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On the blog: Q&A with Echoing Passages' Sara Olivier

May 31, 2015
by Anna Seaton Huntington

Local dancer and choreographer Sara Olivier approached Yuki in early 2013, not long after he had been selected as the artist for The Sculpture Project, about creating a cross-artistic performance collaboration. This was a first for Yuki. He agreed, and now Echoing Passages, which includes many artists creating original dance, film, poetry and music inspired by Passage of Wind and Water, is unfolding alongside Yuki's work over five years.

Sara, 30, works with me as a Collaborative Strategist for Arts Rapid City and she teaches at Academy of Dance Arts. She and her husband, Austin, have a son, Henry, 5. Sara often says Echoing Passages is "for and about the community." Read more her process in the Q&A below and find out how you can get involved. Find more information about the project, the artists and see more photos here.








Sara Olivier during filming for Echoing Passages, Badlands National Park, 2013. Photo by Masayuki Nagase.

ASH: What are you working on right now for Echoing Passages?

SLO: We are busy preparing for our second performance on July 10 at the Performing Arts Center of Rapid City. This performance will build on last year's with some new additions. This project is paralleling Yuki's work on The Sculpture Project, so last year we focused on the Badlands, and this year we are beginning to explore the Black Hills and the theme of water as Yuki begins to carve the Black Hills Garden. We are basically sharing our process with the community as we work. These performances aren't meant to be a final product, but a glimpse into our process as we continue to be inspired by Passage of Wind and Water and gather input.

ASH: Can you talk a little about your experience with arts collaborations?

SLO: I'm pretty much just a collaborative artist. Dance requires you to collaborate every time you create a work. You are always working with other dancers and I like to play to their strengths. We often experiment and co-create. I wouldn't be able to do anything without them so I put a lot of faith and trust into them to create an artistic work. So collaboration comes naturally. I could never do what I do by myself. There's always a sense of shared ownership.

Outside of the studio, I have worked with other visual artists, writers, and musicians on a variety of projects. The largest collaboration I've been involved in, which I think helped prepare me for this work, was The Harvey Dunn Project in Brookings, SD. I was commissioned by South Dakota State Universtiy to choreograph one of the dance pieces for this large-scale collaboration centered on Harvey Dunn's feminine images inspired by Darla Beilfedt's poetry and dance directed by Melissa Mork. It involved university students, a composer, animator, fiber artist, lighting and stage designers, all to create a cross-artistic performance.

ASH: How has Echoing Passages changed as you've gotten deeper into it?

SLO: This project is changing all the time. We have to be very open and flexible. We may think that we can dance a certain way in a natural setting, and then the landscape and weather will determine what we actually do when we film outdoors. It's very challenging, but it's also the beauty of the project. Of course, it should be shaped by the natural elements, because that's one of the driving themes of the work. We also want much more community engagement because we want the project to include more voices and for the work to be shaped by the people here as well. We are thinking about focusing solely on the process and community outreach and engagement next summer. I want to make sure I don't lose sight of why we are doing this. It's hard because you want to show people a product, but the process (incorporating community voices) is so important and really deserves some quality time and attention.

ASH: What are some of your overall goals for this project and what are the challenges?

SLO: This is the hardest question for some reason......

In a very basic way, we are creating cross-artistic performances and engagement inspired by Passage of Wind and Water that is for and about our community. It's an incredible opportunity to be able to seize this moment in our history, when such a large work of public art is underway. I'm hoping that the collaborative can help people find more entry points into the larger themes of The Sculpture Project and create even more conversation among groups and individuals about our shared sense of place and values. We don't necessarily want to tell people what they should think...we just want to get them thinking :)

Challenges: We have limited windows for completing the works. All of the collaborating artists work full time at other jobs, or are students. Coordinating the work is a task in itself. And so worth it ;)

Nature. It's going to do it's thing and we have to be ready to adapt to whatever is thrown our way when filming dance outdoors on location.

Form. The art form itself can be a bit of a challenge because it is abstract. Sometimes people can feel intimidated by modern dance, spoken word, or other abstract forms of art they haven't experienced because they aren't forms that we are exposed to often in this area. It's interesting to hear people comment after a show "Oh that's modern dance!"

On a deeper level specific to dance, creating art with your body as both your tool and canvas can be scary. You're putting yourself out there in a very exposed and vulnerable way when you dance, for everyone to judge. It's hard to separate yourself from the work when your actual body is part of it. It's always a challenge to step back and try to analyze a dance work when you are in it too.

I have to say though, I feel so, so lucky to be surrounded by such dependable, talented, flexible, open-minded, big-hearted people, who happily face challenges head on!

ASH: What role does Yuki play in the Collaborative?

SLO: The ideas behind Passage of Wind and Water inspire the work we do. While he is here during the summer, we are able to talk now and then as he works and he shares his thoughts behind the sculptures. During the winter, sometimes I will connect with him through emails or Skype to share what we are up to and ask him questions about his thoughts on the process. He is very encouraging and offers great insights. I had some questions about the final three stones in the Badlands Garden, because they hold so much tension and power. I was very inspired by these stones as far as physical movement is concerned, but was struggling with the "message" behind the movement, and he helped me seek it out. I am so incredibly grateful for his thoughtful approach to The Sculpture Project and for being open to this collaboration centered around it. He didn't know me until we approached him with the idea and it required a great deal of faith on his part to say yes. I am so thankful for his guidance.

ASH: How can the community get involved in Echoing Passages?

SLO: We would love for people to come to the performance and get an idea of the artistry involved. One of the layers of the performance is a choral poem, which is a long spoken poem that includes many voices. Our collaborating poet, Christine Stewart, pieced together this poem from written works submitted by community members. We will be holding a writing workshop this summer and encourage everyone to write about the Black Hills and submit their work to be included in the choral poem. You don't have to be a writer, everyone has a story to tell. These writings also help inform our work as well. I have been able to hear and see so many different perspectives on our place here. What's also interesting is that there are so many common threads too.

We are also interested in performing and engaging with groups in the community and can hold dance workshops. As a teaching artist, I am happy to share our work and teach creative movement and collaboration to students in the area. Anyone can contact us if there are interested!

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