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Undanced performances through prison walls during a pandemic at the ICA LA
September 1, 2020 - September 5, 2020
Over the past month, artists have been enacting community-driven projects at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (ICA LA) as part of “Field Workshops.” The ICA LA writes that this initiative “responds to the latest cultural, civic, and social activities taking place in Los Angeles and the world at large.”
As part of the Field Workshops, this week, dancer Suchi Branfman is enacting choreographed pieces by inmates at the Correctional Rehabilitation Center (CRC) prison — a medium-security prison in Norco, CA.
Over the past five years, Branfman has worked with CRC residents on a project called “Dancing Through Prison Walls.” Before the pandemic, Branfman and inmates co-choreographed and rehearsed dances once a week. They were engaging in an experimental, uplifting, and physical form of collaboration. Then COVID-19 hit and the program shut down.
The incarcerated dancers continued to send Branfman their visions for choreographed pieces. Now Branfman is collaborating with a group of dancers to realize those scripts. Dancers include Bernard Brown, Jay Carlon, Ernst Fenelon Jr., Irvin Gonzalez, Kenji Igus, Brianna Mims, Tom Tsai, as well as a handful of previously incarcerated people.
As COVID-19 continues to spread through jails and prisons, Branfman’s work feels particularly urgent. “Despite the fact that the authors of these dances are still confined in extremely perilous … conditions, we are honored that they have sent these dances out to us,” Branfman told me. “We carry them within us as we embody their visionary words, and while we work towards getting them, and so many others, out.”
This week, the public can watch rehearsals through ICA LA’s windows. RSVP, face masks, and social distancing are required. The dancers will perform the final works and speak about their collaborations this Saturday via Zoom.