Everybody is dealing with COVID-19 quarantines and restrictions in different ways. While there's no single right way to cope — social distancing and staying TF home aside — connecting with friends, family, and neighbors is a good place to start. You can contact your loved ones on your own, but you might also be curious how your favorite strangers in Pittsburgh are coping, so Pittsburgh City Paper is reaching out to artists, activists, workers, and makers to see how they're doing.
Today, it's Anna Thompson and Taylor Knight aka slowdanger, "a multidisciplinary performance entity creating works between sound, dance, and technology within shapeshifting containers."
The interview has been edited for length.
What is your day-to-day routine like?
Taylor: I usually wake up and go find where my cat tends to sleep and say hello and kiss her on the head, followed by making some coffee sitting and sipping while I read or research or talk to my cat or start making some breakfast.
Anna: This is strange, as it is only in the past three months that we have had something close to a consistent routine. The past two and a half years, we have been touring pretty extensively leading to a very inconsistent lifestyle. I finally feel like I actually live in the Fineview home we moved into around the same time we started touring more heavily. In quarantine, I usually am the last to wake up and take my mornings very slow, drinking coffee in bed and checking social media/emails etc.
We also have been having weekly virtual rehearsals with collaborators who are based all over the country right now. We also have been keeping a consistent daily physical practice around the afternoon that might be a quick circuit workout (my sister is a personal trainer and gave us a little ‘regimen’), a long walk up and down the hill we live on, dancing, pilates, or some somatic work. Cooking has also been a great joy to get back into at this time and we try to make something nice for dinner together. Our favorite right now is replicating bar food such as gluten-free wings and pizza. I have also been getting back into some 1998-2004 PC video games such as Omikron: The Nomad Soul, Deus Ex, and Anachronox to get my brain out of social media. We usually unwind our evening watching a TV show, listening to records, or making new sounds or a DJ mix out of pleasure and not just for distribution.
Tell me about your SPI virtual workshops. Who do you think would be most helped by them, who might not otherwise know about them?
Taylor: When COVID-19 hit and the sanctions around gathering and public events were being implemented, we were losing more and more gigs and performances to cancellations or unknown postponement reschedulings. It was important for my mental health to remain in practice with my craft and find a way to generate a sense of [continuity] within such an uncertain time. We decided we wanted to condense our two-hour workshops to one-hour online practice folks could do at home. We had to face the learning curve of how to livestream, which came as a challenge as our laptops and equipment are very outdated. I think they are perhaps helpful to those seeking an open level movement practice to help connect to the self, one's own sense of embodiment, and a way to move the stagnation of being stuck indoors out.
How did your collaboration with Jasmine Hearn come together? How did you have to adapt the work during coronavirus?
Taylor: ... EchoLocation came about from Kelly-Strayhorn reaching out about commissioning a new dance for film project from slowdanger. EchoLocation presented an opportunity to weave pieces of that archival material into a garment that could both reflect the current times as well as celebrate our continued collaboration and growth together as artists. Due to the current circumstances, we built the piece through remotely through numerous video/phone meetings, where we would look at the archive, send new video footage to one another, send and edit recordings of old/new sounds, eventually landing on what EchoLocation is today.
Anna: Jasmine and I met in a ‘singing for dancers’ class back when all three of us were at Point Park University for dance. I was pretty shy in school and did not have many friends within the dance department but always felt a connection to both taylor and Jasmine. I was in awe of both of them as I got to witness them perform locally with the Pillow Project and Staycee Pearl Dance Project. We eventually all connected creatively after college.
This particular album we made during live sessions as a residency retreat we took together in November 2018 at the SILO Kirkland Farm in Hellertown, PA., where we would move in a dance studio above a horse barn and set up our music equipment in the attic of the old house we were sleeping in. We would improvise off of the writings we made in our movement practice and let ourselves commune with our ghosts and the ghosts of the space we were within (that spot was definitely haunted in some capacity). We had been meaning to release those tracks for a very long time and actually performed together with tectonic at the Lionsjaw Dance Festival in October 2019. We all are overextended in many ways and were able to find the space to come back to these sounds through collaboration on an upcoming premier Jasmine will be having in 2021.
When KST asked us to be their first Global Stream commission artist we thought it was a great opportunity to pair the sounds with archival footage from our years of collaborating and current footage taken in response to those moments. Jasmine also made a visual companion/lyric sheet with old photos as well. We did this all through video calls and sifting through shared Google Drive folders.
What piece of art/book/TV/music is bringing you comfort/inspiration at this time?
Taylor: With the lack of work until further notice, I found that I was able to engage in a sound and research process that was typically burdened with the constant hustle of meeting deadlines and administrative tasks. I have enjoyed reading T Fleischmann’s essay “Time is the Thing a Body Moves Through” as well as listening to a slew of ambient and experimental electronic music and jazz from the 50s and 60s. Records/artists in rotation have been Arca, Nicolas Jaar’s Cenizas, emptyset, Miles Davis, AceMo and MoMa Ready, Knxwledge, Emily A. Sprague, Chihei Hatakeyama, and many others. I also have been watching dance/performance pieces via streams including works by Crystal Pite, Ralph Lemon, Faye Driscoll, Miguel Gutierrez, Okwui Okpokwasili and many more.
Anna: I have been really enjoying some of our more ambient and experimental records including Holy Hum, Oneohtrix Point Never, and an exclusive release from David Bernabo for the Ubiquitous Mass of Us project we were a part of. I have also been getting into the work of Genesis P-Orridge (rip) and Throbbing Gristle/Cosey Fanni Tutti. These are artists we have been told we evoke and would connect to by peers and mentors but have not had the time to be in research with. I have also watched some incredible works online by Ralph Lemon, Faye Driscoll, Miguel Gutierrez, Okwui Okpokwasili, and Crystal Pite.
I also greatly enjoyed the surreality of Carmelo Bene’s Salome. As far as TV, we blew through Schitt’s Creek, Tiger King, and right now we are watching The Keepers which hits incredibly close to home being from Baltimore and growing up in Catholic school. Being a part of Princess Jafar online has been an incredible experience to witness queer performers from all over the globe coming together in mutual support. I have been taking virtual movement classes pretty regularly and specifically through the artists Lion’s Jaw Festival have made available. While not all of these things are providing comfort, they are keeping me engaged in research. I have also been provided fire by the folks who came together to create this incredible living document, Creating New Futures: Working Guidelines for Ethics & Equity in Presenting Dance & Performance.
What’s an object that you have with you that has particular significance to you these days?
Taylor: Journal, my candles.
Anna: My tarot cards and moleskin.
What is a food you've come to love recently?
Taylor: I have enjoyed the ability to devote more time to cooking. Anna and I have been making some great dinners. A few stand outs include pan cooked drumsticks with some tangy sauce, purple sweet potatoes, roasted carrots and asparagus, and a delicious shrimp curry dish.
Anna: Ginger! Citrus! Making broth from scratch.
What’s an organization or charity that you’d recommend supporting at this time?
Taylor: Organizations such as The Kelly Strayhorn Theater have continued to provide resources and opportunities for artists and community during this time. I believe individual giving to artists is extremely important. A lot of artists/performers in Pittsburgh will remain out of work for a long time and many with little to no guarantee that their canceled contracts will be reinstated. Donations from patrons and individuals go a long way. Artists keep the creative and innovative pulse of Pittsburgh going. I remind folks that these deficits in the performing arts that we’re seeing now have definitely casted a larger light and gotten worse but are not new.
Anna: Donate to Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council. They have been doing incredible work providing emergency grants to artists, as well as distributing the locally initiated Pittsburgh Artists Emergency Fund. We also deeply love and support the work of Staycee Pearl Dance Project and Soy Sos/Pearlarts Studios.
I also feel we have received such life saving support directly from our loved ones we are in community with. If you have artist friends and folks you know that have been directly impacted via their work in the service industry etc, even a little support goes a long way and it is not always necessary that it be financial. We have dear friends who are donating via helping us make digital content and redesign our website or even reaching out to donate food or other items.
The Children’s Museum also has a list of artists they have worked with in the past who are accepting commissions and donations. In short, Zena Ruiz does incredible work.
Allies for Health and Wellbeing have been an incredible resource for medical and mental health support for us.