ARTISTS REACH OUT: REFLECTIONS IN A TIME OF ISOLATION
Senior Curatorial Director Eva Yaa Asantewaa dreamed this series of interviews, Artists Reach Out: reflections in a time of isolation, out of grief for her work both as a documenting arts writer and curator of live performance.
“In this time of social distancing, we are called to responsibly do all we can to safeguard ourselves and our neighbors. It is, literally, a matter of life and death.
But there’s no distancing around what we still can share with one another—our experiences, thoughts, wisdom, humor, hearts and spirit. In some ways, there are more opportunities to do so as we pull back from everyday busyness out in the world and have time to honor the call of our inner lives.
So, let me introduce you to some artists I find interesting. I’m glad they’re part of our beautiful community, and I’m eager to engage with them again (or for the first time) in years to come.” – Eva Yaa Asantewaa, Senior Curatorial Director
This interview features Anya and Mitsuko Clarke-Verdery, Artistic Directors of MICHIYAYA Dance and Gibney teachers/artists.
MICHIYAYA Dance is a femme-centric contemporary dance theater company based in New York City. Their mission is to produce multidisciplinary performances that inspires and empowers women(+) with limitless boundaries. Co-founded in fall 2015 by Anya and Mitsuko Clarke-Verdery, MICHIYAYA honors a rich exploration in contemporary dance and centers the experiences of queer women. Born and raised New Yorkers, Anya and Mitsuko came together with a vision to synthesize their backgrounds in dance and visual art. Anya (Long Island University Brooklyn, BFA) uses her performance and choreographic experience to cultivate the physical and visceral MICHIYAYA movement. Mitsuko (Carnegie Mellon University, BFA) uses her visual and performance art to form contextual landscapes for the dance artists to live inside. MICHIYAYA’s work has spread nationally at venues such as Yale University, Brooklyn Museum, Andy Warhol Museum, among others. They have been supported by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, Foundation for Contemporary Arts, and the Opportunity Fund. MICHIYAYA is also dedicated to nurturing voices and creativity through movement to youth and adults of all backgrounds. They have led educational and community engagement initiatives at the American College Dance Association, Alonzo King LINES Ballet Training Program, Center for Anti-Violence Education, Gibney, and more. To learn more visit michiyayadance.org.
Do you have a current or planned project whose progress is affected by the pandemic?
Yes, we have had numerous performances and teaching opportunities canceled. Our biggest sadness was our newest work 33theyRooted, that was supposed to premiere this month at the Irondale Theater in Brooklyn. It would have been our first immersive and interactive work—we were preparing to share something magical. We’re now planning to transform it into a dance film, with a release date TBA. This will be our first-ever dance film which is exciting, despite the change of events.
Briefly, tell me about how you got involved in the arts and in your particular practice.
Anya: When I was 7 years old, my mom put me in dance, because I would always try to mimic Michael Jackson on tv. I later realized that I had a passion for choreography and movement and started to put real time and effort into my own practice. Around sophomore year of college, I began researching artists like Ohad Naharin, Pina Bausch, and Sidra Bell. They helped me dive deeper into my practice and embody an improvisational mindset.
Now, my practice is finding harmony for my internal and external selves through movement on other bodies. I’ve always been fascinated with the way other bodies interpret what I do physically. Seeing and feeling the other body mathematically go through and try to decipher the way that I move, provides me with information that I can use to work through parts of my own life. My practice has become my therapy, and I hope other human beings will benefit from what I’ve discovered for myself.
Mitsuko: I owe it to my parents, and definitely my grandparents, for bringing me into the arts. They’re all artists and encouraged me since I was young to express myself and pursue whatever art form I chose. I went from studying music, to visual art and dance. It wasn’t until college that I really started to analyze what the fusion of different mediums could look like. Currently, I’m calling myself a contextual designer/choreographer/director/maker/artist and practicing ideas of abundance and a ridding of judgement from my creative process. Sometimes the “lack-of” and “either/or” mindset can take over when I start to create, but I’m working on the “yes and” with an abundance of resources and possibilities.
In a more specific way, what are you practicing? And what are you envisioning?
With our company, MICHIYAYA Dance, we have an ongoing practice of improvisational-play, experimentation, embodiment, and collective communication. We always start our creative process with play, a time to really let the moment take us on a journey. We use the whole environment, often bringing in objects, and then reinvent the space. This playtime leads us to the experimenting and embodiment practices. Its also enabled us to envision a queer femme-centered world where we can move uninhibitedly and take risks.
How does your practice and your visioning align with what you most care about?
Anya: I have been the underdog in many moments of my life. I’ve gone through motions of loving myself, being disappointed in myself, and feeling disconnected. To finally find something [dance] that makes me feel stable and in control of myself and my thoughts, feels good. Being able to provide classes/workshops for folks to feel what I feel, and become more in tune with the connection of mind and body, really shows me just how important it is to share your findings, especially if it will benefit others.
Mitsuko: Similar to Anya’s sharing of findings, I love being the connector of things, whether that’s connecting people to people, and/or people to art/ideas/resources. Seeing my community grow and interweave gives me a lot of joy. So, a big part of my practice is the collective communication part. It’s a deepening of my connection with others and building communication, so that we can all collectively grow.
How does your practice function within the world we have now?
It’s been challenging to not have bodies around us physically, and translating our feelings virtually. We’re already talking about what a shared space will feel like once we’re back together—it’ll be electrifying. But we’re finding ways to stay connected. We’ve started weekly online rehearsals, company class, and a group hangout session. We’re taking it day by day as we learn what works. The dance community is also finding beautiful ways to stay connected. This is probably the most together we’ve ever seen it, and that is special. We’re grateful to be able to witness and experience the interdependency of everyone. We hope this support continues to evolve us as after the pandemic subsides.
To read all of Eva Yaa Asantewaa’s Artists Reach Out interviews, visit infinitebody.blogspot.com.
Photos by Jeremiah Cumberbatch.