2020/21 marks the inaugural season of Zeitgeist Dance Theatre (ZDT). In spite of a devastating pandemic, ZDT's leadership took a bold step to launch while dancers were scattered across the United States - having never come together in person as a company. It wasn’t what we had planned for or what we expected.
We anticipated the company of eight would come together for a residency in Santa Fe, New Mexico - getting to know each other as a company, taking company classes together and learning new work. Running parallel to the company would be our fifteen-member trainee program. All twenty-three dancers would then travel together to the New Century Dance Project Festival in Salt Lake City culminating in a world-premiere performance at the end of that week. When it was clear that we would not be able to meet in person, we shifted gears.
What came out of this unpredictable and ambiguous moment in history, was a gift. While our fifteen Trainees met separately over six weeks this summer, the professional company was in virtual residence, beginning each day with company class, then engaged in dialogue and movement research as a response to systemic racial justice protests initiated by the death of George Floyd. The result was a powerful dance on film featuring the stories of two Black company members and the very personal reflections of their fellow company members.
Although we cannot say with certainty that we’ll be able to come together this summer, ZDT is taking active steps to launch last summer’s plan for a three week company residency and Trainee Program in July and August.
The ZDT Racial Justice Dance on Film Project
The translation for the German word "zeitgeist' is - ‘the sign of the times’. As ZDT began their work together in summer 2020, what could have been more appropriate at the time than for this new company than to discuss racism in America amidst the Black Lives Matter protests happening nationwide and worldwide after the tragic murder of George Floyd.
Co-Artistic Director Yusha-Marie Sorzano took the lead in facilitating discussions over Zoom sessions. Company members were asked to take a hard look at themselves, delving into their personal viewpoints regarding race and its societal stigmas. Yusha brought to the table important insights about the black experience in America, facts not learned in school or found in most of our country's history books. The resulting conversations were intense, emotional, invigorating, and eye-opening. From days and weeks of difficult dialogue came the powerful stories of each dancer's personal experience with race in America - told through their own lens and their own struggles.
Each dancer wrote their own story. Through guided improvisation each individual artist created a phrase that communicated what they felt as they read their own essay. Following, every company member chose several different locations in an area close to home to film their movement sequences. The film footage was shot with their own smartphones with the assistance of the dancer's colleagues.
Throughout the artistic process, the script kept evolving. As our brilliant and patient editor, Serge Dorsainvil, worked with the many materials generated to create the film, he began to assemble a work that was not only a powerful story on systemic racial injustice in and of itself, but a piece of moving art demonstrative of the life energy of Zeitgeist Dance Theatre, and a parable worthy of our talented dancers’ prodigious empathy and vulnerability.
Our hope is that after you view our film, you’ll be willing to look deeply within yourself and to understand the experiences of others with patience, understanding, empathy and compassion. It’s truly the only way forward - the only means to bridge the divides between us and to build a shared, beloved community.
The Vulnerability Project (with Zeitgeist Trainees)
Meeting four times each week, our dancers from across North America worked closely with ZDT Artistic Directors Yusha-Marie Sorzano and Francisco Gella. ZDT Trainees took company classes together, worked with guest teachers, and dove into the issues we usually avoid and rarely talk about openly. We took what most of us keep inside - sometimes powerful enough to destroy us – and we explored what it can mean when we shine light on our shame, our fears, our pain and traumas, and our difficult questions: All of those enemies that keep us from realizing our own potential.
We challenged each other to understand that to be in service to others, in a way that makes a lasting difference, we must first learn to embrace our own brokenness. To have empathy for others, requires us to learn to love our complex, whole selves first. Our fifteen trainees boldly took this journey together and in the process, began to understand their own power.