Upcoming Dance Installation at JFK Center Features Work by Gustavus Alumni

Posted on October 15th, 2021 by

Filming for 'already there' - Photo by Lauren Jessica Brown Pictured: Britta Joy Peterson '08, Aaron Tucker, and Candance Scarborogh

Britta Joy Peterson ’08 is directing and choreographing already there, an immersive dance installation at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, supported by the Local Dance Commissioning Project. Featuring scenic design by alumna Sara Brown ’01, this piece allows the audience to explore a series of rooms featuring sensory performances using music, light, and dance.

Picture of Britta Joy Peterson

Britta Joy Peterson ’08 is directing and choreographing ‘already there’ at the REACH’s Studio K
Image by Mariah Miranda

Peterson began working on this project in 2018, and describes it as an “opportunity for us to encounter ourselves.” This piece will be presented at the Kennedy Center’s the REACH. The dancers were recorded individually and spliced together to project the performance onto the walls of the space. Because the dancers are not physically present, Peterson explains that the social contract between audience and performer is removed. “It’s really about finding a way for the audience to be safe and secure,” she says.

“Because I work collaboratively, caring for people and caring for people’s experience inside of my process has always been paramount,” she says. Peterson wanted to make sure this performance was something that could be put on regardless of what the state of the world was. “The ask of an audience to just slide back into a way of being that existed previously I think is a little irresponsible,” she says. “There’s this deep yearning to return to what was, and that is not possible. We are forever changed.”

One thing that was really important to Peterson as she created this piece was access. “One of the central premises of the work is that I’m really trying to care for the audience in as many ways as I can,” she says. “Creating as much access for as many people as possible is a way of caring for the audience.” She worked with two people from the Institute for Human-Centered Design to come up with the accessibility components of the production.

“You don’t need to be an expert at accessibility to begin making your work accessible,” she says. She believes that’s one of the things she learned at Gustavus, with the opportunities she was given to work at a high level before she had a lot of experience. “Trusting in the skills that you’ve amassed, and trusting in your ability to be vulnerable and like, ask for help, and seek out expertise, that’s the way to begin. But if you wait until you’re an expert, you’re going to be waiting forever, because the moment you become an expert, you realize how dumb you are,” she says.

Peterson and Brown actually met at the Gustavus Theatre & Dance Alumni Panel in February 2020 for the opening of the Rob and Judy Gardner Laboratory Theatre, where they both were panelists. Peterson says she remembers listening to Brown talk at the panel and that she felt “so inspired and aligned with her values.” Later, when she was looking for a set designer for already there, a mutual friend, Evan Anderson, who was already on the production team as the lighting designer, recommended Brown as the set designer. 

“It was really this moment of serendipity that we had connected at the event, and she had connected with Evan,” Peterson says. “It’s been really special, honestly, to get to know her through the process, and it feels like I’ve known her now for years, through this one thing.”

“What I really appreciate about Britta is that she is extremely open to the expertise that the rest of her team is bringing to the process,” Brown says. “I enjoy very much her clarity and her generosity of spirit, in terms of her way of working and collaborating.”

Brown is currently Assistant Professor with Music and Theater Arts at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). After leaving Gustavus, she worked as a scenic painter before going to graduate school at the University of Virginia, where she got her MFA in set design. After she started working at MIT, she started working on projects her colleagues had in New York. She works in both dance and theater, in almost an equal measure.

I feel like I end up doing a lot of dance work, and I think that’s because I welcome the challenge of creating spaces that are not tied to a text necessarily, but are really connected to bodies and space,” Brown says.

Brown’s advice to current students is to “run towards things that they do not understand, but are curious about.” She also recommends that they do things that scare them. 

Peterson says her time at Gustavus informs how she works daily. As a communications and dance major, she had the opportunity to work at the intersection of those ideas. “Together, communications and art practice have endowed me with the auto-reflex of self-reflection, where I’m constantly in a state of doing, reflecting, sensing, responding, and that comes from these really beautifully interwoven areas of study that I was able to pursue at Gustavus,” she says.

Peterson’s work has been performed all over the world, from the Sibu International Dance Festival in Sarawak, Malaysia, to the European Society for Literature, Science and the Arts in Basel, Switzerland. She is also currently an artist in residence for Dance Place in Washington, D.C. and a professional lecturer at American University. She received the 2020 AU College of Arts and Sciences Outstanding Mentorship award. 

already there premieres at the John F. Kennedy Center’s The REACH October 28-30. Tickets are available through the Kennedy Center website. A virtual option is available.


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