Tracing Artist Inspiration

By Lorena Landeros and Janelle Gleason

Performing Arts Workshop takes pride in its profoundly talented staff of teaching artists. Across a variety of art forms — from Capoeira to spoken word to world music — our artists are constantly rising to the challenges of composition, improvisation and inspiration in the classroom. This year, for our professional development day-long intensive, we decided to throw them a few curve balls.

Last month, our artistic staff gathered for a day of art making and reflection around the idea of “tracing inspiration.” What inspires new work, and how and where are the traces visible? Throughout the day, artists witnessed original performances inspired by well-known works, created their own work inspired by what they had seen, and examined the way that inspiration influences both student work and teaching artist choices in the classroom.

The journey began with a powerful original performance by dancer Vanessa Sanchez.

This tap baile jarocho piece came out of an attempt to reconcile the classically trained part of the artist with her cultural roots. In the broader sense, the piece was also inspired by the Zoot Suit riots and their similar struggle to incorporate their Mexican culture with their American environment.

After watching this performance, artists created their own work in groups inspired by the dance before a round of revision and another original solo performance, this time by oboist Glenda Bates.

The soulful Coltrane mashup was inspired by the Twitter hashtag #illridewithyou, a movement of solidarity that emerged after the terrorist attacks in Australia and the subsequent backlash against Muslims, particularly harsh against Muslim women wearing hijabs on public transportation.

The artists were then challenged to another round of creation and revision — this time in pairs — before the final performance of the day, a spoken word poem by Natasha Huey.

Also inspired by a social media movement, Natasha’s dynamic piece was a result of a discussion in her seventh class at Visitacion Valley Middle School about the media’s representation of the victims of police brutality and the social media response of these representations highlighted in the #iftheygunnedmedown Twitter campaign, which begs the question: if they gunned me down, which image of me would the media use to depict who I am?

Throughout the conceptually and creatively challenging day, the artists proved the flexibility of their skills, creating original and reflective work, tracing inspiration amongst each other’s work and finding ways to bring the lessons of the day back to their students.

The work that we do at Performing Arts Workshop would not be possible without the skill, patience and passion of our teaching artists. Seeing them together in one room, spurring each other on as both artists and teachers fills us with appreciation — and inspires us all.

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