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SOCIAL DISTANCE DANCE VIDEO: During an Isolating Global Pandemic Janessa Clark Creates "COMMUNION"

SOCIAL DISTANCE DANCE VIDEO: During an Isolating Global Pandemic Janessa Clark Creates "COMMUNION"
Christine Jowers/Follow @cmmjowers on Instagram

By Christine Jowers/Follow @cmmjowers on Instagram
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Published on February 16, 2021
Rosalynde LeBlanc & ColleenThomas// Wendell Gray & Catie Leasca

Official COMMUNION Trailer  
Music: To the Hands, Mvt. VI: I Will Hold You
Composition and lyrics : Caroline Shaw
Sung by The Crossing with the International Contemporary Ensemble from their recording "Seven Responses."
Recording provided courtesy of Innova Recordings. Donald Nally, conductor 

*For more about  Communion , a list of artists participating, and a link to funding for these artists, Click Here

Click here to see Communion, presented by HERE as part of #stillHERE Online

Christine Jowers, for The Dance Enthusiast: Janessa, so happy to have you on The Dance Enthusiast!

Before we talk about Communion, I was wondering, what have you discovered about yourself during this time of isolation?


Janessa Clark: What have I discovered? I think that I have learned that I thrive in all aspects of my life when I spend more time in the studio making art. I have developed a rigor that was hard to achieve when things were open. I have realized that I have to find a way to sustain that once things go back to ‘normal’ (whatever that is).

I have discovered a new relationship to time. I have discovered that my interests are very much moving towards a hybrid of dance and video/film, and that I am comfortable identifying with the broader term of multidisciplinary artist which used to make me feel less connected to dance. It feels quite the opposite now, I can really investigate my identity as a dancer and choreographer by bringing that knowledge into other disciplines.

We are all artists after all, so I think the medium isn't also cut and dry. Off topic, I discovered that I am in love with plant life, and that if you speak to them and play music for them, they grow better. 


I'll try to remember this about plants, mine could use some help.  Now, thank you so much for sharing your official COMMUNION trailer with us! How did the idea to create this wonderful project come about?


JC: I am quite good friends with the choreographer, Laura Peterson, and  just before the shelter-in-place went into effect, we were talking about collaborating. When it became obvious that we weren’t going to be together in the studio anytime soon, I started imagining ways we could still work. I've worked remotely  before, but this was a new challenge -- a challenge to go further and make something entirely without contact. The process went through a few iterations starting with me asking Laura to  video herself improvising and then send it to me.


What was it about it about your playing  together that got you to think of adding more bodies to the mix ?


JC: I have a large blank wall  that I use for projection,  so I ithought I would project Laura's video into my space and work with that presence. After we responded to each other's videos for a bit I decided to plug them into my editing software and manipulate them.  I saw potential!

I went back and asked Laura to clear out her living room space (ha!) and film again --this time in all-black clothing. I did the same in my space.  I then  edited our experiments  together in  black and white.  That was my  ‘Eureka!’ moment.I almost didn’t believe we were in different spaces,  it seemed so real. I became hungry for more research and experimentation with more people.


You and Laura seemed an easy, perfect choice, but how did you bring other artists into the project and figure out how to pair them?


JC: Very early on in the process I created a long list of artists who I deeply admire and  with whom I hoped to work. I invited them in and asked them to think of a duet partner they wished to share virtual space with.

Sometimes, it happened that artists like Kimberly Bartosik would  invite their long-time collaborators to commune, for Kimberly that was Joanna Kotze.  Other times  people  who had never met  but who admired each other’s artistry from afar chose to partner. Alice Klock and Kumar Ravi are examples of that. There were so many constellations.

Curley Haired Choreographer Janessa Clark dressed totally in black stands in front of one of the black and white duets of her film communion.
Janessa Clark stands in front of Duet # with 9 Gus Solomons, jr. (R )  & Guy Whitney (L)  ; photo Courtesy of artist


A moment of kismet came in Duets # 6 and # 7. Dan Safer had long wanted to work with Benoit Lachambre; they  talked about it  but nothing had come to fruition. They created a  devilishly wonderful duet set to music by Sxip Shirey.  Julian Barnett asked Takahiro Yamamoto to dance with him. As it turns out, Julian and Taka  met each other years and years before  at Impulstanz as danceWEB scholars.  And do you know in whose class they met? Benoit’s.

I love these coincidences!


So, when you invited people to this project,  what instructions did you give them? Were there ground rules?


JC: Honestly each duet's process was a bit different. With some I was more hands on,  with others I stepped aside to allow the dancers to devise their strategy.  While the filming instructions were very specific, the ways in which the dancers generated movement was  open.

I offered several prompts including: What would it be like if you could actually move with your partner? What aspects of their kinesthetic signature would you pick up on and respond to? How can you evoke a sense of presence in their absence? If you listen to your body in this current moment in time, what does it wish to communicate?

I asked that each dancer send me at least two videos with about 90 seconds to two-and-a half minutes of material. I handled the rest. Some dancers swapped videos with their duet partner and filming and re-filming for two to three times, others kept their video process short and sweet and sent them to me only. There were always surprise outcomes. Things that we could never plan for no matter how hard we tried. The magic was in the chances the dancers took. I am still blown away. They're all so damn smart in their bodies.


How did you choose the music for each film?  The sound works so beautifully with the movement.


JC:   I started by inviting my friend and frequent collaborator, composer  David Shane Smith, to observe a few of the early duets and to offer his sonic reactions. David has  authored a majority of the music for these duets which  stretched his range and produced exciting results. We had conversations about the choreography; the artists; the movement aesthetics; the emerging narratives, and, if the dancers were friends of mine, I offered my insights and anecdotes . All this went into the compositions which  felt at once supportive of and connected to each dancer.  The music also  seemed to represent the  energy between them.

Several of the other composers I worked with offered  already existing music from their repertoires, others still let me browse their vast catalogs of incredible music.  I  also reached out directly to record labels explaining the project and asking for permission for a specific piece. Each composer brought their expertise and offered something perfect and bespoke. And every single one of them donated their scores. I still cannot believe how fortunate I have been.


Why the black and white theme and filmed long-wise instead of  horizontally-oriented?


JC: I chose high contrast black and white because it's so striking and crisp. I felt that  would catch a viewer’s eye and get them to stop scrolling long enough to watch a full piece.  Within the high contrast,  the dancers at times start to become these abstract kinesthetic sculptures. I enjoy how it challenges the eye.  Taking the videos into black and white helped to blend them much more effectively than if they were left in color.  The color scheme is partly how I achieved a sense of shared space.

Janessa Clark  Creator of Communion in front of  Duet # 7 Julian Barnett (R)  & Takahiro Yamamoto (L)


It was a deliberate choice to film vertically. For one, the only mode of capture for this project was a smartphone. I didn't want to hide that fact. I wanted to celebrate that part of how we were able to do this.  The smartphone is  ubiquitous, and it's less hierarchical and more practical than asking people to find a quality video camera that shoots in 1080 HD.

Many of us are walking around with these incredible art tools in our pockets.  During the lockdowns they became lifelines  to connectivity. I wanted these duets to  to fill your palm completely while watching, so you could feel as though you were holding these two dancers and helping to create their shared environment.

When we were doing this, I had no idea when (and I still am not sure when) we will  be able to go back to the theater to see work, so I wanted these to be in a format that could be projected  larger-than-life onto the sides of buildings.

I envision seeing these dancers taking up the entirety of a building and also the small space of a hand. I don’t believe that dance film or other forms of filmic ‘high art’ need to exist strictly in the widescreen format, or within the theater/gallery space in general, if I am honest

I want to see dance film and video art continue to test boundaries and ‘rules’. That excites me to no end.


What do you hope for our " new"  normal,  and what do you wish to do when we can more freely move in the world again?


JC:  First thing I personally hope for and need is travel. I haven’t seen my parents in a year and a half... I want to hold them so much.

I would love to make a live dance work. I miss my longtime dance collaborators . I want to spend time with my "dance family’ "again. I have plans for a longer live work and also an adaptation of one of my pieces from 2018 for the screen. So many things.

Choreographer/Filmmaker and Avid Gardner (Who Plays Music for her Plants);  Janessa Clark; Photo Courtesy of Artist


I hope that we can just dance and share space again. I want to hug people. I want to do contact improvisation and get coffee after!

I hope that everyone who feels like they have lost so much dancing time this year, can return to their best dancing selves with time and determination. I hope that we can save all of our beloved spaces: theaters, studios, cafe hangouts that have suffered so much this year.

I hope we can preserve this sense of community responsibility: the supportive and growing visibility for artists of color, all the important work being done in terms of decolonization, equity, equality, fair working environments, reparations, commitment to artists, the dismantling of white supremacy, racism, sexism, ableism. This is all to say, I hope that the shifts and hard work that our (arts) communities have done, and are still doing, can be the standard once we go back to "normal’" not that these were topics and issues we considered when we had lots of time to sit and examine.

Our community is so much richer now, more vibrant and delicious than it has even been. I see more people who look like me being given space and time. It’s so good to witness that.  I hope for a lot...and I am starting to see it

So, yeah, many things.


Finally, what is your dream for the future of  COMMUNION ?


I love that you can carry these duets around in your pocket and view them on social media as you choose. I would love for them to be outside in public spaces.

My dream for COMMUNION is that it continues to bring joy to people, that it can be an archive and documentation of what artmaking was during the challenging year of 2020; that it can be recognized for the spirit and generosity of the almost 50 people involved in making it.

I am very fortunate to be working with HERE Arts Center in sharing this work. They are presenting each one of the duets virtually over the course of 20 weeks, and we have plans to hopefully share it live as an installation in their space, in a safe, socially-distanced way. 

I kind of feel like I am living the dream I have had for COMMUNION.

You’re writing about it!

I am so happy. Honestly, what is occurring is even better than I had imagined.

Janessa Clark, portrait, face partially in shadow,curly brown reddish hair with blonde accents tied back, she serenely looks out at us.
Janessa Clark; Photo by Maria Baranova Suzuki
 Janessa Clark

(American/Swedish) is a choreographer, performer, and installation artist. Her practice combines dance, movement,   video, language, and social- engagement. She holds an MA in Performance Practices and Research from the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London where she also received distinction for her thesis Vicious Terrain: Rupturing Choreography through Co-Authorship. Janessa also holds a BFA in Choreography from the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts at Arizona State University where she received the Undergraduate Award for Excellence for her choreographic work. She founded and directed the New York City-based dance collective, Janessa Clark/KILTERBOX, from 2001-2012 and in 2012 dissolved KILTERBOX to form nomadthenewcompany, which worked from Stockholm until 2017.  Janessa now creates work under her own name.


As a dancer and performer, Janessa has collaborated with acclaimed artists such as Tino Sehgal, Gina Gibney/Gibney Dance, Noemie Lafrance Sens|Production, Michael Cole, Laura Peterson Choreography, Lior Lerman, and Disa Krosness among others. She has collaborated on performative photographic/visual art projects with Alex Yudzon, Martin Cooper, Christopher Matthews, and Craig Wells.

Janessa’s recent hightlights include the 2020 Crojik’s Largesse from the Croft Residency and a 2019 artist fellowship in St. Petersburg, Russia through CEC ArtsLink’s prestigious Back Apartment Residency program. Prior to that she was a 2018-19 Artist in Residence at Jamaica Center for Arts and a 2018 resident at THE CHURCH Artist Residency in Mt. Vision, NY. Janessa’s choreography and installations have been presented throughout the US and Europe most notably at Danspace Project (NY), Dixon Place (NY), Dance New Amsterdam (NY), WOW Cafe Theater (NY), the DANCENOW Festival (NY), the Webber Douglas Performance Space (London), SDVIG and NCCA (St. Petersburg), CounterPULSE (SF), Teatro Victoria (Spain), Teatro Cicca (Spain), and Danscentrum (Stockholm). She was the choreographer and a performer for the prize-winning short film Squeeze Play (2004 d. Chiedu Egbuniwe) and has had her own film work presented throughout the US and Europe including at the Stockholm Dansfilm Festival, Thessaloniki Cinedance International, ViDEOSKiN Film Festival in Yukon Territory, the Jakarta Dance Festival, Cinedanza in Modena, Italy, Moving Bodies in Bulgaria, and the Triskelion Dance Film Festival



is an experimental video art response to the isolation and uncertainty we are all facing as artists and humans in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis. Because dancers can no longer breathe together, touch, or share the experience of movement within the physical studio, Communion invites 40 dancers, separated by physical distance and the pandemic, into a digital space to commune together.

Each unique duet is created from videos by two different dancers who are separated by cities, countries, and sometimes continents. Artist Janessa Clark combines these videos to create virtual duets which is set to music donated by a composer who is also collaborating remotely.  (Concept, curation, and editing by Janessa Clark)

Duet # 1 Janessa Clark (Brooklyn, NY) & Laura Peterson (Brooklyn, NY) Composer: David Shane Smith (Santa Fe, NM)

Duet # 2 Leslie Kraus (Norman, OK) & Ogbitse Omagbemi (Berlin, Germany) Composer: Anne Müller (Berlin, Germany)

Duet # 3 Gerald Casel (Santa Cruz, CA) & Peiling Kao (Honolulu, HI) Composer: David Shane Smith (Santa Fe, NM)

Duet # 4 Ori Flomin (New York, NY) & Helena Franzén (Stockholm, Sweden) Composer: Fatrin Krajka (New York, NY)

Duet # 5 Gesine Moog (Stockholm, Sweden) & Yutaka Nakata (Lille, France) Composer: David Shane Smith (Santa Fe, NM)

Duet # 6 Benoît Lachambre (Montreal, Canada) & Dan Safer (Preston Hollow, NY) Composer: Sxip Shirey (New York, NY)

Duet # 7 Julian Barnett (Burlington VT) & Takahiro Yamamoto (Portland, OR) Composer: David Shane Smith (Santa Fe, NM)

Duet # 8 Jennifer Nugent (Brooklyn, NY) & Kendra Portier (College Park, MD) Composer: David Shane Smith (Santa Fe, NM)

Duet # 9 Gus Solomons, jr. (New York, NY) & Guy Whitney (New York, NY) Composer: David Shane Smith (Santa Fe, NM)

Duet # 10 Wendell Gray II (Atlanta, GA) & Catie Leasca (Salem, MA) Composer: Major Andres Scurlock (New York, NY)

Duet # 11 Doug Elkins (New York, NY) & Sharon Estacio (Florence, Italy) Composer: David Shane Smith (Santa Fe, NM)

Duet # 12 Alice Klock (Whidbey Island, WA) & Kumar Ravi (Delhi, India) Composer: George Baldovin (Zagreb, Croatia)

Duet # 13 Ivy Baldwin (Putnam Valley, NY) & Saùl Ulerio (New York, NY) Composer: Tim ‘Love’ Lee (Wassaic, NY)

Duet # 14 jess pretty (Brooklyn, NY) & Jessie Young (Port Angeles, WA) Composer: David Shane Smith (Santa Fe, NM)

Duet # 15 Kimberly Bartosik (Brooklyn, NY) & Joanna Kotze (Brooklyn, NY) Composer: David Shane Smith (Santa Fe, NM)

Duet # 16 David Dorfman (New London, CT) & Jeanine Durning (Stockholm, Sweden) Composer: David Shane Smith (Santa Fe, NM)

Duet # 17 Aaron Lewis (Highland Park, NJ) & Jordan Lloyd (Brooklyn, NY) Composer: David Shane Smith (Santa Fe, NM) 

Duet # 18 Jasmine Hearn (occupied land of the Karankawa and Atakpe people, Texas) & Catherine Kirk (unceded land of Lenape and Canarsie peoples, New York) Composer: Michael Wall (Salt lake City, UT)

Duet # 19 Kelly Bartnik (Brooklyn, NY) & Alexandra Beller (Brooklyn, NY) Composer: Michael Wall (Salt Lake City, UT)

Duet # 20 Rosalynde LeBlanc (Hawthorne, CA) & Colleen Thomas (New York, NY) Composer: David Shane Smith (Santa Fe, NM)

Running time for full project: 50 minutes, single channel, video

Communion is funded, in part, by a Foundation for Contemporary Arts Emergency Grant.

Note: All of the Communion performers and composers have donated their time and artistry to make this project possible. The work is dedicated to them and everyone who has struggled to cope during the Covid-19 pandemic. May these duets bring light to all.  All music used with permissions. All rights reserved.

Janessa Clark is hoping to build artists funds for the cast of Communion, to thank them for their generosity. Please ,  if you are able, consider donating to the artists of Communion.   Here is the link:




















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