'Celebrate and find joy': Performa/Dance creates a community dance experience with 'Bluegrass Junction'
“When you’re sitting at home for a year and a half and you can’t leave your house, and you can’t do the thing you love to do, the thing you keep thinking about is the thing you want to do, which is dance,” says Performa/Dance artistic director Jennifer Hart. “I would sit there and think about how much I wanted to be with other people and be dancing and that got me thinking about how the community itself might want to be with other people and dancing.”
That line of thought led Hart to create Bluegrass Junction, the upcoming show from Performa/Dance. Now that the company is able to perform together for a live audience again, Hart wanted to blur the line between spectator and participant. “It’s going to take place at an old meeting hall at Pioneer Farms,” she says. “It was very important to me that I made an immersive experience, so to speak. I did not want to put this piece in a stage setting, because I really wanted it to feel like people are at a social dance.”
To foster that feeling of community, Hart created a show that centers around bluegrass music, square-dancing, clogging, and jigs – “dances that are kind of specific to… community dances, as opposed to dances you might see on a stage,” she says. “You know, it’s not ballet. It’s really more engaged in the community and how a community might experience dance.”
Alexa Capareda, who’s both a performer and a directing assistant with Performa/Dance, says she’s also very ready to dance for an audience again. “Not being able to share in live performance experiences over a long period of time, it really leaves a hole,” she says. “And it was really fun, even just starting in rehearsals. We had also a small showing as the piece was completed, and that was such a glorious moment.”
Hart says her love of bluegrass goes back to her childhood. “I grew up a little bit in Missisippi and in Cincinnati, not far from Kentucky. My father lived in Kentucky. When I was growing up, I was a huge fan of bluegrass music,” she says. “[I] hadn’t listened to it recently, but came back to thinking about it a lot recently, and just thought ‘oh, this is perfect.’ And I reached out to a local group – Greenlawn Rangers – and they’re going to be playing live. So we’re very excited about that.”
Capareda grew up in the Philippines before moving to Texas at fourteen, and says that while bluegrass wasn’t a part of her childhood, the idea of community dance was. “That’s sort of the great thing about this piece – it feels so familiar,” she says. “You know, I grew up with fiestas and folk dancing at fiestas and community gatherings like that, and this evokes that same sense. And it’s that universality – people just want to come together and listen to music and dance and clap to the music.”
“It really feels like people are coming from all over to gather in this meeting place to celebrate and find joy,” Hart says. “there’s something very organic-feeling about it.”
“The last piece of music we use is called ‘Hard Times Come Again No More,’ and there’s this sort of theme – we have, as a community, struggled through hard times,” Capareda says. “And it’s coming together that gets us through and there are hopefully better times to come.”
Performa/Dance will present 'Bluegrass Junction' at Pioneer Farms at 6:30 and 8:30 Saturday, October 23.