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RDF Artist Spotlights: CLAVES Unidos & Jenna Beardsley

Dogtown cannot thank both the artists and the Richmond community enough for the success of Richmond Dance Festival's first weekend. It is so wonderful to be connecting again in person. The joy of performance is palpable, and we are honored to be host every person that walks through our doors. To continue our celebration, we are spotlighting two of Dogtown's own this week: CLAVES Unidos and Jenna Beardsley.

CLAVES Unidos (translation United Rhythms) is directed by Kevin LaMarr Jones under the mission to unite the African Diaspora through dance. They provide performance and community education that affirm and uplift. Through the CLAVES UNIDOS experience, participants discover, share and celebrate the historical, political and social connections of African dances. CLAVES Unidos will be presenting Retentions at RDF this year. Retentions will be presented on the second weekend, June 18th and 19th.

Is this your first time at RDF/dogtown? If so, what drew you to RDF? if not, what about RDF brought you back?
This is my 2nd time at RDF. I presented a piece in 2016.  I'm glad to be returning this year. I'm excited that the timing worked out in that I had a new piece in the works that I was able to submit in time for this festival.

If you have performed at Dogtown before, what is one of your favorite memories of your time spent here?
Dogtown is my creative home, and I've had the opportunity to stage work many times at Dogtown over the last 11 years.This includes annual performances showcasing our dance community at Mardi Gras RVA as well as answering invitations to share dance work as part of shows by other artists, and mounting 4 evening-length productions of my own. Three were self-produced, and for the most recent one, I was presented by Dogtown for their 2017 Presenter's Series. Every time we are on stage is very special to me.

What is integral to your work as an artist?
A number of aspects come to mind, but I would say that Ancestry and Community are at the core.

How has the past year impacted your creation process for this piece?
I started on this piece in  late 2019 with the hopes to build it out and present it as part of a new evening-length concert piece in 2020. It would have been CLAVES UNIDOS' 10th Anniversary concert. Since we had to pause everything, I just put it on the shelf and held it in my heart with the intent to pick it back up when the time was right. So being a part of RDF is returning me to the work and I'm grateful. 

Find CLAVES Unidos @clavesunidos on IG and on their website.

Jenna Beardsley is presenting One hundred years flicker; I kiss the Snow at RDF this year. Jenna is a multimedia artist currently based in Richmond and a recent graduate of the Virginia Commonwealth University's Dance and Choreography department. Since graduating, Jenna has premiered work around the DMV, including in Dance Place's Exquisite Frame showing in November 2020, and is currently a creative fellow with TheRedProjectNYC, directed by Johnnie Cruise Mercer. They create multimedia performance work that centers community and the queer trans experience in tandem with philosophy. Additionally, Jenna is a dance educator and administrator seeking to create affirming dance spaces. Jenna's piece will be performed the second weekend, June 18th and 19th. More about Jenna below:

Is this your first time at RDF/Dogtown? If so, what drew you to RDF? If not, what about RDF brought you back?
This is my first performance at RDF. Having lived in the Richmond area for the last five years, I had heard of and attended RDF before, but never considered submitting my own work. Graduating and experiencing the tumultuous year of 2020 has really exploded my interest in producing work independently, and RDF felt like a perfect opportunity to continue to experiment, stay connected to my Richmond dance community, and grow my body of work as I launch into my dance career. 

What is integral to your work as an artist?
Many things are important to me when creating work, but absolutely central to all things I make is conversation and cross-connection. I consider what I make to not be limited to dance or movement alone; I aim to create multi-faceted and immersive performance experiences that curate multiple elements together. I am a bit of a maximalist, and love to see lots going on in performances (to the point that you can't catch everything)! I find that this causes people to have to make choices about how they engage with my work, creating a truly individual experience and interpretation person-to-person. I'm interested in the way this encourages questioning and conversation around themes of identity and philosophy. This multiplicity in the environment mirrors the personal multiplicity that I often explore within my work. Also central to my work is collaboration, and I am always in conversation with my performers and other artists to make work that has multiple voices involved.

How has the past year impacted your creation process for this piece?
The past year has been really difficult for my creative process. At the same time, it has been wildly transformative. Previously, I was creating work that aimed to be situated within large groups of people (site-specific, immersive performance). Clearly, with the pandemic restrictions, this was no longer possible in the same way. While outdoor performance was still a possibility, the logistical efforts of producing a successful event made an independent production impossible. I had to totally reimagine how I wanted to engage with audiences in my performance work. At the same time, the past year has really afforded me time and space to hone in on my interests and process as an artist. Video work has become more important to me than ever before. My interests and process feels clear. I was already in process and creating a new work when RDF was announced; there was no question that I wanted to submit it to the festival. While my work has always centered identity thematically, the experiences of the past year has driven my work in an intensely personal direction.

Is there anything else you would like the Richmond community to know about you and/or your work?
I am really honored to be making a performance debut in Richmond. Dogtown and the community here is my home, and I am excited to connect with the artists and audiences that will be participating in RDF. As an artist, I thrive on and am inspired by other creatives; that relationship is something I have missed dearly this year, and is something I can't wait to experience at RDF.

Jenna can be found on IG @j_b7777777 and on their website.

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