For Kalila Kingsford Smith, a Community Fostered Through Digital Media

by Courtney Colón for The Dance Journal

With theaters closed, dance movers and makers are doing what artists have done in perpetuity-adapting. Quick and sudden was the exodus from stage performance to online platforms. Major companies, like New York City Ballet, are fully digitizing their Fall/Winter seasons. Merce Cunningham, who began using technology to choreograph in the nineties, is enjoying a popularity resurgence. And in Philadelphia, art-makers involved in this year’s Fringe Festival are demonstrating creativity and resilience in spades. Case in Point: Kalila Kingsford Smith’s Dis/Jointed.

Curation and community were the foundations of Dis/Jointed, staged the first weekend of this year’s Philadelphia Fringe Festival through the now-ubiquitous video platform that is Zoom. With options for how I would like to watch the performance (gallery or speaker views), and a choose-your-own-adventure model for the sound score (I bounced between songs by Moby and Aphex Twin-both provided by Kingsford Smith in the form of YouTube links), I found myself deeply engaged in a collaborative process of making and self-curation.

Kingsford Smith opened the showing by polling audience members with questions surrounding our emotional responses and aspirations in response to quarantine and civil unrest in Philadelphia. From this poll emerged a list of words-labels for what we have all been collectively experiencing these past several months. Armed with this vocabulary and buoyed by real-time commentary of the audience through the chat function, both Smith and fellow mover JoVonna Parks built short improvisational studies. Through this call-and-response performance model, both Smith and Parks created a space to hold and sift through our individual and collective interior landscapes.

Dis/Jointed is a performance in three parts, the first a solo by Kingsford Smith. Immediately, I see movement that reflects the audience’s chosen words back at us; the screen goes abruptly from inky blackness to a close-up of hands shaking. On edge. Smith alternates between this shaking motif and incredible fluidity, moving like water filling a glass. Disconnected. JoVonna Parks follows this solo up with one of her own. When she moves, her limbs flicker like lit matches, dropping delicately. Burning. Frustrated. A duet followed, the commentary here perfect and unspoken; two bodies, in two separate locations, coming together through a dual screen zoom option. There were some beautiful moments here, those little gems that arise in improvisational duets where unknowingly, both dancer’s movements perform a pure symmetry. Suspended. Ending the duet, both performers reach their hands towards the screen, palms up in offer.

In the end, Kalila Kingsford Smith guides the audience through their own shared improvisational score. Those brave enough to show themselves filled up my screen, and I watched, enraptured, as everyone moved, embodying their emotional responses and establishing a dialogue through movement. Observing this, my throat closed up and I felt something that has been missing all these long months. Community.  

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