The four-part series “Isolation to Creation” kicks off with a look into how residency bubbles in the Hudson Valley allowed a safe return to the studio
[Watch the first episode, “A Way Forward,” above and at this link.]
There is more to dance than what meets the stage. Behind the presentation of a performance are the hours of preparation that accumulate to build and create what an audience might see. As the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, the spaces where these vital components of the dance process take place became unavailable to many artists. With lives and livelihoods on the line, the question of how to continue in a collaborative field without the ability to gather quickly surfaced.
One answer? Bubbles.
In the summer and fall, Works & Process, the performing arts series held at the Guggenheim Museum, began to shape plans for bubble residencies, which would provide space in the Hudson Valley for artists to create works under strict health guidelines. The ensuing artistic venture was captured in a four-part docu-series by filmmaker Nic Petry of Dancing Camera.
Dubbed “Isolation to Creation,” the series makes its episodic debut on the ALL ARTS broadcast channel Jan. 27 at 8 p.m. Eastern, with subsequent entries rolling out Feb. 3, 10 and 17. The episodes will stream on the ALL ARTS site and app in coordination with the broadcast premieres.
Ephrat Asherie Dance, Les Ballet Afrik with Omari Wiles, Chris Celiz, Anthony Rodriguez (Invertebrate), Music from the Sole with Gregory Richardson and Leonardo Sandoval, Jamar Roberts, Joshua Bergasse, Justin Vivian Bond, Jeffrey Guimond, Marc Happel and Sara Mearns are among the artists followed in the series.
“Many of the featured projects we had commissioned and/or made commitments to before the pandemic,” Duke Dang, the general manager of Works & Process, told ALL ARTS. “We don’t believe in cancelling on artists, and we had to find a way to make it possible for artists to continue working safely.”
To accomplish this safety aspect, the team enlisted the help of Dr. Wendy Ziecheck, who provided medical council, and Dr. Robert Klitzman, who provided ethical oversight. Under the medical protocol, artists quarantined at home before entering the bubble, with tests administered serially. Once inside, the sphere of the bubble was to not be broken.
“This is a community of people that need to work together for safety and health,” Ziecheck explains in the series’ first episode, titled “A Way Forward.” “Unfortunately, this is a life and death situation. You can’t say that about a lot of things, but you have to say that about this situation.”
The series chronicles the artists’ time leading up to arriving at the residency, capturing their fears (and pivots to Zoom) from the early days of the pandemic, as well as the uncomfortable moments of getting their noses swabbed for testing.
“I have to take a deep breath when I think about this — how I’m feeling, what I’m going through, how my body feels, how my mind feels,” dancer, teacher and choreographer Omari Wiles says in the film. “Not being able to dance, not being able to create or perform as freely as I want to … it’s very difficult during this time, you know? Knowing what other people are going through, what other people have lost.”
Sara Mearns, a principal dancer at New York City Ballet, expresses the physical aspect of not having access to space during a montage of the artists.
“We have to have the ability to have space and to move our bodies and to keep going,” she says. “We don’t just sit at a desk, right? You can’t just stop for a year and a half and think that we would be able to get back to where we were. No, that’s not possible.”
Once inside the bubbles, the artists had the ability to stretch out and create.
“It was nice to be ‘sequestered’ and not have to worry about everything,” dancer and choreographer Josh Bergasse told ALL ARTS. “It made the entire experience stress free.”
To imbue a sense of intimacy with the artists — a hallmark of the Works & Process series, which often allows for audience members to get an inside peek into an artist’s craft — the program provided the residents with cameras to operate on their own.
“This allowed us to record the artists having meals, hanging out, and, of course, go into the studio as they were creating and performing,” Dang explained. “This footage allows audiences to be flies on the wall and we were able to capture incredibly honest, poignant, and intimate and reflective moments.”
Select projects from the series were performed at the Kaatsbaan Festival and “sequenced into filmed performances” at Lincoln Center in the fall. Next, the Works & Process series aims to present live showings of the works at the Guggenheim Museum once conditions are safe for both the audience and the artists.
“The bubble residencies program is an embodiment of our commitment to artists and their creative process despite the headwinds that we face,” Dang said. “When artists are facing such vulnerability, we knew we had to do more for them, not less.”
Top Image: "Isolation to Creation," featuring dancer Milerka Rodriguez. Produced by Works & Process. Photo: Dancing Camera.