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Red Clay Dance Company Plants Seeds Of Healing With Season Finale At Grant Park Urban Farm

The Woodlawn-based dance company's latest work, "Rest.Rise.Move.Nourish.Heal," runs Thursday-Saturday at Urban Growers Collective's Art on the Farm venue in Grant Park.

Movements and technologies used by Black and Brown farmers inspired the Red Clay Dance Company's latest work, "Rest.Rise.Move.Nourish.Heal," which premieres Thursday in Grant Park.
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DOWNTOWN — A Woodlawn-based dance company’s season finale, which links the healing process with Black and Brown people’s contributions to agriculture, takes place this week in Grant Park.

“Rest.Rise.Move.Nourish.Heal,” a work from the Red Clay Dance Company that’s more than a year in the making, takes place 6:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday at Urban Growers Collective’s Art on the Farm, 119 E. Congress Parkway.

The production positions healing one’s self and community as “a journey, process or practice” similar to cultivating land for farming, said Vershawn Sanders-Ward, artistic director and CEO of Red Clay Dance Company.

The performance is “an opportunity for a witnesser of the work to activate your own thoughts and what you’re bringing to the journey toward healing in [your] own communities,” Sanders-Ward said.

The remaining general admission tickets are $25 and $50, and attendees can choose which amount to pay. To purchase tickets, click here.

Attendees can bring a lawn chair, blanket or other seating for the outdoor performance, or may choose to lay on the grass, organizers said.

Red Clay dancers pose for a photo with harvested crops after shadowing Urban Growers Collective farmers to inform the movements featured in their new production “Rest.Rise.Move.Nourish.Heal.”

“Rest.Rise.Move.Nourish.Heal” was borne from an 18-month “embodied research” process, Sanders-Ward said.

Red Clay dancers and collaborators practiced urban farming techniques and visited the Carolinas to learn about the culture and agricultural technology of the Gullah Geechee people.

They also discovered how Chicago residents are planting the seeds of healing in their communities through a series of workshops, which were titled “Creating Fertile Ground for Healing.”

The resulting performance explores the relationships Black and Brown bodies “have had, especially in the Americas, with land, labor, cultivation and slavery,” Sanders-Ward said.

“How do we begin to unpack some of that trauma, and what does it look like to cultivate land for ourselves and for our communities — and not for someone else to profit off that?” she said.

“Rest.Rise.Move.Nourish.Heal” translates movements of “picking, harvesting, bending and holding” and marries them to the work’s original score composed by avery r. young — Chicago’s first poet laureate — and to Sanders-Ward’s dance background in house music and Dunham technique.

The team learned from urban farmers, who grow in more limited spaces and navigate unique environmental concerns like cultivating former industrial sites, as well from rural farmers with “acres and acres of land,” she said.

“A lot of the movement [in the performance] came out of the labor of actually cultivating the land,” Sanders-Ward said. “I needed to put my body in those spaces, rather than trying to envision from a distance what the life of a grower or cultivator is or was.”

The Grant Park farm which serves as the performance venue encourages attendees to explore the city’s plentiful public spaces.

The farm is a place where Chicagoans “come together with likeminded people” to volunteer, grow food, develop healthy lifestyles through movement and make time for spiritual practices like meditation, Sanders-Ward said.

“Rest.Rise.Move.Nourish.Heal” is also created in collaboration with filmmaker Jovan Landry, “who has been documenting the [production] since the beginning,” Sanders-Ward said.

Landry is working on a documentary film of the work’s creation and live performance, which Red Clay plans to screen in locations that could not house a full dance production, Sanders-Ward said.

Film screenings would be accompanied by artist talks with Sanders-Ward and young, she said.

“We would like to have future programming that travels to different communities,” Sanders-Ward said. “We built the work in a way that can be responsive to or reflective [of] the space that it’s in.”

“Rest.Rise.Move.Nourish.Heal” was supported by a $45,000 Together We Heal Creative Place Program grant from the city in 2022.

The production reunites many of the artists behind “under god & moonlight,” a dance filmed at Urban Growers Collective’s South Chicago farm in 2020. Sanders-Ward, young, Landry and costume designer Kelley Moseley all contributed to the short film.

Much like this week’s performances, “under god & moonlight” was inspired by Black bodies and their relationships to land, labor and healing. These themes are present in Red Clay’s work — even down to the name of the dance company, said Sanders-Ward, whose ancestors hail from Mobile, Alabama.

Playing in Alabama’s red clay was “very much a part of my childhood and really my first introduction to creativity and imagination,” Sanders-Ward said. “That’s what I do in my work with Red Clay as a choreographer: Making something from nothing. There are these resources you have, but you have to shape it and add your ideas to it.”

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