Black man facing sideways
All rights reserved. Photography by Christopher Michael Carruth ©2019

Inside the Isolation: Actively Doing

First act. Monday, March 9, 2020 was the day when an ominous feeling infiltrated the air. It was very clear that something was descending upon us. I could see and feel it as I continued my daily paces at CU Boulder. It was just a matter of when normality would begin to fall apart.

Rewind to before that day: I had just wrapped up a sold-out run of “Multiscapes,” an intermedia and interactive installation project that centers on a male duet and explores uncertainty and intimacy through visually and sonically active environments. It was thrilling to see this project come to life after two-years. I was ready to focus my energy on other projects. But, within the blink of an eye, all things suddenly became caught in a total breakdown that resembled a non-stop shuffling act of rescheduling, postponing, letting go, and reassessing immediate needs. In what seemed like the longest two weeks ever, my landscape shifted so quickly that the days of the week began to mesh. The idea of “holding on” almost seemed like a desperate act to maintain some sense of normalcy.

Intermission. Inside this moment of my isolation, stillness to reflect and activate newness is amplified. I have come to recognize this surreal moment to be a true test of stamina and resilience and a reframing of my relationship to uncertainty. This pandemic is a disruption fashioning as intermission to press pause and ask something different of myself. It has manifested a generative place where I’m challenged to take what I have, repurpose it, and be open to the cultivating of newfound tools necessary to make the next normal, and uncover different ideas about the art of assembly.

Second act. What I know for sure is that humanity will not survive this global reset without nourishment. Nourishment, in this sense, is respite from what seems all consuming and potentially hopeless. Moments of joy, laughter, embracing a memory that leads to a smile, and connections through whatever forms of communication available becomes medicine for achieving balance. It becomes medicine that allows for exhalation, release, and grounding oneself. It becomes a source of strength and courage to believe we’ll see the other side of this pandemic and that there will be possibility.

What I also know for sure is that this moment repositions our relationships with uncertainty. It interrupts patterns and autopilots. It is reminding us that creativity is a part of all our lives. It is reminding us that perhaps we anchor ourselves in beliefs, systems, calendars, and habits that lead us to feel that things are more certain than they really are. We are creatively navigating uncertainty in dynamic ways and doing so with great levels of achievement on a continual basis. As artists, we have some basic skills to survive this pandemic.

Pause: Inside this moment of my isolation, I sense our new normal is a dance that is quite possibly the most complex choreography being created to date. There is a familiar, yet different, effort needed to read the various spaces that I must show up in and how to yield encouragement without being insensitive. There is a tenderness needed to be able to hold space for grief and courage to coexist. Navigating conversations around privilege and all the isms becomes a delicate throughline in the dance for recognizing nuances to acknowledge and embrace difference –and how difference is essential to community. Perhaps this new normal is the most complex choreography being created because it is truly a dance of necessity. But, before I can get to any of that, I must remember to hold space for me to be human too. I cannot be that guide or supportive framework if I am in pieces.

Epilogue: Experience is a teacher. I’m no different from anyone else in that I too am experiencing loss, sadness, and grieving all at the same time. But experiences have taught me a thing or two about endurance and how grace can appear when least expecting. The work continues even as the world is on pause. I’m future gazing by keeping art close as a vehicle for optimism and confidence. History has demonstrated time and again that radical change often emerges from extreme conditions. It has also demonstrated that creativity has been central to healing, recovery, inspiring, re-imagining, and building our sense of belonging – and a pathway to deeper, stronger communities. My heart bleeds, and my soul holds space for hope.

Helanius J. Wilkins
Associate Chair & Assistant Professor of Dance, Department of Theatre & Dance
Helanius.Wilkins@colorado.edu