By Nicole Harris
N: I know you have been expanding your definition of what dance is during quarantine. Can you tell us a little about what you’ll be working on in 2021?
JR: I’m starting my Nourish Project for 2021, which was developed over the past 9 months of suspended performance and isolation. I’m asking some key questions: How can we find creativity with so much unrest in our world? Who nourishes the nourisher? More specifically relative to my own experience, how can Black mothers take care of themselves in order to provide for their families?
How can we find the nourishment of art and creativity when adapted performances are relatively limited? Is there a way for everyone to experience a shift of perspective, communion, resonance with a shift of attention to the resources we’re already accessing? I’m drawing parallels between attentively tuning inward, and physical dance forms. What is the intersection of movement and racial/social justice? I’ll be addressing these Nourish Project questions in two different ways:
This year, I’ll be Artist in Residence at Lexington Community Farm, helping farm visitors to embody the choreography of picking their produce. I’ll offer movement directives so visitors can engage with their senses and physicality to bring a creative experience to growing and harvesting.
I will also be working in partnership with Cambridge Center for Families, in which I’ll Zoom interview, chat, and choreograph with Black mothers (non-dancers), asking them about their states of being, asking HOW are you doing? What exactly do you feel right now? Given their responses, we’ll dance toward positive transformation, making personalized choreographies that fit each mother's experience.
Culminating both engagements at the farm and online, I’ll be creating a Body Map of my findings, a visual guide to these physically related stories.
I’m planning an installation experience, where individual visitors will be able to enter an environment to interact with these movement directives and sensory questions. I’m interested in how sharing personal experiences - the heart of dance communications - can be translated into other art mediums, an adaptation of a dance concert.
N: You will be heading up to Subcircle Residency in Biddeford, ME this year. What are you hoping to work on while you are there? What do you most value about this opportunity to be in residence somewhere?
JR: I so appreciate the opportunity to take time and space away from home life to be able to really go deep in my creativity. Since the pandemic started, I, like many others, have not felt safe enough in my body to dance as I once had. Between parenting my school aged children and minding the needs of my parents who live with me, and all the other political and health concerns happening, I’ve been quite limited. Working hard to hold on to what’s important for my basic survival and artistic growth has been such a challenge. Going to Subcircle in Maine will provide much needed respite from all those concerns. I’ll resource a physical practice again by reconnecting my Nourish ideas to feeling secure in a studio again. It means so much to me to have the support from Monkeyhouse and Subcircle to make this residency possible.
N: This is your second time participating in NACHMO. What are you most excited about in this process? What are you most nervous about? How are those things different than last year?
JR: I love the feedback sessions NACHMO provides. It’s a great way to learn firsthand how other local choreographers are developing their own work, and to share resources and perspectives. I really like how generous everyone is by sharing encouragement and inspiration! I like having the support of my community, getting to know my dance peers, and what the focus of a daily choreographic practice brings up, be it resistance or productivity. I think this year is even better, because NACHMO has broadened the parameters of what dance means to us, be it making phrase, a picture, a film, a full piece, a discussion or a sketch. We get to think about what kind of investment in dance we want to make, relative to our differing needs. and there’s more support this year, with peer to peer mentoring, group mentorship, one on one mentoring sessions, as well as regular self care meetings. I get nervous when I start to judge myself on what I thought choreographing should look or feel like. My prepandemic value system of productivity is readjusting. I believe in the quality of my work so far; there’s a lot churning in my head and journal, even though there isn't any dance to show!
N: Who are your mentors? What makes those relationships special to you? What are you doing to pay forward the gifts they have given you?
JR: Deborah Hay has been my mentor starting over 30 years ago when I was a dance major at Wesleyan. Deborah is getting well deserved international recognition for her 50 plus years as choreographer. I reconnected with her recently in a residency, which was significant to mark the life changes and creative developments we’ve each been through since the first time I studied with her. From her, I’ve learned how to keep fascination going, and how to kindly challenge myself. Deborah taught me how to be an artist while parenting, to work with the resources and abilities I have on hand. Deborah is an excellent writer and ruthlessly candid editor; I learned how to write dance and dance my writing from her, among many other teachers.
Karen and Nicole have been mentoring me weekly for many months through COVID, providing me with words of comfort and affirmation in a very humane, honest exchange.Through Monkeyhouse, I’ve become more comfortable with my own creative voice. and made incredibly deep friendships in so doing.
I'm honored to be able to pay it forward by teaching dance students how to help each other in lecture demonstrations and workshops. I also enjoy mentoring my peers in their work, offering my point of view in support of their process. I value the opportunity to be there and help in whatever way I can.