In August and September, I had the pleasure of working with Awilda Sterling Duprey. She was Temple University’s featured artist for the annual Reflection and Response Commission. The Afro-Latina artist heralded as “a national gem to the people of Puerto Rico”. Her piece began a conversation exploring how Hurricane Maria devastated her homeland of Puerto Rico. As an improviser, she challenged us to re-create this feeling of hysteria. She asked: how do you honor the story of those lives affected by this natural disaster?
We entered the process by studying the traditional dances of Oya, an warrior deity whom is often represented through hurricanes. We also engaged in improvisational exercises to strengthen our awareness within the work and held critical discussions about these issues. Sterling Duprey recognized dancers as active participants in the creative process. This is an idea that I will ultimately take into my into future endeavors. Often times, choreographers ask dancers to perform movement without giving any context. Awilda’s process creates intentionality and dynamic performance quality for those involved.
This kind of teaching method fostered cognitive development as the dancers were also creators. This democratic approach was student centered and did not aim to make only Awilda’s voice present the work. However, this was overwhelming at times! There was not a clear structure until the weekend before the show. As a choreographer, I learned to incorporate a healthy balance of decision making and play. Not only in choreography and improvisation but also the creative process.
I also was able to witness Awilda transform Conwell Dance Theater to an imaginative space, catapulting you to Puerto Rico during Hurricane Maria. She worked with a variety of disciplines such as photography, video, sound distortion, and props. This multimedia artist cultivated a nostalgic atmosphere. This presentation of the work was well received by the audience. She approached “space” beyond the standard of Laban’s Effort Actions often used to create textured qualities movement. Awilda abstracted physically space in order to reimagine the theatre past the normal visuals. She urged us not limit Conwell’s physically possibilities. This taught me how creating a space for the audience, is just as crucial as, how a dancer navigates space with their body.
Awilda is in her seventies, yet always has the most energy in the room. I believe her age gave her grace, style, beauty and wisdom in her movement. Rehearsals were filled with laughs and giggles. She greeted you with a warm hug at the beginning of every rehearsal and made sure each dancer was heavily involved in the process. This sensitivity encouraged me to work harder because I realized she cared about our general well-being. I believe Awilda’s expectation of creativity and freedom caters to a more seasoned artist. Over all, I am honored to have known and danced with this formidable women.
This is my first semester as a Temple MFA Dance student and as soon as I heard about the opportunity to present my work at The Student Dance Concert, I have been working towards realizing that goal. I found out my piece got in to the concert and I have been diligently working with my dancers to get it performance ready each Friday during our hour and a half rehearsal time slot.
This is my first time presenting a variation of this piece; first during the summer it debuted on a group of dancers whom I taught at a school where I grew up training, second at The Philly Fringe, and third now on Temple dancers for this showcase. The evolution of the piece has been truly remarkable. At times I have felt more of the witness than the choreographer and have blogged about my journey through this process and pushing myself artistically outside of my comfort zone.
Watching all of your hard work come to fruition is truly a remarkable feeling. I am so proud of this piece and all my dancers have accomplished. As I enter into this next chapter in my career and artistry, I walk into it confidently having achieved my first goal I set for myself in graduate school. Now I can just sit back this weekend and watch my piece like an audience member – ultimately being taken to another place – that is why I love so much being a part of dance.
***(Picture caption: Photo credit: Bill H. 2014 Choreography by: Alana Melene Yost Dancers: Temple BFA Students)