Something I wanted to share: I simultaneously keep two journals: a choreography journal and a journal for free writing. The choreography journal is a mess - sometimes I even fill the pages out of order or start from the back. Sometimes I will write and imagine, and know I have more to wrestle with on this idea, so I leave a few blank pages so I can come back later. Sometimes I come back and sometimes I don’t. Sometimes those pages just get used for new ideas, thoughts or feedback. It’s the way I keep myself in check, being present, not trying to ‘write a book’ from beginning to end, but I use it as an open, living, breathing document that can reflect the mess inside my mind. I take it to rehearsal, write choreography notes in it, plan out large ideas about structure, staging, realizations, questions. It frustrates me how messy it is and how sometimes I can’t find things that I wrote down which then makes me need to re-envision / recreate that original idea or thought. I think I purposely make it this much of a mess so that I don’t become too precious with or lean too much on words. I put it into existence by writing it down and then let it go and if it comes back I know it is resonating. My second journal is a more linear documenting of thoughts and feelings, chronological, one page after another. Sometimes it is just for free writing but it’s much neater, clearer, and I don’t like to skip pages, I like to use a nice pen that writes smoothly (I’ve been known to write with my sons’ crayons in my choreography journal!). We often imagine creating as a process that is about organizing thoughts or ideas - however I think creating is about giving space for all of our messiness to show up - all of it - so we can then have an incredibly rich palate from which we make… - Ana Maria Alvarez
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Brianna is a former member of CONTRA-TIEMPO's Futuro Junior Company, and has been interning with us all summer through the L.A. County Arts Commission's Arts Administration Internship Program. Here she reflects on her experience.
Though based in Los Angeles, CONTRA-TIEMPO hasn't always spent a lot of time here, because the company has been fortunate to be on the road touring and sharing work nationally. That's changed over the last year, as the company has begun building a home in South Los Angeles.
Oftentimes, artists are berated for being contributors to the gentrification process. Even some of the most well-meaning arts organizations have set up shop in neighborhoods like South LA and found themselves facing stark resistance from community members. I mean think about it, if someone were to move into your home uninvited and unannounced, how would you react? Given recent threats of gentrification in South LA neighborhoods like Vermont-Knolls and Leimert Park, CONTRA-TIEMPO knew that in order to do it right, genuine and holistic community engagement would be a crucial step.
This is why CONTRA-TIEMPO decided to work with the Community Coalition to build community specific, context-driven engagement strategy that focuses on grassroots organizing, intentional community building, and forming genuine relationships with people in the neighborhood. Through canvassing the community and hosting Sabor Sessions (free weekly dance classes for the South Los Angeles community), CONTRA-TIEMPO has been able to grow some really rich relationships with community residents.
Witnessing and facilitating this beautiful process as CONTRA-TIEMPO’s Community Engagement Intern has been both an honor and a privilege for me. After over a month of hard work, South Los Angeles is finally starting to feel more like a home (and that's even with me being from South Los Angeles!). It’s not uncommon to walk around the neighborhood, see familiar faces, and strike up conversation with folks.
One story that reassures me that we are on the right track is of one of our Sabor Session participants who I initially just started talking to in passing, as she and her granddaughters were walking down the street outside of the Community Coalition building. I invited them in to dance with us, and she seemed wary of coming in. But then one of her granddaughters shouted, “Grandma! Grandma! We want to dance!” She looked into her granddaughters’ pleading eyes and finally decided to come in and see what the class was all about. Even as she walked into the building, the hesitation was still very noticeable in her face. “Only a few minutes,” she told her granddaughters as they ran to the front of the room. As it turned out, a few minutes turned into 30 minutes, which eventually turned into an hour.
Gradually, I saw the expression on her face become less and less resistant, until finally, she was smiling cheek-to- cheek. Since then, she and her granddaughters have come every week to dance and build community with us.
It is stories like this that make me aware of the transformative power of dance. The fact that she went from a reluctant passerby to a fully engaged "regular" is proof of how powerful it is to be given a space to have fun, build community, heal and express yourself.
I can honestly say it has been such an exciting time for me to take part in the beginning of what CONTRA-TIEMPO hopes to be a long-standing relationship with the South Los Angeles community, and I look forward to the weeks (and years) to come.
Facilitating FIERCENESS: Co-leading a dance residency at NCSU, by Jannet Galdamez
A few weeks back I had the opportunity alongside my colleague Bianca Medina to co-teach a one week residency at North Carolina State University with a group called the Panoramic Dance Project. Panoramic is a college-based dance company consisting of 13 beautiful dancers whose only outlet of dance on campus is through this company. They are all majoring in other areas, such as business and science, and they make time outside of their normal class schedules to commit to their dancing.
This was my second time getting to lead a residency and share the work of CONTRA-TIEMPO in this intense format, and it's absolutely one of favorite things to do. Getting to co-facilitate the experience with my colleague, Bianca Medina, made it extra special. This was Bianca’s first time leading a residency, and because we both had really beautiful college experiences—having been positively impacted and inspired and having gotten to work with guest artists—now to be able to “sit on the other side of the table” brought it all full circle.
During this residency we set a 20-minute excerpt of our current touring work Agua Furiosa on the students. This excerpt included our big ensemble pieces: Join the Movement, A Masters House, No Nos Moveran, our Rifle Piece, and ending with Like Water for Justice. We used the CONTRA-TIEMPO creative process method in our work: we shared personal stories in Council circles, dove into trust-building exercises, held conversations that helped set the dancers’ intentions in their movement, and taught choreography in a way that allowed the dancers to personalize the excerpts and make them their own.
It was beautiful to get to experience this group move together, support one another in their roles, and take their connection as human beings to another level. It was incredible to feel and to see how much these dancers were craving this work. They shared with us how certain movements and phrases were bringing up all sorts of connections to their personal lives and to what is going on in the world. This truly was showing up through their bodies, in their movement and how they were working as an ensemble—truly listening to and seeing one another in and out of the pieces.
If I could choose one word for this week-long residency it would have to be PERSEVERANCE… And this really was our kind of like our theme each day. Every single one of these dancers was so full of determination, purposefulness, and intention. It was an honor to witness.
Check out the dancers in action. FIERCE!!
On the series: Voices del Camino is our series of stories and reflections from the company, while on tour. El camino, in Spanish, literally means "the road"; but el camino is also the journey that we're on towards witnessing, creating, and sharing the beauty and complexity of humanity, and towards transforming our world through love and movement.
Amherst, MA | Claiming My Knowledge, by Chris Cuenza
Our performance at University of Massachusetts, Amherst was a short but sweet experience. The actual show went well, and when the floor opened up for questions afterwards, I saw numerous hands instantly shoot up. I could tell that the company members were excited to get the mic and give a little insight into themselves and the work.
But it wasn’t until I saw the small group of youth being given a short backstage tour by our Tour Manager, Nathan, when I got to engage a little bit more. I happened to be walking around backstage, when Nathan invited me in to talk about about the newest work the company is creating, “joyUS.” The group was a very open-minded and interested in what I was saying, which was really cool. And then, at the end of the tour, as we were all saying goodbye, one young man came up to me and said, “Thank you for the knowledge.”
Now, people have given me their thanks before, but there was something about this phrase coming out of this young man’s mouth that stuck with me a little different. First and foremost, I didn't finish college, but I am extremely passionate about art, dance and performing arts. I never formally studied dance or hip-hop, I just learned as I progressed in my career. When the young man said, “Thank you for the knowledge,” it made me feel really proud of how far this artist’s path has taken me.
So, I say to you, my young brotha in the red Jordan long sleeve, “I thank YOU for listening and for being part of my journey.”
On Friday, April 15, 2016, CONTRA-TIEMPO Futuro Junior Company performed excerpts of "I Dream America" (choreographed by Ana Maria Alvarez, under the direction of Jasmine Burgos) as part of the LA Dance Festival (produced by Brockus). The following is a reflection on the experience by Futuro Junior Company member, Brianna Thorpe.
Dancing Into My Futuro, by Brianna Thorpe
If you would have told me four years ago that I would be performing with CONTRA-TIEMPO Futuro at the 2016 Los Angeles Dance Festival, I would have said, “What is CONTRA-TIEMPO???”
I started dancing Salsa when I was in the 11th grade and I immediately knew that this is something I would be dancing for the rest of my life. When I started college, I became heavily involved in the Salsa scene on campus, and I gained a lot of new insight into this beautiful dance form.
About two years into this dance journey, I had the pleasure of being introduced to CONTRA-TIEMPO and seeing their performance of “Full Still Hungry”. For me, it was love at first sight. I had seen other Salsa performances, but I had never seen anything like this. After talking to the company about their work, I knew I had to get involved. So, I applied to their Futuro Summer Dance Intensive. I was accepted into the program and spent two weeks learning from the company.
At first, I was very reserved and unsure of my abilities. I had danced Salsa before, but I had never even heard of modern dance, let alone danced it. Despite this, I took a leap of faith and dove head first into the work. After the summer intensive ended, I was left feeling empty—like an entire chapter of my life had ended. I needed more! Fortunately CONTRA-TIEMPO was holding auditions for their Futuro Junior Company, and I decided to go for it.
I truly consider deciding to train with Futuro as the most pivotal moment in my dance journey. Looking back on these last nine months, I am amazed by how far I have come. Everything I experienced during that time came out on stage, as we performed excerpts of “I Dream America” at the LA Dance Festival.
We trained for months, working on intention, working on technique, and learning how to dance as a company. The performance was my first major performance ever and so it was incredibly important for me get it right; not only because I didn’t want to embarrass myself, but because the stories that CONTRA-TIEMPO tells through movement are so incredibly important. Those stories need to be honored. By the end of the performance, I knew we had done the work justice, and all the doubts I’d had in my abilities disappeared.
I have taken this renewed sense of confidence and am continuing to explore and let myself open up. I am so grateful to CONTRA-TIEMPO for providing me a space to grow. There is no doubt in my heart that while we are a company, we are also a family. I am so incredibly blessed to have the support of so many individuals through this journey. In my opinion, this is the greatest success of the Futuro program. It connects you with people that have such a passion for the work and for dance. It allows you to become inspired, push yourself, explore, try new things, and allow yourself to be vulnerable.
Though I have a long way to go on this journey, I owe my current growth to CONTRA-TIEMPO Futuro and I am grateful to have stumbled upon it when I did.