Finding a way home in the liminal space: A reflection on the making of Meet Me Here during my residency at Clarence Mews
From August 29th – September 2nd 2022, I participated in an intense 7-day residency at Clarence Mews Space: a cloistered haven nestled in Hackney Central. I spent 3 – 4 hours in the space every day, alone, steadily working towards (more like working through) the act of whittling broad themes of time, distance, binaries, and home into snippets of my life, my thoughts, my feelings. My companion for this week was Mar’s book Getting to Center*, and as most things happen in life, I read the book exactly when I needed to. This was my first time making a new solo work since 2017 and my first time making any movement work (excluding music videos) since 2019. I’ve finally found ways to manage Long-Covid symptoms (POTS, fatigue, and chronic pain), but I hadn’t yet tested my mind and body within the solo making process. I knew I was stepping into an experience that should be familiar, but would be completely different due to what I’ve been through in the past 3 years. Hell, the past 5 years, the past lifetime ( a lot came up). Part of my residency proposal read:
I plan to use my research period at Clarence Mews conducting a multi-disciplinary exploration of time, distance, binaries, and our attempts to measure the chaos. I do not expect to have a completely finished product by the end of the week; this residency will greatly assist me in finally taking the first step to clearing my mind of all my ideas, pouring them into a space where they can be spread out, dissected, and reconstructed.”
Now. I had expected to explore these themes through the abstraction of Ann Carson’s lyrical, queer re-telling of the myth of Geryon in her books The Autobiography of Red and Red Doc >; however, like Getting to Center, Carson’s work ended up being a hand to hold while I reflected on my own life, which felt parallel to Geryon’s as well as to Mar’s quest of “always getting back on the beam.”
I have to move to understand things and regulate my emotions. Call it a neurodivergence tendency, adhd, or an anxious habit, call it whatever you’d like (it's been called all these things and more). It’s just how I am. And I’m so lucky to know that movement is what I need, because some people spend an entire lifetime trying to figure out why they don’t understand things or why they feel so off (center*). My theory, led and developed and supported by so many psychologists, sociologists, community organizers, movement practitioners, and so on, is that we’d all feel better if we spent more time building our interoception (internal awareness) by moving our bodies, communally and alone. But I digress. I know what I need, and thank god for that. I so often forget it though and Covid sent my movement need farther out the window than it’s ever gone. Suddenly, I needed rest, limited movement—I’m talking take a break halfway up your 10 steps stairwell—and it broke me. But then it showed me that the things that are best for us can also become a distraction. While the frustration and grief around new physiological symptoms kept popping up every day, so did an incredible amount of shit that I thought I’d processed already. Or shit that I thought I was better than—ie. yes, I know I was brought up in a country that force feeds workaholism and pits the lower classes against each other so we all forget about the real evils of our white supremacist, patriarchal, cis-heteronormative societal structure, but I’M aware of it and I’M smart enough to not be taken down by it. Ohhh, but taken down I was. HARD. Without the ability to work or do things that brought me joy (movement fulfilling both those things) for so long, all I had was the ability to think (and even that was hard due to the brain fog). So for about 3 years I’ve been sifting through shit. All of it. Scribbling on papers and notebooks and reciting disjointed memories and thoughts to my therapist about things I never thought hurt me but obviously smothered me. Things that my body held tight to and my brain hadn't yet had time to transcribe.
And that leads me back round to the residency. THE TERROR of facing it all in one space. THE EXCITEMENT to understand Kayla in all parts of their life and soothe them along the way, especially as they learn that their body can’t do what it used to do. But maybe it never wanted to do what it did in the first place. THE RELIEF to hear my own voice in a place typically reserved for movement, knowing that I have not/will not, ever been/be the person who only dances**; I am the person who has to bring all parts of themselves together in their art to be seen and heard by themselves and others.
So the residency process got messy. It wasn’t linear, in fact most of the piece included that fact that nothing is linear. I had many moments of slipping into a “producing movement” zone, which only led to heartache and confusion as I tried to compose some grand choreography that essentially meant nothing and didn’t look pretty by the now unattainable standards I was trained in. It was the moments in which I let myself eat an apple on the balcony while reading, writing, or simply staring into space and listening that I realized every bit of “material” was already there. I have been gathering what I wanted to “say,” in whatever format I desired to do so (there were many), for an extensive amount of time and all I needed to do was look at it all to put the puzzle together. It wasn’t that simple, and the puzzle isn't finished, but that was the gist.
I looked at my roots and why at times they felt severed regardless of where I was geographically. I realized that I spent a lot of my life pretending I wasn’t a Floridian because of what that tends to connote to the rest of the world: a racist, homophobic, misogynistic, redneck, bible thumping life. Those things exist big time in Florida, and they certainly made me small until I had the privilege to physically leave (I’m really not sure that I would have ever tuned into my fluid sexuality/gender without the knowledge that I’d be leaving the United States in 2017), but I also know that there are so many things (things being people especially) about Florida that I love—no, that are PART OF ME FOREVER AND I LOVE THAT. I'd been leaving too much behind, well before I left the country. This residency was about coming home to myself. All parts of myself. And so much of that was/is/will always be Florida. I’m trying to not to leave anything behind anymore, in myself, in my art, in the way I talk to folks. It’s going to be a long journey, a lifelong one—thus, a long one, I hope.
The piece is nowhere near finished, nor is it ready to be “premiered,” but I was lucky to have a community of loved ones (and surprisingly, another Floridian, who I hope to know deeper) gather on the last day of the residency for a showing. I’ve attached some beautiful feedback below that reminded me how important it is to share our art. No matter how personal it seems, our art in the end will always be for others. Or mine will at least.
Please also enjoy some photos and a rehearsal recording of one section, Florida Gothic here: https://youtu.be/ApoAzbX7ru4
This section was inspired by Jonah Goldman Kay’s article of the same name***. I had a reflective writing session after reading it, which I then voice recorded for the following movement work. The other audio includes a Florida rainstorm and a treasured sound recording of our backyard that my mom sent. You can find a transcript of my spoken words from the reflective writing session below****. The rehearsal was filmed by my beloved, Xavier Singer-Kingsmith.
* You can find Mar’s book here: http://marleegrace.space/books along with all their other amazing work
** “only dances” is not meant to be derogatory. I’m a person who needs to access other forms of expression as well and for a long time I felt there was no way to bring all of my art-forms together. It's important to keep reminding myself that I need to do so.
*** Florida Gothic article: https://bittersoutherner.com/feature/2022/florida-gothic
**** Recording Transcript:
I love that Floridians all have the same house style, Florida. It doesn’t matter how far inland you live and if your next door neighbor raises chickens, weed, or alligators, we all have one if not many quintessentially kitschy Floridian items: a basket of shells, flamingos in the front yard, or sun bleached sand dollars that children are later horrified to learn that they technically murdered with their tiny child hands for home decor.
It kind of feels like the land of no parents. And that doesn’t equate to bad parents. I just hardly have any memories in the presence of adults. I grew up inland, about as centered and landlocked as you can get on the peninsula, where writer Jonah Goldman Kay astutely comments “the brightness of the colors masks the poverty that’s behind it.” Jonah grew up in Orlando, I’m from a small town that you’d call Orlando – adjacent, and he supposedly lives in London now. I stalked his Instagram and he looks about my age, I should reach out, it’s not unlikely that our lives intersect outside of our migration to London. That’s just how Florida works. I wonder if he too feels like he was partly raised by the feral children speckled over the natural landscape he also describes as stuck in between collapse and rapid development. Children in now adult bodies that he, like me, flocks to when returning to our state; because home will always feel rough and wild and beautifully mundane with an undercurrent of danger that calls for the support of your rough and wild and weird pals late into the night.
I grew up in the same town where my dad grew up. And I often think about the parallels that must exist between our childhood regarding experiences but also physical place. Some things always keep looping. If we both drew realistic maps, and I know we could, the year might be impossible to tell. Our town, cemented in a cycle of mending as it crumbles. But he does realistically joke that our house will only go up in value as our shores disappear further into the ocean, making climate migrants of all the snow birds. How did our family know the future, that Florida was never about the beaches, that safety was a once affordable bungalow nestled inward where outsiders like writer Lauren Groff feel that “everything wants to kill you.” She’s not wrong, but the gator will also just happily sit in the road, maybe taking a few playful nips at your car tires. And the Florida panther rummaging through your garbage just wants you to see that you’ve also forced it from its home on the outskirts of the land. And yeah, my town might be the lightning capital of the world, but simply stay inside and respect the storm. It will be done in 10 minutes anyways. And as my mom would say, “don’t die stupid!”
It was an absolute pleasure to sit down with the UK charity Paintings in Hospitals to speak about the arts, healthcare, and living with long-covid. Please click the image below to access the full interview. <3
'Arts feed the parts of health that get forgotten': Interview with dancer Kayla McClellan
© Gaby Conn
I'm so excited to be acting again in Kiss her as part of London's Camden Fringe Festival. Kiss Her is the debut play from Jack the Lass, an emerging theatre company committed to telling stories of women that have been silenced throughout history. Jack the Lass aims to engage with the communities whose stories we want to amplify. Kiss her is a play that wants to re-write: the narratives, the rules, the rules of lesbian fiction. You can purchase tickets for August 18th and 19th shows at The Cockpit theatre here and for August 27th, 28th, and 29th shows at Camden People's Theatre here. You can find Jack the Lass's Instagram here.
I had the pleasure of speaking with renowned musician and composer Daniel Smith this month about his new organization, Artists Seeking Transcendence, and the exciting events occurring in 2021! I wanted to know the inspiration behind the organization and learn what each online event has to offer artists of all backgrounds, around the world. If you know Daniel Smith and/or have had the opportunity to listen to him speak about creativity/the arts in any capacity, you can imagine that I left the conversation feeling pumped about his new organization. I really think the workshops held by Artists Seeking Transcendence will reinvigorate emerging and seasoned artists, providing clarity regarding their creative practice in the new year.
The inspiration behind Artists Seeking Transcendence
Art and philosophy were always tied for Daniel; art was "the pursuit of a life well-lived." As young as 12, Daniel recalls philosophizing about life, wisdom, and kindness with his friends on the back of a yellow school bus on their way to a band performance. While some things about that memory feel a bit silly to Daniel now, it's where he marks the realization that "artistic expression is inextricably tied to furthering one's own humanity."
Let's fast-forward to just a few years ago. Daniel began speaking with award-winning dancer/choreographer and FSU Associate Professor of Dance, Gwen Welliver, about how arts education is incomplete. Arts education spends so much time on technique, but much like the saying 'power and money don't change you, they reveal you,' "when you are trained to have technical skills as an artist, you are learning how to communicate and express, but that's a means of revealing who you are. So, who you are is often the limiting factor toward generating profound, meaningful art." As an artist who went through an undergraduate in dance, I extremely relate to the latter statement. It took years within the institution, and growing up outside of the institution, to place less focus on my technique and more focus on the things I needed to express. My technique was always there, and my voice was as well, but I was far more skilled at calling upon my technique than my voice due to my training.
Daniel believes that "enriching one’s self is not ancillary to arts training, it is arts training," and he's on a mission seeking the betterment of art by seeking the betterment of the artist themselves. Thus, the creation of Artists Seeking Transcendence.
The 6 core character attributes explored through 6 separate workshops
Daniel acknowledges that categorizing human attributes is always a dicey task. The core character attributes were influenced by several schools of thought and picked as a means for structuring the workshops in a clear way that cultivates a sense of gratitude in individuals' art-making, providing inspiration and motivation. Each workshop will focus on one of six core character attributes, which are:
Daniel also emphasizes that all of these attributes are interrelated, that one makes little sense without another. While each workshop will focus on one attribute, it will be discussed in relation to the others. As stated on the website, the workshops will investigate "philosophical and scientific understandings of these virtues and mentor artists as they wrestle with rich, enduring questions in the pursuits of bettering themselves and expanding their capacity to make impactful art."
What skills and lessons can artists expect to leave each event with?
Artists Seeking Transcendence and its workshops provide a "platform to dig deep into these enormous questions, these enduring questions, about who we are, why we’re [making art], and how to do what we’re doing as well as we can do it." Artists can expect to receive three major things from each event:
The workshops are connected in important ways to each other; however, each is designed as a stand-alone experience, you won't miss out on the conversation by just attending one or two events. The names of prominent artists and leading experts in philosophy and science will be revealed early-on in 2021. Make sure you're following Artists Seeking Transcendence on Facebook (linked) and Instagram (@artistsseekingtranscendence) to stay in the loop! One speaker, Philosopher/Author Dr. Michael Bishop, will kick off the first workshop discussing Happiness. You can find a description of this workshop and the others at https://www.artistsseekingtranscendence.com/.
Daniel recognizes that not everyone can take a full day off to attend a workshop. He hopes to build interest in the organization in 2021 and create events spread out over a few days in the future. He also has plans to offer in-person events (yay!) once such gatherings can safely take place. Workshops are not necessarily aimed at older age groups; rather, those wishing to attend should have a certain level of maturity of thought and desire to really crack open their mind concerning art-making.
Daniel also wishes to emphasize that he doesn't want the cost to be prohibitive to anyone and asks folks to reach out if they don't have the funds. There are two financial relief schemes in place:
Artists Seeking Transcendence is blazing a path towards a future where we educate the whole artist, mind, body, and soul. The successive, monthly events beginning in February 2021 offer a wealth of knowledge to artists of all kinds, at various stages in their practice. If you're looking for a way to find curiosity and pleasure in your practice once more, give yourself some love and book a place on one or more of their events exploring happiness, wisdom, courage, humanity, justice, and temperance.
I'm really excited to kick off this workshop series that will be spread over 3 months! It's an honor to be commissioned to lead a movement workshop in support of mental well-being through two great organizations: Arts and Health Hub and RCPsych Arts Special Interest Group. You can find the link here and read about the other two artists/workshops!
Kayla McClellan will be running a workshop in November focusing on sound walking. “This practice essentially aims to ‘rediscover and reactivate our sense of hearing’ (Westerkamp, 1974). I fuse Soundwalking with bodily/spatial awareness and memory: reinforced by creating a memory map after completing my walk.
Kayla is an international multidisciplinary artist and dance scientist from Florida. She received her BFA Dance Degree in 2017 from Florida State University and her MFA Dance Science Degree from London’s Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance in 2019. McClellan has also been granted a UK Global Talent visa, endorsed by Arts Council, due to her arts and research work created around the world. Among McClellan’s artistic and scientific endeavors in the UK/US, she has created relationships in the Netherlands while working with organizations and dance companies like Fiber and ICK Amsterdam. McClellan ultimately desires to serve whatever community she resides in by connecting with individuals through her artistic practice and research.
So, you’re interested in the UK Global Talent visa. Wonderful! I hope this post about my journey to receiving mine will help you understand the process better. Please note that I am NOT an immigration advisor and cannot advise you on any choices/decisions. As well, every visa process changes all the time. You’ll read more about my experience with this in my following post. This means, reading about my journey might help you better understand yours, but your journey will be vastly different, especially if you’re not in the performance art sector; thus, this is NOT a replicable, one-way golden ticket to the visa. Okay, now that I’ve sufficiently covered my butt, let’s get to it.
It’s not enough to want this more than anything in the world or to be wildly talented with tons of experience. You need two of the most valuable resources that exist: money and time. I don’t come from an affluent family—I came to the UK collecting student loan debt that was to pay for my master’s degree and get me through two years of living. Throughout my degree, I worked the 20 hours a week admitted to people on a UK student visa. I saved as much of it as I could & renegotiated my loans after two terms so that it wouldn’t be such an exorbitant amount (but, let’s be real, knocking a few thousand pounds off the loans did nothing to put an actual dent in them; rather, it made me feel responsible? Sort of at ease? None of the above really, but I did it.). I then began saving the rest of my work money throughout the year and a half solely for food and some fun, but mostly because I always had the goal to try to stay in the UK as a working artist after my degree.
Let’s talk about my privilege in all of this before we get into the full costs and drama of it all. I’m a white person from what immigration calls a “low-risk” country, America. My financially poor past is made way less of a problem due to having encouraging parents. I also didn’t have anyone in the U.S. that I needed to take care of. I have a loving partner in the UK whose family was also able to help me when things got really sticky with COVID-19.
You must be prepared for the costs. You must have the money AND MORE because there will always be unexpected costs. Always.
Total: £4982 (£2354.8 more than I originally expected)
And to be honest, there’s probably more unexpected expenses that I’ve blocked out of my memory.
Maybe needless to say, it’s amazing to have this visa, but I need a job quick because my savings are exhausted. Let me know if you need a performer/choreographer/Pilates instructor/copy writer and/or proofreader/arts administrator/arts lecturer.
The Dramatic Process
It probably doesn’t help that I’m generally a hyper-passionate person. But honestly, this process took over a year (all while I was finishing my MFA degree, experiencing huge spikes in my panic/depressive disorder, and making no money for the last half of it) and put me and my loved ones through some of the deepest depths of hell I’ve ever experienced. Told y’all I can be super passionate/emotional, but ignore the language and focus on what I’m trying to tell you: please be prepared for a long, arduous process with little reinforcement. Find people who love you and can help you along the way because you will need so much help. I would love to help you when I can, so here’s one person in your corner. Loving lesson: if you follow the government procedures to a T, relax as much as possible during your times of waiting. You’ve done everything right and this journey is not (usually) full of people out to get you—it’s simply a bureaucratic operation that involves a ton of confusion and anticipating answers. I got into a bad headspace regarding all the confusion and many times thought that something dreadful would happen to me. But each time, I did my research, returned to the procedure, saved every email correspondence, and returned to my year of practicing patience (or really, reeeeeally trying to). Hopefully, I can help you with some of the confusion by walking you through my process.
It all Started with a Work Visa—Something I Soon Realized was Unattainable
I tried to get a work visa from July 2019 to January 2020. It is not a viable path for artists or even researchers/lecturers (if you’ve made it happen somehow, congratulations and please share your secrets because I’m sure there’s someone that wants to go that route). I applied for nearly 60 jobs, in performance/arts admin/arts education, while also finishing my dissertation and desperately figuring out what I would do if I had to leave the country. None of the positions met the salary requirement, or, the organization wasn’t willing to use their certificate of sponsorship. That last part only makes sense if you’ve looked at the work visa route and I won’t get into that process. Basically, I wasted a ton of time and tears thinking that people would want/be able to employ me in the UK when I studied in the country. However, I do think things happen in mystical ways and my months of trying to get a work visa, and probably annoying everyone I spoke to about it, paid off. I went to a reading for a project put on by my friend’s MFA class and when she was done reading her piece she immediately whisked me away saying, “my friend just got this visa I’ve never heard of, come talk to her!” So, in January 2020, just days before my student visa was about to end, I learned about the magical UK Global Talent Visa.
A swift shift
A second whirl-wind began. I decided I’d go to Amsterdam for the month of February to do some soul searching, but also to give myself some time to research this visa without having to travel all the way back to the US. Here’s the quick run-down of it (please note again, these things change all the time and you should still read the government documents in totality):
had to pay rent without the ability to get government assistance from the US,
because I wasn’t there, or the UK, because you’re never eligible for public funds even if you have a visa. I was also doing a lot of waiting, anxious that I was going to be breaking some rule because they were changing day by day at that time.*
I originally was researching the Exceptional Talent Visa in February 2020, because that’s what the Global Talent Visa used to be, and it changed mid-Feb 2020. I only found out by visiting the govt. website. Check the website frequently, I can’t say it enough. There were many other hiccups, but we can talk about those in person if you’d like because I’m too paranoid to write about them haha. Hopefully, they weren’t issues that many others will have to deal with.
What you need (Global Promise) for the Arts Council Application
You need to provide evidence in at least 2 out of the 3 categories set by Arts Council. However, you cannot submit more than 10 pieces of evidence. Each piece of evidence needs to include the date/place/organization. The categories and what I sent in are detailed below:
2. A screen shot of a review of INsync: Harmonic Dissonance in Amsterdam + a letter from the principle researcher/director
2. A screen-shot of the CCL residency program I was part of in Amsterdam. I also included a brief description of the residency, my work I created, and a link to the program notes.
3. A screen-shot of the Young Artist Feedback Forum program where I presented work in London. I also included a brief description of the forum, my work I created, and a link to the program notes.
4. A screen-shot of the dance program I created with a collaborator in FL: take down, a dismantling of process. I also included a brief description of the program, my work I created, and a link to the program notes.
5. A screen-shot of my TEDxFSU talk in FL, a brief explanation of the performance lecture, and a link to the presentation.
6. A screen-shot evidencing that I was published in a journal for a dance/movement therapy project I did in my undergraduate degree
Notice I only sent 9 pieces of evidence. Better to send quality over quantity, as a good friend reminded me.
YOU ALSO NEED 3 LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATION:
For me, the letters were the hardest pieces of evidence to obtain. You never know how much time someone will have on their hands, so do most of the prep work for them and allow enough time to receive them before you want to submit. They also need to send you their full CV to attach to their letters to prove their status/position.
I also tied up the entire application with a cover page and table of contents because I’m extra and wanted to make everything as easy to find as possible.
My application timeline
I heard about the visa at the end of January 2020. I began researching the visa and collecting my evidence in February 2020. I sent my first application to Arts Council on May 14th, 2020. I Received my endorsement on July 10th, 2020. I sent my second application to immigration on July 31st, 2020. My immigration appointment was set for August 7th, 2020. I received confirmation that my Global Talent Migrant application was successful on August 13th, 2020. Your timeline might be different.
It’s a long, difficult, EXPENSIVE process, but worth it if your intuition tells you that you need to be in the UK as an artist. I hope this post helps you get started on the application, but please remember that you need to fully and frequently read the documents on the government website. Follow the directions, put in the work, add your personal flare, and have confidence in yourself.
Link to Government and Arts Council Websites:
A box, all taped up and labeled with my name.
Inside, the sprawling embers
of ecstasy that once warmed me at all hours before
their reduction. Two boys
that I loved once, and a girl
who surprised me,
made me realize I could be with anyone.
Lately, I’ve been trying to spread these embers,
to let them fade away like the ashes
of deceased lovers, but I can’t open the box alone.
I invite more bodies to pry it open,
in increasingly strange situations.
No one can open it.
Not if they knew.
If they knew about that night
behind the red window in Amsterdam--
All just to touch a woman again.
To see if she mirrored Her, to live again.
And now it seems ridiculous when I describe
my sexuality as gray, despite all I’ve done
and all the people I’ve kissed.
My experiences are my own, so strange and personal,
but also so plain, so plain.
I’m overwhelmed by Sophie Chinner's beautiful review of Nearly. Thank you to Sophie and to The Dance Art Journal for publishing it. You can continue to watch Nearly on my Instagram, website, or YouTube! Click on the image below for Sophie's review! <3
Please enjoy the full performance of “Nearly”—originally performed on Instagram live on April 15th, 2020. Click on the image to be taken to the video! :)
I had such a wonderful time writing again! Please check out the dance/dance science article I wrote for The Dance Psychologist’s blog! It discusses Obsessive Passion vs. Harmonious Passion in dance and how it relates to our present online dance training scene. Let me know what you think! Click on the image to be taken to the blog post. :)