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The first week of North Carolina's shelter-in-place order, Kim Jones, artistic director of Movement Migration, took to her dance company's social media. Acknowledging the global crisis and common predicament of people all around the world, she challenged her Instagram followers to keep a positive attitude and to continue dancing with a #KitchenDanceChallenge.
"I wanted to bring back joy and laughter in these most difficult times," Jones said.
Beginning with a video of herself dancing with a cup of coffee in front of her refrigerator, Jones invited her followers to send in their own dance videos: "Anything creative you could do in your kitchen and in about 30 seconds." Immediately, videos started coming in from all over North Carolina, the United States, and the world. Dancers from Charlotte to Wake Forest, Los Angeles to New York City, Paris to London and Turin were recording themselves dancing around and on top of their kitchen islands, at the stove while cooking breakfast, and in pas de deux with their pets.
The #KitchenDanceChallenge was just one way that the Charlotte-based dance company is trying to maintain its mission to "reach a broad audience of all ages and diverse populations," according to Jones.
Movement Migration was founded in 2017 by Jones, a former dancer with the Martha Graham Dance Company and current associate professor of dance at UNC Charlotte. Jones connected dancers from Charlotte (including another UNC-Charlotte professor, E.E. Balcos, as well as the owner of the popular Charlotte dance studio Open Door Studios, Jacqueline White) along with New York City contacts (other former and current dancers of the Graham Company and the prestigious José Limón Dance Company). The dancers are multigenerational, spanning four decades in age.
"I love that Charlotte is full of wonderful dancers," Jones said. "[Bringing together New York artists with local dancers] allows for this exchange of artistry, of energy, and ideas."
Movement Migration also makes a point of working with contemporary composers and live musicians, such as the Charlotte-based Bechtler Ensemble. Movement Migration's latest work, choreographed by renowned Graham dancer Blakeley White-McGuire, features the music of Michael Harrison, a former Guggenheim Fellow and 2019 Artist-in-Residence at Charlotte's McColl Center for Art + Innovation.
The company's repertoire is contemporary, with strong American modern roots, though the dancers' backgrounds vary from classical ballet to modern techniques and yoga. This past September, Movement Migration invited esteemed former New York City Ballet/Miami Ballet ballerina Myrna Kamara (who now lives in Switzerland) to perform a Martha Graham duet with current Graham dancer Lorenzo Pagano at the UNC-Charlotte faculty dance concert. Kamara and Jones had met over the summer at Orsolina 28, an Italian dance center where Jones sometimes teaches.
"I don't audition people for the company or for work," Jones said, but rather she nvites interested established dancers to participate. As far as performances go, "it's project-based, so we work with whoever is in the room." The company rehearses in both Charlotte and New York City and has conducted educational residencies and masterclasses in multiple cities.
Thus far, Movement Migration has performed locally in Charlotte – at the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art and Camp North End, in addition to UNC Charlotte – and at the Wake Forest Dance Festival, as well as abroad in festivals in The Netherlands, Mexico, and Italy. The company had plans to perform again in Italy this summer; however, due to the pandemic, performances at that venue have been cancelled. Other planned upcoming performances are now tentative, as many other dance festivals and performance seasons are being cancelled worldwide.
Due to these cancellations, the economic impact of the pandemic will be astronomical for dance companies. However, for Jones the biggest tragedy will not be the financial losses, but the artistic and social ones.
"For us it was never about the money and the income," Jones said. "[The worst part about this, for us,] is not being able to create. What was important was us being together as artists."
Dancers all over the world have been trying to maintain creativity (as well as fitness) through free social media "live" dance classes and online streamed performances. Jones is using Movement Migration to help promote these classes, especially those given by Movement Migration artists either independently or for the other companies for which they dance. Likewise, the #KitchenDanceChallenge, as well as a Movement Migration's "virtual gala" which Jones hosted, allow the artists to reconnect.
Jones explains the name of the company, saying that "we must move to live and migrate to survive." Though current movement and migration patterns are severely limited, Jones still finds hope in the way that the dance community, both locally and internationally, has been responding.
"I'm so impressed by all the artists who are working so hard," Jones said. "You can feel the community; it's really wonderful."