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, 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.