NDEO’s Guest Blog Series features posts written by our members about their experiences in the fields of dance and dance education. We continue this series with a post by Ashlea Sovetts, choreographer, teacher, administrator, advocate. Guest posts reflect the experiences, opinions, and viewpoints of the author and are printed here with their permission. NDEO does not endorse any business, product, or service mentioned in guest blog posts. If you are interested in learning more about the guest blogger program or submitting an article for consideration, please click here.
Throughout this summer I had the opportunity to partake in the Rensing Center’s two-week residency program alongside my collaborator Alexandria Nunweiler in Borseda, Italy. In 2020, we applied to the residency in hopes to develop and refine our creative process used for our premiere work 10 Recalling-20, where we interviewed ten individuals ranging in age from 4-85 about their life experiences and how they coped during an unprecedented time.
With this framework, we were accepted into the residency program, however Covid unfortunately postponed our plans to go abroad until 2022. To support our residency endeavor, we applied and were awarded funding from the New England Dance Fund to deepen our artistic process with the purpose to indulge in a new site-specific work inspired by conversations and encounters within this uniquely quaint hamlet.
Perched at the top of the Ligurian mountains, Borseda is a village occupying the last stop of an ever-winding road. Its aging population of 26 residents take pride in their close ties, sustainable land and farming practices, and traditional ways of life. Faint whispers of conversations were passed through the breeze while the ambiance of stillness was only broken by birds chirping or a brief interruption of a newcomer by car.
At the beginning of the residency, I found myself challenged, as I had trouble settling into our shabby apartment. After a few days of reacclimating to this remote world, the stillness became apparent as I surrendered to this environment. Stirring for answers, questions arose such as: Why are there only 26 residents? What happened to all the people? Who comes here mostly? Who’s going to be there to take care of the residents? What is there to do?
Some answers to these questions slowly revealed themselves over time through our historical site research, conversations with some of the residents, and site visits to the two landmarks in Borseda. Our rehearsals began to take shape around one particular landmark located at the entry point of this small town. There stood an empty bus stop, signaling a bygone era of commuting. With its back facing to an unused church and sight lines to a war memorial, the bus stop looked out past the horizon waiting for the promise of vitality to be fulfilled.
Inside the bus stop were four chairs nonchalantly sitting upright with pine straw and other debris beneath them, enclosed within rusted beam structures being held upright with mold streaks above the awning. (I know, this is every dancer’s dream to dance in.) However, we were drawn to the bus stop regardless; depicted, forgotten and yet it still had a profound meaning we wanted to rediscover. It was the initial place where our movement explorations began to form.
Our process started with investigating the bus stop itself. We were intrigued by the sounds of this space. From our feet rustling on the ground between the debris and gravel, to striking the structure in different places to hear its echoing effects. We explored the parameters in and out of the structure and what our limitations were in such a confined space. In turn, this made developing material challenging and us more invested in creating movement with the chairs.
Organically role assignments emerged for each of the chairs and was the bulk of our creative process. The first chair was assigned the role of ‘wiggly’ chair, because it was unsturdy and the movement made in this chair reverberated squeaky sounds. The second chair was given the role of ‘sturdy chair’ because it could bear us climbing on it for weight sharing. The third chair was given the role of ‘explorer chair’ because we decided to use it as a transitional piece to exchange positions with another chair; hence exploring the possibilities in choreography. The 4th chair was rejected from the lineup due to me having an allergy outbreak on my arm from trying to dance with the chair. Ironically, that led to developing more in our narrative of how a neglected chair can be symbolic to the neglect of this community.
During, more questions arose in our process such as: Now that the chair is out, how does that read? How do we transport ourselves back and forth to the chair? Why are we remembering or looking at the chair? What is the relationship between the dancers? What’s the conflict? What’s the resolution? Or is there one?
These questions were not easy to answer, however we found some clarity while conversing with one of the residents. A heartfelt example led to gathering knowledge from the most jolly resident, Almo, who had a warm, friendly smile underneath his big, bushy mustache. Almo grew up in Borseda, was a retired war marshall, and remembers the vibrancy Borseda once had during the 1960’s. But mostly, Almo was a simple man. He enjoyed his television at an over-exceedingly high volume during dinner time and had the best view to watch our rehearsals from his home’s terrace overlooking the bus stop.
After filming our final product, Almo invited us up for wine and focaccia (an Italian bread delicacy). While engaging with him, I asked, “Why doesn’t the bus come?” We learned the bridge connecting the rest of the commune has needed major repairs for the last three years. There is no public transportation available to or from Borseda because of this.
This was a turning point in our process as we reflected into dualities of abandonment and upkeep, life and death, as well as history and the present. Moreover, recurring themes in our day to day of how history is repeating itself and how a constant disparity can take a toll on a community and the life thereafter. At an even more macro-level, the piece we developed in this village shows the human experience as a constant alternating ebb and flow of generational undoings.
At the end of our two-week stay, we completed Why Not Here?, an 11 minute site-specific dance that was documented and seen by our supportive audience member, Almo. Walking away from that experience left me eager to retreat to my comfort zone, but also with a longing to want to help this community restore the vibrancy it once had. Moving on, my hope is to share the impact of this experience from this community to new communities and spaces. My collaborator and I have started discussions with a set designer to remake the bus stop and a composer to utilize sounds gathered from our time in Borseda to make this work site-adaptive, with a goal to perform stateside one day.
Ashlea Sovetts is a multifaceted dance artist who is able to flow between a variety of different roles. Primarily, her work centers around choreography, dance in higher education and arts administration. As a choreographer, she investigates real-life experiences as inspiration to create narratives. As an educator, she emphasizes a somatic approach by focusing on breath, fluidity and awareness of one’s presence in relationship to others. As an administrator, Ashlea was the Recruitment Coordinator for the Department of Dance at Texas Woman’s University. Her skill set includes project execution, content development, grant writing/editing and leading facilitation amongst artists. Currently, she is a faculty member at Columbia College, in Columbia, SC, a World Dance Alliance Americas board member, an NDEO Advocacy committee member and is the Program Manager for the Staibdance summer intensive in Sorrento, Italy. Her work has been supported by the South Carolina Arts Commission, Alternate Roots, the Andrew W. Mellon foundation, and the New England Foundation for the Arts. Ashlea, originally from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina graduated Cum Laude from Winthrop University and holds a Bachelors of Arts degree in Dance and her Master of Fine Arts in Dance from Texas Woman’s University.
Photo Credits: Dance Photos by Alexandria Nunweiler & Headshot by Amanda Wolfe