Dance show takes viewers on a contemplative ride at the CCA

For all the contemporary forms of art Santa Fe has to offer, there’s a decisive lack when it comes to dance. Valiantly filling that hole is Ground Series, an effort spearheaded by Sarah Ashkin and Micaela Gardner. They perform their next project, Dancing in a Hard Place, in the gallery of the Center for Contemporary Arts, with the sculptural works of Ellen Babcock and Cannupa Hanska Luger comprising the set.

Dancing in a Hard Place reflects on the devastation of climate change. Ashkin and Gardner began by congregating the dancers and collectively piecing together a document with quotes by poets, scientists and authors, all centered on environmentalism. From there, the group split up and created several individual and small-group vignettes based on the collection of quotes. Ashkin and Gardner then stitched the piece into a congruent whole that leads audience members on a contemplative ride through the relationships among landscape and home and self.

Ashkin is a dancer, choreographer and faculty member at the New Mexico School for the Arts. She co-founded Ground Series in 2012 in Oakland, California, at the Temescal Arts Center, with Brittany Delany, who still performs with the group and who has been rehearsing for the current project via Skype. When Ashkin moved back to her native Santa Fe, she met Gardner, also a dancer and choreographer, who had co-directed the Temescal Arts Center for 10 years. They found in each other a similar aesthetic and approach to dance-making.

Their first collaborative project was Federal Dances in 2014. Presented at Federal Park, over 200 people came to watch each performance. "The work was about colonialism in New Mexican history through a modern dance lens," Ashkin recounts. "That was a really inspiring start."

Last summer's creation, 123, cemented Ground Series as a local dance collective. Due to the necessity of working around several dancers' schedules, the group created one solo, two duets and three trios. The model worked so well Ashkin and Gardner applied the approach to Dancing in a Hard Place.

"We started by collecting quotations, environmental writings and statistics, and we doled those out and made small dances in groups based on the writings," Ashkin says. "Then we came back together and sewed it into a cohesive hour-long show. The piece explores nostalgia for landscapes that no longer exist, as well as what our bodies might need to become in order to continue existing among dwindling resources."

The dancers—Brittany Delany, Adam McKinney, Ehren Kee Natay, Andrew Primm, Sophia Rog, Paolo Speirn and Spencer Toll, as well as Ashkin and Gardner—draw from different backgrounds. McKinney, for instance, currently heads the dance department at the New Mexico School for the Arts and had a prior career dancing for several notable companies, including Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Béjart Ballet Lausanne and Alonzo King LINES Ballet. McKinney says the choreographers have "crafted an exceptional vision for dance-making in taking their time to create work that is evocative and connected to community."

Primm, another member of the collective, is a local musician, theater director and videographer. He contacted Gardner about participating in Ground Series and can now add "dancer" to his resume. "That Micaela and Sarah offered me the opportunity to be part of this dance has changed my entire routine; in addition to our rehearsals, in the last six months I have begun to study ballet and exercise in a local gym," Primm explains.

The dancers' experiences also range in background; some come from classical training, while others have studied improvisational modalities. Rog, for instance, has ample experience in contact improvisation, while Toll draws on his familiarity with gaga, a form developed by Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin.

"Coming back to New Mexico from California, I wasn't sure where I might find dancers," Gardner recalls. "Adam McKinney was my first meaningful dance connection here in Santa Fe. Through him, I met Sarah Ashkin. It's grown into a homemade effort."

"Dancing in a Hard Place is a conversation with folks who are hurting and worried."

Dancing in a Hard Place also marks an important turning point in Ground Series. Ashkin is departing for the University of Roehampton in London this fall to complete a master's degree in dance, politics and sociology. McKinney is likewise departing to Fort Worth, Texas, to take on a tenure-track position in the dance department at Texas Christian University.

"I see Ground Series as having a future. The people we've been able to connect with are really amazing collaborators. Even though Adam and I aren't going to be in Santa Fe, I'm not worried about us not making dance together again. Micaela plans to keep the snowball rolling, and we're going to keep making a piece a year," says Ashkin.

McKinney adds, "I will absolutely stay connected to Ground Series and plan to continue to perform with the collective, because I believe the work affects the world in new and positive ways."

As for Dancing in a Hard Place, Ashkin and Gardner want audiences to take away the idea that art based on critical issues like climate change are an important contribution to how we collectively face those challenges. "When you read the news, you realize we're in trouble," Gardner reflects. "Dancing in a Hard Place is a conversation with folks who are hurting and worried. But I want people to leave feeling there's hope."

Dancing in a Hard Place
7:30 pm Friday July 8 
2 pm and 7:30 pm Saturday July 9
2 pm Sunday July 10
Center for Contemporary Arts
1050 Old Pecos Trail

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