues on 9/20, 9/24, 9/25, and 9/26 with different audience engagement opportunities each night. 

To join the experience, please click here. 

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Reach for the Moon


"Reach for the Moon...
even if you miss, you'll be among the stars."

Happy September! When was a time that you reached for the Moon? 

Nine months ago, dance artists Sarena Kabakoff and Kalila Kingsford Smith supported me in reaching for the Moon. The pandemic, isolation, and the darkness of winter prompted me to create light in the only way I know how. I needed to create a small community and I needed to create a dance. 

What started as a small, personal prompt has turned into a creative community collaborative experiment. In January, engineer/ psychologist/ poet Dr. Phillip Tietbohl allowed us to use his poem "Full Moon" for inspiration. 

In February, long-time collaborator Paul Fejko granted me permission to use his music for that first dance film which premiered in the Reading Theater Project's 5-Minute Fringe and the Lehigh Valley Dance Exchange's Virtual Dance Exposure. (Thank you, Paul, RTP, and LVDE!).

In March, I reached for the Moon again and approached Jill Haley about creating music for the project. (Thank you Jill!) I dreamed about a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) experiment that became Harvest Moon. Jill, Sarena, Kalila and I dove more deeply into lunar cycles and celestial patterns, Zoom and internet technology, film making, and gravitational forces through movement, music, imagery, and metaphor. 

Reading Musical Foundation provided us with a special projects grant for Jill's music. (Thank you Reading Musical Foundation!)

By April, we had created two dance films and in May, began exploring how to create a digital, immersive audience experience. Dr. Nathan Thomas and Dr. Tietbohl agreed to lead two different audience engagement models as part of the full performance experience. 

In June, I committed Harvest Moon to the FringeArts Fringe Festival. 

July and August continued rehearsals, research, and film making. 

And now it's September. It's time for the lunar and virtual Harvest Moon. 

Please join us for an experimental evening of music, dance, film, and audience engagement. Dr. Tietbolh will lead a Group Poetry Creation after the live-streamed dance films on 9/18, 9/20, and 9/25. Dr. Thomas will lead a more traditional talk-back on 9/19, 9/24, and 9/26. 

Tickets are pay-what-you-wish and are available by clicking here. You'll get links to both the live-stream and the following Zoom experience when you purchase your ticket. 

Thank you for sharing this dream! 

Monday, August 16, 2021

August Updates

There's a lot going on... 

July 25th - Reading Theater Project's In Nature's Studio was an awesome success! It was really hot and humid, but that didn't stop so many people from coming out to the Reading Public Museum's arboretum and touring the artistry. I was reminded of my days being a street performer at Busch Gardens - so much fun! 

July 30th - A dream of mine has begun to take fruition. For the past several years, I've wanted to discover and highlight dance in Berks County. My company, JCWK Dance Lab, is investing in a service project to do just that. The Greater Reading Area Dance Exchange (GRADE) was born. I created a website (click here) and a Facebook page (click here) and BCTV.org invited me to create a pilot show! It aired on BCTV.org's platforms five times in the beginning of August. You can watch it on YouTube:

August 6th - I shared research on using dance in the digital sphere as part of the Association for Theatre in Higher Education's annual conference. 

August 9th - I led a group of Berks County youth in dance practice and performance. We explored the halls of the GoggleWorks in collaborative team-building/ confidence-boosting/ dance-making in the opening day of RIZE's Solidarity camp. RDG Magazine did an article on the camp. Click here to read more. 

And... Harvest Moon is fast approaching. Thanks, PhiladelphiaDance.org and BCTV.org for sharing!

Click here to read the press release on PhiladelphiaDance.org

Click here to read the press release on BCTV.org

Monday, July 19, 2021

Inspired by Nature

 Up next... 

I'm so excited for this project because:

  • Joy! I'm dancing outside! by a river! in response to visual, aural and natural art! 
  • Collaboration - between artists who are long gone but who have left behind their impressions and artists who are creating new art with and from current situations and past stories.
  • Concert dance performance in Berks! I've brought two local dancers into this work as well - I'm so excited to explore more dance in Berks. 
  • Live performance research resumes! I'm using this opportunity to research one of the pieces for Harvest Moon.
  • Connections and community! The Folks at Reading Theater Project and the Reading Public Museum have been wonderful to work with - thank you!

See you on Sunday!

Thursday, July 1, 2021

Thank you!


Original photo by Bill Hebert.

Saturday, June 19, 2021

BodyStories - a virtual retrospective


Tickets available by clicking here. Tickets are pay what you wish. Thank you for sharing these stories! 

Original photo by Bill Hebert. 

Monday, June 14, 2021

Embedded Layers - Original Program Notes 2013

 These are the original program notes from the 2013 performance of Embedded Layers at Temple University:

As with many processes, this investigation began with questions. I was taking class with a mentor, and observed that she performed her teaching beautifully. Why are you not dancing on stage anymore, I asked? She shrugged - I would, if the right person asked me... I do miss it. Why was this physical and intellectual BODY of knowledge limited to the medium of the classroom? Was it due to her age? Her maternity? Her lived female-ness? Often in dance, the answers are revealed through the process of creation and the live performance. 

As time passed, I continued to question: the seasons changed; political challenges took effect; mass shootings and bombings occurred; natural disasters uprooted populations within the country; families were lost and divided through war... What was my role? I'm a dancer.

And there lies the answer. Movement of the body and mind, integrated creatively creates positive energy and joy within the individual and community. I have learned that dance is a force of positive social change, though community building and joy creation. This desire and need to creative positive social change, specifically as I related to the many different women in my life, led me to more questions surrounding acceptance and beauty. What does Beauty look like? Feel like? Where do we find it? How do we identify it? Can we/ I discover Beauty in between the spaces of terror and destruction? Can and where does Beauty exist in the awkward, the socially relevant, the industrial, the natural, the outcast, the enlightening, the troubling...? Why do I only see certain types of bodies onstage and others in other settings? How do we find value in Age and the Beauty of Time and Wisdom? How is that Beauty revealed? These questions and more are unearthed and collaged in this dance. Taking Lord Byron's poem "She Walks in Beauty," NASA's "Earth as Art" and perceptions studies as inspiration points, through the process of Embedded Layers, we've transformed our lived, verbal, and visual experiences of Beauty into a kinesthetic expression for the stage. 

Thank you to Nanette, the Dance Department, Boyer College and Temple University for this opportunity. Thank you to my dancers for your dedication, trust and energy. Thank you Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers for sharing CHI MAC with us during this process. Thank you to Widener University for the time to workshop these ideas. Thank you to Tracy Scott Silverman for your friendship and music. Thank you to my family, friends, and partner in all things beautiful and challenging for your unwavering support and commitment to my investigations. ~Jessica

Photo by Bill Hebert

Monday, May 3, 2021

STEAM and Will Power

In my spheres as an artist, educator and parent, I've been hearing more talk about the application of STEAM - Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics. STEAM has been a point of multidisciplinary integration for several years (you can read more about it here). If you've been reading my blog or following any point of my career, you're aware of my interest in collaboration, interdisciplinary work, and community building. As I sat and watched Alvernia University Theatre's production of "Will Power - Shakespeare Done Live!" in late April, it struck me that STEAM was inherently integrated into the performance and production process. 

(Side note - "Will Power - Shakespeare Done Live!" was an outdoor, weather permitting, theatre and dance performance. Sponsored by the Fine and Performing Arts Department, it highlighted some of Shakespeare's sonnets and famous scenes. The performances were also live-streamed to limit the in-person audience and to provide access to audience members outside of Alvernia's immediate community.)

Here's "Will Power" in an application of STEAM:

  • SCIENCE - "Will Power" was an outdoor performance at the end of April. 
    We needed to be aware of hourly weather patterns, changes and make production decisions based on those elements. For example, we needed to have an understanding of how the air temperature impacts the body and make necessary adjustments in real time to ensure safety and artistic integrity. It was very cold the first week of the run; very warm and rainy the second week. Decisions about costuming and location were adjusted in respect to the weather and scientific knowledge. We also needed to have knowledge of how different surfaces impact the body and apply that information to ensure safety and artistic integrity. Outdoors, we put dance floor tiles down on the brick pavers to create a smoother, safer surface for dancers. We changed some choreography to reduce the potential for injury from repeated jumps on the hard surface. 

  • TECHNOLOGY - The performances began at 7pm, when the sun was setting. This created a beautiful effect, but also required a knowledge of natural and artificial illumination in an outdoor space. We needed to also quickly make changes to performance delivery a few hours before the final performance because of rain (Shout out to Alvernia's performers and crew for responding to changing conditions so quickly - the show must, and did, go on!). Knowledge of the natural and artificial delivery of sound was also applied in incorporating the spoken word, pre-recorded music, and delivering the performance through a live-stream. Amplification of sound needed to be adjusted to accommodate the engineering of the different spaces of performance (outdoors and indoors). Technological knowledge of internet, live-streaming techniques, camera angles and projection, and the lag-time between the live-stream and in-person performances was also necessary to ensure an effective performance experience for audience members in person and at home. 
  • And, Alvernia's community of dancers joined me in continuing my research using Zoom as a choreographic tool. We created a Zoom-dance-for-the-camera that was pre-recorded and live-streamed during the performances. In addition to playing with lighting, sound, bandwidth, and movement, we incorporated text from Shakespeare as translated through American Sign Language. 

  • ENGINEERING. A performance exists in a space and incorporates created elements. 
  • "Will Power" needed design that 1) used materials and a design for indoor or outdoor use; 2) applied materials and a design that would last over time (several weeks of rehearsal and repeated performances); 3) incorporated materials and design that would allow for movement of actors and dancers that was sturdy enough to support the actors and scenes but light enough to be quickly moved for dance; and 4) materials and design that could be completed with limited resources (money, time, and labor). 

  • ART - This might seem obvious when analyzing STEAM through the lens of theatre, but let's 
    continue with the breakdown. First, the director(s) must decide on theme and material (this might be in conjunction with a larger theme or trend or not; our performances were scheduled around Shakespeare's birthday and outdoors on Earth Day). Casting is a nuanced and carefully deliberated process; as is the rehearsal and mentorship of the performers to understand and embody the material. Directors and performers research the intention of this material and critically apply this research to their performance. Incorporating both theatre and dance in this production was another challenge that required careful consideration and planning (Thank you, Dr. Nathan Thomas, Theatre Director, for including dance!). Then, we made adjustments to costuming based on the SCIENCE (the weather and ability of the body to move in certain patterns or fabrics). Performance delivery was based on TECHNOLOGY. The set design and movement around the set was determined by ENGINEERING. The casting and performance delivery was influence by MATH (read on). The artistry was a creative way to integrate all of these elements. 

  • MATH - How many people can you fit into a space, ensuring that everyone is 6ft apart? To 
    Dr. Thomas providing feedback.
    evaluate and plan for the maximum possible amount of audience members that can safely be in person, based on CDC guidelines, we need math. Prior to starting the process, we need to know how many total cast and crew numbers could be in the theatre based on safety guidelines (for rehearsals and the possibility to move the performance indoors due to weather/ SCIENCE) - this also impacted the ability to cast and rehearse performers. After performances (for Will Power and other performances), math is utilized to evaluate the audience numbers - in person and live-streamed. Audience evaluation also needs to take in account variables based on the SCIENCE (in our case, the weather) and TECHNOLOGY (internet bandwidth, accessibility, etc). Oftentimes, future programming and performances are determined based on the MATH data gathered. 
And then the whole process begins again for another performance! 

How else is STEAM applied in performance? 

How do you experience Art STEMming from one of the other disciplines? Or research in one of the other disciplines STEMing from Art?

Was there something else in STEAMing through "Will Power" that I missed? 

Thank you to the cast and crew of "Will Power - Shakespeare Done Live!"
Thank you to the Fine and Performing Arts Department for supporting the performances! 
Check out more about the cast, crew, and Fine and Performing Arts Department on Facebook and Instagram!

Missed the show? You can still watch a recording of the live-stream on Alvernia Theatre's YouTube Channel

Pictures taken by Chris Connelly. 

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Spring Updates

Happy Spring! 

May the changing of the seasons bring you light - in all of its positive forms!

Performance updates -

Alvernia University Theatre, where I am Artist in Residence in Dance, is hosting "Will Power - Shakespeare Done Live!" Through this performance, I've continued my research into Zoom as a choreographic tool and mentored young dance artists. Members of Alvernia's Theatre and Dance communities have been diving into Shakespeare's scenes and sonnets this semester. The performance will be live streamed for audiences outside of Alvernia's immediate community. This outdoor performance is approximately one hour and features both in-person and virtual performances. The YouTube Links are below: 
April 21: https://youtu.be/3jXd6O-d9gg
April 22: https://youtu.be/MBk-3lB3CQk
April 28: https://youtu.be/dYDSrEV5E0U
April 29: https://youtu.be/uMy_Hil6rfM

JCWK Dance Lab is being presented by the Lehigh Valley Dance Exchange in partnership with ArtsQuest. 

The Lehigh Valley Dance Exchange in partnership with ArtsQuest present Virtual Dance EXposure April 23-25, 2021. This digital version of our bi-annual showcase event features 17 choreographers from across the U.S. and includes screen dance films, recorded live dance performance, company repertoire and world premiere works. With free admission and offering 2 ways to watch - we invite everyone near and far to join us safely in celebrating these wonderful and inspiring works. Join us for the livestream premiere events on Friday, April 23 and Saturday, April 24 at 7pm EST (for Act I and Act II, respectively) to engage in virtual dialogue with the artists and community, or watch the entire program at your leisure throughout the duration of the weekend. The full program and registration for the livestream premiere events can be found at https://www.steelstacks.org/event/10687/virtual-dance-exposure/

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Community, Connection & Creation

 Last month, I shared Absence, a dance for the camera inspired by the moon, reflections, and what we see/ how we see. The work premiered as part of Reading Theater Project's 5-Minute Fringe. 

The Fringe is still online. Each evening featured a different series of artists. You can watch it here. 

I joined RTP's Artistic Director, Vicki Haller Graff, on a highlight of the Fringe by Berks Arts. I always love talking with Meggan Kerber and I'm so grateful to have a local station (BCTV.org) that is invested in supporting community and local art making. In case you missed it, you can watch the 30-minute segment below: 

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Dance artist spotlight

 I'm excited to spotlight Sarena Kabakoff and Kalila Kingsford Smith, dance artists for Absence. 

Sarena Kabakoff started her dance training at the age of 8, attending Berks Ballet Theater. Thoughout high school she performed multiple times a year in the local Nutcracker, and at dance festivals across the state. She went on to attend college at Temple University where she had the pleasure of performing with Megan Mizanty, Laura Katz Rizzo, and Janis Brenner and Company. She also interned with Dance Therapist Teresa Benzwie to teach special needs children and academics through movement. She graduated Magna Cum Laude in 2013, receiving the Benzwie Dance in Education grant for her extensive work with children. After college she went on to dance with Philadelphia based companies including: Jenkintown Dance Company, PIMA group, and FRED Dance Company. Sarena received her 200 hr yoga teacher training and went on to receive an additional 75 hr training with Shiva Rea and an advanced anatomy training with Alex Auder. She started to teach yoga at many Philadelphia studios as well as offering mindfulness at corporate centers such as David's Bridal and New Age Industries. She also taught dance at the Conservatory of Music and Dance, Jenkintown Dance Arts, Beth Jacobsen School of Dance and Imhotep Charter School. Her passion for dance carried her to do outreach programs, using dance/ yoga as a vehicle for healing at Safe Harbor (a program for grieving children), and in the greater Cancer Support Community. She recently attended an Expressive Dance Therapy program entitled "Tampala" in Norther California. Since then, she has been touring her yoga/ dance therapeutic workshop, "Unpacking the Body," around the Philadelphia area. Sarena was a featured dancer in "wretched time," a music video for "The Retinas. She performed with JCWK Dance Lab's "HOMEbody" around southeastern and as part of the virtual Fringe Festival in Philadelphia. Sarena is passionate about movement's capability to heal, to show us the stories we've been hiding from, and to move us forward into our own inner light. Learn more about Sarena by clicking here.  

Sarena in a video still from Absence

Kalila Kingsford Smith is a Philadelphia native, independent choreographer, performer and dance educator. She builds dances that are responsive to the characteristics of the performance space, whether a theater, a museum, a nature trail, or a Zoom call. Informed by her training in modern and contemporary dance, her movement flows between tension and release, momentum and suspension, improvisation and composition, and storytelling and abstraction. Her choreography has been commissioned for Drexel Dance Ensemble, Dancefusion and Gwendolyn Bye Dance Center, and she has independently produced and performed works through Philadelphia. As a dance educator, she teaches courses in modern dance technique, improvisation, choreography, dance history and theory. Kalila is a writer and editor with thINKingDANCE. She received an MA in Dance from Temple University and a BFA in Dance and a BA in Cultural Anthropology from the University of Michigan. She is also a certified Pilates instructor.  Learn more about Kalila by clicking here. 

Kalila in a video still from Absence

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Zooming in on Adaptations - Showtime!

This week, we're being presented by Reading Theater Project's 5-Minute Fringe on the virtual stage.  Through January and the beginning of February, I've been deep in process with Kalila Kingsford Smith and Sarena Kabakoff exploring ways that we experience distance, reflection, and metaphors of the moon. Dr. Phillip Tietbohl (poet, engineer, and psychologist) and musician/ composer Paul Fejko have been influential in this process. 

When: Friday, Saturday & Sunday at 7pm. We're being presented on Saturday.  

Where: Online - Click here for more info. 

What: Creative Adaptations and artistic responses by artists in Berks County and beyond. 

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Art as social change

I'm an advocate for educating about the ways that art can be an agent of positive social change. This happens through 1) artwork that makes an audience think/ provokes a response to a subject, 2) creating art in response to a social justice issues, 3) educating about how to look at art, 4) educating about how to use art as a vehicle for social change. 

In my role as Artist in Residence at Alvernia University, I'm building a bridge between the Fine and Performing Arts Department and The Holleran Center for Community and Global Engagement through a social media challenge. 

A little background - in a non-pandemic year, most colleges, classes start right after Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (in January) with students moving in the weekend prior. MLK Day is used as a day of service for the college and surrounding communities. Because of the pandemic, Alvernia began classes February 1st; MLK Day was still used as a day for awareness and advocacy through a virtual ceremony. I performed via video for the celebration. 

The Holleran Center for Community and Global Engagement is kicking off this first week of classes, Black History Month, and the semester with a week of awareness and advocacy, focusing on Dr. King's philosophies, panel discussions, and service opportunities. We're collaborating to bring awareness to the ways that art provokes social change through a social media challenge - using #AUartasawareness. 

Here are some of the images I've created. The pictures are used with permission and are from past performances of Alvernia Theatre. 

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Process play

 "When we engage in what we are naturally suited to do our work takes on the quality of play and it is play that stimulates creativity." ~Linda Naiman

Process play. Word play. Work play. Movement play. Zoom play. Rehearsal play. Performance play. 

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Moon Dances

Reflections from rehearsal.

Zoom adds, inflates, and reveals so many (more) questions in the creative process. 

Monday, January 18, 2021

MLK Day 2021

 Here's to a hopeful Martin Luther King, Jr Day 2021. 

Friday, January 8, 2021