What defines a neighborhood? A park, a coffee shop-turned-social center, a community garden? The kind of people who inhabit its public spaces? In a three-month arts-immersion program this spring and summer, 16 area teens worked with choreographer Joanna Haigood and local arts instructors Kaori Kenmotsu and John Gwinn to explore everyday life in the Powderhorn neighborhood, a diverse community bordered on the south by Lake Street and anchored by the small lake in Powderhorn Park. Honing the art of observation, the teens interviewed neighborhood elders, videotaped the pace of life in the community, attended gatherings, and recorded sounds that epitomized life there. The results, to become the basis of Haigood's choreography and the audio-visual collage projected onto a grain silo during the August 25 and 26 performances of Picture Powderhorn, are a mosaic of the neighborhood.
For the teens, the artful discoveries sometimes came out like poetry. "Beneath the grit lies a film in the making. A looming tower lies before the remnants of an era long gone. Shadows turn street signs into images studios could never produce. The skeletal face of a building taken down to its bone could not be found anywhere else in the city," writes teen participant Adrienne Urbanski. Other observations were simply a colorful list of neighborhood residents: Elizabeth, an Ethiopian immigrant who demonstrated how to "dance with your shoulders," a gunshot survivor at the Resource Center of the Americas, riders on the #21 bus route, "the limping guy with the stiff leg getting out of the car."
Moving from urban observation to aerial ballet seems like a difficult task. But Haigood has had a chance to experiment. Picture Powderhorn is linked to performances in San Francisco's Bayview and Brooklyn's Red Hook neighborhoods, where similar teen arts-immersion projects are under way. The three communities share parallel economic and demographic realities, and the sights, sounds, and movements help create a universal picture of inner city America as a place. "I define place not only as it refers to location and physical structures," Haigood explains, "but as an expression of accumulated experiences and social responses. I am interested in how we affix meaning to place." As Picture Powderhorn teen participants learned, place and people are delicately yet inextricably connected in the Powderhorn neighborhood.
To see video clips of interviews with Powderhorn residents, overviews of Picture Bayview and Picture Red Hook, or to learn more, visit www.zaccho.org. For information on artist residencies at the Walker, visit www.walkerart.org/pew.
PICTURE POWDERHORN WAS CO-COMMISSIONED BY THE WALKER AND COPRESENTED WITH THE POWDERHORN PARK NEIGHBORHOOD ASSOCIATION. THE JOANNA HAIGOOD/ZACCHO DANCE THEATRE RESIDENCY IS MADE POSSIBLE IN PART WITH GENEROUS SUPPORT FROM THE DORIS DUKE FUND FOR JAZZ AND DANCE, THE ONSITE PERFORMANCE NETWORK (A PROGRAM OF DANCING IN THE STREETS), THE PEW CHARITABLE TRUSTS, THE NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR THE ARTS, AND THE POWDERHORN/CENTRAL COMMUNITY COLLABORATIVE.