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Alison Cook Beatty On Creating Window Dances & Rehearsing On Baseball Fields

Alison Cook Beatty On Creating Window Dances & Rehearsing On Baseball Fields
Sammi Sowerby / Follow on Instagram

By Sammi Sowerby / Follow on Instagram
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Published on July 1, 2020
FROM MY WINDOW TO YOURS, edited by Jeff Keller.

Alison Cook Beatty Dance is a classically-driven modern dance company exploring the universal human condition. Grounded in American modern dance, the company’s expansive and emotionally-driven movement explores new approaches to finding unique creative expression—recently, this has included rehearsing dances in Central Park's empty baseball fields (watch ABC News Channel 7's coverage); teaching online workshops in collaboration with The Goddard Riverside Community Center; collaborating with artists from various disciplines; premiering a new work titled “From My Window To Yours” (watch above); and lots more.

Alison Cook Beatty © Marc Safran Photography.

Sammi Lim on behalf of The Dance Enthusiast: You and your team have been great at keeping the momentum going during lockdown! What's your secret to having great bursts of energy? 

Alison Cook Beatty: I have always had a lot of energy; that is one of the main reasons my mom started me in dance classes at a young age. Dance has always been one of my lifelines, besides my family and close friends. No matter what mood I am in — energetic, melancholy, silly, numb, or whatever the color on the vast spectrum of emotions I feel — dance is a vessel to express myself and everything that I imagine and explore. Because of this, it drives me, and passion fuels my energy to push me forward. I also have a tremendous responsibility to my dancers, the organization, and the people that are backing us. Fear of failure is also present, and it gives me energy.

The Dance Enthusiast: But have there beendays where you feel like doing nothing? 

Alison Cook Beatty: There are many days I feel like doing nothing.

From the beginning of the COVID-19 onset in the States, I had a week of intense fear that was almost paralyzing. I sat with it, felt it, and processed it. After digesting what was happening in the world and how that would impact Alison Cook Beatty Dance and the arts in general, I was able to harness all of that uncertainty and fear, turning it into fuel to go forward. I knew I had to keep my dancers working, thinking creatively, and doing what we do best, which is to dance.

Some days, I would cry. I was angry, frustrated, scared, and numb. There were days I needed a pause or did absolutely nothing. But in doing nothing, I was indeed doing something. Sometimes not doing anything gives you space to begin afresh. Think of it as pressing the refresh button!

The Dance Enthusiast: "From My Window To Yours," one of ACBD's lockdown projects, starts with a slight sense of claustrophobia before moving onto outdoor scenes. What was your general directive for the work?

Alison Cook Beatty: "From My Window To Yours" was inspired before COVID-19 even broke out in the States. Watching the news of people in Italy and Spain singing supportively out of their windows moved me. A few weeks later, when NYC began experiencing the same as the rest of the world, the window became a symbol that connected us all. No matter where we were, there was someone else behind a window dealing with this same unprecedented challenge.

Alison Cook Beatty Dance in MURMURATION. Photo © Russell Haydn.

The company is diverse by nature. I wanted their voices to come through in the work and to represent people on a universal level.  Each dancer picked a song that is popular or historical from their hometown or culture, and sang it in his or her native language. I asked them to film themselves singing in front of their windows. Our company members hail from Chile (Carolina Rivera), Italy (Vera Paganin and Niccolò Orsolani), Japan (Fiona Oba), Ōlelo Hawai'i (Richard Sayama), and the States (Nika Antuanette, Sasha Rydlizky, and our newest company member is Ricardo Barrett.

After working on gesture phrases, including sign language, I choreographed and taught more full-bodied phrase material built in a 6 X 6 ft space (the distance for responsible social distancing). The sound of sirens, which evokes a sense of extreme urgency, ran through my blood daily. In NYC around April, that was all we heard. The composer who created this original sound score was Stanislav Fridman.

The Dance Enthusiast: Would you like to give a shout out to Jeff Keller, who has edited most of your lockdown dance videos?

Alison Cook Beatty: Jeff, who has been fantastic to work with, is one of the original cast members of The Phantom of the Opera, and the first American to play The Phantom on Broadway. He's done so much on and off-Broadway, appeared in concert, on TV, and has a singing career in Brazil!

Not only is Jeff extraordinarily talented, but he has so much knowledge in video editing and is good at it! I have learned so much from him, and he's given us many excellent suggestions and advice. I love what he did with "From My Window To Yours" and what he's doing with our work-in-progress, "The Yellow Wallpaper." I am beyond grateful to him for collaborating with us during these challenging times.

Fun fact: Alison Cook Beatty used to play softball and even caught for an All-Star pitcher and hit two home runs in her last game! Photo © Timothy Clary.

The Dance Enthusiast: I loved hearing what a random passer-by had to say about ACBD's dance rehearsals in a baseball field. Do you see any similarities between baseball and dance?

Alison Cook Beatty: Yes, it's been wonderful meeting new people in the park, at a distance. People sit on park benches or blankets, and even bring lawn chairs to watch our rehearsals.

I choose to have rehearsals on the baseball diamonds because the field itself was designed for athletes to run, jump, roll, slide, and do athletic feats. People often sit on the grass and have picnics, but no one ever goes on the baseball field itself, which gives us our own safe space. The diamond is also large enough to practice social distancing within the architecture of the dance built with social distancing measures.

It's been great fun having ABC News and photographers from the Associated Press share our story. The story was picked up by MSN, USA Today, ABC News, NY Daily News, and more. I think that people appreciate what we are doing because there is so much heavy content in the news — folks need to have some sunshine too. The arts are necessary, and people crave culture.

There are many similarities between baseball and dance. The evident and essential denominator is athleticism. American baseball and American modern dance are both unique within themselves. Baseball's teamwork and camaraderie are also in dance — ballplayers and dancers depend on each other. Ballplayers and dancers need to be smart, as baseball and dance are very strategic. There is a particular choreography to baseball, spatial arrangements, lines in space. There is a lot of fancy footwork, both and hand-eye coordination, learning to trust your instincts, reacting and acting. In baseball, there are innings, and in dance, there are acts. There is an audience or spectator for both. Both have a rhythm, and require a lot of practice. I consider myself a coach in many respects to the dancers.

Catch Alison Cook Beatty Dance's New York Fall 2020 Season:

WHEN: October 3-4 & 10-11, 2020
WHERE: Salvatore Capezio Theater, Peridance Capezio Center

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