Raissa Simpson’s PUSH Dance Company Builds Vibrant Contemporary Dances To Gain A Deeper Understanding Of The Challenges Attributed To Mixed Heritage.

#theRona Chronicles | with Annie Aguilar

#theRona Chronicles invites the performers, collaborators and staff of The Motley Experiment to reflect upon its postponement from its original March 2020 premiere to February 2021. Created in residency at Bayview Opera House, set to live music by Idris Ackamoor and the Pyramids, Raissa Simpson’s The Motley Experiment, and the collaborators who bring the project to life, are adapting and moving along with changes in the time of the COVID-19 (Corona Virus) pandemic.

What were you doing before the COVID-19 Shelter-in-Place order?

Before SIP, I felt a lot of momentum behind all areas of my life here in the Bay. With PUSH, we were in the final weeks of rehearsals for The Motley Experiment to conclude an exciting spring season. The week before SIP, I had my first rehearsal for the David Herrera Performance Ensemble fall season. I am also a founding member of a new group called The Collective SF. We recently put out a video at this time and we were working towards a collaborative show with various artists at the end of May. Outside of dance, I had just completed my training to be a volunteer doula in the SF General Hospital maternity center. Additionally, I work for Project Commotion, a non-profit that provides creative movement opportunities for students in the Mission and Bayview districts. Our students were making large strides with new skills and teamwork. Another job I do is assisting with Jackie Katz’s drama club at Children’s Day School. We were working towards a modern adaptation of The Outsiders that focuses on the theme of nonconformity. As you can tell, I typically spend my days running around the Mission and Bayview from place to place!

How did you feel when The Motley Experiment was postponed until February 2021?

I felt both disappointed and relieved. We felt the stress of the oncoming impact a couple of weeks before rehearsals were cancelled. Since I work with so many different children in various schools, I felt extremely concerned about being a carrier. I was grateful that the safest decision was made for us so that we didn’t have to worry about not being able to fulfill our commitments to the project and to one another. But I am also really grateful that the postponement means that I get to navigate what it means to reunite and dance again post-SIP with the PUSH company members, each of whom I’ve come to admire and love.

Photo by Jaqueline Castillo

How are you practicing your craft during the pandemic?

I’ve used this period to develop a health schedule that actually supports both my physical and mental health. I dance in my room in the mornings and evenings, and go for long walks in the afternoons. Although I appreciate the current accessibility of the art world, I do not enjoy taking Zoom classes right now, and I’m ok with that. I spend a lot of time online supporting students and  teachers through my work with Project Commotion, and I prefer to log off when I can. I’m also spending a significant amount of time talking with friends and family. I feel much more connected with myself and my loved ones, and the life I want to live than I did before SIP started.

To me, this is a powerful testament to the importance of slowing down, sleeping and eating enough, and having space during one’s day for both work and play. Now that I feel rested, my artistic curiosity is growing again. I’ve been thinking a lot about nature and rituals. To expand my creativity, I’ve been reading about collective trauma, community, and the works of Black feminist thinkers like adrienne maree brown and Audre Lorde.

What do you look forward to doing with The Motley Experiment when the order is lifted?

I am looking forward to HUGGING my loved ones and dancing with my friends. And I am determined to maintain a healthy and sustainable schedule for myself moving forward. I’m also feeling prepared to dive back into doula work, this time with even more commitment.

What is a current grounding practice you are using right now?

I spend as much time outside as possible, on safe trails with proper gear (masks, gloves). The more I am in nature and away from my computer, the happier I feel. I’ve seen so many animals out and about since the SIP started…snakes, deer, bunnies, hawks, and even a whale!

Annie Aguilar is a dancer, educator, and doula from Grass Valley, CA. She received a Performance Leadership Scholarship from American Dance Festival and holds a B.A. in Neuroscience from Middlebury College. She studied with Laurel Jenkins, Christal Brown, Lida Winfield, Leah Cox, Gelsey Kirkland, and Barbara Chatelain. Since moving to the Bay Area, Annie has performed works by Raissa Simpson, Gerald Casel, Stephanie Hewitt, Lucy Dillon, and co-directors Ashley Gayle and Noah James. She is a founding member of The Collective, a collaborating artist with Visceral Roots Dance Company, and recently joined the David Herrera Performance Company. Annie joined PUSH Dance Company as an apprentice in 2019. 

Header photo by Timothy Walter

To learn more about PUSH Dance Company’s response to COVID-19, and how you can support our Artists, Teachers, and Outreach program, read our statement here.