On belonging and beauty

Contemporary dance project at VPL experiments with the themes using movement, sound

GUILFORD — An exploration of the strange dimensions of memory and cultural identity inform a new piece of contemporary dance being developed at Vermont Performance Lab.

Choreographer Dahlia Nayar, in collaboration with dancer Margaret Sunghe Paek, and with music composed by Loren Kiyoshi Dempster, has been investigating ideas of belonging and not-belonging, the beauty and challenge of adapting to habitats scattered around the globe in contemporary society, and the nature of nostalgia.

This month, Nayar returns with her collaborators for a creation residency with VPL to further develop the movement and sound material for 2125 Stanley Street. They will share some of their experiments, research, and ideas with VPL's audience at a special public performance at the Broad Brook Grange, 3940 Guilford Center Rd., in Guilford.

On Saturday, May 18, at 7 p.m., VPL's “In the Works” series presents an informal showing of 2125 Stanley Street. Immediately following the performance, VPL audiences have the opportunity to collectively sit down together and share a meal: a dim sum dinner catered by chef and artist Cai Silver, of Cai's Dim Sum Teahouse.

The performance is free and open to the public. The dinner is $20 for adults, $13 for children 12 and under. Reservations for both are recommended, and can be made by calling 802-257-3361 or visiting or

Nayar notes that 2125 Stanley Street is still a work in progress:

“Last year I began working on seeds of the dance, but it became quite transformed when I began collaborating on it with Sunghe Paek and Kiyoshi Dempster, a husband and wife who live in Queens, N.Y. The three of us will be working together this month in Vermont on a series of experiments, trials and errors, movement exercises and other modes of inquiry to further develop the piece,” she says.

2125 Stanley Street is inspired by Nayar's experiences of being raised in a bicultural household by parents who immigrated from from India and the Philippines.

In this work, she recalls and re-imagines the most intimate exchanges within the realm of a domestic space. As they developed this piece, Nayar and her collaborators began excavating their own archives of multicultural domestic histories.

The artists' family archives contain more than 20,000 digitized photos, and hundreds of hours of films and sound recordings that document aspects of the artists' families pre- and post-immigration to the United States (from India, the Philippines, Japan and North Korea) and migration within the United States (Illinois, Nebraska, New York, Seattle, and San Diego).

Nayar is a dancer, dance teacher, and choreographer born outside of Chicago to immigrant parents from India and the Philippines.

“Dahlia comes from a very educated family,” says Sara Coffey, director of VPL. “Both of her parents, I think, came to the country to go to college, so she grew up with a different experience from what is faced by many immigrants in this country.”

As a dancer, Nayar was a company member of Dakshina/Daniel Phoenix Singh Company between 2007-2009, performing at the Lincoln Theater, Smithsonian Freer Sackler Gallery, Dance Place and additional venues throughout Washington, D.C.

She recently performed in Margaret Paek's works at Danspace (2011) and the Whitney Museum Biennial (2012). She also performed in Gina Kohler's [dream] factories at the Park Avenue Armory (2012).

As a choreographer, she was a National Dance Project Regional Dance Lab artist in 2007. From 2008-2010, she received a Jacob Javits Fellowship, during which time she received her MFA in dance/choreography from Hollins University in Virginia.

Excerpts of her performance installation eight-minute meditations premiered at the 2010 American Dance Festival in Durham, N.C. The installation alternates among triptych film backdrops, guided meditation, and dances that explore the breadth and brevity of eight minutes.

Her 40-minute site-specific work Trios debuted at the National Botanical Gardens in Washington, D.C., and was later adapted for the Kennedy Center as part of a commission from Metro Dance/DC.

Her work acqua alta, inspired by the high tide season in Venice, was nominated for three Metro Dance/DC awards in 2012: emerging choreographer, outstanding new work, and excellence in stage design and multimedia.

Dahlia is the 2012-2013 New England Vermont Performance Lab Artist.

At VPL, the piece of contemporary dance, or what Nayar likes to call performance installation, 2125 Stanley Street investigates the commingling of domestic spaces and sounds with memory and nostalgia.

“The work is also about memory as a multi-generational phenomenon,” she says. “That is, how our friends and parents pass things down from generation to generation, and in our minds, what gets saved and what gets lost. I find this aspect of the work particularly interesting now that I am raising a family of my own.”

During her first VPL residency last October, in a gathering arranged by Coffey to supplement her creative research, Nayar connected with many from the Asian-American community in and around Brattleboro

“It was fantastic,” says Nayar. “In this intimate exchange, we were able to share our memories of belonging and not belonging to the communities around us. It is always interesting watching people as they remember things, to see their subtlest gestures or movements can be revealing. I was fully present at this sharing, but subliminally the physical impulses we make when we recall something from the past is something I keep coming back to as a choreographer. Those movements are the literal past we find embodied in ourselves from this place or that time.”

Nayar also says she sees memory as an act of imagination, and nostalgia a mode:

“We may romanticize the past with nostalgia, and I must confess that nostalgia is a tendency of which I am guilty. Do I think it a bad thing? I am curious and critical of my tendency towards nostalgia, but in 2125 Stanley Street, I want just to acknowledge its potency. Though nostalgia, we try to remake the past to seem right and to find peace in our lives,” she says.

2125 Stanley Street is a radical departure for Nayar.

“For one thing, it incorporates a lot of research material,” she says. “It is an opportunity to delve into the creative process with collaborators. The finished work will have some sort of a narrative not in a linear fashion, but rather through a series of scenes, or perhaps you could call them poems.

“Movement will be accompanied by a collage of sounds, which mixes original music, sound effects and text. Cellist Loren Kiyoshi Dempster is imaginatively taking objects of everyday life, like a clothes line, to see what can be done with the sounds they can make. We are also re-purposing those objects to inform the set and prop elements of space of the dance,” Nayar explains.

The name of the piece is meant to be suggestive, Nayar says. “The title 2125 Stanley Street can be imagined in several ways: It could refer to a date and a street, or perhaps a mythical street address. It shouldn't refer to a specific place, like a place I used to live. To be honest, it is an old address [to] which I have an attachment, but it became an impetus for a more expansive creative meaning to inform the work.”

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