Movement Without Borders at Judson Church

Jimena Paz (Photo by Maria Baranova)

For further information about the day’s events, the organizations, and bios of all performers and speakers, visit https://www.movementwithoutborders.com.

The event is free and open to the public with a suggested donation of $20. Link to make a reservation: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/movement-without-borders-tickets-169389573775

Movement Without Borders directs a collective gaze towards immigration reform through multimedia performances. This event is a catalyst, a deep breath together, a gathering. An exercise in revisionist cartography, a tracing of erasures and detours, a diasporic gasp at so many scattered landscapes. Here, we find places held in bodies and in mouths. Stories moved and told and relocated.

I’ve offered a few questions to creator Richard Colton to understand the event from Colton’s perspective.

DA: You’ve crafted a multidisciplinary program featuring a rich blend of performance offerings. Seems like you’re engaged in blurring genre boundaries as you unpack geographical borders. How did you curate this program?

RC: The curation emerged from a desire to connect aspects of my own interests that I had, over the years, kept separated. Wonderful dancing, great writing, probing film, or music that might relieve my grappling with the day’s news. I wanted to bring what had been compartmentalized into direct contact and see what happened. And I knew it meant that I had to provide time for this collision. I think the French call it a carambolage, a pile-up.  It would need to be a day long, an event where we could fully engage with one of the urgent issues of our time, migration, using a spectrum of media from science to poetry and everything in between. Of course, it all came from rage, too, those four years!  And from my admiration for an artist like Claudia Rankine who takes that rage and somehow, with members of her Racial Imaginary Institute, writes a manifesto essay like “On Nationalism: The Fragility and Possibility of ‘We’.” Such things lay bare the questions that the answers obscure. Scary but necessary stuff!

DA: How has your curation process evolved with the event (has it)?

RC: Thanks for asking this! Because really, I need to do a sequel for the artists speaking with one another across borders!  A photojournalist with a poet, each from different coasts, interacting with a filmmaker and editor— all of them intergenerational and from different cultures.  Shaking up their art. Surprising each other. Getting to know one another over time. We had an extra year for conversation, percolating new ideas and exchanging them in Zoom space!  And the connections keep evolving. Just last week, multi-disciplinary artist Emilio Rojas met dancer/choreographers Arthur Aviles and Mio Ishikawa and they in turn brought dance makers Jonathan Gonzales and Maxi Kawkeye Canion into the conversation. Something new is emerging from that dialogue.  And Shamel Pitts, thinking deeply about borders, was suddenly reminded of a poem of Rankine’s, “Swerve,” that he had worked with in a different context, and it became the springboard for “Solace of Red,” a new work on the program. 5 new dance works by Francesca Harper, Jimena Paz, Francisco Cordova, Pitts and Rojas evolved over the year for our program. We also have a new film work: Ghost Presences by Sibani Sen and Rojas, edited by Jack Colton.

DA: Taking it back a few steps— the origins. How did you start facilitating this event? What’s your relationship with borders?

RC: Yes, we really jumped the gun here! It began by walking through a door, alone. That’s the way it was: a visit to The Tenement Museum.  And just before that, my partner Amy Spencer had introduced me to an album “Lines In the Sand,” the brilliant music protest against injustice in our country and a tribute to the immigrant journey. The album featured a remarkable poem by Johnathan Mendoza and the work of a drummer, Antonio Sanchez, who curled beats around words like I had never heard before. (Both of them are performing at MwoB!) So, I had been reading about the Syrian refugee movement, listening to this album, and walking through The Tenement with maps of people in motion, in exile.  It seemed that was the story: people in motion. The head of the Tenement Museum at the time was a charismatic, risk-taking leader, he was soon let go by the Board, and we talked a few days later about a festival that celebrates migration. I started thinking: how would you describe America if there was no immigration?  And what does it mean to engage ethically with another person’s history? What’s the fragility and possibility of ‘we’ in a society that seemed to be more and more about us vs. them?  Thoughts like this, and yes perhaps I’m strange, get me thinking, in contrast, about dancers. Maybe because there is no more beautiful art that touches and brings me closer, face to face, to my feelings about the beauty, and potential harmony, of humanity.  And dancers are masters at cooperating, they are like ants, building a society that works.  But of course, in the real, cruel world, I think it was Edward Said who wrote about this, artists are mostly in exile, displaced, and experience marginality and disorientation, alienation.

“The music in me from elsewhere.  A seed of chance. There is no center of the world. Behold the innumerable.  Listen to the untranslatable.  Languages call to one another, touch and alter one another, tenderly.”  That’s Helene Cixous. That seems to me an ode to migration.  And a call towards the ‘we.’  When I left the Tenement Museum that day, I started imagining Movement Without Borders as a mix of art, poetry, dance, music, and voices moving us to action for social change. For our country in crisis and a world where 82.4 million people, the UN Refugee Agency recently reported, were “forcibly displaced at the end of 2020 as a result of persecution, conflict, violence, human rights violations or events seriously disturbing public order.”

Johnathan Mendoza (Photo by Mercedes Zapata)

DA: Judson is an iconic venue for so many reasons. What drew you to the space, and has this event been held here before?

RC: Ah! Judson! As I started shaping Movement Without Borders, and lost the possibility of collaborating with The Tenement Museum, I remember wondering where to go with the idea. Judson had been an important part of my life: I danced there with James Waring as a teenager, and Reverend Howard Moody (of Judson), who embraced protest and the fullest experimentation in the arts, married Amy and me. And then there was the great composer Rev. Al Carmines, who led everyone who worked, prayed or just dropped by at Judson onto a path that reconciled artistic joy with social struggle. In his world, you protested on Saturday, prayed on Sunday, made art on Monday, had a great meal on Tuesday, made love on Wednesday, studied on Thursday and invited your neighbor over on Friday. Hospitality! That feeling of cultivating hospitality, in Judson’s world, led directly to protest for a better country! WHen I walked in the door to find the great (current) Reverend Micah Bucey, I knew I had found home for Movement Without Borders. Good healing and energy for change lives at Judson and we’re in need of both!

By the way, I knew immediately that I wanted to start the Movement Without Borders program at Judson with Rudy Perez— an artist who’s been an important part of its history. I like to think of this iconic 1970 Perez work, “Coverage,” as having a Judson homecoming this Saturday! Perez’ work begins with the dancer marking, literally taping, a defining border around himself. Rudy, who is 90 and living and creating in LA, is gracing us with this work at Judson and helping us cross the psychological, social, sexual, and political boundaries that we confront in our society.  And the person introducing the Perez work at Judson, Enrique Morones, is the founder of an organization based in California called Border Angels that helps guide immigrants on what is often a dangerous journey. Perez himself is a border angel, for all of us.

Francisco Cordova (Photo by Gabriel Ramos)

DA: How do you see art interacting with public policy? Or, rather, what are your intentions around placing art beside political action in the context of performance?

RC: You are getting to the difficult part! The crux of the matter!  Pierre Joris, a wonderful translator of poet Paul Celan and himself a border-crossing artist in all his work as a writer/performer, “It is a story of walls. They bar the way, resist, stand against.  But they have fissures too. And one also can stick photos, placards, graphs, poems, screams into them….One big question is how our artistic, poetic, musical, performative practices can infiltrate and displace our fields of action, cultural and other?”

Immigration in our country still demands clear public policy. It’s a moral issue. The 2016 election was won by a vote motivated by hostility toward immigrants by a Machiavelli of immigration. It is now up to all of us to confront racism, examine our own position, and to find a new energy in summoning up our imagination to prevent racism from further destabilizing our society!  And whenever you speak about the need for energy and imagination in motivating change you are speaking about a critical role for the arts. Art can be an extraordinary arena to explore fundamental questions about thought and action.  And  has an important role in moving hearts and minds towards true social change, and towards a society that has ethical and moral policies for urgent issues such as immigration.  Not simply display a politics of virtue.

Two wonderful books on art, immigration, and policy: “French Hospitality: Racism and North African Immigrants” by the Moroccan novelist Tahar Ben Jelloun, explores his own writing and the history of the Algerian War and immigration experience and policy, and Charles Bernstein’s “The Politics of Poetic Form: Poetry and Public Policy,” that reevaluates the assumptions about the relation of poetry to public policy as tenuous or secondary.

DA: And a deceptively simple question: Who is this event for? Who do you want to see in the audience, and why?

RC: OMG! I want to see all of us! Personally, this will be the first live indoor theater event I’ve been to since the pandemic started! And I’m imagining that will be true for others!  Since this project was postponed once in 2020, it means so much to share it. Hospitality is Judson! The event is purposefully free; we thought of it that way from the start. We were going to enjoy lunch together in the middle of the day’s performances, but we decided not to. Instead, there are breaks throughout the day. Of course, I’d love this event’s audience to cross all borders of race, class and gender identity! One dreams of this; it is the next frontier that theater, and society at large, must address! And, in so doing, explore a long history of inequity.

Ben Jelloun sums up my aspirations for my audience as we return to theaters: “Hospitality is the act of taking somebody into one’s home without any thought of recompense. It brings together an action (a welcome), an attitude (the opening of oneself to the face of another, whether that somebody is poor or a passing traveler, and the opening of one’s door and the offering of the space of one’s house to a stranger), and a principle (disinterestedness).” And now, the bigger question: how to make this hospitality into policy for a nation?

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