When I caught up with Tamisha Guy, in mid-January, she was in the middle of a creative residency at Kaatsbaan with the company of which she is a member, A.I.M. It was her day off, and she had been on a walk around the gorgeous grounds, once home to a horse farm belonging to Eleanor Roosevelt’s grandparents. Last summer, a simple wooden stage was erected in the middle of the main meadow there, making it possible to hold an outdoor dance festival. Tamisha Guy performed on that stage with her friend and former colleague Lloyd Knight, of the Martha Graham Dance Company. As Faye Arthurs wrote in Fjord, “they almost held hands, nearly embraced, and danced in an “air” waltz position without actually touching.” This is dancing together in the time of Covid.
Still, it was dancing. It was the first time Guy had been able to dance full-out in front of an audience for months since her tour with A.I.M in February. When the company was forced to halt rehearsals, neither she nor anyone realized that this interruption would last months. It’s hard to imagine Guy being still. There is a quiet intensity about her that speaks of an overpowering love of movement. Her lean, silkenly powerful dancing is a choreographer’s dream; she projects clarity, intention, and a deep connection to the ideas behind each movement.
The first few weeks of the pandemic were, instead, about stillness, Guy told me. She took some time to rest, at home in Brooklyn where she lives. “I tried my hardest not to take classes, I slept in, I fed myself.” Eventually, she was ready to move and create again. As it has for so many dancers, this has been a time of improvisation, of trying new things and working with new collaborators. With the help of technology, her circle of collaborators has actually widened.
What follows is an edited version of our conversation.
Tell me about some of the collaborations you’ve been involved in.
I’ve been working on a project called Room to Roomfor a number of months. It is a digital collaboration among artists from all over the world organized by two dance artists, Ana Maria Lucaciu and Catarina Carvalho. Through their network of dancers, choreographers, actors, and musicians, they began pairing artists together, dividing us into dancers and makers. The dancers perform the work and the makers direct and co-choreograph the work in collaboration with the dancers.
I was paired with Keelan Whitmore, a former dancer from Alonzo Kings Lines Ballet and a current member of TanzTheater Münster in Germany. We were given a script which outlined tasks and other ideas to generate movement. I was super excited and open to the experience of working with an artist I hadn’t met before. We realized very quickly that we had a lot of similarities. Over a number of months, we worked over Zoom. We gathered all of the footage over the course of a weekend and Keelan is currently in the process editing the material in order to create the finished product.
How did he film it, through Zoom?
I filmed it all on my end. He would say, I want you to film it from this angle, and put the lighting here and position your body in this way. He was really directing it all.
That’s so interesting. This situation you and other performers are going through has really set the scene for ways of working that would never happened before, hasn’t it?
Yes. And I think it’s forced us all to be even more creative in our work and to think more intently about what we’re producing and what we’re giving our time to. Around late March, I started reaching out to places where I’ve taught classes in the past, and had conversations with artists and people I had hoped to collaborate with. And quite a few artists and program organizers began reaching out to me as well. I started to lean in and take control of those opportunities.
One of those was the duet you performed with Lloyd Knight at Kaatsbaan last summer. What was that like?
Lloyd Knight and I first connected when I danced with the Martha Graham Dance Company for a little over a year. I was truly excited at the opportunity to choreograph a piece for the Kaatsbaan festival, and especially excited to connect with Lloyd again. Lloyd and I started out rehearsing on Zoom but I think we realized that we would work best in person. The Graham dancers were still able to reserve the company’s space, so we rehearsed there, with our masks on, keeping our distance.
And what about your own company, A.I.M?
I’m incredibly grateful for the support that I’ve received from A.I.M and that they were able to keep us employed in some way. They were able to support us through the spring and after a break in the summer, we were put back on payroll in August and we’ve been on payroll ever since. The company was trying to figure out how to use this time to still create and keep us engaged in any way that they can. We started working virtually, getting the material back in our bodies, and once it was safer we started working in pods at different studios in the city, with three or four dancers per pod. In October we were able to go to Jacob’s Pillow for a 10-day residency to dive into the process of creating more work. We went through a series of Covid tests and we adhere to a strict protocol. We are currently at Kaatsbaan for a longer residency, continuing the creative process we started at Jacob’s Pillow.
This has been such a tumultuous year, obviously the pandemic, but also the seeming breakdown of our political system, and this very dramatic moment of confronting our racist past and present. How has all that crashed together for you, artistically and personally?
It’s been hard, I can say that. It’s been really hard to see it all unfold. And just knowing that, in this moment, a lot of people are experiencing it alone. That’s been hard too. Luckily, I’ve been able to speak to family members and close friends about our deepest feelings about what’s going on in the world, and about how we can be more of a conduit for true change. A lot of it is me honestly having conversations with myself. Some days I have a really good cry. Then I move forward. As a nation, we have a lot of healing and work to do towards building equity and ensuring justice for all people.
Have you felt an atmosphere of change in the dance world?
Yes, something is definitely brewing. I think a lot of artists are using their voices to advocate for themselves and others. It is truly commendable. I believe we all want younger artists to be able to step into a professional atmosphere that is conducive to their growth and also a bit safer.
Tell me about your teaching.
In 2020 I really worked to increase my teaching opportunities. Although I had hoped to travel to studio spaces to teach classes, the pandemic did not afford me such an opportunity. I was luckily offered a number of virtual teaching opportunities, and although it was exciting to continue working during the pandemic, it was also a challenge for me to think about how to engage class participants in this format. In the past few months I’ve gotten a good handle on conducting virtual engagements. I’ve been teaching at Gibney and at Purchase College. I definitely have a huge passion for teaching and I am grateful for the opportunity to continue to grow as an instructor.
Are any of your classes in person?
My classes at Purchase College take place in person, in a large theater. The teachers are behind a plexiglass and the students are set up in taped-off boxes. I ride up on Metro North which is usually quite empty, and I wear my mask or two along with my face shield.
What do you think this year has taught you?
I think it has taught me to listen to my intuition. And to make myself a priority. I really do believe that you have to be able to take care of yourself before you can offer yourself fully to other people. I’ve discovered the benefits of practicing this even more during this season.
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