From Tsunamis to Juice

By Evangel King


I often think I am without value as a dance artist, yet I know from the bottom of my soul, dance is the very center of my life and is my true calling. Living with both extremes and holding them in an embrace rather than using the word but to cancel one or the other out is like a splash in the face that invokes openness and depth, cultivating and watering my creativity. A tenacity wells up from my soul to make art. It builds like a wave from the unseen depths emerging as a full-blown tsunami.

I know these extremes are aspects in the ecology of our community. They go hand-in-hand with our male-ruled capitalistic society, coupled with a lust for success. We are one of the poorest art forms. We are a female-dominated field and so carry the inheritance of scarcity. The fact that our creative instrument is our body challenges our culture. And still the creative waters flow deep and wide; there are constant giant waves, dare I say tsunamis, emanating in all directions.

I’ve found that there are times when the tsunamis fade away and times when they flow in full force, like when I arrived at the tail end of the ’70s. And right now. It’s all a cycle. I feel a diminishment of the constriction and my view is tsunamis are abundant. So I question: What is present to nourish my sense of abundance?

Looking back to arriving in the contemporary dance community at the end of the 1970s I found a thriving ecology (from Greek: “house” or “living relations”). There was abundance. Not of money. Rather an abundance of energy flowing. It surged and energized the proliferation of activity happening in every way.

The heart of our art was performances of all shapes and sizes happening indoors and outdoors. Seasoned pioneers, innovators, dance companies new and established, independent choreographers, improvisers and collectives all creating. The newly arrived artists were like the gold rush era miners, seeking fertile grounds, and I was one of them. The abundance available to us all created a lively mixing together. Those people already established, for the most part welcomed the new.

Essential to a healthy ecology are the dance studios, found everywhere—from the grand to the diminutive, active day and night, giving classes, workshops, performances, work-in-progress showings, less formal gatherings, mentoring, discussion, hanging out, goofing around. Other institutions supported the community. Churches offered space for dance. A few offered free rehearsal space for first come first serve. St. John’s on College Avenue in Berkeley was one of these. Each month I looked forward to the exchange and camaraderie that happened while waiting to sign up for studio time. Universities and colleges both presented work of locals and had space within for residencies and workshops. The Dance Coalition (later known as Dance Bay Area) presented an annual performance series for locals.

A basic human need is having information; a community grows when knowledge is freely shared. In the ’70s there was a lively transference by word of mouth plus the Dance Coalition put out a monthly dance calendar. There were local periodicals, both large and small that printed previews and reviews. Surprisingly the lack of money spurred greater immersion in creating and performing, which gave rise in me. Why not do it for the love of it? Do it; do whatever you imagine and dream. The community is here and we are all together. Eureka! Unlike the rush of 1849, with a fleeting lure of gold, here there was an attraction of a thriving ecosystem.

The details of this ecosystem, like any other system, are points in a cycle. They have arrived many times before and their counterparts will continue arriving in the future, shaped by the quality and character of the resources immediately present.

I use the word juice to epitomize what happens when a thriving ecosystem exists. It gets the juices flowing. It makes things juicy. Whatever the juice looks like, no matter how small or invisible it may appear, it adds to the abundance of the ecology of our community.

I choose three details, experiences of mine, when I was juiced with abundance. The first juicy experience is when I arrived; the other two are now.

In 1979, just a couple of years since I arrived, feeling the juice of abundance, three of us (myself, Diane McKallip and Edie White) came together to form Choreographers’ Performance Alliance (CPA). We shared a belief in ourselves, each other and our community. We want to heighten abundance by presenting more performance opportunities for our own work and our community. One of the vehicles we create is now the oldest informal performance series in the Bay Area, Works in the Works. Most significant to me is the first-come-first-serve aspect of the festivals procedure. I believe this impartial method of arriving at a performance line-up is essential for inclusiveness. It breaks down the walls of separatism and judgment.

Now, and for the last several years I have been meeting with a like-minded group of 4-6 movement artists to immerse ourselves in movement-based seminars and work with themes that challenge us. Some themes have been: anger, fear and care. We are considering the topic of revelation for our next seminar. The group arrived at these themes together, through a sense of collective readiness. I am in awe of the trust we have willingly given each other.

Over a period of four years I met with my friend and colleague Kristine Maltrud, who lives in Albuquerque New Mexico, once a year and we created our own artist retreat, inviting other artists to join us at points along the way. We held each other as valuable artists worthy of nurturance and sustenance, not waiting for an outsider to recognize us as such. We gave the juice to each other.

It is in my reflection on these details of my artistic life that I offer: three truths and three questions to ponder.

Truth: My experience in feeling this cycle of abundance may not be your experience, and vise versa.

Truth: Cultivating our own sense of abundance is truly important. I believe that juice, created by gratefully receiving connection and support, is what catapults us into believing in ourselves. Do it; do whatever you imagine and dream.

Truth: Abundance cannot exist without a thriving ecosystem. Eureka!

Question: What is the juice that you’ve experienced?

Question: What are the flavors and the combinations?

Question: How did they come about?

I am thankful to Jorge, for the eloquent words and the resulting brain stirring from the back and forth writing and chatting. And I am thankful to you, dear readers, for being part of this ecosystem. I would love to know what your answers are to my three questions. Let’s continue this conversation on my blog:

This article appeared in the June 2010 issue of In Dance.

Evangel King is a choreographer and soloist. She loves collaborating, writing, studying, teaching and being a part of community gatherings of all sizes. She has participated in the growth and development of the thriving Bay Area Dance community for 30+ years.