Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Orbit emerges on 32323

 "Orbit" is a collaboration that's been planted and growing for over the past decade. Dr. Mara Parker, Chair of the Visual and Performing Arts Department at Widener University, hired me in 2012 to teach dance. I fell in love with the mission of the university, the interests of the students, and the grittiness of the environment - including the city of Chester. During my time at Widener, Dr. Parker, the University dancers, and I collaborated on several projects and performances. I deeply respect(ed) Dr. Parker's dedication to her students and to her own artistry. 

Dr. Parker is a cellist - the cello is one of my favorite instruments! 

I needed to leave Widener in 2019, but Dr. Parker and I remained close. From the first moment I met her, I knew she would be a long-time mentor, colleague, and eventually friend. Over the years, we talked about doing a performance together, where she played solo and I danced solo. But, time passed. 

Until this year. In Fall 2022, emerging from of the pandemic, emerging from a lot of personal challenges, emerging from of a lot of time, Dr. Parker approached me with the idea of a combined solo show. Without fully understanding the details, I said, "YES!"

Dear Reader, you know those few people to whom you'll say "yes" to almost anything, no matter what? Dr. Parker is one of those people for me. 

What I didn't realize I was saying "yes" to was an hour-long show. Of just me dancing and just Dr. Parker playing. I didn't realize I was saying "yes" to an incredible gift of time, movement, investment, and love. 

Dr. Parker will be playing four cello pieces, including the entity of Bach's 1st Cello Suite. I'll be dancing to each of them. 

Read more about the performance on the Philadelphia Dance Journal by clicking here. 

For the performance website, click here. 

Thursday, March 16, 2023

The Milestone of Misa Criolla

 Happy 275th Anniversary, City of Reading, PA! 

Many celebrations are happening this week and I was fortunate enough to catch some of the fireworks lighting the mountaintop tonight. 

One significant, maybe serendipitous, event happens this Sunday, March 19th at 7pm at St. Margaret's Roman Catholic Church in Reading. The Reading Choral Society and Alvernia University Chorus are coming together to share Misa Criolla, among other performances. 

This particular event holds a special place in my heart because:

  • Historically (anthropology and story buff here 😁), the Misa Criolla was the first Catholic Mass to be translated from Latin into a vernacular language, less than 100 years ago. It was translated into Spanish and much of the musical score was based on traditional dances. The way I see it, the Church took a huge step to honor the diversity of its congregations and make the religion more accessible (dare I say more inclusive) by translating its texts. And... the Church recognized that dance was integral to the integration of people and spirituality - at least in the relationship to music. Utilizing sounds associated with physical movement, community, and joy were the bridge between a complicated institution and a new connection to a larger group of people. Please, do your own research because I'm just skimming the historical importance of the work.   
  • The Reading/ Berks area has a large Hispanic population. By producing this performance, Alvernia and the Reading Choral Society are acknowledging this. Perhaps, like in times gone by, this performance is an invitation of inclusion and acceptance from large organizations that might seem "off limits" to some folks. Full disclosure, I'm making assumptions from the sidelines here. But, I like to think that we're in a time of community building, joy creation, and positive perspective shifting. These things take time, but without first steps, the journey can't begin. 
  • This is the first collaborative performance between Reading Choral Society and Alvernia University Chorus. Again, yay for creating community through artistic collaboration! 
  • I was brought into explore how dance could be incorporated as a visual element to compliment the singing and honor the tradition of folk dances on which the music is based. Time and space didn't allow for a choreographic translation of the mass, but I was invited and encouraged to bring dance into the entity of the event. Thank you! 
I'm in the unique position to be directing an ensemble of adult dance artists working at a professional level (JCWK Dance Lab). I'm also leading a group of younger artists who are craving dance education through experiential learning (Alvernia University Dance Company). To honor the Misa Criolla and the groundwork laid by Reading Choral Society and Alvernia University Chorus, I'm bringing these groups together to share dance as part of the celebration of community building and joy creation through artistic/ embodied experience. 
  • The music choice is specific to the above intentions and to acknowledging our contemporary climate. We're dancing to a familiar tune from a recent, popular movie to acknowledge the Misa Criolla's Latin American heritage and in recognition of the moment this event is occurring. (I checked and we're covered by licensing). And, yes, I fully expect that folks in the audience will sing along. Welcome! Singing is a form of embodied expression - the vocal chords are dancing! 
  • The dancers will be wearing white. This is to acknowledge the pure intention of the collaborations. And, white light reflects all colors. 
  • We've been experimenting with wings. We (the dancers, the singers, the community leaders as I witness them) are literally and metaphorically expanding our wings to try new things. We're going to get tangled up as we practice, learn, perform, and try again. But, we can only learn by doing, by making the mistakes, and making the choices to keep going. In dance, as in life, the show must go on. 
  • Both JCWK Dance Lab and Alvernia Dance Company have a diverse group of dancers. By "diverse," I mean different in age, dance experiences, body type, ethic backgrounds, and personal narratives. In bringing them together, I hope to replicate the model I see from RCS and AUC in invitation and inclusion. I deeply believe this is possible through thoughtful mentorship, leadership, and love. 
There's more, I'm sure. 

These are a few of the elements I've been witness to and hold dear. 

Would you join us? 

For tickets and more information, click here

I'm including some rehearsal shots below. 

Members of Alvernia University Dance Company in rehearsal. 

JCWK Dance Lab artists in rehearsal as part of our
Cultural Exchange with The Heritage of Green Hills.
Photo by Paul Laincz

Monday, February 13, 2023

First Performance of 2023

 This week JCWK Dance Lab has our first performance of 2023. 

Wow...! Yay!

The company has been through a lot of growth in January, but we'll talk about that in another post. 

We're being presented as part of Reading Theater Project (RTP)'s 5 Minute Fringe this weekend. We're sharing a new work, "Seeking," which is an excerpt of the April 23rd performance of Dark Adaptation (more on that later, too, but click here for a bit of information, now). During RTP's Creative Labs, a process in which the presented artists come together several times before the show to share and get feedback, we joined two other performances.

So, we're actually sharing THREE new works this weekend!

Click here for the link for tickets and more information regarding Fringe.

Here's a moment from our sharing of "Seeking" during RTP's Creative Labs. The Labs were held in a church. I'm in the foreground, Richie Maldonado, Jr. is behind me. Richie joined JCWK Dance Lab in December 2022 and you might remember him from our chat on The Greater Reading Area Dance Exchange.                                                                

Here's a picture of our Cultural Exchange with The Heritage of Green Hills. We're sharing time, space, and experience with the residents of the senior living facility and the process has been so enriching! Arielle Ridley is in the foreground, I'm leaning on Richie's shoulders, and Cady Monasmith is in the blue pants diagonal from us.

Thursday, January 19, 2023

Getting Muddy with Play

 This is often how I know my child has had a good day: 

Please notice the mud all over any surface that wasn't covered with an additional layer (not pictured). The hair matted from sweat. The face reddened from intense physical exertion (tactile learning). The readiness to shed one layer in order to fully jump into the next adventure. 

This is a GOOD DAY. 

JCWK Dance Lab is continuing the process of creating choreography/ dance performance to Stephen Grieco's Dark Adaptation. Please click here to learn more about Steven's process and experience for yourself. 

We're also preparing to share one of these pieces at the Reading Theater Project's 5-Minute Fringe Festival in February. Click here for more details of that performance. 

And, friend, we're covered in mud and matted in sweat! As director, I'm so frustrated, unclear, confused, covered in an uncomfortable layer of soot. I want to keep my people safe (which I can still do, even if we're trenched in the dirt. I recognize that safety isn't the same as comfort and comfort has many layers based on individual experience. I'm grateful that my dancers recognize that too). 

We're in that metaphorical/ real place where, after you've seen the river and are ready to cross it, after you visualize or see what might be on the other side, you have to take the first step into the undisturbed, clear, water to begin the crossing journey. 

Maybe not with the first or second step, but somewhere along the way across, you look down to see a bubbling of murky water around your feet. The path forward is no longer clear and you recognize that not only your feet are cold and wet but water has also slowly infiltrated your clothes. The skin of your legs is clammy and a cold dampness seeps through your skin. 

Wow! This moment is uncomfortable! 

Do you go back to the known and stop the journey or do you continue trusting what you saw and what you think could be? Do you keep mucking through the immediate moment, not quite being able to see or feel the next step? 

Your breath quickens. You start to sweat even though you're freezing. 

But! This is also the moment of PLAY. (Especially if you're in the metaphorical river and not a real one).

This is the moment of LEARNING. 

This is the moment that needs to happen before the next and the next and the next. 

Below is a fuzzy image of yesterday's rehearsal: 

We were in a new space. We're still relatively new to each other. We're developing a dance based on trust that our feet will find grounding even though we can't see through the mud right now. The mud is present because we've been together for a few rehearsals that were beautiful gems/ clear water. The mud is present because we've passed the point of knowing and are moving into the unknown.

We're literally getting sweat soaked, tripping, forgetting, trying again, falling, and getting more dirty.     

And, yet, we're able to continue. 

We're able to laugh through the uncomfortable moments and acknowledge them as such. We can say with our voices and our bodies "This moment is MUDDY!" (Other words might have been used in real time and real life....)

The process of play - of learning and growing and developing and creating - is covered in dirt and sweat soaked. 

Play is work. They're both 4-letter words. Work can be play. 

The above image is fuzzy, but there's movement. There's incredible trust. There's security and alignment. There's safety in venturing into the unknown. 

In a few weeks, will you, as an audience member, get to see this moment onstage? Honestly, I don't know. I don't know where this journey is going to take us. You might see this or you might see something that became because of this. 

We've taken more than the first few steps and the next few have been murkier and muddied by our ambition. 

How exciting! 

Human-development experts write that a child's work is play. They learn and grow and develop through play. In the class I teach about Creativity, the students reflect that my encouragement for them to play is "like when I was a kid" 

"I felt free"

"I could let go of my stress"

"I didn't feel judged" 

"For a moment, I could do anything!"

When do we lose that? Why do we lose that? 

What is possible if we allow ourselves to be emersed in the muddiness? In the play? 

Friend, I hope you find a time and space to play. What might that look like for you? 

Monday, January 16, 2023

Orbit - A Collaborative Performance


Orbit: a performance of music and dance by Dr. Mara Parker and Jessica C. Warchal-King

When: March 23, 2023 at 4pm

Where: Widener University's Kapelski Recital Hall (LC1). Click here for map and directions. 

Cost: Free and open to the public

More info? Email Dr. Mara Parker at meparker@widener.edu