Annie Heath / / @annie_heath

Photography by Maria Baranova

A letter and introduction to my peers;

I find myself grappling with the current state of affairs, its impact on creative processing, and my personal response, or more like reproach to it. I am envious of my peers. Artists are tackling the day-in and day-out of mundane activity and finding—no, more like fighting for and challenging the ambitious, creative psyche. Not without self-doubt I say this stubbornly; that the social distancing challenges coupled with trying to progress the dance-making aspect of my work, is not happening. And right now, that’s worth honoring.

Let me be the first to say that this letter is most certainly a defensive response to my lack of progress (or the rate of my progress). I feel like I’ve already been cut short this year; one big toe injury and directly following, a resurfaced wrist injury. Since mid-December, I had significantly reduced my rehearsal schedule and by the time I was ready to jump back in, the city started rapidly shutting down. I gravitate towards action, but this progression of circumstances leaves me uneasy; this souring relationship to home-based movement leads to a psychological paralysis of sorts. Its stubbornness holds me captive.

But still, I wonder how I can work on choreography in my 600 sq. ft., 1-bedroom apartment, while my partner works full-time at home. Often on the phone with important daily business calls, one’s commanding voice must be exercised—even while in sweatpants. Bless his remarkable work ethic and steady job, but unfortunately listening to corporate talk tends to demolish any sensorial bodily practices that may be stirring. A relatively new practice for me, I’ve defaulted to Cunningham virtual classes and  am impressed by my body’s upkeep in this technical form—but I think it may be stuffing any holes of creative juju. This feels like an airtight seal.

My “space” for checking in with my body can fit: 1 yoga mat or 1 body in a full X-position (space pending on dog interaction). The wood floors are above cement and I can feel my skull lightly bruising if I am on my back for too long. The slight slopes from the warped wood accentuates the unevenness of my left and right leg; this causes paranoid readjusting with every move in my small kitchen space. These spatial circumstances could be an impetus for a specific creative exploration, but this is not the intended embodiment process that I am employing in my work. And that’s just it, what I want to be creating is not right for the situation—my work feels like an unessential response in this time.

The act of dancing will persist and find its nook in the virtual sphere. Those who know me are familiar with my particular disdain for excessive virtual output, but I want to also recognize what has left a lasting impression within my digital screen. Let me praise these gems who have consistently, even pre-pandemic, navigated their bodily practices through the physical lens. Holly Sass’ videos have ridiculously stunning backdrops in the rolling hills of Moraga, California, where I can momentarily escape and be with them; to feel the distance from the sky and the breeze between the shirt and skin. There’s also Anna Wotring, who has built her daily #influencer #worldtour @annaissupercool Instagram presence since 2017. In the comforts of her home she religiously holds a cup of coffee, truncating spicy clips of movement that keep you wanting more.

So while I may not have the capacity to be a presence, or to be virtually present, I show up every day for myself, finding meaningful pleasures in what is literally around me. Sometimes it’s burrowing into writing—and rewriting, or finding the quietest street in the neighborhood. My curiosity asks, what does this body need? The time spent feels right, but being honest, there comes a moment every day, if not several times a day, where I feel like I’m giving up on my love, dance. My anxiety surfaces—I’ll never be able to get back into movement-based creation. This is preposterous right?

While my situation is not unique by any means to creatives still in the city, and more so, I am healthy and have a secure support system, I want to voice this oddity of circumstances to find some ground to come together while viewing my work for Performance Mix Festival #34: Remotely Yours. I am writing to explain but I am also writing to figure it out myself because what I have been expressing to my partner and my dog is the conflicting desire to put truthful effort in pushing a work’s creative development, while also negotiating the personal dissatisfaction for creating in my circumstances, which quite frankly exports disjointed movement that just lacks. Ironically, my work explores absence; but not in the way of social gatherings or the ability to eat at my favorite restaurants, but rather the absence of memory and the loss of the mother/land. There is an inherent change when generating movement in different settings, and in my apartment space this has created a vacuum of reduced intentionality.

But let me move forward. While in this time of isolation I’ve studied and noted what was already there; I hope that the following content provides a glimpse of what I have been able to delineate for my current work. There is surely more to be done, especially on the movement creation front. But for now that can wait for space.

Context and Musings

I slip between clipping roots and digging up historical narratives. I am most interested in fragmenting content and distorting the sense of time. To remap the mind’s connections and ultimately heal a growing pain of disconnect. “At what point do we abandon the mother, the fabric, which gave us our bodies and the land?”

There are many gaps in my narrative. Partially because I am notoriously bad at recalling past memories, but most definitively, my overseas adoption from South Korea stole an entire possibility of culture and lineage. Transracial adoptions have an extensive and controversial history in the United States with a large variance of individual experiences. What has come from researching these experiences is a collective articulation, a cultural expression that is unique to adoptees.

I grapple with what it means to “belong” and how one becomes satisfied with their “belonging.” Is it finding new communities by seeking out shared culture and heritage? Or is it the internal self reflection and care that ultimately provides solace? I like to believe that my insistence in making this work carves out an alternative path to building my own mechanism of belonging.

Departure Study of Mother/land Fabric is a movement, textual, and textile performance.

Filling in these gaps through movement and voice, maybe the body can summon distant memories of mother/child, land/home. Working with natal intimacy and womb-like sensibility, I imagine birthing and being birthed; the pain, the sensuality?, and feeling of fresh emergence. I like to believe that this exploratory embodiment reflects 20% truth; I allow the approach of embodying this duality to escape to fantasy, as I have not experienced birthing and I will never remember the experience of being birthed.

In process and performance, the work creates and disassembles bojagi; a semi-transparent reversible patchwork composed of smaller geometric shapes that holds a utilitarian context in Korean History.  Contemporarily it is still present in Korean society and has continued its expansion and international presence within textile art. Often imperfect and mismatched, I consider these scrap pieces of fabric as a tool to build a sense of belonging. The improvisatory nature of collaging, much like generative movement and textual practices, takes on a sentimental, therapeutic mechanism—to remember what cannot be recalled.

Videography by Nel Shelby

This project is a “departure” and diverges from This Mother/land Fabric, a collaboration between myself (choreographer/dancer) and Sokunthary Svay (poet/performer) that was bred from our respective experiences as a Korean Adoptee and a Cambodian child born in a Thai refugee camp. The work also uses fabric, but specifically highlights the sarong, a traditional garment worn in Cambodia (and Southeast Asia). As we accentuate the worn sarongs wrapped over our hips; carry a heavy pile of fabric; and pull between messiness and order; the work experiments with blurring the lines of perspective so movement and speaking embody dual possibilities and multiple truths. The performances around these themes complicate by talking about the desire to keep a connection to a culture, a people, and a land from which we were excavated from.

Presented excerpt for Fresh Tracks Residency at New York Live Arts (Dec 2020). Originally part of Benedict Nguyen’s platform “soft bodies in hard places,” supported by ISSUE Project Room and co-presented by the Asian American Writers’ Workshop (Jun 2019).

Annie Heath is a choreographer and dancer based in Brooklyn, NY. Her work has been presented at New York Live Arts, Issue Project Room, Movement Research at the Judson Church, Chen Dance Center, Access Theater, Center for Performance Research, Dixon Place, TADA! Youth Theater, Triskelion Arts, Brooklyn Arts Exchange, West End Theater, and Alchemical Laboratory. She has performed original works by RoseAnne Spradlin, Doug LeCours, Gabriella Carmichael, and Pavel Machuca-Zavarzin. Heath is currently a 2019-2020 Fresh Tracks resident artist at New York Live Arts.

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