Before she created a single step for her new work The Hill, choreographer Misty Yackshaw called together a group of female dancers aged 40-64 for an honest conversation about aging. Also in the group was internationally-recognized poet Gayle Danley, who used the exchange as source material to create an original poem. Danley's poem--full of humor, pain, and joy--forms a key part of the soundtrack for The Hill, which premieres November 19 and 20 as part of Full Circle Dance Company's show HOME: Longing and Belonging.
The conversation involved laughter, a few tears, and a lot of truth-telling. Cast members have experienced both ordinary and extraordinary challenges related to aging, and those realities are reflected both in Danley's poem and in Yackshaw's choreography. "I want people to recognize both the value and difficulty that comes with aging," Yackshaw says. "Having these discussions has made me more aware of what’s going on and what may be to come. And it’s a reminder to live in the present as much as possible."
Yackshaw especially enjoyed tailoring movement to showcase the strengths and unique qualities of each of the mature dancers in her cast. She explains, "I hope the audience appreciates the individuality and the artistic freedom that comes with dancing--or living--for many decades. Sure, we could all move our arm the exact same way if we wanted to but, at this point in life, what fun is that?"
The Hill, which is supported in part by a Mark Ryder Original Choreography Grant from the Howard County Arts Council, features dramatic vintage costumes that are connected to the dancers' own lives and stories. And Yackshaw has a special plan for the future. "Rather than dancers aging out of this piece, as aging people are often forced out of events and groups, I want dancers to age into this piece as they reach 40 years old," she says. Nicole Tucker-Smith, a Full Circle dancer cast in The Hill, says Danley's line "We’re here to stay" holds particular resonance. "Even as we age," Tucker-Smith says, "we’re present and visible and vibrant. Our age is a badge of honor, a symbol of our strength and dedication."
For Yackshaw, this section of the poem, to which she dances a solo, is most powerful:
Let me tell you this:
I will never succumb to the abyss You hear me? I love life I am life Unafraid to dance til the end