The Real Story: Brittany Harlin’s “Don’t Forget Your Mother” at Chicago’s Pivot Arts Festival
… we caught up with her just in time to help kick off the Pivot Arts Festival, which runs May 31 through June 9 …
Healing. There are many kinds of healing, because there are many different ways of understanding what harms us, what injures us. But there are also many different kinds of injury — physical and emotional, past and present, injury to one individual or injury to many people at once. Every hurt needs healing, but the path to healing must be as unique as the very personal experience of hurting.
In a brand new work for the 2019 Pivot Arts Festival, Brittany Harlin embraces a daunting challenge, although that doesn’t seem to be anything new for her, or anything that she would shy away from. In Don’t Forget Your Mother Harlin explores the complementary subjects of what makes us hurt and what makes us whole. Her work weaves together perspectives from individual experience with wider ideas, broadening her vision to include cultural injury and culture-based healing.
Harlin is rare among choreographers because she is also a composer, and the creation of an original, unique score for her work is an essential component of how she makes dance. DancerMusic wanted to find out more about Don’t Forget Your Mother, about Harlin’s choreography and about her music, and we caught up with her just in time to help kick off the Pivot Arts Festival, which runs May 31 through June 9 and is presenting Don’t Forget Your Mother. Here’s what she told us:
This is what Don’t Forget Your Mother is an attempt at – generational healing.
Johnny Nevin: In your newest work Don’t Forget Your Mother you’re exploring a number of compelling ideas, from the challenges of difficult personal experience to a more broad exploration of ideas of motherhood and of all mothers. But the piece addresses this in a very interwoven way — ideas of trauma and ancestral trauma blended into explorations of healing and hope. Can you tell us more about the trajectory of the work and how your choreography expresses the thoughts and ideas that inspired it?
Brittany Harlin: In the spirit of releasing stigma attached to mental health and neurological diversity, the title came from a recurring auditory hallucination. I experienced a long series of them during my first and only manic episode. Though there was a lot of chatter I couldn’t imagine had any significant meaning, I would hear often Don’t Forget Your Mother. This, and some extra poems and writings found in my phone that I didn’t really remember writing during that time led to my journey of trying to unravel these words. I read My Grandmother’s Hands : Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies by Resmaa Menakem, which led me to a deeper historical and ultimately spiritual path I hadn’t yet visited. The book covers multiple cultural lenses of generational healing — including African Diasporic – speaking on moving and using voice to heal. This is what Don’t Forget Your Mother is an attempt at – generational healing.
There’s a lot of freedom in having a hand in making music to choreograph to …
Johnny: The score for Don’t Forget Your Mother is original, and you’ve been building it together with Boyang Matsapola and Page Kallop from ideas that you initially create as rhythms — in fact you’re playing congas, klave and other percussion. This is such a unique process in choreography, to begin the process as composer and musician and from that build your movement design. What is this process like, and how do you think it changes the art of choreography to be able to imagine the music this way?
Brittany: The process was organic in collaboration and timing. Boyang and I linked up early in the process, and Page collaborated shortly after and acted as production partner. In a way I was a new guest in their already established collaboration process, so that moved quickly. Most recently we’ve started from the vocals or poetry, and composed around it — kind of going backwards. There’s a lot of freedom in having a hand in making music to choreograph to — so much so I can really structure the movement and intention through the music-making, and give the dancers a lot of freedom to translate in the way that feels the most natural to them. A lot of my choreography is heavily influenced by street dance culture and the dance itself, which is first and foremost improvisational, so a lot of it is just communicating thoroughly with the dancers the intention and trusting what they do with that information.
Brittany Harlin’s Don’t Forget Your Mother will be presented on Thursday, June 6 at 8:30 p.m. and on Saturday June 8 at 8 p.m. Both performances are at the Edge Theater, 5451 N. Broadway, Chicago 60640. Runtime is 60 minutes. Tickets are available online from BrownPaperTickets.
The Pivot Arts Festival — “a celebration of contemporary performance” — takes place from May 31 through June 9 at venues across Chicago’s far north side. Pivot Arts Festival presents dance, theater, music and genre-defying works and as their excellent site PivotArts.org tells us, “the purpose of the festival is to create a culture of innovative performance works in Chicago, to bring diverse people together through the arts, and to contribute to the economic vitality of the Uptown and Edgewater neighborhoods.” For more information visit PivotArts.org/about-festival and for more information about this forward thinking organization, visit PivotArts.org.