SHARED SPACES/SEPARATE PLACES: COLLABORATION THROUGH THE YEARS AT BALLIBAY

February 16, 2021By sarah galante

As artists, this strange year has brought about innumerable challenges. New and complicated questions are constantly arising as we attempt to create work in 2020-2021. Questions like, how do we continue to showcase our work when venues and galleries are closed to the public? How do we transition to virtual artmaking? And most importantly, how do we continue to be collaborative – a facet of art-making and of creativity that is essential to its growth and survival – when we are forced to be in isolation?  Camp director Kristin Alexander is no stranger to collaborative art-making. While not at camp she is the artistic director of Annex Dance Company – a professional modern dance company dedicated to performance, collaboration, and education rooted in her home, Charleston, South Carolina. Kristin and her company have worked in new and imaginative ways throughout their 2020-2021 season to not only bring dance to their community (and beyond) but to stay true to their philosophies of performance, collaboration, and education. 

A new series presented by Annex this year is entitled, Shared Spaces/Separate Places, pairing company members up with dance artists from around the country for a shared improvisation. Kristin immediately wanted to reach out to dancer and former Camp Ballibay camper, Lisa Kwak!

Lisa Kwak

Kristin Alexander

Kristin Alexander

Lisa, a Dance Intensive camper at Ballibay from 2009-2011, is now a professional dancer living in Seattle, Washington. She works with Dani Tirrell and the Congregation, The Guild Dance Company, and PRICEArts N.E.W. When not in rehearsal or taking dance classes, Lisa works at the University of Washington’s Department of Dance as their Operations and Media Specialist. 

When asked about the inspiration for the improvisation with former camper Lisa, Kristin said:

We chose REMINISCE and NOSTALGIA as our prompts.  Having a place like Ballibay as our connection reminded us of physical places like the studios, the hillside, the theatre as well as people and experiences over the summers we shared. After we improvised, we talked about the similarity of our experience in being present in our own space, aware of our shared virtual space and each other’s environment, and feeling connected to spaces at Ballibay.”

I got a chance to speak with Kristin and Lisa about the improvisation, their collaboration, and their shared experience at Ballibay. After so many years apart, (and this last year apart from regular social and collaborative connection) it was clear that Lisa and Kristin really enjoyed this time together. In speaking about her experience at Ballibay many summers ago, Lisa said: 

“When I was collaborating with Kristin I felt reminded of the feelings and sounds, scents-- sensations that I felt at Ballibay, more than specific memories. At the same time, I felt pulled into the 15-inch computer screen where Kristin was dancing, while also being aware of my current physical surroundings and body.  So, it was sort of a bizarre mix of being present with myself, being present in Zoom with Kristin and also accessing some forgotten crumbs of memories that you can feel but not quite envision - all at the same time.” 

It was clearly a special moment for Kristin, as well. Lisa had collaborated with Annex Dance company as a camper, and those special moments of collaboration and strong feelings of reminiscing clearly fueled their latest socially distanced duet. 

“It was amazing to feel a connection with someone after so many years with so many miles between us.  The last Annex Dance Company piece Lisa performed as a camper started with a solo that I had originally performed.  Even though the work has been performed a few times since then, I don't think anyone besides the two of us have danced that solo.  For me, the feelings of that piece rushed back when Lisa's smiling face popped up on Zoom.”

Those special moments were not forgotten by Lisa either. She continued to speak of her experiences as a camper at Ballibay saying,

 “I think more than anything Ballibay gave me confidence in myself and in my art. That was one of the first places I can remember where adults didn’t talk down to me, and where I felt really seen and respected and supported as a growing human being. I think that was huge for me as a teenager. And I don’t think that I would have had the guts to pursue dance again in college had I not had those formative experiences at Ballibay.” 

Collaborating on this piece was also a reminder of the important work created at Ballibay by Kristin every summer. An important reminder that camp holds such a special place in her heart, not just as a camp director, but as an artist. 

My summers at Ballibay fuel my creative and collaborative spirit.  So much happens day-to-day as a camp director, but I also walk away with meaningful moments shared with campers and staff in the studio and on the stage.  I love the creative process, and each summer I either start new work on the campers that eventually becomes a part of the company repertory or take a piece of existing repertory and set it on the campers.  Either way, new doors of possibility are opening up and informing my choreographic voice.  

You can watch Kristin and Lisa’s performance of Shared Spaces/Separate Places, here. After a long year of being apart, it is so immensely inspirational to watch members of the Ballibay community find new and innovative ways to collaborate alongside one another. It is proof, that even in these trying times, our community is resilient, dedicated, and innovative. Watching this gorgeous duet makes me not only excited for the inevitability of more collaborative pieces to arise in Summer 2021, but incredibly proud of the staff and alumni that I have the privilege of continuing to watch perform, create, and grow.

MY FIRST HOME AWAY FROM HOME

January 14, 2021By sarah galante

My sister was recently digging through the attic in my mother’s home in suburban Pennsylvania. While searching through dusty and untouched cardboard boxes for extra Christmas ornaments to perfect the tree, she came across an old box of art projects and essays I had written while in elementary school. Mementos that my mother had stored to, I imagine, revisit treasured memories in times exactly like these. Amidst the macaroni art and finger paintings, she came across a memoir project I had written in the sixth grade. Even then, it was apparent I liked writing. The project was nearly fifty pages long and filled with run-on sentences and gusto. My sister texted me photos of a chapter I had written on my favorite place in the world. It was titled: Chapter 11: Ballibay.

In reading these words I had written about a place that has now become such a permanent fixture in my adult life, I realized I didn’t remember the memoir assignment. I didn’t remember which teacher assigned the project, or what grade I received. But what I did remember was what I felt being a camper at Ballibay for the first time, over fifteen years ago. I had always struggled in school. I spent a lot of recess reading books of poetry my mother had tucked away in my neon orange backpack or trying (and mostly failing) to convince the other kids in my class to put on Harry Potter plays I’d written in my composition notebooks. I excelled in academics, but only managed to make one or two friends. If you can believe it, kids weren’t exactly lining up to watch Steel Magnolias during Friday night slumber parties.  

 Then, when I was eleven years old, my parents registered me for two weeks at Ballibay. I remember having stomachaches in the days leading up to my arrival. I was certain that camp would be just like school. I’d be unable to make friends and would spend the majority of my time reading alone – only here, I wouldn’t be able to go home at the end of the day. What it instead turned out to be, as is so eloquently stated in my sixth-grade memoir, was my absolute favorite thing in the world. A place where I could finally truly be myself. A place where making friends didn’t feel like a chore, but rather a simple and smooth adjustment. An environment where suddenly my fascination with creating my own plays and making up my own songs wasn’t a punchline at recess – but was part of my daily routine. It was my first home away from home. That following Christmas the only thing on my list of gifts was returning to Ballibay.  

 Rereading the words I had written at age twelve flooded me with memories. I’ve been lucky to have had a few other places that have felt like home since that time. Attending an arts university, apprenticing at the Playwrights Center in Minneapolis, and eventually after a few rocky months, New York City. But Ballibay was the first. It was the first environment where I felt like I was not only allowed to be the slightly strange and quirky child I was - it was encouraged. It was a place I longed for all school year long, counting down the days (literally) until I could return to be with “my people.”  

 If you had told eleven-year-old Sarah that Ballibay would still be an enormous part of her life, seventeen years later, I think she would be elated – but not surprised. Ballibay has transformed me in so many different ways over my nine summers spent there. But whether it was as a camper, a staff member, or as the Associate Director, it has consistently been a place where I can trust my instincts, make new friends, and truly be myself.  It is a place that even now fills me with warmth and comfort when I pull up that long dirt road. It is the first place to believe in my artistic ability and offer me a job when I was an undergraduate student. The place where I first met my husband – in the Ballibay theater where I performed as a child. It is now the place where I have the privilege to watch so many young people find their first home away from home. Their safe haven. The place where they can truly be themselves.

HOW THE BALLIBAY COMMUNITY IS STAYING CREATIVE AND CONNECTED

October 23, 2020By sarah galante

Sculpture from Quarantine Series by Ballibay Visiting Artist Janine Sopp

For the last seven months, it felt as if the world has been on pause. Simple things we took for granted like deciding last minute to pop into a Sunday matinee at our neighborhood movie theater, or sitting for a bit too long on your laptop in your favorite coffee shop have become treasured memories. Things we did in the before Covid times. While we, of course, care more about the safety of our communities than these small simple pleasures, that feeling of longing for any semblance of normalcy lingers. And as a community of artists, not being able to join together this summer to do what we do best - collaborate and create with joy and fearlessness, was a real blow. However, just because we were unable to be physically together this summer, our inherent creativity and need to develop new artistic practices did not disappear. Despite the world being on pause, despite the fear and anxiety of living in the world in 2020 - we had to do what we were made to do. Make art. We reached out to some members of the Ballibay community to see the kind of art they had been making this year, and where their inspiration to create was stemming from during these unprecedented times.

Abstract painting by Ballibay's Head of Visual Arts Sara Galkin, April 2020

The head of our visual arts program, Sara Galkin, decided, like so many of us to leave New York City temporarily. She relocated with her family to Vermont to have a little bit more space. While they were given more physical living space, Sara’s art-making space had suddenly become much smaller, especially in the colder months when she was unable to work outside. While in Vermont, she reexamined her own artistic practices amidst the pandemic.

“It has been more challenging than I thought it would be to keep the connection to my creativity. I was working smaller because my space to create was smaller, with more restrictions. I was finding that this smaller space was not only limited to the size of canvas I was working on but the way in which I work.  Generally, I am very messy. Getting lost in the moment has always been a fundamental part of my process. This freedom of open expression is critical to my practice. In this smaller space, I felt constricted, but new work was being created because of it. I was able to set up a workspace in the basement in April, with very little natural light and I made a few pieces using and ink. In the warmer months of July, I set up space outdoors in a barn adjacent to the house with natural light where I could work with oils. You can see the difference in the artwork created between April and July. It was an interesting and exciting new exploratory phase.”

Abstract painting by Ballibay's Head of Visual Arts Sara Galkin, July 2020

Our head of Technical Theater, Dustin Druckman, also kept himself busy during the shutdown. Dustin is currently the Technical Coordinator at the Marathon Center for the Performing Arts which, like so many live performance spaces around the world, had to unexpectedly cancel the remainder of their season. But Dustin was still able to think outside of the box to continue his creative practices. 

A lot has changed for me since March. With my work at Marathon put on hold, it just so happened that the University of Findlay needed a technical director and someone to teach an intro to stage technology class, and all of a sudden I had more free time. With the university, we are doing two shows this semester. The first was an improv show that we streamed. The performers all wore masks and the staged was marked off at 6ft increments and was played as another game making all the performers stay apart from each other. It was very funny. The second show is a staged radio drama of It’s a Wonderful Life. I am doing the set and lighting design. Radio Dramas are perfect for this Covid time since they were performed without a live audience anyway!”

Dustin has also been working on some visual art in his time away from the University of Findlay, inspired by work he created with campers in 2019 at Ballibay!

Light Painting Photography by Ballibay's Head of Technical Theater, Dustin Druckman

“I have been working on some more of my light painting which was a project I actually started at camp last summer with some of the campers on jam night. I honestly think the biggest thing I’ve learned about my craft this year is how much I need it in my life. I’m not going to say I was going crazy without a good artistic outlet but at times it felt like I was. It was an excellent reminder that I love what I do every day and that I can’t wait to get back to it no matter how stressful and how many long hours I have” 

Dustin Light Photo

Light Painting Photography by Ballibay's Head of Technical Theater, Dustin Druckman

And just as our staff has been staying creative during this time, so have our campers! Kya Parris who has been a camper at Ballibay for five summers has stayed exceptionally busy during this time, exploring all types of artistic mediums.

Ballibay camper Kya Parris drawing in Greenwood Cemetery

“Greenwood Cemetery is practically in our front yard! Their extended COVID-hours gave us the opportunity for long walks, watching the cherry blossoms and azaleas bloom, and drawing these beautiful statues. Sometimes just me and sometimes with my mom.”

Kya also explored other artistic mediums during her newfound free time. Making embroidery projects for school, and even a series of crocheted purses with buttons she handmade from clay, made us wish we could see these pieces in the Art Barn!

Kya’s mother, Janine Sopp, has also been a visiting artist at Ballibay for many seasons. Just like Kya, she created some beautiful work during the quarantine.

Masks by Ballibay Visiting Artist Janine Sopp

Janine created some masks with gorgeous shibori fabric she made with visiting artist Cathy Maguire two summers ago at camp! She also created a “quarantine series” of sculpture work,  after rekindling her love of architectural design while working in her home. spending so much time in the same space had reminded her of her love of architectural work.

Sculpture from Quarantine Series by Ballibay Visiting Artist Janine Sopp

While we, of course, wish we could have been together this summer to create art in person, we have been so inspired by the work our community continues to create despite the ever-changing world we are living in, and the challenges we face. We cannot wait to be with you all in person again for Summer 2021, after a year of artistic growth and change.