At My Intersection
for dance, lights, projections, and immersive audio including electronics and pre-recorded spoken word, flute, voice, violin, and guitar
Choreographed by Cami Holman and Miranda Zapata
Creation and Commentary
“Solidarity is for white women.” Mikki Kendall popularized the social media hashtag #solidarityisforwhitewomen in 2013. She writes about this idea again in her 2020 book Hood Feminism as a way to describe how surface-level solidarity does nothing for the advancement of the women’s movement. Solidarity on a surface level is a form of performative activism. Solidarity is easy when no actionable activism is required. When the only goal is to raise awareness, not much is accomplished to create actual change. It is especially easy for white women to perform feminist activism via social allyship wherein the fight is for “last names, body hair, and the best way to be a CEO,” according to Kendall, all the while the movement forgets the women at intersections of marginalized races and sociopolitical statuses. Mikki Kendall explains that there is “nothing feminist about having so many resources at your fingertips and choosing to be ignorant. Nothing empowering or enlightening in deciding that intent trumps impact. Especially when the consequences aren’t going to be experienced by you, but will instead be experienced by someone from a marginalized community.” As a white feminist, it is my responsibility to recognize the needs of the larger feminist community, beyond the place of my own privilege. Afterall, “sisterhood is a mutual relationship between equals.” That is one of the reasons why I have loved the collaborative co-creation of “At My Intersection” alongside choreographers Cami Holman and Miranda Zapata. To create a true sisterhood among the modern feminists, Kendall proposes we “establish common goals and work in partnerships. As equal partners, there is room for negotiation, compromise, and sometimes even genuine friendship.” Artists are particularly apt to create the relationships Kendall is describing. As collaborators, we work towards a common goal from our various disciplines. In doing so for the co-creation of “At My Intersection,” I believe Cami, Miranda, and I have even built that genuine friendship.
The key to our collaboration is our intersectional approach. Congruent with my overarching autobiographical lens, “At My Intersection” brings in the autobiographies of Cami and Miranda. Below are the reflections and mission statements of Cami and Miranda on the creation of our piece.
I believe that as an artist, it is my responsibility to help "repair el daño (the damage)" of historical trauma through my work. As our society continues to navigate and restore our collective humanity, it is imperative that I offer my work as a lens for people to explore, analyze, and evaluate the various inequities and inequalities faced by marginalized communities through embodied storytelling. Mi mente, cuerpo, y espíritu are inherently political; therefore, centering my project on the racism and dehumanization towards women and people of color comes from a place of identity, privilege, and empowerment. The violent domination of the oppressor culture over the minority community results in internalized inarticulation; the minority class is socialized into believing that the social structures cannot be changed, but even within this concept there is no justification in shying away from the discomfort of issues.
This collaborative dance making process seeks to encompass the solidarity between Black and Mexican Americans living under a white supremacist culture through coexisting within our relational differences. Working alongside Aleyna Brown amplifies how intersectionality is a key component to radically imagine the world we strive to create. It is through incorporating the dancers’ voices on the track that preserves community without erasing the individual. The audible representation along with the physical embodiment represents an act of resistance towards a world that no longer serves the needs of humanity.
This dancemaking process engages with self-identity by addressing European stereotyping, misrepresentation, and resistance. Self-identity is recognizing one's own attributes and qualities within social context. The following quote encompasses this definition regarding dancemaking, “They [dancers] are subjects in control of the politics of representation, not objects upon whom it is thrust.” The dancers and I are also engaging with self-agency, the autonomy to choose and the responsibility of exercising choice. By starting with assumptions of the dancers' identities from the outside in, we have worked through ideas of self vs the collective, power vs empowerment, and modes of intersectionality that have brought us to a place of building a collective identity of BIPOC dancers.
The collaboration with composer, Aleyna Brown, parallels the ideas of holding space for the individual/self while being a part of a collective with shared experiences and social categorizations. It is for us, the dancers, an audible representation of these ideas and we are the physical embodiment.
“At My Intersection” is a twelve-minute multimedia performance featuring music, dance, and visual art premiering live at my thesis showcase on October 23, 2021. The music features recorded spoken word recited by us, the co-creators, and dance cast members. The words are extractions of text from poetry, literature, and quotes, as well as thematic word groupings and sentence prompts. I compiled this collection after the very first conversation between Cami, Miranda, and myself where we exchanged our artistic goals and ideas for the piece and brought together our external sources of inspiration. I pieced together all the text samples and wrote some original poetry to include in the piece. Then I invited the choreographers and dance cast members to the recording studio where I currently work as the Lead Engineer at the University of North Texas for a group recording session.
The word groupings that connected the themes of femininity, identity, and community are listed below:
Woman. Womanhood. Girls.
Identity. At My Intersection.
Body. Skin. Beauty.
She. Her. Our. We. Me. My.
Next I had each speaker answer three simple, open-ended sentence prompts.
My name is…
My skin is…
Intentionally vague, these prompts allowed for each individual to express as much identity and personality as she wished. With no right answers, all answers were valid and welcome. They responded beautifully. From the words they chose to the inflection of their voices when saying their own names, the words came to life into the microphone during our recording session. For example, choreographer Cami Holman answered the second prompt with a gentle, “My skin is glowing in the sunshine.” Dance cast member Maya Evans answered proudly, “My skin is chocolate and dark and smooth and deep,” with a rhythm and inflection that was music in and of itself. Another dance cast member and woman of color, T’Keyah Cleveland answered powerfully, “My skin is dominant no matter what you tell me.” Dance cast member Esmeralda Ledesma answered simply, “My skin is brown.” Choreographer Miranda Zapata celebrated her Latina identity by beginning the sentence in English and switching to Spanish as she answered, “My skin is a reflection of mi hermana, mi abuelita, mi tia,” [my sister, my grandmother, my aunt]. And I answered vulnerably, “My skin is decorated with the stretch marks of my womanhood,” as a way in which I reject modern American society’s shaming of natural skin and bodies and instead celebrate the body I used to believe I was supposed to hate.
Next, I had each choreographer and dancer recite selections from literature and poetry, quotes, and original lines as follows:
From Mikki Kendall’s Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women that a Movement Forgot
“beauty is complicated by class” (pg. 111)
“your body has a right to be in the space it is occupying” (Kendall, pg. 111)
“how your features may be commodified” (Kendall, pg. 111)
“who will be heard, of who will have the agency, the autonomy, and the respect, is heavily informed by the lens of respectability” (Kendall, pg. 92)
“respectability requires a form of restrained, emotionally neutral politeness that is completely at odds with any concept of normal human emotions” (Kendall, pg. 93)
From Margaret Fuller’s Women in the Nineteenth Century
“And will she not soon appear? The woman who shall vindicate their birthright for all women; who shall teach them what to claim, and to use what they obtain? Shall not her name be for her era Victoria, for her country and life Virginia?”
From Gloria Anzaldúa’s Luz En El Oscuro
“Our bodies are geographies of selves made up of diverse, bordering, and overlapping ‘countries.’”
From Audre Lorde
“Women are powerful and dangerous.”
From “A Woman Speaks” poem by Audre Lorde
“Moon marked and touched by sun
my magic is unwritten”
From “origin stories” poem by Safia Elhillo
“i sleep through gatherings & feel
there is too much blood in my body & that my name is my
name is my name is my name is”
“& tells me it is time to come home”
From “677” poem by Emily Dickenson
“To be alive — is Power”
“My body is my home, built from the threads of life I’m sewn with, from my history and experiences, weaving my identity.”
“For ourselves and our skin,
For the bodies we exist in,
For what we define as feminine.”
After the recording session, I compiled all of the spoken word audio in the Pro Tools session and began listening to the aural collages naturally occurring from the variable pace and inflection of the speakers. After initial listening and subtle rearranging, I discovered several moments of interesting rhythmic patterns created by the overlapping speech and pauses. From there, I began to construct the fixed media musical components around these speech melodies.
To ensure the synchronous collaborative co-creation was going to result in a pairing of music and dance that worked well together, I created a spreadsheet to map out the piece. Using timestamps along the x-axis rows of musical textures, dance textures, lighting design, and projections along the y-axis, we were able to create a map of the energy levels, instrumentation, and overall trajectory of the piece. For example, the beginning to 02:00, the music section has rows of instrumentation featuring vocal harmony stacks, layers of spoken word collages, and a melodic sung voice. The dance section has a description of the duet featuring choreographer Cami Holman as a dancer herself, and her dance partner Tony, using a rope as a poignant prop to evoke a power dynamic between Tony, a white male, and Cami, a Black female. The motions include pulling, grabbing, tying, kneeling, crawling, spinning, and dragging. The lighting design section for this intimate opening features dim highlighting the duet dancers and keeping the remaining dance cast formation in darkness until the duo leaves stage right. The spreadsheet helped keep the many moving parts working together towards a shared goal, which was particularly helpful given the short timeframe for creating the piece—a mere six weeks to create a fully composed, recorded, produced, choreographed, and staged 12-minute production.
The vocals featured throughout the fixed media are performed and recorded by myself, as are the acoustic guitar and flute elements. Other acoustic elements featured in the fixed media are violin sustains and harmonics that I recorded by violinist Joseph Reding and compiled into my own personal violin sample library.
During the introduction duet wherein the power dynamic evokes a dominant white male over a Black female in an ownership capacity, I layer speech fragments of the words “power” and “ownership.” However, when the duet moves offstage and the full dance cast formation becomes illuminated by pink, purple, and red hues of LED lights, the inhaling and exhaling of the music fades to silence, and dancer Maya Evans speaks the opening line of Emily Dickenson’s poem 677, “To be alive — is power.” Then the full group begins to dance.
To enhance the group movement start, the music shifts to a rhythmic synth arpeggiator and sub bass to expand the range. Speech fragments that I layer through the musical textures include a transition from the words “power” and “ownership” during the introduction duet to a reclaiming of the words in the form of an echoing collage of the words “empowerment” and “femininity” and the Audre Lorde quote, “Women are powerful and dangerous.” This shift in words demonstrates a shift in the narrative, aligned with my overarching goal of recontextualizing femininity narratives and taking ownership of ourselves, our bodies, and our identities.
Next, I create a rhythmic collage of the spoken words “me” and “my” alongside the running sixteenth-note arpeggiator outlining tetrachords and triads surrounding a centric emphasis on D. Suspension and mode mixture provide both interest and tonal ambiguity, allowing the listener freedom from the semiotic construct of major and minor.
Over this arpeggiated progression and vocal harmonies, the rhythmic interjections of the words “me” and “my” build in intensity until there comes a silence filled by dancer T’Keyah Cleveland’s voice reciting her interpretation of the words, “At my intersection.” She chose to recite them with the inflection of a question. This inspired me to spend the next section of the piece answering that question with other spoken word collages and musical phrases celebrating the many intersections from which we, as artists, as feminists, and as individuals, come together in this piece.
Then, the dancers join in formation in the front right quarter of the stage. At a pause in their movement, I bring in a chorus of voices speaking the selection from Safia Elhillo’s poem, “origin stories" from The January Children.
“i sleep through gatherings & feel
there is too much blood in my body & that my name is my
name is my name is my name is”
As the three lines above unfold, I narrow the texture to one voice speaking the last line. The dancers are folded over, looking down to their own feet, arms stretched out in front of them grasping for some form of shape, some form of identity. The voice I chose for the last line, the repeated words, “my name is… my name is… my name is…” was my own. As the composer, I am an invisible contributor to the piece the audience is seeing and listening to before them. I took this opportunity to autograph the moment. In turn, it also serves as a setup for what comes next.
After a lingering pause on the final “my name is,” the bass drops, and the dancers shuffle backwards across the stage and form a large block. From this formation, they slowly begin to rise up in posture. Then, gradually and at staggered times, each dancer begins to lift their hand and raise it upwards, taking claim of their space, their body, and their identity.
I take advantage of this visually powerful moment to bring in a collage of each person saying their name. In this moment, I also include immersive projections of names of the dancers, choreographers, and myself, along with the names of the authors and poets whose words have become part of the DNA of this multimedia performance piece.
After eight minutes, the piece finds a moment of repose. The lights dim and the dancers return to stillness. The music fades into speech fragments only. Immersively-panned voices recite the powerful words of Audre Lorde, Mikki Kendall, Safia Elhillo, Margaret Fuller, Emily Dickenson, and Gloria Anzaldúa. Gradually these voices in the fixed media fade out completely, replaced by the voices of the dancers, live. In this moment, the dancers are musicians themselves, overlapping in their recitations of the words they chose from the text selections that most resonate with each of them, from their varying intersections.
The final few minutes of the piece build to a terminal climax by the route of compounding groove elements and intricate choreographic sub-groups and movements.
The groove introduces both Hip-Hop and Latin influences, with electronic hi-hat production embellishing a steady beat with syncopated accents in a Latin electronic dance music style. I introduce more rhythmic arpeggiations and spoken word collages to continue to build the momentum. The climax includes all multimedia elements of the acoustic instruments, electronic production, spoken word collage, immersive projections, and strobing light show in service to the broad and full-body choreography. One final bass drop reveals the last iteration of the vocal a cappella progression. The dance cast, in tight formation centerstage, moves in unison with each other and the music, under a single spotlight. This brings my piece, and my thesis showcase, to a close.