A clothesline draped with women’s garments created the symbolic backdrop of Carbondale choreographer Alya Howe’s outdoor presentation of her latest work Saturday evening.
“Disappeared: Women” featured Denver-based dancers Lucy Stewart and Alana Ortiz in the mother-daughter roles, with four local dancers comprising the ensemble at the Thompson House Grounds on Saturday. Chairs dotted the lawn in socially distanced clusters. Even the choreography itself was adjusted to create space between bodies.
It was just one of several reasons the work was shown three consecutive times to the Saturday audience, Howe explained.
“So many in the audience come up to me and say, ‘Well, I liked it, but I didn’t understand it.’ And dance, even though we’re all in bodies, is sometimes one of the least accessible art forms. So if you get to see the same piece three times, does it make it more accessible?” she posed. “Another good reason to see it three times is I’ve had to stretch the piece out horizontally because of social distancing, so it would be very hard to look at the whole thing through the first time!”
Missing women and girls — often minorities and unreported cases — has been an undercurrent of Howe’s social messaging in her choreography for years. “Disappeared: Women” is the first of a new trilogy, she said Saturday.
“It’s really a time, when we are reflecting on equality and justice, to bring attention when we hear of someone losing their child and not much is being done for it, how can we help add more momentum to it?” she said. “It’s even happening here in our valley. So please, eyes alert. There are many, many ways to participate and educate.”
Carbondale-based Dance Initiative commissioned the piece through a fund the organization launched in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Megan Janssen, executive director, said.
“That went to four different choreographers in the valley, and it was to inspire them to create a new piece of work. That’s been a really special process, and this is Alya’s form of that,” she said.
Janssen cited a quote from political activist Angela Davis to encapsulate the feeling organizers shared when creating the fund.
“‘Art makes us feel what we don’t necessarily yet understand.’ That feels really pertinent right now, because there’s a lot going on that’s hard to understand, hard to comprehend, difficult to take in and digest and know what to do with.
“It’s the artists in the community that I really think keep it moving forward, especially in times when we don’t know what it means to move forward,” she continued. “Just to keep creating, to keep working, to keep moving your body, to continue having reverence for things that are totally mind-blowing and hard to comprehend.”