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Notes from an AiR: How I Came to the Parks

Notes from an Artist in Residence (AiR), Alexandra Joye Warren:

"Growing up, my memories are filled with trips to the Kennedy Center and the Smithsonian museums, but we were not a family that hiked or camped. I grew up in the suburbs of Prince George’s County, MD, and outside of Girl Scouts trips I didn’t spend too much time in nature.

But, recently I began to become curious about what I could learn from the outdoors. Organizations like Outdoor Afro, Black Freedom Outfitters and GirlTrek inspired me to get outside and wonder, even if no one in my immediate family or friend group were particularly interested in that. Fortunately, I became connected with a group of mothers who were all homeschooling their children and also interested in exploring nature. After taking my little ones hiking at Hanging Rock, Pilot Mountain, the Eno River, the Piedmont Nature Center, Price Park, the Haw River, my children and I fell in love with exploring the outdoors.

On almost every hike we did, the kids became alive. My son, who is naturally shy, became brave and was always in the front unabashedly running down every trail. Even the simple act of walking in the woods or on a mountainside felt life changing. I felt more brave, more connected to the earth, connected to my ancestors who looked up at the same skies - I felt like my capacity was expanded.

During the pandemic I took advantage of one of the few things that was available to do that seemed safe - taking long walks in parks and on trails. As I walked, I wondered what it would be like to dance in those spaces. I started to imagine my company and I rehearsing in nature and creating work meant for those sites.

The opportunity to create, rehearse and perform at Greensboro Downtown Parks is a dream come true.

What has been most interesting about working in the Downtown Parks has been discovering how much we are changed by the environment.

In our normal rehearsal process we come into a studio which is usually designed to be a neutral space. It serves as a container for making that is mostly unchanged.

However, when we come to rehearsal at Greensboro Downtown Parks, our senses are immediately activated. There’s so much to see in terms of the landscape, the existing structures and the people who weave in and out of the space. There’s a cacophony of sound: children playing, conversations, laughter, dogs barking, and the usual city sounds. All the spaces have a texture under our feet - concrete, grass, gravel, sand.

In our first few rehearsals as we began in January, we realized that the wind shifting, the clouds moving, revealing and then hiding the sun, the temperature all influenced how we were moving. Every week we surrender to being in conversation with what is going on more and more, and that is where things get interesting.

In this phase of our residency (January- March) we have dedicated our time to simply figuring out what it is to work in the Downtown Parks. We’ve been exploring a series of prompts for improvisation. We explore those prompts in short bursts and in long scores putting together a long list of ideas and exploring them as a group for 10-15 minutes continuously.

One thing I’ve noticed is how when people see or perhaps even feel our movement, I'm witnessing other people consciously or subconsciously having a kinesthetic response. During rehearsal, people passing by might start practicing cheers, or slow dancing, ballroom dancing, and twirling each other. Others might just stop what they are doing to respectfully watch.

I’m excited about transitioning to the next phase of our rehearsals where we start to slowly explore the themes of our project, A Wicked Silence, and to see where these insights from working in this space take the project next."

- Alex

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