Local dancer and choreographer, Jasmine Hearn, has spent the last few months bouncing between Pittsburgh, Houston, and New York City. In Pittsburgh, she has a built-in community of artists, while in New York City she has enjoyed both new and old connections. Texas is Hearn’s hometown; recently, she was awarded an Individual Artist Grant by the Houston Arts Alliance.
The grant will allow Hearn to create several dance videos, and to also perform in a site-specific location. To generate the movement material, Hearn will work at the Alloy Studios in Pittsburgh for a week-long residency. The residency will culminate in a work-in-progress showing of the piece, memory keep(h)er. Although the final presentation of the live performance will take place in Houston, Hearn hopes to eventually bring it to Pittsburgh.
The piece is a solo performance, but Hearn is collaborating with and interviewing her grandmother, Claudette Johnson, along with several other women in her childhood “village” who helped raise her.
She says, “There aren’t enough platforms, or even books, that prioritize black female elders. What I am doing is an alternative archive. I am sharing forgotten stories and memories with the public, through dance and song. It sounds ambitious, but my main intention is to be curious.”
So far, she has spent time speaking with Johnson via email and phone conversations. She remembers her grandmother as strict and conservative, but also honest and generous with her resources and time.
“She was adamant about being respectful and polite,” Hearn says. “Manners were very big. Also, inside voices and being feminine. She was the reason why I had to be a debutante.”
Hearn enjoys hearing about her grandmother’s history. Johnson has talked largely about her childhood, and what it was like to grow up in the 30s. She recalled stories about her step-father, a preacher and deeply devoted Christian who was also stern and sometimes hypocritical. Hearing about her grandmother’s early life has given Hearn insight as to how Johnson was shaped by her experiences. She says, “It makes so much sense to hear these things now, especially in relation to how she treats me.”
Most importantly, through the interviews Hearn has realized that her own experiences are not unique. “In each generation, there are things that everyone has to confront and figure out.”
In the 5-7 video installations (shot by Paul Kruse), Hearn would like to capture specific locations in Houston where she grew up. By putting herself in these familiar settings, she wants to relive her own memories. In addition to the several outdoor spaces she has in mind, she hopes to perform in St. Monica, the church where she grew up. Another possibility is in the converted garage of her old hairdresser’s home; Hearn remembers being in Caroline Parker’s salon every 4-6 weeks from the time she was a small child.
As for the Pittsburgh showing this Friday, Hearn says to expect about 40 minutes of new material, both song and dance. She is eager to receive feedback after the performance, during a brief Q&A, and would like to know what people feel while watching. “I’m hoping we can have a conversation about feelings,” she says. “I want to get past whether you like it or not.”
Who: Jasmine Hearn in a work-in-progress showing of memory keep(h)er
When: Friday, July 31st at 8:00 p.m.
Where: The Alloy Studios, 5530 Penn Avenue in Friendship
Cost: Pay what you can at the door.