In August 2014 I attended the Omi International Dance Residency in Ghent, NY, one of just nine artists from around the world selected to participate in this three-week collaborative residency. With a focus on process and collaboration rather than product and performance, attendees were invited to investigate new ways to create, rehearse, talk about and present our work, all in the idyllic setting of the Catskill mountains. The grounds included a converted farmhouse and barn, open fields, and a 300-acre sculpture park, all of which were available to us as creative spaces. Other participants came from Argentina, Italy, Japan, Russia, Togo and around the US, with movement backgrounds ranging from traditional dance forms to ballet, contact improvisation and multimedia performance art.
Throughout my time at the residency I was struck by how familiar it was to be working with folks from different places, who together spoke a mix of English and body language to articulate an idea, and who were quick to laugh at the heavily accented mispronunciation of words learned and exchanged on the spot. I realized that I felt at home in this environment due in large part to my work with Yaa Samar! Dance Theatre, where most recently I was the only American dancer in a cast of 11 to perform Bound at the Ramallah Contemporary Dance Festival in April 2014. The rest of the dancers were all from the Arab world, but with varied movement, education and personal backgrounds that resulted in a diverse mix of abilities and languages, including the participation of one deaf dancer who’s unique sign language first had to be translated into Arabic and then to English for my benefit. In this process the entire cast came together for just two weeks of rehearsals, after working remotely for several months in different parts of the globe. Although I met many of the dancers for the first time during this intensive rehearsal period, we quickly developed a closeness and camaraderie that I can only attribute to our common dedication to the work, and to a shared vision of the performance at hand. Dancing in close physical proximity, partnering one another in complex and physically risky situations, necessitated a certain trust and intimacy that rapidly overcame any cultural or linguistic divisions between us.
Drawing on this experience, I was even more eager to discover what would reveal itself over three weeks with a diverse group of international artists. What surprised me was how in the atmosphere of abundance afforded by the residency- where all of our logistical and daily needs were provided for- there was a lack of urgency to the investigation. With plenty of physical room to retreat, artists often kept to themselves, returning at the end of the day to their own spacious rooms and thoughts. With no final performance on the line or shared vision to unite us, the group felt disparate, allowing for small pockets of exchange and closeness, that never quite encompassed the entire group, never made us bigger than the sum of our parts.
Of course there is no accounting for personality, or the chemistry within a group, but it made me wonder if there is something to the friction of conflict- the tension that arises out of the struggle to create an ideal vision rubbing up against the political, economic, and logistical realities of the world as it is- that actually allows for a deeper or more rich creative process. In Palestine we shared meals and living spaces, in some cases because the artists didn’t have the visas or means to travel back and forth across check points, which created a relationship beyond the studio walls. Of course creating under occupation is an opposite extreme to the expansive freedom of a US-based residency such as Omi, but somewhere between there lies the balance of resistance and release, tension and ease, that cultivates the creative spark, like the moment, after rubbing and rubbing two sticks together, you create a flame.
by Zoe Rabinowitz