THE DANCE ENTHUSIAST ASKS: Stefanie Batten Bland on her new work "Embarqued: Stories of Soil" Premiering at BAM Fisher Fishman Space- Next Wave 2022
Stefanie Batten Bland's Embarqued: Stories of Soil is an interdisciplinary work featuring five dancers who use textiles to explore the idea of memorialization. In particular, the piece considers African-American narratives, initially inspired by the African-American Heritage Trail on Martha's Vineyard.
Embarqued... has three iterations: one, was an outdoor performance first presented at Martha's Vineyard; the second, a gallery installation, first featured at the John Brown House in Akron, Ohio; the third, a theatrical, staged piece will have its New York debut at the Brooklyn Academy of Music tonight, November 1st , and will run through November, 5th.
The Dance Enthusiast spoke with Batten Bland about Embarqued: Stories of Soil, its origins and the kind of experience Batten Bland hopes she and Company SBB might convey.
For more info and tickets to the performance click the BAM NEXT WAVE 2022 website here.
Cecilia Whalen for The Dance Enthususiast: Could you tell me about what it was like walking the African- American Trail at Martha's Vineyard? And, did this lead to the development of Embarqued?
Stefanie Batten-Bland: It was quite an accident, the way I happened upon it. I was so taken by the idea that in a place like this vineyard, instead of making statues and memoria, they were looking at [memorialization] as being active.
Throughout the island are small plaques that celebrate free peoples and the people that supported them. The sites are sewn together in a way that you can walk them. I stumbled upon one, based at the entrance of a beach, that touched me immediately. I noticed a collection of stones there and how over time, the collection of these stones grew.
I realized that memorialization, the honoring, is actually in the present tense. Looking at memory from a place of 'right now' is so different – especially in this moment when we are questioning what memorialization is.
Being someone who loves to tell stories with materials and objects, I had the honor and the chance of working with a historian out of Martha's Vineyard who let me touch some of the oldest afghans that were made by freed women in collaboration with the Native American Wampanoag people. A liaison came of these two peoples and I wanted to talk about this in fabrics, through lands, through water, through voyage. It started with me working with some fabric in the water, and it led to us using the fabric of the sail, which is the vehicle that got us somewhere.
What was your choreographic process like?
Since we're interdisciplinary, we don't dissect [the process] into sections: Everything occurs at the same time.
At first, the exploration was water-based, looking at how how we receive wind and weight. That would be the same for our bodies as with fabrics, as well as anything with which we are partnering that is not human.
From there, we started looking at different types of storytelling mechanisms and asked, what are the ways in which we move through bound and free spaces, physically, materially, sonically.
Our research is rooted in an enormous amount of conversation. Everyone visited the sites; everyone got to see, interact with, and meet various things on the island. We spent time cultivating relationships. What's beautiful is that we're looking to tell a story that's abstract, but also can be completely subjective to the viewer. It's important that we are explicit in our imagery.
Why the focus on soil?
Water dominates the piece because of the particularity of what a boat is. But then, one arrives somewhere. And where one arrives is soil-based. It's land.
The piece is described, in part, as an "unfolding time continuum." Could you talk about this idea?
Embarqued ... takes place in several time periods, sometimes all at once. This is thrilling, and something that can happen uniquely in dance. There's a freedom of interpretation because of this. And physicality offers a wonderful keyhole into a larger space where everyone is existing in their behaviors, shapes, and references and ways of moving or singing or sound.
One might think they're in one era and be quite surprised that they might actually be thinking of another, and all of those eras are relevant. It's surreal -- you never know whether you're in the past, present, or future. The work invites you to just be.
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