by Sarah Galante
I have had the unique privilege of knowing Kristin Alexander since I was eleven years old. Throughout the last seventeen years, Kristin has been my dance teacher, my boss, my mentor – and now I am lucky to say, my friend. While I first experienced Kristin’s dancing and choreography through the eyes of a (not so coordinated) eleven-year-old dancer, I have since witnessed her in my adult life, as the artistic director of Annex Dance Company. First as an employee of Camp Ballibay (where Kristin is the managing director) and then as her friend watching her company when they were performing in the Northeast. I am constantly in awe of not only the strength and abilities of the company but of the complexity and beauty of the choreography. It has also been made clear Annex’s commitment to collaboration, seen in action as they dance alongside campers every summer at Camp Ballibay.
I also had the great pleasure of meeting Leslie Alexander at Camp Ballibay, when she was a visiting artist in Ballibay’s visual arts department. Leslie’s affectionate and nurturing nature that summer was shown clearly in the way she interacted with every staff member and camper, but also in the art she created – rich in fullness and vibrancy.
The first iteration of Behind, Beyond, Between I watched as an audience member at Camp Ballibay in 2019. Leslie had shared with Kristin some of the paintings she had been working on within her new series Pathways and Portals, and Kristin was immediately inspired to translate Leslie’s work into movement. I remember Kristin introducing Behind, Beyond, Between at the 2019 Dance Concert and speaking about the gratitude she felt coming to Ballibay every summer and getting to collaborate on choreography for the company with both Annex dancers and the campers. She also spoke about how excited she was to continue to develop the piece once she left camp and the importance of the continuation of its journey.
When I first watched the Behind, Beyond, Between I was struck, as I often am when watching young people and professional dancers sharing the stage, by the way the dancers of all skill levels and ages performed as a cohesive ensemble. With Leslie’s painting projected and splashed across the back of the proscenium theater in Camptown Pennsylvania, I could really feel Kristin’s inspiration for the piece. The artwork had an immense openness and complexity, and its wide strokes translated seamlessly into the choreography throughout its entirety.
A year later when I got to watch the work for the second time during the company’s virtual Season Opener, I was once again in awe of the creativity and seamlessness of the piece. The choreography had developed and shifted, now showcasing the inspired movement in the form of solos and duets, but its initial essence stayed true. I also got to see even more of Leslie’s breathtaking paintings – which continued to bring the piece to life.
Now watching it from the comfort of my bedroom, feeling further and further away from collaborative artmaking, I was so inspired by the work Annex had done in the midst of a global crisis. It was not only inspiring to watch artists I respected and appreciated, but it brought me an immense amount of comfort. It made me remember that while we were all stuck in our homes, not creating in the way we were used to, the arts, collaboration, and creativity were still alive and well. We just had to think outside of the box a little bit.
Curious about the transition to this virtual preview, I asked Kristin what the most significant choices and changes were in this new creative process. She shared that when the company started rehearsing again in July they weren’t moving and dancing together in the same space, especially without masks on. The creative process included taking out all the physical connection of the set choreography and learning most of the new choreography via zoom within their own homes. The company then built a DIY greenscreen to enhance the audience’s experience with Leslie’s paintings. Everything was filmed as a solo and then edited into a group piece or duet so that the dancers could safely perform without their masks.
To first witness Behind, Beyond, Between at its inception and watch its journey and development outside of camp has been significant for me. While this year has been a monumental challenge for all artists, I feel grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to watch so many of Annex’s virtual projects and performances from my home in Brooklyn.
Because of our work at Camp Ballibay, Kristin and I talk weekly, and tend to fill each other in on our own artistic projects. Through our conversations I know the six months leading up to the premiere of the full work has had its challenges as they continued to revise choreography that had been created prior to the pandemic and finish the piece for a filmed performance. In the final three weeks there were always 1-3 dancers attending rehearsal via Zoom. Decisions about displaying Leslie’s art all had to be done at a distance, with trial and error in the Alexander garage and few visits to the venue to see what would work. Masks were made and dyed to match their skin tones, and they referenced online make-up tutorials for filming with a mask. But in the end, despite the innumerable challenges, the pictures I saw were the perfect depiction of a piece developed by Annex.
In Leslie’s artist statement for Pathway and Portals she stated, “following my strokes on the canvas takes me to places I’ve never been before…” that is how I feel while watching Behind, Beyond, Between. In the Fall, I was transported back to my time at Camp Ballibay in 2019, back to a time when we were collaborating and celebrating artmaking in person, and to a time when we will be able to do so again. Although not the journey Kristin expected Behind, Beyond, Between to have, it was clearly one of immense growth, development, and creativity. After witnessing two of the iterations of Behind, Beyond, Between I am so grateful and excited to see the virtual premiere, and to be curating the Question and Answer session with Kristin, company members, and Leslie Alexander on March 28th.
Sarah Galante is the Associate Director of Camp Ballibay for the Fine and Performing Arts. A playwright and librettist in New York City, Sarah has worked with The Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, Lincoln Center, 54 Below, The Tank, The Playwrights Center, The Women’s Playwriting Cooperative, and more. She is currently the script-writer for the 2020-2021 National Philharmonic’s virtual season, and her newest co-authored musical Within Earshot: Anthems for the In-Between, is slated for an Off-Broadway production in 2021, with its album currently found anywhere you stream music.