Vincent Thomas on “The Grandmother Project”






I have found over the last ten years that one of my favorite aspects of making work is the opportunity to explore, turn upside down, tickle, and question as a work of art is birthed. I am always seeking the next step… Right now I am working on two very different projects, the Grandmother Project and the Mozart Project.

During the process of creating, I spend a lot of time listening. For the Grandmother Project I listen to others as they share/tell their stories, experiences, and truths. Within these stories and sometimes between the lines, I find a wealth of images, music, and movement in the language. I am always amazed at the overlapping kernels of information. From the stories of my grandma (Big Ma) to stories of grandmothers in South Africa (Gogo), India, Jamaica, and Japan, one idea holds true…grandmothers are at the core of family.

The Grandmother Project premiered in October 2004. The new version of the Grandmother Project will premier January 7th and 8th, 2006 at Dance Place in Washington, DC. As I revisit the project, I welcome the opportunity to turn the existing work upside down and shake it – to see what settles in a familiar place and what settles in a new place; subtract and add new information and perspectives to the palette; view it from up close and at a distance. Sometimes when you are so deeply in a work it is helpful to stand back and see it from afar.

In the original work, due to the limited information I gathered from my father and relatives, I had not explored much about my fraternal grandmother. On a recent trip to my hometown (Edgefield, South Carolina) a conversation with my granddaddy revealed new aspects of my grandma. In our first conversation he did not recall much about the early stages in the relationship with his wife. But the next time we conversed, he was full of details and ‘as a matter of fact’ statements. It was interesting to notice how memory was triggered in my granddaddy, enhancing his ability to recall a distant past.

With this new data I am going back to the drawing board with my opening solo, developing and reshaping it to include a stronger presence of ‘Alberta’, my grandma. Questioning and more questions… What should I do with the new information? How does it fit in? How does it resonate or relate with and to the other existing material? This is a good thing, but honestly it can also be a little scary. It is wonderful to be able to revisit and reshuffle the pieces, shave away excess material, and create new parts to the whole. I trust the idea of process and how it speaks to inform the intent and the product.

I am always in search of interesting stories about grandmothers and stories from grandmothers. It is important to hear from other tongues (cultures, ages, gender), listening for common threads that connect the greater global community. If you would like to share a story, quote, or song, email me.

Vincent E. Thomas, dancer, choreographer and teacher, received his MFA in Dance from Florida State University and a BME in Music from the University of South Carolina. Prior to pursuing his graduate degree at FSU, he taught music in Columbia, SC and danced with Dancework Jazz Company, serving as principal dancer and Associate Artistic Director. He was a scholarship student and staff assistant for the American Dance Festival (’95-’97), and returned to ADF (1999) to assist teaching Community Crossover. He has danced with Dance Repertory Theatre (FSU), Randy James Dance Works (NY/NJ), Liz Lerman Dance Exchange (MD), is a guest performer with EDGEWORKS Dance Theater (DC) and an adjunct artist for Liz Lerman Dance Exchange. He presented his solo “Prelude/Frustration in a Martini” at the 2003 Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission Arts and Cultural Heritage Division Twentieth Annual Choreographer;s Showcase, a gala concert of dances selected for their choreographic excellence by a panel of nationally recognized adjudicators, at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center (MD). In June 2005, he premiered “Primavera Portena” in collaboration with the Ahn Trio for the 2005 Bands of America Summer Symposium. Vincent is a recipient of a 2005 Maryland State Arts Council Individual Artist Award in Choreography, 2005 City Arts & Humanities Individual Artist Grant, 2004 Maryland State Arts Council Individual Artist Award in Solo Dance Performance, and a 2004 Henry C. Welcome Fellowship. He is presently an Assistant Professor at Towson University (MD).

Bourgeon’s mission, through our online publication and community initiatives, is twofold: to increase participation in the arts and to improve access to the arts. Bourgeon is a project of the not-for-profit Day Eight.
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