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.

THE JOY IS IN THE JOURNEY (NOT THE DESTINATION!)

November 12, 2018By kristin

Not to spread too much shade, but American culture just loves “cash and prizes.” That is, we are a meritocracy: results are what matters. Winners are “winners;” losers are “losers.” This philosophy underlies the basic “rating and ranking” system of large corporations, which is used to determine who gets promoted and who gets a raise. Somebody rises to the very top of the pile; somebody must also sink to the very bottom. It is foundational to competitive television shows such as “Dancing With The Stars” and “America’s Got Talent.” Out of thousands, only one single “winner” can emerge, survive, and go on to great things. Or so we like to believe.

While this Darwinist philosophy might drive business success (although we have our doubts about even that), we believe that in the realms of creative art and personal growth (maturation), this philosophy results in something approaching disaster. The arts – of all kinds – are avenues of unrestricted creativity, exploration and personal expression, not arenas of gladiatorial combat.

We believe that American culture’s heavy focus on “results” (with attendant “success” and “failure”) leads to perfectionism and a claustrophobic focus on “getting it absolutely correct.” Paradoxically, this attitude does NOT stimulate greater creativity, experimentation and learning. In fact, it achieves the exact opposite: a life-choking constriction (narrowing) of focus, and jettisoning of experimentation, exploration and learning, in the utterly futile effort to create that one, single, absolutely-perfect in-every-conceivable-way outcome. Here at Camp Ballibay, we believe that learning MEANS, by definition, doing something “not-quite-right,” over and over and over again, in a very long, slow process of gradually doing it better and better, WITHOUT any end-point.

There is a funny but true story in this regard. The alto saxophone jazz master Sonny Fortune, who is in his late 70’s, and who has been performing for over 50 years, said in a recent interview something along the lines of “Someday I’m going to learn this horn!” ‘Nuff said. Apparently, he is still exploring, still learning, still opening up new avenues of personal expression.

The ”cash and prizes” attitude also fosters a competitive spirit, which while it may be useful in a business endeavor, spells disaster for creative arts and human development. Suddenly, instead of being about an unending, free-flowing stream of individual expression and experimentation and creativity, which are internal processes that are unique to each and every individual, the focus suddenly gets shifted toward working to meet an externally-defined outcome that generally has nothing to do with the individual, and nothing to do with expression and creativity. No – suddenly the atmosphere becomes more akin to a series of production lines, where each individual is following all the rules to create roughly the same outcome as their peer, but “a little bit better” than them. So they can win. This is the complete opposite of internally generated motivation. Instead, it shifts toward external motivation and the death of personal expression.

The actual “doing” (i.e. the process) of artistic creation is the true reward of art – not the outcome. Experimentation, expression, creativity and learning (and fun) happen during the process of creation. The ultimate product, while nice to have, isn’t really the point of art. Particularly for the performing arts, once the performance happens, it disappears! It no longer exists. In the performing arts, the art lies quite literally, in the PROCESS! We regard the creative arts as continual, unbroken, unending “rehearsal.” The arts are simply an ongoing, unending process of expression, experimentation, creativity and learning. There is no end-point, and no such thing as “mastery.”

UNSTRUCTED/CREATIVE TIME VS. STRUCTURED/PLANNED TIME

October 17, 2018By kristin

A recent NY Times book review[1] laments that “this is a generation engaged in a meritocratic “arms race” of epic proportions, that has racked up the most hours of homework (and screen time) in history but also the fewest ever of something so simple as unsupervised outdoor play. If that sounds trivial, it shouldn’t. “When adult-supervised activities crowd out free play, children are less likely to develop the art of association, …along with other social skills central to the making of good citizens capable of healthy compromise.”

In simpler terms, it is saying that here in the United States, the balance between structured/planned time and unstructured/creative/play time has tilted – radically – toward the former, crowding out nearly any vestige of the latter. Here at Camp Ballibay, we share that deep concern; however, we are completely committed to doing something about it, to help restore the balance.

This harkens back to the old metaphor between the functions/capabilities of the left vs. right brain. While science has determined that the connection between those differing capabilities and the hemispheres of the brain is not quite so straightforward, the metaphor still works for helping illuminate some fundamental, complementary mental capabilities.

So-called “left-brain” capabilities focus on language, logic, linearity, analysis, detail, objectivity, facts and mathematics. So-called “right-brain” capabilities are focused on imagination, daydreaming, holistic thinking, intuition, arts, rhythm, relationships, and feelings visualization. As may be clear to you, our science and technology focused culture has sort of “deified” the left-brain functions, and kind of banished (or strongly deprecated) the right-brained ones.

For instance, public schools are having significant struggles in trying to get funding for any arts-related programs like music, visual arts, and theater. STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) drives core curriculum, and indeed, pretty much the sole focus of the current job market. Children and young people spend more and more and more time on highly structured (left-brain) activities (which includes all-day-long interacting with their technological media (smart phones, tablets)). Actual unstructured, creative, free, playful, imaginative, social (i.e. face-to-face, not texting) activities have shrunk almost to the vanishing point.

Again, here at Camp Ballibay, we are committed to restoring the balance. In fact, we have discovered a clever way to combine the two complementary functions into a single, integrated whole: children are responsible for structuring their day (left-brain) to include pre-planned times for creative play and socializing (right-brain)! We are, after all, an arts camp, with all that entails, but we require campers to plan their own day, and then to stick to that plan.

We don’t want to over-correct the current imbalance by denying, suppressing or denigrating the left-brain; after all, it is 50% of our brain! All we want to do is to restore the balance to something closer to 50/50, and to get the two sides of the brain to communicate and to integrate, which we strongly believe was the purpose of the original design and functioning of the brain in the first place.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/27/books/review/splintering-william-egginton-coddling-greg-lukianoff-jonathan-haidt.html

Make Room for Creative, Messy (and Fun!) Self Expression

September 26, 2018By kristin

You may or may not have noticed this, but our increasingly technological society and culture are focusing ever narrower and narrower on STEM – science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. This is certainly true of jobs and education. Middle and high schools are cutting back more and more on music, visual arts, creative writing, and other so-called irrelevant or “useless pastimes.” In an ever-more competitive world, children are slotted and prepped from birth for entry into the hallowed halls of Harvard, Stanford, MIT, Wharton and several other “prestige” (technology and business-focused) colleges and universities. We are taught now that the only way to get ahead in life is to learn coding – as in computer programs and mobile apps. 

Parallel to this trend and supporting it is a growing tendency to limit the definition of excellence in communication to a narrow, succinctly articulable message – as though every document were a technical manual for assembling or operating a machine. This is STEM-driven communication. Precision, specificity, particularity, linearity and logic are what’s now defined as “good”. There is one – and only one – single, precise meaning or interpretation behind this kind of communication.

You get the picture. Here at Ballibay arts camp, we see things a little differently. We fully understand the overarching importance of STEM to education, careers and communication. Yes, they are extremely important. We get it.

However, here at Camp Ballibay, we take issue with what we believe is the total myopia of the belief that STEM is the beginning and the end of all things twenty-first century. Everything discussed so far is “left-brain” stuff: linear, logical, analytical, precise. Mechanistic. And creativity and authentic self-expression are roughly “right-brain” stuff that picks up where left-brain stuff ends: creativity, self-expression, play, non-linearity, illogical, emotional, relational, symbolic. Even in the world of business, which is largely left-brain oriented, executives, leadership consultants and academic types are realizing that innovation, which has become the modern “holy grail”, rests largely upon the foundation of right-brained, creative capabilities.

And THAT is where Ballibay Arts Camp comes into play and succeeds. We value and support and LOVE the right-brain! We strongly support and encourage fun, relationships, self-expression, creativity in all their glorious imprecision, symbolism, multiple meanings and interpretations, open-endedness, and plain old fun!

It seems important to encourage both of these very human impulses – the impulse towards linearity and focus, and the impulse to play and explore freely. Without the latter, would we have a Picasso, a Van Gogh, a Beethoven, the Beatles, or Simon & Garfunkel? Would we have Shakespeare, Chaucer, or James Joyce? With schools turning increasingly towards STEM, we need another time and space in the year to encourage the non-linear approach to life. Camp can offer this. At Ballibay we create a safe and welcoming summer space that allows a flavor of freedom that kids are not getting in the schools, but within structure and order that kids need to feel cared for.

FOUR VALUABLE LIFE LESSONS YOUR CHILD CAN LEARN AT BALLIBAY ARTS CAMP

August 31, 2018By kristin

When your child goes to a sleepaway arts camp, they will come home with more than just fun stories; they will return home with valuable life skills. We may not realize it straight away, but the skills our children can learn while at sleepaway camp — and at our arts camp — are ones that we can appreciate for years to come. Sleepaway camps foster friendships, independence, communication, problem-solving, and responsibility, just to name a few, while arts camp adds to those skills, with creativity, confidence, focus and much more. The safe, fun, and creative environment at an arts camp allow these skills to grow through many conversations, individual decisions, explorations, art programs, activities, and free time.

Communication

Without parents around to “help,” young campers learn how to communicate for themselves. They develop the confidence to explore, take initiative, and communicate with those around them, including both adults and children. Especially in theater, music and rock camp, children learn to engage with others through multiple conversations and through the process of learning and enacting their jointly-created art. our child’s confidence and communication skills will improve so much that they will learn how to resolve issues, effectively communicate needs, and create better relationships with those around them.

Confidence

Theater camp and music or rock camp are amazing for building confidence. Through learning, practicing and playing on a daily basis and learning how to communicate with their peers, teachers and counselors, campers step out of their comfort zones, learn from mistakes, and adapt and grow into confident young adults. Developing the confidence to perform in front of others can translate into multiple aspects of life, whether in the performing arts or giving presentations for school.

Creative Expression

Creative expression is the very foundation of the arts, and Ballibay Arts Camp is designed to foster creative expression in our campers. We allow our campers to explore and express their creativity and work in any way they choose; we do not place any limits on them; rather we learn about their interests, support their decisions, and work with them to develop the skills they need to see a project through. We allow our campers to be unconstrained by anyone else’s categories, definitions, constraints, or prohibitions. Campers develop and create their own personal artistic expression, however they see fit to do it. See our blog about embracing children who are “different” thinkers.

Problem-solving & Critical Thinking

When young artists have a vision or an idea, they are faced with the practical problem of translating that vision into objective reality, whether that is a song, musical composition, painting, sculpture, video, movie, play, or something else. This “translation” process combines continuous problem-solving with ongoing, unfolding creativity. And this is generally done in a highly individual way, with little outside guidance or support. This ability to combine creativity with practical problem-solving (which includes critical thinking) is central to the life of an artist, but also is an immensely important life lesson for all of us.

Sleepaway camp and arts camps provide the perfect spaces for any child or young adult to grow and develop as an artist and person, developing important skills each and every day. These young campers will develop these skills more and more as they progress through life, shaping them into well-rounded individuals.