In A Contentious Political Environment, Artist Marielis Garcia Looks To Bring People Together Through Her New Piece 'AMASS'

by Michael Mahany | 10/24/2018 7:41 PM

Marielis Garcia. Photo credit: Nik Arieli

Through a frustration with the political climate permeating both the nation and the news these days, New York City-based artist, dancer, and choreographer Marielis Garcia was inspired to do what artists do in scenarios like this: create work. The result of her creative exploration was the birth of a new piece entitled, AMASS, which originally premiered last spring, and has been since been restaged for a presentation this Friday at City College Of New York's Aaron Davis Hall in Manhattan’s Harlem neighborhood. Looking to fuse diverse experiences and explore the idea of both the “individual” and the “group”, Garcia’s new work searches to answer the question, “can distinct individuals work together to ‘amass’ a truly collective group?”

Using a multi-disciplinary concept, Garcia will bring together visual art, music, and three dancers— including herself, all while empowering the audience to become apart of the piece.

Garcia, a dancer with both the Brian Brooks Moving Company and Peter Kyle Dance, is no stranger to using the power of dance as a tool to inform and bond viewers. Not only does she carry a passion for both dance and arts education, the native New Yorker holds a B.F.A. from Marymount Manhattan, currently teaches at Rutgers University, is developing of her own arts education program, and has presented works at Appalachian State University, Salem College, Howard Community College, and University of North Carolina Greensboro.

Garcia, on top of her work with Brooks’ and Kyle’s companies, has performed professionally with ODC of San Francisco, City Dance Ensemble, Douglas Dunn, and Stefanie Battan Bland. She received full scholarships to both The Alvin Ailey Summer Program and the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival: Contemporary Workshop under the direction of Milton Myers. In 2014, Garcia was awarded full tuition to the Twyla Tharp Winter Session Workshop.

The Friday performance of AMASS utilizes the dance talents of Garcia herself, as well as Bria Bacon (Stephen Petronio Company), and Yeman Brown (Reggie Wilson/Fist and Heel Performance Group). Musicians Brad Wentworth, Kuan Cheng Lu, and Rion Wentworth join the dancers on drums, violin, and bass respectively, and sculptures by visual artist Caleb Nussear will accompany the performance presentation.

“I believe in the power of movement to help people of all ages better understand themselves,” Garcia writes on her website. “I am most interested in sharing with you a moment of communal existence.  I am interested in the moments when the dancer and the spectator enjoy a fleeting relationship that bounds them for that shared occasion.”

Dance Network had the opportunity to speak with Garcia earlier this week as she prepared for the remount of her project, AMASS, this Friday. Read the interview below.

Marielis Garcia teaching at Dance Project Of Washington Heights. Photo credit: DPWH

Dance Network: Marielis thanks so much for taking some time to chat with us. And, Merde! on your upcoming performance.

Marielis Garica: Thanks for inviting me to speak with you!

DN: Before we get into discussing AMASS, can you tell us a little about how you initially found your way to dance? What drew you to the art form when you first began?

MG: Dance has always played a role in my life. When I was younger, all of my— and my siblings’— birthday parties were full day events; my parents would plan normal kid-oriented birthday party activities during the day and then in the evenings they would host house parties for adults. All the children would be allowed to stay up late and dance to an array of bachata, salsa, and merengue. These house parties taught me the exquisite rapture dance can have on my relationship to time and space. Later on, my cool big sister started taking classical ballet classes and I, unsurprisingly, followed in her footsteps. From the first class, I was hooked by the dichotomy of high physicality and complex emotionality. Sports always felt too literal, I am naturally competitive, but I dislike the simple binary of wins and losses. In dance, I have found a physical and emotional outlet for self-expression which supersedes winning and losing with conceptual rigor and kinesthetic acuity.

DN: You’ve spoken and written in the past a lot about using the power of dance to both connect audiences and artists and to help people better understand themselves. In your piece AMASS, it seems you’re striving to literally do both in order produce a ”collective voice”— can you tell us a little about how you and your fellow dancers go about doing it, and how it worked in the previous production that you performed last spring?

MG: Yes! Dance has so much power. It seems that as we age, we outgrow our natural inclination for motion, and kinesthetic excitement. Dancers train continuously, with an acute awareness of how their body feels at any given moment and in a way, we are continuously in motion and pursuing that kinesthetic excitement that came naturally as a kid. I believe that dance performances have the potential to bring audiences into this experience, and by doing that we connect them to the very container that holds everything about them, their body. This last spring, I had the pleasure of creating AMASS as a co-production with the historic Judson Memorial Church, they helped out with space and time (two of the hardest things to procure in NYC) which allowed me to research how I wanted to use dance/movement as a tool to deepen the audience's awareness of their bodies. The piece is structured around three solos (a trope for the individuality of each person) and a final trio section informed by the solos. Throughout the evening, dancers and the audience co-mingle, and dancers move the audience to various parts of the performance space which allows them to see from a new perspective. 

DN: What was it that inspired you to collaborate with visual artist Caleb Nussear? How do you think the work will ultimately benefit from the cohesiveness of musicians, dancers, composers, and visual artists?

Britney Tokumoto, Lane Halperin, Marielis Garcia, and Katherine Spradzs. Photo credit: SRE

MG: I am so honored to work with this group of artists. Caleb and I have known each other since 2013. I was inspired to work with him again because his work reminds me a lot of dance, it has a mix of formal geometry and natural sensuality.

The music is a mixture of contemporary and classical pieces, as well as compositions by Brad Wentworth, a New York City freelance drummer. The two other musicians, Rion Wentworth, and Kuan Cheng Lu — both play with the New York Philharmonic. 

The collaborating dancers-- Bria Bacon dances in Stephen Petronio's company and Yeman Brown who dances with Reggie Wilson's company Fist & Heel— are incredibly inspiring humans and artists, who continually reexamine their approach to their craft which is a necessity in this piece. 

All of these artists are at the top of their game, the high level of conscious choice making in relation to the overarching concept of a shared experience really allows this work to shine. 

DN: You teach quite a bit, are developing a dance and arts education program, and have talked extensively about dance as an education tool— where did this philosophy come from, and why do you think it's so important?

MG: Dance education was huge for me. I used to be a mid-range academic student, and as soon as I started dancing (formally in middle school), I started to bring home A's for the first time! The first formal dance class I took was in a public school setting. I am a big supporter of dance in schools. A few years back I was working on a project entitled 30DanceShorts, in which I asked 30 influential people in my life to recommend a piece of music that inspires them. I then made thirty, 30-second dance videos to those musical selections. I had so much fun collecting the music, creating storyboards, filming, and editing to create each short video. I have converted the concept of 30DanceShorts into a curriculum for students that encourages autonomy by building their self-esteem, stimulating curiosity and supporting active involvement in their self-expression.

DN: After audiences leave AMASS, what is it that you want them to take away?

MG: I am not interested in dictating an audience’s experience. I am interested in trying to create a communal event by stripping away barriers, asking both performers and the audience for a level of vulnerability that at first may feel uncomfortable. There is no “fourth wall” in this piece; the audience is immediately a contributing element of the performance. As the piece evolves, I am interested in generating a sense of belonging to this environment that leads to different formulations of emotions and curiosity for each individual experiencing the work. What people take away from the experience of AMASS will be solely their own but impossible to separate from the specific group of people who participated.

AMASS performs this Friday, October 26th at City College Center For The Arts’ Aaron Davis Hall. More information and tickets can be found 

For more on CUNY’s Dance Initiative visit their website here. You can also find out more about Marielis Garcia at her personal website or follow her on Instagram.

Michael Mahany is a writer, host, actor, and serves as the New York City Correspondent for Dance Network. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

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