Checking in with Four Artists about Spirit & Place

All the challenges we are facing can inspire meaningful art. Throughout history, the arts have been a way for people to express themselves and to make sense of what's going on. We checked in with four of the artists who created work for our Spirit & Place Festival piece, What Was and What Will Be: Life in the Time of COVID-19
4 artists 

Elisabeth Speckman (writer/reader) and Aleksa Lukasiewicz (choreographer/dancer)
"Continued on Page 12"

Ania Spyra (writer/reader) and Stuart Coleman (choreographer/dancer) 
"But Some of Us are Looking at the Stars"

Q: First, how are you doing personally right now? 
I'm hanging in there. It's been tough, as my family and I are taking COVID-19 very seriously due to loved ones who are high risk and my own underlying conditions.  I've had to give up a lot of opportunities and also lost some, but the beautiful thing is that I have found great community online with writers and actors in similar positions, as well as new and exciting opportunities such as this. 

Aleksa: I’m doing okay. I feel like we have found a way to deal with the circumstances of the virus to the best of our ability. Obviously, I miss all the things this pandemic has taken away from us, but I feel grateful to still be able to dance and go to work. I’ve learned to take things one day at a time and not to take anything or anyone for granted.

Ania: Though in some ways I am grieving daily for all that we’ve collectively lost to this pandemic, I am also relatively well. As an immigrant who’s lived a very global life, I had to go through a constraining adjustment, but paradoxically it has made me feel both closer to my family in Poland – everyone else is now connecting to their loved ones virtually – and more rooted here. I am in the privileged position of having a meaningful job and a net of fulfilling relationships that feed my creative practice, which has always been for me a solitary, inward task.  

Stuart: Doing pretty well. It’s definitely a daily check in sort of thing. I wake up and I do a self check-in, both mentally and physically. Emotions and anxiety can fluctuate a lot in these times, so I find that morning routine to be very beneficial. But yeah, I’m in a pretty good place right now, all things considered. 

Q: What was your creative process like for this project? 
I wrote this piece before I knew about this opportunity. I was distraught in May when the NYT article came out, and I couldn't shake the small "continued on page 12" at the bottom of that list of names. It was haunting, unassuming, and said so much about our current situation. Once this opportunity arose and my piece was selected, I absolutely loved getting to collaborate with Aleksa. Being an actor, it was nice to record the piece myself as it feels very personal. I've never performed my own work before.

Aleksa: I found Elisabeth’s story to be very powerful. I wanted to create something simple to really bring focus to the words and let them resonate. I also tried to use the images she spoke of and tried to bring them to life. 

Ania:  I write longhand every morning in a large sketchbook where I also draw and play with etymologies of words, note down to-do-lists, ideas and quotations from friends and things I read or watch. This is where all my writing originates. Normally, I would take months to draft and re-draft an essay like this, but I read the call Barb Shoup of the Indiana Writers Center sent me about two weeks before the deadline, so I first sat down to write a story I had wanted to write for a while about teaching English to my niece in Poland since the beginning of the pandemic. The essay was not coming together, however, primarily because the two of us on WhatsApp presented a very static image and it was the possibility of collaboration with a Dance Kaleidoscope dancer that motivated me to participate: to witness one form of creative expression transformed into another. 

One of the things that sustained me through the pandemic have been Lani Weissbach’s Indianapolis Movement Arts Collective EmbodieDance classes. At one point this past summer, Lani asked us to bring a short poem to our Zoom session and to read it while our classmates conveyed through movement how the words resonated within their bodies. I read my visual poem “Stone Fruit” and was incredibly moved to see people in their own Zoom rectangles dance it out. As I tried to imagine what a dancer would want to dance to, I thought of the story of the moonset and seeing glowworms for the first time after twelve years of living in Indianapolis; bioluminescence a natural wonder I thought I had to travel far to see.  

Stuart: Ania’s story was so inspiring to me. I loved the way she used words and phrases to create imagery—the way she describes the scene and the events that transpired, you really feel like you’re right there with her. That’s what drew me to work with it. 

Q: What does being part of the Spirit & Place Festival mean to you?  
Elisabeth: It is very exciting and also an honor. I am humbled by the experience, and so grateful for the many years that the Spirit & Place Festival has enriched Indianapolis. It means a lot to now be a part of it. 

Aleksa: I absolutely love being apart of the Spirit & Place Festival—it's one of my favorite projects we do [at DK]. Every year I get to meet new people, learn their stories, be inspired by them, and broaden my perspective of life.

Ania: It gives me a feeling of belonging to a creative community in which we inspire and support each other’s work. Even though my creative practice is necessarily introverted work, I find solace in knowing that other people are doing it close by. Also, by writing about where I live I hope to overlay my neighborhood with layers of meaning: not simply the White River, but the river where I kayaked in the small hours and saw a sea of glowworms. 

Stuart: Spirit & Place has always been something I look forward to. It keeps the dancers, both as individual artists and as members of DK, connected to the community. It allows us to not only establish connections with other members of the Indy community but enables us to set their stories and experiences to dance, which is something we treasure. 

Q: What do you hope viewers will take away from watching your piece now, and in the future from seeing it in the archives at the Indiana Historical Society? 
Elisabeth: I really wanted the piece to be accessible, and I think it is. There's certainly depth to it, no question, because of the subject matter, but I have always been drawn to the quiet and understated. This is a conversational piece riddled with things we aren't talking about, and I think that Aleksa's choreography enhances and emphasizes all the right moments. The fact of the matter is, we have lost an unimaginable number of American lives since the pandemic began, and far more than we had when I wrote this piece. And yet, life has had to go on. It's both cruel and beautiful. We have had to continue propelling ourselves forward into the future, and for me, I'm hopeful that in the future we will be better prepared to not only honor the legacy of those who have been lost and who have been fighting the virus, but also to respond more efficiently to similar crises. So I hope that this piece inspires a sense of urgency, and of grief, but also one of hope.

Aleksa: I hope it causes people to pause and think about everyone we have lost, and to realize that there are still people fighting for their lives every day. It's still important to be safe and mindful, but to stay hopeful because one day we will get through this. 

Ania: I imagined my essay as a letter of encouragement to everyone experiencing – in their own seclusion – the difficulty of this pandemic, a call to take heart and notice the glimmers of natural beauty around. My closing paragraph, in which I play with words from Katherine Mansfield’s journals, expresses this most directly: “Dear friend, from my solitude I write to you in yours: no matter how dark, the world also glows. The darker the darkness, the easier to pierce it with the tiniest of de-lights.”   

Stuart: I hope people understand that this pandemic is so vast in how it has affected people. Some people have been relatively unfazed; others, completely and permanently changed. I hope we use this experience of members of our community coming together to spread more awareness of the aftermath of COVID-19 and work together to help our community rebuild and recover from its harsh impacts.

Watch What Was and What WIll Be: Life in the Time of COVID-19