Last year, Excuse The Art (ETA) audiences were on the outside looking in. Per pandemic protocol, audiences peered through The Windmill Arts Center’s massive windows into the white-box studio space to witness Fly on a Wall’s works-in-progress series. This year, masked attendees are invited inside the fishbowl April 7-10 for four days of dance in the Art Center’s black box theater.
The Windmill Arts Center’s philosophy is built around creating “a space for everyone.” The Center regularly hosts experimental and experimental classes, performances and events year-round. The ETA series, spearheaded by the arts platform Fly on a Wall, will convene for a third year to provide space for emerging voices in dance.
The participants were selected by a panel of contemporary artists and educators and will be presented in two alternating programs from Thursday to Sunday. Common themes explored this year include Afrofuturism, environmentalism and solo works that aim to deconstruct identity.
Artist Olivia Rae Bryant will show her work Juncture on Thursday and Saturday evening. Juncture explores coming of age stories, including her own as a Black, queer woman born and raised in the South. She integrates visual art and her process included painting, drawing, written reflections and play, as well as connecting with queer people and artists of color.
“Juncture is a work in progress with intent to present a ‘finished’ work later on, so I wonder what the audience longs for more of,” says Bryant, who welcomes all reactions from an uncontrollable laughter to looming sorrow. “I’d love to know what they’re curious about and what, if anything, Juncture might inspire them to create in their respective modalities.”
This year’s chorographers also include Sam Ross, Candace Tabbs, Darvensky Louis of SequenceOne and Christina J. Massad of Fly on a Wall (all performing Thursday and Saturday). Lucy Smith of Medicine Art House, Danielle Swatzie, Frankie Consent, Indya Childs and Emily Christianson perform Friday and Sunday.
During rehearsals, Christianson has worked mostly alone in the space, manipulating plastics and materials as a way of commenting on her environmental concerns.
“In my solo One-Way Home I am exploring memory, grief, loss and mortality through the lens of a solitary human existing within a plastic-filled, imagined future landscape,” says Christianson. “The piece has so many layers.” She says she’s looking forward to getting audience feedback and working more on the piece after the Excuse the Art performances.
Audience members play a critical role during the ETA performances. Fly on a Wall co-founder Sean Nguyen-Hilton says the platform strips to create spaces where artists can grow their work through the gaze of the audience and solicit feedback. It helps artists to continue growing and developing their works-in-progress.
Fly on a Wall collects questions from each artist and compiles them into a survey that the audience is encouraged to complete post-performance. Surveys are available via QR codes placed around the Windmill Arts Center’s lobby. Audience members are also invited to linger after the performance to speak with the artists.
Smith has been grateful for the community provided by Fly on a Wall throughout this process. “ETA has changed, and healed, my perspective about making art, being an artist and being in the community,” she says. “Because of the support and resources they provide, I can lean into the unknown a bit more, into what I don’t know a bit more, into what scares me, and feel held in doing so.”
Nguyen-Hilton is excited for the third iteration of the series as it shifts back to its intended format, inside the Arts Center. “It feels so fresh,” he says. “This group is fantastic, with a lot of really strong ideas. Our mission grew from wanting to support not just our own work, but those around us as well. We build containers and then say, ‘hey, what would you like to put into it?’”
Amanda Sieradzki (MFA) is an arts journalist, dance educator and artistic director of dance company Poetica. She teaches on faculty at the University of Tampa and the University of South Florida, and writes for Creative Pinellas’ Arts Coast Journal, the Tallahassee Council on Culture & Arts, DIYdancer Magazine and ArtsATL.
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