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Cecly Placenti, Artistic Director

  • Writer's pictureCecly Placenti

Immigration Stories

Updated: Nov 3, 2019

Mari Meade Dance Collective

September 13, 2019

Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College

Presented by The CUNY Dance Initiative

Artistic Director/Choreographer: Mari Meade

Dancers: Allison Beler, Breanna Gribble, Misuzu Hara, Sean Hatch, Morgan Hurst, Isaac Owens, Or Reitman, Roza Savelyeva

Apprentices: Sofia Baeta, Megumi Iwama, Sasha Rydilzky, Mariana Vianello

Photo by Elyse Mertz

At a time in our society when the issue of immigration is fraught with fear, ignorance, and division, Immigration Stories offers a heartfelt perspective. A series of dances based on true experiences about relocating to the United States, choreographer and Artistic Director Mari Meade portrays the vastly different paths people take coming to this country and the struggles they face. What began as a frustrating phone call to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services evolved into a full evening of narrative and dance. Raw, authentic, and personal enough to be universal, Immigration Stories expands the conversation around immigration and weaves together words and movement to question assumptions around cultural identity and what being “American” really means. From company dancer Isaac Owens, who was born in Germany and lived in Ghana before making his way to New York, to Japanese immigrant Misuzu Hara, (also a company dancer) who fell in love with NYC on a subway platform in Howard Beach, these individual stories touch on inclusive concepts of belonging, acceptance, assimilation, and trust

Photo by Elyse Mertz

Meade presents these histories in a series of 11 vignettes separated by short pauses. Articulate and encompassing movements carry dancers in and out of shifting groups. Soloists fall in stride and then break out into individualized phrases, signifying attempts, both failed and successful, at fitting in while maintaining individuality. With quirky, syncopated gestures, Isaac Owens continues to question his belonging after many years in America, and Roza Savelyeya (company dancer) defies total annihilation of identity with forceful actions.

Honest, humorous, and at times somber, Meade paints a comprehensive picture. Evocative rather than literal, each vignette communicates an array of moods. In “Corsican people, they are very tough, fun, tough… almost rough,” grounded, heavy movements and comical gestures highlight differences between the French and American rules around eating. Storyteller Jeremy Galuret appreciates the sense of freedom he feels in America, the “looseness” as compared to a more judgmental French society, as dancers Sean Hatch, Owens, and Savelyeva toss their arms and legs haphazardly to the sky. In “Nobody will be able to force her into doing anything,” Savelyeya begins her story with the tale of Russian Princess Suyumbike who committed suicide in objection to Ivan the Terrible’s marriage proposal. Similarly defiant, Savelyeya takes years to acquiesce to her fathers urgings and attends school in the United States, seeing an opportunity to learn about an unfamiliar culture. With searching arms and sweeping legs, she highlights dissonance in trying to find identity, realizing her most influential years were spent in America. During an aggressive section for five women, she tells us about growing up in a culture devoid of slavery, where no one group is considered a better race. With heavy sadness she realizes that although not a U.S. Citizen, she is experiencing what everyone else here is experiencing- racism, inequality, injustice- and does not feel entitled to have an opinion. Introspective and questioning, her journey from Russian child to American adult resonates as she questions how she can make the world a better place.

Photo by Elyse Mertz

Most valuable in this work is the opportunity to see home from a different perspective. Born and raised in this country, I take for granted things that often change other people’s lives. Thrashing and repeatedly throwing himself forward, dancer Or Reitman illustrates suffocation and the desperate wish to escape. Coming to America from Isreal, a society he describes as small and quick to define people, Reitman relishes in the magnitude of New York City, a place where you can blend in yet still make a living and enjoy a multitude of opportunities.

For many, America can be an idealized place of privilege and emancipation. For these storytellers, the challenges of assimilating into a culture different from the one they imagined in their minds was a sustained and varied process. As Immigration Stories winds to a close, eleven performers stretch into a long diagonal, falling into each other one at at a time like dominos. Snippets of each story layer over each other like a wave, and Owens takes a step forward, chest lifted proudly, gazing to the future while connected to the past. Renegotiating identity. Finding home.

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