A.I.M.’s Tamisha Guy on Dance in the Time of COVID
Zita Allen | 2/11/2021, midnight
Tamisha A. Guy, the charismatic young dancer and rehearsal director of Kyle Abraham’s A.I.M. (Abraham. In. Motion) has captured the hearts and minds of critics and audiences alike since joining the company in 2014. During her eight years performing with the company whose guiding light was honored several years ago with a MacArthur Fellowship “genius grant,” critics often describe this charismatic bundle of energy who throws herself into works that speak to the human condition, as “dynamic.”
A native of Trinidad and Tobago, shortly after arriving in New York, Guy was tapped to participate in Eliot Feld’s Ballet Tech, a training program for public school kids. Today, since graduating with honors from SUNY Purchase, Guy has logged an impressive amount of experience and critical acclaim. This includes participating in the Complexions Contemporary Ballet summer program, joining the Martha Graham Dance Company, being spotlighted as one of Dance Magazine’s Top 25 to Watch, winning the prestigious Princess Grace Award (2016), being featured in Caribbean Life, being named one of the Best Dancers of the Year by Dance Europe, and teaching masterclasses across the globe from Haiti and Hawaii, or London and Berlin. In 2014, she joined A.I.M. which, by all accounts, seems to fuel and feed both body and soul.
Dance in the time of COVID is different and while performing is still front and center, during a recent conversation with the Amsterdam News Guy noted that the pandemic has created challenges and inspired changes but it hasn’t dampened her love of the art form. “This pandemic, honestly, has given me time to think about what I want and to think about more of what I want to make a priority,” she says thoughtfully. “I’ve always loved teaching. It’s definitely something that I manifested for myself. Of course, teaching dance in the studio took a turn due to the pandemic, but I’ve been really fortunate to still get a lot of teaching opportunities that, due to the pandemic are on ZOOM, but it’s allowed me to figure out how to navigate different formats.
“Of course, I’m still dancing with A.I.M.––that and teaching are my main focal points right now,” Guy adds quickly noting that while the pandemic has caused a shift in the way dancers are working, thankfully, it hasn’t forced them to stop. In fact, the company continues to rehearse new works. Guy says, “I think Kyle wants to be ready when those doors open. He wants to have material and programs to offer presenters and audiences.”
Abraham, like other choreographers, has proven that creativity and resilience go hand in hand. He and his dancers have developed protocols that protect them while allowing them to continue working in an artform that has had to devise ways to keep COVID’s masks and social-distancing requirements from becoming a stumbling-block.
“At first we started working in the virtual world doing online rehearsals just getting the movement back into our bodies,” Guy says. “Then, once it was safe we started working in pods––groups of three to four dancers rehearsing together at a time. Of course, we’d wear our face masks and keep our physical distance working on what we could without having actual physical contact. Then, in October, we were able to go to Jacob’s Pillow, a dance enclave in Massachusetts. It was a great opportunity for us to connect and further dive into our creative process. We tested for COVID every Friday when we were rehearsing in those pods. And, before we went to the Pillow, we did our 14-day quarantine and we were tested the day that we traveled.
“Although we’re eager to create, we had to think about staying within the guidelines. Then, after a certain period at the Pillow, we were able to unmask and have some sort of contact and really get into the meat of work.” Guy says this journey she’s been on with Kyle Abraham is immensely rewarding because of the “level of comfortability that we’ve established” and the collaborative way he works honoring dancers voices and experiences. It’s also the tough subjects he courageously tackles, like mass incarceration in his critically acclaimed work for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre “Untitled, America,” of police brutality in his brilliant 2012 “Pavement,” a work inspired by John Singleton’s 1991 “Boyz n the Hood” film and W.E.B. Du Bois’s seminal 1903 text “The Souls of Black Folk.”
“I think it’s imperative to talk about what’s going on in the world because I believe it’s affecting us and we owe it to ourselves, to our audiences and our community. That’s why it’s so special for me dancing with Kyle Abraham’s A.I.M., because we not only express it in our work, but we actually have conversations in the studio. It’s not something I’m walking around with alone without a space to share my feelings. Of course, it’s been hard because these social injustices are affecting people who look like us so I think it can take a toll on one’s spirit, so being in community with my colleagues in the company is very unifying and beautiful––and I’m so grateful to be in a space that celebrates us.”
Guy says that celebration takes a new and different shape in a Kyle Abraham piece the company is working on now. It deals with Black love. “A.I.M. is working on ‘An Untitled Love’ which we’re hoping to premier in the coming months.” Despite the trials and tribulations of dance in the time of COVID, Guy says, “I’m incredibly grateful for this universal excellence of consciousness and awakening that urged us all to be intentional; to release the fear of taking up space and most importantly, to lead with love in everything we do. Particularly during this time, I am thankful to be in community with colleagues who serve as a continued source of inspiration.” Proving that dance in the time of COVID, while challenging, can be rewarding.