I never thought the first dance piece I made in New York would be site-specific, or that it would involve long pieces of brightly colored fabric. Autumn Scoggan and I premiered our site-specific dance piece, Luminata, on October 4th, as part of The West Harlem Arts Fund Nuit Blanche under the viaduct near the warf at 125th street in West Harlem.

I met Savona Bailey-McClain, executive director of the West Harlem Arts Fund, through an Ohio State University contact, and she was looking for a live dance piece for the event. I proposed an idea for a dance under the viaduct, and I got together with Autumn Scoggan to co-choreograph the piece. After meeting Autumn through a project dancing for Dante Brown, and I knew then that I wanted to collaborate with her one day. We gathered 7 dancers, 3 musicians, and 3 pieces of fabric donated to Savona by Pantone, and we created Luminata. We wore vests for parts of the piece that were handmade by another artist participating in the Nuit Blanche, Lady K Fever.

I received a wonderful email from one of the dancers in the piece, Ava Untermeyer. I cherish what she wrote about the piece and I want to share it here with you:

“I just wanted to thank you for the  ‘Luminata’ experience. The piece celebrated an often neglected area with movement and color – literally illuminating the space. Through this process, ‘Luminata’ embraced those who live around the viaduct around as similarly flowing with brightness. I am honored to have participated in a work that ignites the inner light of a community.”
I found this new process of choreographing in a public space to be very rewarding. Every rehearsal was a performance of sorts, as people who lived in the area would watch us rehearsing each week. On the night before our show we were running through the whole piece with musicians and dancers, and at the part when we invite audience members to join us on the sloped concrete underneath the viaduct, a bystander joined us. She came up to the top of the slope with us and did the group participation. Afterwards, the woman thanked us for creating a “magical and surreal” experience for her as she walked to a nearby restaurant to meet friends. She said that she walks by the viaduct every day but never gives the grey slope of concrete a second glance and never thought to check out the view from the top. It was an amazing feeling to hear how interested she was about this previously drab spot in her neighborhood, and how excited she was to go tell her friends what just happened to her.

program synopsis: 

This group dance will occur at sunset; and as the afternoon sun creates slanted light pathways, the dancers will move in their own pathways. Rich magenta and orange colored fabric will stretch across the expansive grey concrete. The dancers will weave in and out of each other and the fabric, creating both intricate and broad pathways. A community will form within the group of dancers as they move together to create something larger than each individual. The fabric will evoke a rich sense of empowerment. At some points the fabric will become a long dress train, at other points it will work as an ornate wrapping. The movements of this piece are inspired by the arches of the viaduct and the grandeur of the huge space. The dancers appear tiny under this large sturdy structure, and while their movement reflects that at times, at other times the movement empowers them to share the grandeur of the space and of the group.

Performers: Ellen Maynard, Autumn Scoggan, Madeline Irmen, Quentin Burley, Emily Jones, Melanie Gallo, Erin Kerr, Ava Untermeyer, Jazmine Dugall

Music: Performance and composition by Caitlin Featherstone, Aaron Plourde, Dejen Tesfagiorgis

Costumes: Graffiti jackets that will illuminate are being designed by street artist Lady K Fever

About Under the Viaduct:

The West Harlem Art Fund is spearheading a public art initiative for the communities of West Harlem, Washington Heights and Inwood. Communities along the Hudson River, want to enhance their open public spaces and attract artist locally, regionally and beyond. Northern Manhattan neighborhoods understand the benefits of the “arts” and that it can improve quality of life, local tourism, safety as well as bring beautification.


The Riverside Drive Viaduct, built in 1900 by the City of New York, is a viaduct constructed to connect an important system of drives in Northern Manhattan, a high-level boulevard extension of Riverside Drive over the barrier of Manhattanville Valley to the former Boulevard Lafayette in West Harlem. May, 2014 marked the 200th anniversary of 125th Street.

Articles about the event:

artnet News

The Bronx Chronicle

DNA Info New York

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