Isolation to Creation

S1 E1 | FULL EPISODE

A Way Forward

After self-isolation and serial COVID testing, quarantine bubbles are formed for artists to gather, create, and perform safely again. Ephrat Asherie, Les Ballet Afrik, Joshua Bergasse, Sara Mearns, Missing Element, Music from the Sole & Jamar Roberts.

AIRED: January 26, 2021 | 0:28:24
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TRANSCRIPT

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[ Indistinct conversations ]

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MAN: One, two. One, two. One, two.

[ Instrumental music plays ]

♪♪

NARRATOR: For over 35 years, Works & Process,

the performing arts program at the Guggenheim,

has uniquely focused on new work

and the process of artistic creation.

♪♪

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CRONSON: Obviously, creating any work

that can be performed here in this extraordinary building

has worked very well for us.

DANG: Since 1984,

Works & Process has presented and produced

these illuminating programs at the Guggenheim Museum.

Uh, for the bulk of the history,

these programs took place in the theater,

which many people don't even realize exists.

But it is underneath the rotunda of the Guggenheim.

It's, uh, underground and sometimes we say

it's the underground uptown.

And we do this, um, through programs

that blend, uh, performance highlights

or performances that we commission

with illuminating discussion with the creators.

Often, people call it

"New York City's best kept secret,"

which actually, now, I really love that description.

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When we really didn't know what this pandemic was going to be,

times got really, really, really rough.

And then around late March,

the entire ecosystem just completely collapsed.

♪♪

[ Man beatboxing ] MAN: Okay.

WILES: We had everything going. You know?

We had everything ready, set in play in motion.

[ Beatboxing continues ] Uh.

Hee, ha, cho. Chi-chi, ha. [ Beatboxing ]

Back in January, we were, like, really excited

'cause we got so much great feedback from it.

People were like,

"Why haven't this been happening before?"

Like, "What was going on?" Um...

And then to...get it snatched -- [Chuckles]

'cause that's how it feel.

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In the beginning was very scary.

Like, it was cancelation after cancelation.

One after the other after the other.

SANDOVAL: Dates just started falling like dominoes

and it was, like, chaos, you know?

Not knowing when we were gonna be able to -- to work again.

It was a reality check. It was a shocker.

It was confusing.

And we really started to understand,

sort of, the gravity of everything. You know?

♪♪

We're really, really all in this together,

and that's just not, like, as an Instagram slogan.

That's like an actual real thing,

like, at like, um...

on, like, a cellular level.

[ Sighs heavily ]

I have to take a deep breath when I think about this.

Um, how I'm feeling, what I'm going through,

how my body feels, how my mind feels.

Not being able to dance,

not being able to create or perform as freely as I want to,

um...

it's very difficult during this time, you know?

Knowing what other people are going through, um,

what other people have lost.

ASHERIE: It was like, "Okay, what do we have to do?

Let's get on Zoom. Let's do this."

You know, um... and in different moments,

I sort of had to mourn the loss --

I-I had to stop comparing the process

to what I thought it was gonna be in the studio.

We all kind of went through our highs and lows

in different moments.

And being able to be there for each other,

even if it was just on Zoom, that was good,

because we -- we had --

we had been experiencing this sort of in waves of that,

like, sense of loss. You know?

♪♪

CRONSON: We spent six months locked out of our home,

the Guggenheim,

and it was a very lonely feeling.

We would come up here

and there was nobody on the streets,

there's nobody around.

It was silent and almost creepy.

And every single performer that we spoke to,

every single artist that we were talking to

about doing the quarantine and doing the residency

also was feeling that in their own spaces,

whether they were in Brooklyn, whether they were in Harlem.

♪♪

CELIZ: My whole family got Coronavirus.

Yeah. Everyone got COVID.

'Cause my -- in Queens, my mom works in a nursing home,

and my d -- my brother works at MTA.

And it was -- it was scary. It was a scary time.

My mom is one of the strongest people ever.

And just to hear her, like, that weak was like,

"Oh, my God. Like, this sucks."

I personally lost my brother-in-law Ty in Proctor,

you know, um, June 5th.

And, um, that in itself is a blow. You know?

I mean, my wife is devastated.

That's -- That's her brother, her last brother.

And, you know, he meant so much to scene.

You know, he's solely responsible

for bringing waacking, that particular dance style,

to television on "Soul Train."

And he left his legacy with so many kids.

And it's just...

It's just horrible.

♪♪

HAPPEL: It was tough because I went from being, you know,

incredibly busy in the performing arts in some way

to absolutely nothing.

I mean, that door just closed.

'Cause I even had a moment during the pandemic

because I wasn't working

or didn't have access to certain opportunities

where I started questioning, "Who am I?"

and, "What is my purpose if I can't do what I love to do?"

It was scary, to be honest, because, uh...

I thought I was losing my sound

that, you know, it takes time to -- to build.

We have to have the ability to have space

and to move our bodies and to keep going.

And 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.

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Once the pandemic hit, we had no ability

to present anything live,

anything in our gorgeous theater downstairs,

anything in this magnificent rotunda.

All the artists were out of work,

everybody was suffering,

and we didn't want just to sit by and be passive.

We are committed to the artists that we champion,

and we had to find a way to continue to support this work.

When the pandemic set in

and artists were being canceled on left and right,

we, as Works & Process,

knew that that was not an option.

That was not viable for Works & process.

It became very clear to us that live performances

were not going to be a reality for quite some time.

And the truth is that Works & Process,

our mission is about championing the creative process.

And even though we couldn't gather artists and audiences,

we could still accomplish our mission

of supporting the creative process.

And in supporting that creative process,

we immediately in March launched our Virtual Commissions series,

um, where we've commissioned over 100 artists

and have premiered over 60 works since March.

But that really wasn't enough and we really had to dig deeper

to find out how we can continue to support artists.

And, uh, that was how the bubble residency came about.

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And so the idea was,

"How could we bring these artists

to the Hudson Valley

where infection rates were lower?"

And then I realized

that, um, there is the Petronio Residency Center,

which is on 170 acres, completely isolated.

20 minutes in another direction

there was Kaatsbaan cultural park,

again on 150 acres, completely isolated.

And the list goes on.

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We had a feeling that we were going down an appropriate road.

We reached out to Dr. Wendy Ziecheck.

♪♪

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ZIECHECK: When we first heard about the virus, SARS-CoV-2,

and we saw the devastation of this particular disease

and how we didn't really know how to handle it,

it became rather frightening to the medical world

about what was going to happen.

People were dying who shouldn't have been dying.

This was not just a flu.

We had a shortage of equipment,

a shortage of personnel, and a shortage of knowledge.

We didn't know what we were dealing with.

It was extremely frightening and stressful.

♪♪

Fortunately, dancers are generally very disciplined.

This is a community of people that need to work together

for safety and health.

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.

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WOMAN: You ready? Mm-hmm.

We got a good camera shot?

Yep. Yep.

♪♪

Okay.

[ Groans ]

Alright?

Ooh, Jesus. Lord. [ Sniffs ]

Oh, yeah, I get teary eyed.

So emotional. [ Coughs ]

I'm crying for you guys. I'm crying for the camera.

♪♪

DANG: As an organization that supports

artists in the creative process, uh,

when artists are most vulnerable is when we need to do even more.

So Duke Dang approached me.

As a former medical director of the Radio City Rockets

and a former dancer myself,

I've always been involved in the dance world

and consider myself to be a performer's doctor.

He had this idea for residency bubbles

where your performers are serially tested,

and once they've tested negative,

are put into an environment that cannot be pierced

by anyone from the outside.

And those performers, knowing that they are safe,

can now act like a family and they can live as a family.

♪♪

CELIZ: It's been a very trying time.

So just even the fact that, uh, we have work --

the opportunity to -- to workshop a piece,

especially with what I'm doing as a beatboxer

and Invertebrate and all the dancers,

as -- and us collaborating together

during this time, um...

it is so -- it's just incredible.

[ Mumbling rhythmically ]

[ Beatboxes lightly ]

[ Singsong voice ] Oh, there are people watching me.

[ Laughter ] That's okay.

[ Beatboxes lightly ]

[ Beat accelerates ]

Mew.

DANG: Meet the artists

going into the Works & Process bubble.

[ People shout "Hey!" ]

NARRATOR: Musician Chris Celiz is a world beatbox champion

who's pushing the boundaries of what's possible

with beatboxing and music making.

We're excited to have him

along with four members of the Beatbox House

at the bubble as ambassadors for an art form

that's new to the Works & Process stage.

DANG: Chris will be joined by the breaker Invertebrate,

A.K.A. Anthony Rodriguez,

and a crew of breakers, crumpers, and flexers.

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NARRATOR: Music from the Soul is a company

that merges tap dance and live music

through Afro-Brazilian rhythms.

The work of this international group

embraces tap's unique nature

to fuse the boundaries of dance and music.

[ Tapping ]

♪♪

DANG: 17 year veteran dancer of the Ailey company

and now the company's first resident choreographer

Jamar Roberts

will be creating a brand new work for Works & Process

with newly commissioned music by David Watson.

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NARRATOR: Ephrat Asherie brings high energy New York club dance

to the Works & Process stage.

We commissioned her project "Underscored,"

which is deepening her work with street and club dance

by chronicling the history of the underground scene.

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DANG: Omari Wiles is a legend within the ballroom community.

And when I say ballroom, I mean Vogue Ballroom.

He has modern in him. He has African dance in him.

He has ballroom in him. And he has Vogue in him.

And he's crafting an exciting new vocabulary

that we are championing.

♪ And I wonder why

NARRATOR: And our final group of global artists

is led by costume designer Marc Happel,

choreographer Josh Bogas,

dancer Sara Mearns,

and musician Vivian Bond...

♪ To someone

...who together are in the early stages

of a revival of the 1933 musical,

"Seven Deadly Sins."

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Listen. Are the dancers are on?

Come on in.

♪♪

DANG: All of these artists and their company members

have strictly quarantined for two weeks,

and as long as they pass their final COVID-19 tests

will be on their way into the bubble.

Peace. Uh, we're Works & Process.

Uh, I'm so excited!

This is unheard of during this time.

But that's why it's so cool.

It's a complete launch into the unknown for us.

And Duke especially just grabbed it and ran.

Everything about it was the unknown,

even to getting the bus pulled together

and finding a space for the bus to wait

while the dancers and the bus drivers got tested.

This is our first day, day one,

of Guggenheim Works & Process with...

[ Shouts indistinctly, laughs ]

From being in this beautiful ivory tower,

we went all over the place.

And that's...quite something.

And I think the results are really going to be worth it.

You edit this part. This is a crucial moment.

We're waiting for the COVID results.

If one of us has it, we cannot go to the show.

This could be the end of this documentary.

[ Laughter ]

[ Indistinct speaking ]

-Hi! -Oh, good morning!

[ Laughter ]

[ Man sighs ]

I haven't seen you guys in so long. I know!

[ Muffled speaking ]

MAN: Hey!

Everybody's negative, right?

[ Crowd answers, "Yeah" ]

MAN #2: Yeah, we're doing it.

[ Clapping ]

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DANG: One of the tenants,

the pillars of Works & Processes,

we don't believe in exclusivity.

We think the more work that artists are able to secure,

the better off we all are.

So if we have been able to forge this path forward

for artists to safely create again,

we want this path to be a highway.

It should be an expressway.

And what we know is that,

in fact, no, these bubbles don't exist in isolation.

They truly are a generative force.

WILES: We are on our way. We're on our way.

We're all negative in a good way.

Not negative in personality. You know what I'm saying?

Yeah. We're positive with our personality,

we're negative with COVID.

Chill! You already know.

[ Groans ]

[ Grunts ]

MAN: We're gonna go up there to formulate a show.

And it's gonna be record breaking.

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MAN #2: We made it. We're finally here.

Once 12:30 came, we got the news we were all negative,

and whoo-hoo!

Now we could, like,

passport stamp ourselves up here.

-Thank you. -Thank you.

-Whoo-hoo! -We're good.

[ Cheers and applause ]

What's going on? Yeah, we did it!

What's up, what's up, what's up? Whoo!

Well, we're so happy to have all of you here

for the next two weeks. It's really exciting.

Um, after this little introduction,

uh, our program manager is Amber, over there,

and she's gonna give you a tour of the property.

[ Indistinct conversations ]

-Alright, go. -Now it is.

Yeah, 'cause of the number right there. Yeah.

That'll work.

And then I stop it pressing the same --

Well.

[ Clears throat ] Good morning, world.

Hey, guys.

What's up, guys?

Hey! Hold on.

MAN: I'm gonna get so --

♪ Baby

How y'all doing?

What's up, guys? [Bleep] COVID.

Um, we're here. We're blessed to be here.

It's been five months since I've seen my homies,

since I've seen my band. You know?

We've all been stuck away from each other,

so this opportunity is a blessing

just for the fact that we get to be here together.

It is 11:40 and they are singing to me

at the windows as I do this.

Um...

They're pouring their hearts out to me as we speak.

It seems like more are arriving.

♪♪

It's been so much fun so far, as you can see.

And, um, yeah, we're looking forward

to getting things a little bit more structured tomorrow.

And, uh, it's gonna be fun.

Hey, guys. So this is our rehearsal space.

SAUNDERS: I think one of the great things

about this pandemic has taught us

is that the arts will continue to thrive, um,

regardless of the circumstance.

It drives me. You know? Um, I-I love to work creatively.

So not being able to do that for -- for so long definitely...

makes this experience even more humbling.

And I think it's that way for all of us, for everybody.

WILES: You know, Duke and Works & Process,

they really, really, really helped

as much as they can to provide us

with just the opportunity to feel some sort of normalcy.

You know? Some sort of type of,

"Okay. Don't worry, we got this. We're still on track.

We're still on that path.

We here. We're still going."

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