Filling in the Canvas: Creative Processes from Project Highway HabitUS

As we bid farewell to our Kentucky cohort and set our sights on Texas, we knew we had a lot of ground to cover in the coming weeks. Since our trusty VW can’t exceed 65 mph, and we have to stop for gas every 150 miles (one of her many quirks), the road provides ample opportunity for aimless reflection. Turns out that finding cohesion amongst the reflections is a challenge when you’re being inundated with stimuli at every turn!

Photo credit: John Suhar.

What is constantly on our minds – in between the residencies, the teaching, crossing state lines, stealthy googling to find that secret roadhouse BBQ spot in the middle of nowhere, manufacturing interactions with the local townsfolk, gathering intel – is WHAT are we going to do with all of this material?

Since the projected grand finale of our work is an evening-length production, which we can only fully dive into once our research has been synthesized, we are largely experimenting within the context of our university residencies. We step into each space with a skeleton of a piece, some choreographed material, and exercises we have designed that use the students’ own habitus to generate movement. These exercises shift in scope from place to place, and the sections that take shape end up gifting the piece its identity, making each work live in an entirely unique way.

Photo credit: John Suhar.

At the outset of the project, we had designed one specific exercise to facilitate a movement response to a question from our now-growing list of Habitus Queries to Ponder. We sourced these questions initially from friends & family, and have since been asking for contributions from those we encounter on the road. When we are working with dancers, we have them select a question from this list and verbalize their response, first through language and then through movement. The partner’s job is to listen closely and observe quietly without forming opinions, attaching bias or making judgements. Once the dancers have both had a chance to share verbally and physically, they create a duet together that pulls from these improvisations and impressions to make a cohesive and layered collaborative response. The exercise has yielded rich and deeply connected material, and has been strongly featured in the four new works we made over the course of the past few months.

Photo credit: John Suhar.

While this exercise has served us well  in the creative process thus far, we are hoping to provide new source material from the road for inspiration as we move onto the second leg of our journey. For example, we recently happened upon two fascinating individuals – Marcus of Houston and Monique of New Orleans — and were struck with the idea of replacing the question variable of the above exercise with a video interview.

Marcus is the owner of a famous breakfast spot in Houston called, appropriately, The Breakfast Klub. He detailed a poignant moment he experienced while hanging out in the whirlpool at his gym, in which he struck up a conversation with the gentleman across from him. Both men agreed, without volunteering much information about themselves as individuals, that “we are being less attentive to humanity and more attentive to race or partisan politics…and not … in the advancement of humanity.” In his own words, they were just two guys sitting around in speedos talking about life. Watch our impromptu conversation with Marcus.

We spotted Monique while wandering the streets of New Orleans and immediately felt compelled to talk to her. She was overseeing a garage sale for a friend, and with just a glance, one could tell she would have an interesting story to tell. She wasn’t much for storytelling that day, but did offer a glimpse into her worldview. In reference to the current race rhetoric and segregation she still witnesses daily, she laments, “If you bleed, you’re gonna bleed the same blood.”  Watch our impromptu conversation with Monique.

We have not yet had the opportunity to implement this new strategy in the studio, but are excited to see how it changes the form and feel of future responses. YOU could be our first participants for this new exercise by watching one of the videos above and picking a moment that speaks to you. Let that instance be the motivation for a minute of improvisation and record yourself. Watch your own video and see how your body viscerally responds to the stimuli, and then codify a movement phrase or motif from your improvisation. If you like, send us your work! We’d love to see what these interviews evoke for you through movement.

Sumi and Taryn with Monique in New Orleans. Photo credit: John Suhar.

It’s been an absolute privilege to meet so many interesting individuals nationwide, take the time to connect, and ask the questions that normally get swept aside in the pace of modern-day living in America. Sharing these stories is fueling our art, and while the quilt has not yet come together, we certainly have fallen in love with the individual pieces.

Thank you for sharing, reading, and potentially creating with us! See you on the road.


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