“[The desire to create] is stronger than me. It's a force that I was born with,” Anat Grigorio explained as she spooned steamed milk into her double espresso. “I have something to say. I want to say it. I want to share it. That's why I became a choreographer.” And in the inaugural year of Keshet Dance Company's Rio Grande Movement Collectors Festival, Grigorio, who is from Tel Aviv, will have the opportunity to share her movements, her words and her ideas with the local community. The festival brings together a diverse troupe of far flung dancers which includes not only Grigorio but also Alivia Schaffer, Amy Ely-McKane and Carson Reiners. All of these women have impressive credentials and will provide instruction in the form of master classes throughout the festival. In addition, Grigorio will perform two pieces, Memo and Mr. Nice Guy, both of which are having their stateside premiere during the event.
“Anytime you bring a group of talented artists together for a concentrated period of time in a centralized location, magic is bound to happen,” said Keshet's founder and Artistic Director, Shira Greenberg, who spearheaded the development of the festival. The Rio Grande Movement Collectors Festival is a celebration of dance as an art form and its expansive reach—its ability to transcend words, and sometimes even culture, and provide an avenue toward self expression and human connection that is wholly unique. “With each move danced, we are making bold acts toward self healing,” Schaffer explained, “and with each move danced together we are cultivating a stronger sense of togetherness in this existence, implementing fulfillment in our deepest human desire for belonging.” The physical togetherness of so much talent in one space also creates a breeding ground for creativity among all participants, allowing “space for germinating new ideas, fleshing out existing projects, collaborating … for new inspiration,” Greenberg continued.
All four women will teach master classes throughout the two week long event, emphasizing different skill sets like distorting dance phrase material, weight sharing movements and ways in which dancers can effectively incorporate other art mediums into their compositions. Grigorio, however, is the only one who will formally present her work. Her two pieces will each be performed just once during the festival. Grigorio sees these pieces as being in conversation with one another.
In Mr. Nice Guy, scheduled for March 5, Grigorio performs solo. Alone on the stage, a man's voice speaks to her. “The voice tells me exactly what to do,” Grigorio explained, “Put your hand on your hip, put your knee to the side, look to the left, look to the right, look at me, smile.” Soon, however, the voice turns malevolent, asking for more and more degrading gestures. “It comes to the point where it becomes so absurd that [she] loses herself. After she loses herself he asks her to be herself. But what is yourself, then?” she asks. The piece often includes a discussion portion at the end so that Grigorio and the audience can start a dialogue about the topics of feminism and identity that the piece raises.
“In Mr. Nice Guy, there's a victim, but Memo is about choosing [whether or not to be a victim],” Grigorio explains about her other piece, which will be performed on Feb. 27. In Memo, Grigorio invites the audience to the stage, where they paint words on her body. Then, Grigorio creates a dance based on the words that the audience has contributed; she creates a different dance with each performance. “It's about communication first,” she said of the work. “I wanted to … redefine the communication between the performer and the audience. [I wanted to investigate] how close you can get, how exposed you can get.” It's challenging work for a performer—to assess the words and translate them into dance through the lens of memory and experience, but, nevertheless, to Grigorio it is essential that “the audience is the motor of this piece.”
“[In] its purest form,” Schaffer wrote to me from her home in San Francisco, dance is about “cultivating human connection.” During the Rio Grande Movement Collectors Festival, Keshet is honoring that most foundational element by rallying the community around dancers and performers who are asking big questions and inviting everyone to join in the discussion. The nearly two week long festival kicks off on Feb. 23. For a full program of events, visit Keshet's website at keshetarts.org.