Jessica's reflections on Kaatsbaan

By: Jessica Warchal-King

 Photo Credit: Keila Perez-Vega

Photo Credit: Keila Perez-Vega

This period of darkness – the Winter Solstice, the cold and death of winter, and the limited hours of sun – always put me in a reflective state. I take time to dive into the depths of my own heart and remember the moments during the past year that were full of light. KYL/D’s on-going process of HOME/S 9th St. has been one of the overarching beacons.

During the World Premiere of HOME in November 2015, the company sat together on stage, before the performance. It’s common practice to gather and take a moment together before performing, but this time, Ken joined our circle. He shared with us that KYL/D had been awarded our first ever NEA grant to perform HOME in May in the Center City Courtyard. Wow... I knew that HOME was special, but it was deeply gratifying to know that HOME and KYL/D were getting recognition at a national level.

There were over 100 people who shared each performance of HOME with us in May 2016. As had been the case with performances past, our audience always seems to grow and diversify with each sharing of HOME in a new location – at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Temple University, South Philly, Koresh’s Come Together at The Suzanne Roberts Theatre, FringeArts, and City Hall. I’m always humbled by the way this piece resonates with so many people on so many levels.

Most recently, we performed HOME at the Kaatsbaan International Dance Center in Tivoli, NY. Join me as a travel back to November 11th and 12th

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The unlimited stars, clean air, and a dozen white tailed deer frolicking through the fenced-in meadow were in sharp contrast to the events of the previous week in Philadelphia and around much of the country. I felt the company breathe a collective sigh as the car pulled off of the two-lane highway and onto the dirt path that welcomed us to The Kaatsbaan International Dance Center on Friday night. This new space not only offered a sanctuary that we often find in the most comfortable places of our home, but also provided a hospitable, new neighborhood for HOME/ S 9th St. and KYL/D’s mission of transcending cultural boundaries, using dance as a cross-cultural approach to building community and self-discovery, and igniting conversations about meaning and mystery to take root.

Saturday morning, we were welcomed by sunshine, colorful leaves, a crisp morning air and the type of chill that brings excited anticipation and hope. The world was bright and invited us into the creative process as we stepped into the barn-like (but incredibly state of the art) theatre. This sharing of HOME/ S 9th St. was poignant for several reasons: it was one of the first performances with our new company and a new cast of dancers recently introduced to KYL/D’s process and the stories imbedded in HOME; immigration was a major topic of the recent election; and this was the first time we were sharing HOME, in its entirety, outside of Philadelphia.

A giant “Thank you” to Kaatsbaan and the Tivoli community for your generous welcome and willingness to engage in challenging conversations about race, immigration, and the current state of affairs!

Kun-Yang invited the audience to share their thoughts, questions, and reflections after we performed. One woman mentioned that she was a retired teacher of English as a Second Language and the chairs reminded her of the classroom. She also noted that the sound of simple numbers – dancers counting down from 10 to 1 – and speaking the English alphabet resonated with the challenge and complexity of learning the most basic elements of a new language.

Another woman self-identified as Latina and a spiritual leader and was grateful for the ability of dance to communicate so much depth, feeling, and meaning without words; for dance to be able to connect to the mind, the body, and the spirit by allowing the audience members to experience a journey of feeling-states. One veteran patron of Kaatsbaan appreciated the diversity that KYL/D brought to the stage – in technical dance backgrounds, genders, body types, race and ethnic backgrounds, and ways of using the stage space and props.

The comments from the audience reminded me that HOME/S 9th St is not just about story-telling, but is also a call to action to listen to members of our communities, share common space, and work together to build a more beautiful world. After most of the audience had left, one woman approached us and recounted being a young adult in the 60’s and feeling so moved to action by the state of the country then. “This work is important. My generation is much older now, but we’ll keep working. But we need you to keep sharing this work and this message. Keep going!”

And still, later that night, while we were grabbing a post-performance snack, a gentleman from the show was also at the restaurant. As he was leaving, he approached our table and spent some time talking with small groups of us. He lived an hour away, but had felt called to come to the performance tonight. He was a frequent patron of Kaatsbaan, but tonight, particularly, he needed to make the trip again. An older, white man, he admitted to his privilege and was drawn in by our performance and courage in addressing heated issues with an element of hope. “This performance really spoke to me” he kept repeating as he held my hand.

I will always be grateful to Kaatsbaan and the Tivoli community for the opportunity to share HOME/ S 9th St at such a poignant time in our country and for openly engaging in conversations about fear, politics, and immigration with a belief in a shared humanity. I am also grateful to the many supporters of KYL/D that allowed HOME to take shape over the past few years and who continue to support the company’s vision and mission. May we continue to use dance as a means of building HOME and a more perfect union.

We’ll be performing HOME again at APAP in NYC January 6th. Again, I look forward to sharing this work with a new audience, and if you’re in the area, I look forward to seeing you from stage!

 

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