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In the summer of 2006, Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita devastated coastal Louisiana. Houses were unbuilt, homes evacuated, people escaped.
Having just purchased her first home in the area months prior to the storms, Victoria Bradford reacted as many did—clinging to family and friends, taking care of each other, recovering, rebuilding. Through all the madness that ensued, however, Victoria was learning something about her community that had never been so apparent until this tragedy. She felt called to participate in the vitality and quality of life that renews spirits and builds purpose.
These eleven plus years ago, Artistic Director Victoria Bradford started doing creative work on the ground in her Louisiana home town—digging into the culture, getting to know people from all walks of life, finding a group of people to rally with. They were a rag tag crew of young to old, artists, lab analysts, book sellers, financial advisors, musicians, what have you. They were excited and they got involved and they shook up their small city with a project called “Poor Pony.”
Using music as a gateway, Poor Pony was a cultural advocacy organization that spearheaded events, festivals, and served as mouthpeice for community causes. The “pony” itself was named Person of the Year and a movement was afoot, striking renewed energy and action into an otherwise sleepy community.
Later when Victoria left Louisiana, she took the passion and resilience of that community with her. Victoria explored new ways to move people with her art practice, but she never forgot the lure of the local (Laley Lippard). She returned home multiple times to mount new projects through an initiative called Free Swim. Inviting everyone from the community to convene and collaborate with visiting artists from Chicago, Victoria cultivated a “PLACE” for communual growth, bridging her new life in Chicago with so many lives in Louisiana. As a creative agent, she joined with the community to engage in socially conscious, performative practices.
Over the last five years in Chicago, she has shaped A House Unbuilt through key, iterative projects like Dinner Dance (with Hannah Barco), Skirts (with Jessica Cornish), and Neighborhood Dances.
1. Dinner Dance is a series of experimental dinner parties at which performance workshops and large scale participatory installations are hosted. Through a series of actions, labors, and engagements, guests gather with the artists to share in a choreographed meal. The “dance” is a conversation that happens across tables, through movement, and on every household “stage”—from a kitchen to the front door.
2. Skirts is a multifaceted collaborative project examining humor, feminine constraint, anachronism and beauty through live performance and dance for camera. Conceived with Jessica Cornish and later together with Lia Kohl, Skirts was an elaborate system for prompting improvisation in public spaces.
3. Neighborhood Dances is an ongoing series of daily microdances, recorded on smart phones and distributed through social media. These suburban and urban interventions are brief gestures exploring the civilized landscape as a frame for idiosyncratic improvised movement. Meticulously documented and archived, the material from this practice has been reframed and reperformed in galleries, performance spaces and museums over a period of three years.
4. A Relay of Voices: The Great River Run is a multifaceted, serialized performance that connects a team of artists with communities across the 2,300-mile length of the Mississippi River. RoV relies on social choreography, whole-body listening, collaborative participation, and running in order to promote a deeply felt awareness of our landscape, our communities, and ourselves. The project seeks to overcome contemporary divisiveness by focusing on empathetic engagement with lived, individual bodies.
RoV will take place over the course of one hundred days, from June 30-October 7, 2019. Each day the performance will begin and end in a different location along the Mississippi, from the headwaters in Lake Itasca, Minnesota to the mouth near Venice, Louisiana. As they run this extended route, the RoV Team will partner with local libraries, churches, chambers of commerce, and other community centers and local institutions while engaging with the broadest possible cross-section of the American public.
Each day of the project involves a performance cycle. In the afternoon, each member of the five-person, all-woman RoV Team will conduct shadowing research, spending approximately three hours witnessing a local community member. During this one-on-one time, the artists will observe, document, and participate in the everyday gestures, behaviors, actions, rhythms, and rituals of the person they are sharing space with. The artists will note how these bodily signs do or do not line up with the words spoken by their companions, so will witness a more specific and whole story for each individual.
In the evening the Team will reconvene to process their research. Working collectively, they will develop a vocabulary of performance movement and voice that brings together their individualized shadowing research with large-scale reflections on the landscape and the community as a whole. The next morning the Team will rise and invite the community to gather in a public space—a field, a park, a parking lot—where they will distribute the open, participatory performance.
The first goal of the morning performance is to engage the community through stories shared in movement and voice. The second goal is to warm up the participants and the Team for the run that will take them to their next destination. It is a performance activity of reflection, preparation, and attention.
Each day the Team will invite the community to run with them as they collectively run the equivalent of one marathon. The Team will conduct their running by relay, a nod to the physical strain of one hundred days of running a 2,300-mile route and an acknowledgment of the multiple voices coming together in this work. By October 7 the RoV Team will have constructed a vast performance vocabulary, will have shared both intimate and communal performances with one hundred different communities, and will have traversed the entire length of the great river which seminal historian Frederick Jackson Turner calls “the field, the theatre, and the basis of the civilization of the Western World.”
A Relay of Voices: The Great River Run is carrying a message of great care, focus, intention, and urgency. Like the running itself, RoV will move with insistence and intensity. To run, the body requires focus, control, balance, and rigor. It often becomes a practice, a ritual. Prophets have even been shown to run to carry their messages. This is the tenor of this performance. RoV will run across the central thread of the country, building a vocabulary of movement, of knowledge gleaned from the body, of stories heard from the movements of communities.