Notes on Sycamore

By Kara Wilkes

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Okay, let’s get to Sycamore and what I’ve been up to the last few months. 

There is no specific sequencing of anything at the moment. The four sections I have worked on represent four distinct family members’ experiences. I am investigating various coping mechanisms they take on to deal with and survive exposure to the same addiction.  

The first dancer I worked with was my former colleague and friend Babatunji Johnson (“Tunji”). We had one day to work together in San Francisco before I flew to NYC…we plan to keep chipping away. Tunji’s material represents the addict. I created a short phrase influenced by gestures I  have witnessed in a family member. To help trigger my memory and to gain inspiration for body shapes and movements, I have been studying old photos of various family members. 

While in San Francisco, I filmed Tunji in front of a black backdrop so I could project him on the wall at The Center for Ballet and the Arts at NYU (CBA) and create an interaction with live dancer David Harvey. I have never used projections in my work; for Sycamore, I am interested in creating what I’m calling holograms of the individual characters. Sometimes, a live dancer might interact with a life-sized, projected dancer. I am trying to create four separate worlds that bleed together through the layering of digital media and choreography—I am working to distinguish a strong thread between all the characters. My mentor for this project, Joe Goode, has been stressing that I focus deeply on clear character development so that the audience can easily access the narrative since the work will likely be nonlinear and abstract. 

I have commissioned two North Carolina-based composers, Spencer Aubrey and Kevin Beck, to create about 15 minutes of the score. We have collaborated twice in the past year and have been in a groove…they joke that I am the third composer as they are generously open to my ideas and input. Kevin is a multi-instrumentalist specializing in guitar whose work is rooted in electronic, hip-hop, jazz, and folk music. Spencer’s creative endeavors include being a DJ, poet, musician, barista, and bartender. Their compositions are experimental, bold, and heartfelt. 

Early last month, I sent Kevin and Spencer a poem I wrote entitled “chaser.” It offers a central theme for Tuni’s section. “chaser” is about trying to regain what one has lost due to addiction. Kevin and Spencer sent me a two-minute sample incorporating small parts of the poem. We share samples and videos, passing them back and forth as we collaborate, in addition to the choreography clips, I usually send them. 

“I am interested in creating what I’m calling holograms of the individual characters. Sometimes, a live dancer might interact with a life-sized, projected dancer. I am trying to create four separate worlds that bleed together through the layering of digital media and choreography—I am working to distinguish a strong thread between all the characters.”

The second dancer I worked with was David Harvey—we had about five days together at CBA in mid-April. Like Tunji, David is also a former colleague and friend. As David and I  experimented, I began to see him as not only one but two characters—both the addict and the codependent and frustrated spouse. This revelation was an exciting development in my process, and I began to see more clearly how I might overlap, layer, and create complexity and continuity in the piece. Experimenting with projections has pushed me to reimagine what might be possible regarding Sycamore’s narrative.

chaser 

By Kara Wilkes

No more tears or rage. The demons are in.

The music performs its exorcism. I bypass

bedtime. Winding my body up

like a clock. I see what it could be about:

Trying to get it back; all he’d lost.

Look, he’s scram-bah-ling

to get it all back with a lawsuit

to propel, to enhance the thing.

The dwindled self-worth,

chasing the jobs the wife the cars

the driver’s license the company

the house the pride- 

Chasing all that was lost.

Hanging his head, sitting slumped,

side of bed, no more matching PJs

no slippers on deck. Light, relentless,

 illuminating his back, a darkened face 

a new day. What a chase!

Reaching toward what’s out of reach

The losses. The loss. He -

No, the disease,

caused.

ABOUT KARA WILKES:

A Milwaukee native, Kara Wilkes is a choreographer, educator, dancer, visual artist, and filmmaker. Her expertise in classical and contemporary ballet is extensive and supported by her twenty-year professional career. In 2019, she earned her MFA in Dance from Hollins University where she began her choreographic research surrounding inherited trauma, addiction, and healing. Her choreography also focuses heavily on the Digital Age’s impacts on society and our planet; she embraces collaboration and experimentation. Kara recently created works for Texas Christian University, the USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance and Santa Clara University. A movie enthusiast, Kara’s work is often cinematic, offering non-linear narratives; viewers are exposed to various artistic mediums and theatrical elements, such as props, facial expressions, poetry/speech, singing, and gestures. She is currently choreographing a world premiere for Traverse City Dance Project as their New Voices Fellow and will join the dance faculty at FSU in August.

Prospective collaborators can reach out to Kara by emailing karawilkes@gmail.com with information about concepts, time frame, location, budget, and any relevant clips or websites.

This article is made possible with support from the Rubin Institute for Music Criticism at San Francisco Conservatory of Music and the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation.