DAY IN THE LIFE OF DANCE: Savannah Spratt and David Glista of the Limón Dance Company Journal "from the Bubble" for The Dance Enthusiast
The Limón Dance Company's Winter, Rehearsing and Performing at Kaatsbaan Cultural Park
Just before the Christmas holidays, I asked our friends at the Limón Dance Company if any of their dancers would be interested in writing about the unique experience of rehearsing and performing in a "bubble". Dancers Savannah Spratt and David Glista, two artists who I have enjoyed watching over the years, decided to take on the task when the company traveled to Kaatsbaan Cultural Park.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank them and the Limón Dance Company for giving us a window into their artistic experience during this time of forced distance. Upon reading, I am reminded of the special people who are part of the dance community and how deeply I miss being in the same space with them. - Christine Jowers, Editor The Dance Enthusiast
ps. I hope you enjoy David and Savannah's pictures as much as I do, in particular the Dancers' Tree and the Limón dancers' own winter method of icing their bodies after rigorous work!
Following a two week quarantine bookended by Covid-19 testing, the Limón Dance Company gathered on a rainy Monday morning in Harlem to board a bus heading upstate. Masked, overpacked with food and our warmest clothes, and buzzing with excitement and nervousness for the amount of exhaustive work to be done in the short weeks ahead, it felt like a dream to greet my fellow dancers.
When the Covid-19 pandemic began shutting down New York City in mid-March, we were just two weeks away from our weeklong Joyce Season. We left rehearsals on a Friday afternoon unaware that we would not return after the weekend, and I still held some distrust that it wouldn’t happen again this time around, even with the extensive precautions and safety measures in place.
Losing our ability to live in and share this work that we love so much had scarred us, and it was’t easy to access that vulnerability again after so many months of distance and quarantining. Our first conversations and interactions were somewhat hesitant, but as soon as we made it to the Kaatsbaan campus and saw our home for the coming weeks, worries were washed away.
In 2020 fashion, the day we arrived at Kaatsbaan it was pouring, and the dirt road and fields leading to the Dancer’s Inn where we were to spend the next three weeks were inundated. This did nothing to dampen the excitement I felt as I saw the bus trundle in with the rest of the company. We had all quarantined and tested regularly leading up to the residency; and were hoping that our isolation would allow us to enjoy a short respite from the social distancing necessary during a global pandemic.
While walking through the dark to the gatehouse for our opening night gathering, I began to experience the first feelings of anxiety and weight of the experience we were about to embark upon. Never before in my professional career had it been this long since I had stepped inside a studio. On both sides of the road I could hear rushing water as the fields and small stream flooded; I felt like I was being caught in a current with no way to control the outcome. Having not danced regularly since March, nor having the level of intimate social interaction a rehearsal studio brings, I was more nervous than I have been for perhaps any appearance on stage.
The space and time we were given at Kaatsbaan were truly precious, and we sensed how limited these resources were most acutely when entering the studio for our first class. Joined by the incomparable Kurt Douglass, functioning as our rehearsal director for this period, we quickly dove back in to our bodies to find the pathways and weight and rigor were all there, not quite as dusty as expected.
After months of classes experienced mostly over Zoom in my boxy kitchen, it was like the world opened up again in the studio. Standing in the back of the room to begin class, I was able to take in so much space above and around me, surrounded by the heartiest dancers I know. We set the bar high from the very beginning, exhausting ourselves during that first day in the studio, silently remembering how abruptly our last rehearsal period was cut off and wordlessly agreeing to enjoy every second of dance available to us.
The main task at hand was mounting Limón’s masterwork, There is a Time, a piece of repertoire encompassing the cyclical nature of life inspired by Ecclesiastes. As a new piece to most of us, it was a beast of material to quickly learn, absorb and perform. During our first rehearsal together after months apart we were welcomed to stand close to one another, holding hands, unmasked, breathing as one, working through the opening section.
Emotions and tears came in waves in that moment; relief that we had made it here at all, gratitude for the opportunity, grief for lost time, and hope that the next few weeks would restore us. Though it got easier to enter the piece without being knocked out by these overwhelming thoughts, the wonder never fully dissipated and the buzz of magic was palpable every time we circled up to begin.
Opening the traditionally gendered roles to blind casting, a groundbreaking decision from our newly-minted Artistic Director Dante Puleio, allowed us the opportunity to learn all sections from the piece and experiment with the extremes of emotion and movement. I had the honor of entering this process as a reconstruction assistant, giving me access to the preparatory process of re-staging a piece of this size. I was fascinated by the decision making process, melding together over 60 years worth of archival video to tailor the movement and progression of the piece to our individual bodies and personalities.
The first week was glorious and my nerves unfounded. I woke up every morning to a serene silence and drank my coffee while sitting outside my room or walking to the studio. The first morning of rehearsal everyone was in the studio long before class started, getting warmed up... even me. (I was somewhat notorious for walking into class right as it started.) You could feel the desire of everyone to get back to it, and we did just that.
We dove head first into José Limon’s iconic work There Is A Time, an appropriate and poignant choice by our tenacious new Artistic Director, Dante Puleio. In an effort to move away from the traditionally engendered roles, each solo was taught to the entire company. It was a welcome opportunity to enjoy the connection and proximity of these amazing people, but it also revealed the challenges of returning. For the first few days it felt like goalie practice; trying to catch a barrage of movement thrown our way. The rigor of learning and retaining material was a skill that I had not maintained over the course of the year. I felt my body recover quickly after the customary soreness, and settle back into the weight and momentum of the movement.
Each week our morning technique classes were split between Zoom classes and in-person instruction from both Dante and our incomparable rehearsal director for the residency, Kurt Douglas. It felt admittedly odd to still have Zoom classes, even in a studio, but we appreciated the chance to connect with teachers who could not quarantine in Kaatsbaan. The Zoom classes also offered one of the only daily reminders of the state of the world outside our tiny bubble. I’m grateful for the time and connection with each of our instructors and the ability to share classes with our broader Limón family.
It was truly incredible to see how fast we were able to return to the routine of work. Even though we were exhausted mentally and physically, it was difficult leaving the studios each night knowing that we could push ourselves just a few minutes further trying to make up for lost time. When we reached the point of running the pieces fully in preparation for filming and performance, I realized that dancing these masterworks fueled me more than exhausted me, returning every ounce of energy I put in to them. I think that is the common thread between all of us in the company, because without that return we wouldn't survive. At Kaatsbaan, my fellow dancers thawed me with their vulnerability and pushed me with their willingness to explore. We rediscovered our groove inside and outside of the studio, spending almost all of our free time together. It warms me to see how tender we are with one another, whether sharing nourishment or words of encouragement, taking care of each other like family.
Inside Kaastbaan, nature became it’s own character and contributor to our experience. The short days and long nights just made the sunrise more stunning, and our daily walks around campus left no shortage of inspiration. This residency would not have been nearly as successful without our access to the freedom of outdoors as well as the privacy that the bubble provided. The large and spacious windows in the main studio allowed the woods and sky to inspire our movement, creating the most dazzling backdrop. On the day of our performance, following a blizzard that left campus blanketed in almost two feet of snow, we watched as every branch on every tree became frosty with ice as the temperate plummeted; in contrast to our warm and sweating dancing bodies, it was a thing of unmatched beauty. The snow made campus even more magical, and we took full advantage of the healing piles of fresh powder by diving in nightly after long days of rehearsal, trying to ice our sore muscles.
I consider my company mates my family, and we spent most of these three weeks together, both inside the studio and out. We cooked, hiked, played games, watched movies, and even built a Christmas tree with sticks from the property tied together with twine. I’m in awe of the empathy exhibited through the company, and the devotion towards each other’s physical and mental well being. After months in New York City, in tiny apartments, and elsewhere, we gravitated towards the beautiful nature on the Kaatsbaan property, and it became a defining element of our residency. A tree near the Dancers’ Inn became a place for gathering and contemplation. One morning we woke up to knee-deep snow blanketing the world, which was exhilarating and most of us couldn’t resist plunging into it or throwing a few snowballs.
The most difficult part of the entire residency came in the middle, when I began to realize that this opportunity wouldn’t last. Prior to COVID, when we rehearsed for seasons and tours, I would often feel that there was never enough time to truly absorb and live in Jose’s work. Now, with only three weeks to put together a program our time felt particularly inadequate. There is never enough time to process, and live, in the work we create and put forward. The effort to maintain relevance in the community consistently detracts from the depth of experience. My frustration with speed at which we were hurtling through the choreography became a stubborn obstacle to overcome heading into the final week.
The performance itself was surprisingly not the most memorable part of our time together, even though it drove our days forward and gave us a shared goal. We filmed three pieces over two days, an enjoyable process that we hoped would capture a different point of view rarely available to audiences. The work ended and we were able to enjoy the show as audience members ourselves, gathering on the stage where it all happened to celebrate the fruits of our labor. The familiar show-day anxieties were there, but this time there was no preparation for performance to distract us from those jitters. Nonetheless, it was breathtaking to behold my fellow dancers flying across the screen with vulnerability and strength. We got to cheer for one another and see ourselves in a new light through the camera, diverse yet unified.
It was decided early on that our performances would be filmed in advance. I’ll admit, somewhat selfishly, that I was excited to be able to dance without the stress of performing for a livestream (a stress that would have been magnified by the technical feet that would have been required to do so). I was even more excited to watch our show with my company at my side. It is a singular experience to watch a performance for the first time surrounded by the magnificent artists in front of you, and hear the awe and respect they carry for each other voiced aloud in the moment. Kaatsbaan was also to be my last performance after 5 years with the Limón Company. Upon reaching the final circle of “Time” and feeling the lights fade as I looked around at the faces of these extraordinary humans, I tried, only mildly successfully, to hold back tears. I failed entirely when our time together truly came to an end.
I have a tattoo on my forearm with the phrase “Words are Inadequate.” I feel that it is impossible to aptly articulate my emotions about my time at Kaatsbaan. It was a privilege and gift in a year of immense trial for the world. I am grateful, humbled, honored, but perhaps most importantly, renewed. There is much to be done in the world, none of which can be accomplished without hope. Thank you Kaatsbaan, and Limón, for helping me uncover it again.
This residency was a lifeline during a tumultuous year for the arts, and I am so grateful I had the opportunity to return to this work with these people. It reminded me that the good times will return, that the sun will always rise, that hate and mourning give way to laughter and dancing, that every embrace is precious, that we have not stopped learning or growing, and that there truly is a time for everything under the sun
Guest Writer Biographies:
Photo:Courtesy of Artist
Savannah Spratt has been a member of the Limón Dance Company since 2016, following what turned out to be a very brief apprenticeship. Born and raised in Rochester, Pennsylvania, she began dancing at age three before attending the Lincoln Park Performing Arts Charter School to study dance alongside high school academics. In the spring of 2016, she graduated with a B.F.A. in Contemporary Dance from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts while being the named recipient of the Sarah Graham Keenan scholarship. Additionally, she is a guest artist with Helen Simoneau Danse and has worked closely with the Merce Cunningham Trust, most notably performing in the centenary celebration Night of 100 Solos.
Photo : Mariah Gravelin
David Glista ,currently based out of Queens, New York, is a graduate of the Walnut Hill School, The Boston Conservatory, and former member of the Limón Dance Company. David will be teaching Limón technique to the students of Launch this winter as well as rehearsal directing the students of L2 in The Unsung.