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Kerry Parker: Dancer/Choreographer in Residence at cfpa

Kerry Parker, longtime dancer and choreographer in the Twin Cities, had rented cfpa studio space on occasion for rehearsals. In March 2018, she moved into the cfpa AirBnB and discovered it to be a valuable landing space for her professional work as well as her personal life. Soon after she moved in, she starting renting studio space for her own practice. She attended events in our ReClaim series, and backyard events sponsored by the Kingfield Neighborhood Association. She spent time in the gardens, and got to know some of the long-term tenants. And in time, a dance piece was sparked in her, inspired by her experiences of this building at 3754 Pleasant Avenue.  She assembled collaborators, choreographed, rehearsed, and performed a site-specific piece, “death to the world” during the last two weekends of September. 

On September 24th, Kerry sat down with Jackie Hayes (Executive Director) and Jennie Ward (Managing Director) to talk about that piece. 

The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the artist.


About Kerry:

Born and raised in St. Paul, MN, Kerry spent her early years dancing with Pacific Northwest Ballet, The Vienna State Opera Ballet and Ballet of the Dolls.  She freelanced in New York for almost a decade working with Avila/Weeks Dance, Arianne Anthony & Co and Ancient of Days Dance Theater.  Her own work has been presented by On The Boards, West Wave Festival, Minneapolis Fringe Festival and barebones dance project, which is a performance series she co-founded with Gregory Grube and Kiro Kopolous in Madison, Wisconsin.  She currently dances with Deborah Jinza Thayer/Movement Architecture.  Kerry teaches all levels of ballet to all ages of people and is certified in the Gyrotonic Expansion System.


death to the world.

Curated by Kerry Parker

Created and Performed By:
Alex Adkinson, Andrew Bocher, Non Edwards, Helen Hatch, Michelle Hillstead, Angela McJunkin, Kerry Parker, Phala Tracy, Elayna Waxse

Special Thanks To:
Mary Parker, Robert Skafte, Bernadette Diers, Rachel Lyles, Keya Hutchins

a dance experiment partially inspired by a vow of renunciation – “death to the world” – taken by nuns as they enter the convent, or “take the veil.”

also inspired by:
Vesta – goddess of the sacred hearth fire of home and temple.
Vestal Virgins – keepers of the sacred flame.
Nuns.
and Witches.

the piece is a ritual meant to re-ignite some sort of spark of beauty.

              


Jennie Ward: What sparked the making of this piece for you?

Kerry Parker: Living upstairs where the nuns used to live. [The building that cfpa resides in was built as a convent in 1923, and operated as such until the mid-1980s.] I was thinking about them. I am also studying astrology, and I learned about an asteroid named Vesta [for the Roman goddess of hearth and home.] Wherever she is in your chart signifies devotion. I was thinking about the lineage of Vesta – the Vestal Virgins were the keepers of the flame in the temple . . . [and they are connected to] the nuns. Vesta was the only god who didn’t have to get married and didn’t carry on with any of the shenanigans that the other archetypes did. I was thinking about fire, and the female, which made me think about the witches as well. [As we were building the piece], we thought about burning the witches, and then taking them out of the fire. The fire out back [the piece opens in the cfpa back yard, around a fire pit] felt really important, carrying the candle flame through every space felt really important. [Devotion is about committing] yourself to whatever sparks you from the inside.

The title, “death to the world”, comes from an article I read about “Taking the Veil” that described the rituals the nuns go through before they enter the convent. They used to arrive at the convent dressed as brides. Which is creepy and weird and interesting. They would take on a different name, they would change their clothes and it would completely change their persona. Their vow of renunciation was “death to the world.” These themes are kind of creepy, especially once patriarchy comes into play, but [I am drawn to] the idea of renouncing everything that is external to devote yourself to something that has meaning to you. But within that, we understand the [structures and associations surrounding] nuns and Catholicism. [The piece] doesn’t really touch on the Catholicism. It’s mostly about the females.

JW: Well, you have thousands of years of history to mine. So it sounds like you have mostly focused on the earlier history of the virgin devoted to being separate from the world, rather than 1950s nuns and their rulers.

KP: The only text in the piece comes from St. Teresa of Avila: just a snippet that comes from her autobiography. Teresa and Hildegarde of Bingen, they were pretty out there. Psychotropic or whatever. But what they were experiencing when they were completely hidden away from the world is interesting to me.

Jackie Hayes: Where your devotion lives – for women . . . there have been such socially [constructed] paths for where and how women devote themselves to things. In the piece itself, I felt this resistance against the idea of marriage. A refusal to automatically go down that path, to just pause for a moment and question.

KP: That’s great that you got that! That’s part of what we were going for.

JH: It’s another example of how devotion lives in the world.

JW: Or has to be removed from the world in order to live. Jackie mentioned how cared for she felt in the journey of the piece. Can you talk a little bit about the experience that you want to create for the audience?

KP: It’s really important for people to feel like they’re welcome and they don’t have to be embarrassed, they’re not going to get in anyone’s way, you can stand, you can sit, you can pretty much do whatever makes you feel comfortable. But [I wanted] to express that without giving a list of instructions at the very beginning – if it’s more organic, there’s more real communication between the performers and the audience. Andrew did go outside and say: “We’re going to start. You can stand, you can sit, make yourself comfortable.” But it wasn’t like there were specific instructions. We didn’t really know how it was going to play out. I don’t have tons of experience working this way. I have been a cast member in pieces like this, and I have been in the audience for pieces like this, and I was always most comfortable when there was [ongoing] communication. We decided that we would just talk to people and gently lead them through. We wanted everyone to be safe: the staircase is dark, going into the chapel is dark, we didn’t want anyone to trip.

JW: So all the performers are just organically communicating with the audience as people are moving through.

KP: Everyone is on the same page. All of the performers have been working together for awhile. We wanted the audience to have a positive experience. The dancing is amazing, the music is amazing, the space is so beautiful, just enjoy it – but not as empty entertainment. Something real is happening. We tried to incorporate [the other senses] – we have a little bit of wine, a little bit of chartreuse at the end. Scent: there’s rose scent in the sunroom at the end, and frankincense up in the chapel. I wanted it to be a three-dimensional experience – but not by touching people too much. I don’t like that, as an audience member. I’m not into [that kind of] interactive work. But I like to feel like I’m in the atmosphere. And to do that, you have to be kind to people and let them in.

JW: Then they are consenting to be there.

KP: I’ve gotten feedback from other people who have seen shows [that move like this], and they told me about feeling trapped, especially on staircases and stuff, so we were really aware that there was a clear exit for people no matter where they were. We didn’t point that out, but it also assumes that they are adults and experienced theater-goers, they know how to take care of themselves. They know they can leave if they want. But I don’t think anyone wanted to leave.

JW: Let me ask you about your collaborators. This piece sparked in you personally – how much development of what was going to happen did you do on your own? At what point did you bring in collaborators? Who are your collaborators, and how did you work together? How did you build the piece? What happens when you’re in the rehearsal room?

KP: I source the movement material from my own body. But all the dancers are really different, so I give it to them and they do with it what they will, however their body embodies my movement. They have different strengths – like, Helen, who dances on point – she and I worked together alone. I worked with Michelle separately for awhile. Non and I connect really fast, so that’s pretty easy. I started meeting with the composers twice a month in April, just talking through ideas and sounds. We didn’t get music from them until very recently. Once the idea of witches emerged, we did research and the musicians were really interested in the pentacle. They came up with a scale that’s based on the pentacle. Because you can draw a . . .

JW: The circle of fifths?

KP: So they used the circle of fifths and a six-sided star to structure their work. Angela is an improviser, so she just comes in and get the vibe. She didn’t come in until [the day before we started performing.] She’s pretty amazing. So we had a couple group dance rehearsals. But the trick was to have everyone all together an have both spaces, to rehearse the trajectory. We mapped out, scored out, the movement in each individual room, and so those were rehearsed separately. But doing it all together was different.

JW: So you built it in its pieces?

KP: Yes, yes, totally. And then put it all together with the music the day before we opened.

      

JW: So you said you haven’t done a lot of work like this before, where the audience moves from space to space – whether you want to call it promenade or peripatetic . . .What about site-specific work? Something that is made for not just the physical space but the ethos of the space.

KP: If I weren’t living here, the idea would never have come up. Living here was really important – it’s like a labyrinth. It took time to understand the intricacies of the space. This piece would never have happened if I hadn’t had the experience of being in the space in these different ways. And you need time to really feel out the vibe of a place. I’ve been making dances for 15 years and you never get that much time in the space where you’re performing – so having access to that was pretty special. Both rehearsing in the space where you’re going to be performing, and just thinking about it: sitting out in the backyard drinking coffee in the morning. Figuring things out. Being really here. I wish that were more available for more people. I wish there were more living/performance spaces [for movement performers,] because it’s kind of a game changer.

JH: It’s expensive. It’s one thing for a visual artist to have a little square of their home as a studio, but for movers – they need a huge studio. It’s really hard.

JW: So having had the experience of making this piece, what will you take forward with you into your next projects?

KP: I’ve been thinking about this a lot. I’m not interested in working in a proscenium. I am interested in the three-dimensional way this piece had to be choreographed, because there’s no front.

JW: There’s no single vantage.

KP: Right! And I’m interested in the ritual aspect of performance, and in there being other ways to perform – not just dance. Creating the atmosphere with the smells and the tastes is really interesting. I’m interested in live music being created at the same time the dance is being created, so that it’s integrated, one is not put on top of the other, as equal components. It’s difficult! The musicians are coming up with all these ideas, and they see the phrases, the movement vocabulary, but they don’t really know what the dance is going to be like. The movement is totally choreographed, but the music is improvised and responsive.