Catching up with Mary A. Chase

Mary performing onstage

In 2017 we PCSed to Tampa, FL. I was fortunate enough to make connections with a few people before we moved. The University of Tampa hired me to teach, and is where I am still teaching in the Dance Program.

No PSC is ever the same so the task at hand is to sink in deep fast in order to feel at home and be focused enough to get work done. I unpack all the boxes quickly, make sure we make friends and start living life as soon as possible. Not everyone can do this, but I have to. Over the course of that 1st year in Tampa I really immersed myself into the community and culture as best I could. 2018 was a very productive year. I premiered the site-specific work Heavy the Rise, a group work titled Aurora and created the role of Isadora Duncan for the Russian Yesenin Poetry Show.  The biggest event was my long-awaited premiere of The Breath of the Compassionate Movement Meditation that I had been working on since 2013 when we were living in Kuwait. This work is meant to be shared to cultivate compassion for others (and for ourselves) in our world that rampantly turns to aggression and defense. The rhetoric and scholarship that inspired the work comes from Karen Armstrong and The Charter for Compassion. The visual and musical compositions were graciously gifted by the composer Bill Alves.  The Breath of the Compassionate Movement Meditation is for everyone, no matter your movement background, spiritual practice, or affiliation.  I would love to share it with the MilspoFAN community.

In 2019, I have created a contemporary ballet titled Twelve Coats. Everyone has heard the reference of “wearing different hats.” Hats are easily interchangeable. With a coat it is an intentional layer for covering, protection, to hide or to unravel. Twelve Coats tells an abstract story of peeling layers in order to be vulnerable and free from whatever life experiences may be holding on to us. It is not all somber; there is playfulness and freedom as well as trepidation. After so much time and so many moves as a military wife, it is easy to forget some of those layers are still deep down within us.  Do we ever talk about how hard it was during those long deployments when the soldiers only called or emailed once a week, if that? Or when cable network TV took hold of us and we were afraid to turn if off?  We don’t, but somewhere in our bodies those coats still exist. That is an emotional armor that may in fact serve us in some way now. 

Mary performing onstage

Right now, I am working on the premiere of site-specific work that wrestles with and responds to The University of Mississippi’s Civil Rights and Slavery History. Ole Miss, through the research and participation of over 50 faculty members on campus, unveiled a huge amount of information that has been made into a tour of campus sites where historic events took place. I am working with dancers from all over the South for the American College Dance Association Conference to create and perform pieces along the tour. I have developed site-specific work for nearly twenty years and have found this particular work to be such a wonderful combination of historic reflection and a call to action. I was reminded this morning in a rehearsal that all of the dancers were born after or were babies at 9/11.  I mention this to recognize that their perspective on history is so very different, the way they make art and how they respond to history as it is being made is about the NOW.  I have been taught and strive to teach my students that as we make work we are standing on the shoulders of giants, and those giants are holding us up. The work at Ole Miss is an exercise in making sure we know how to jump off those shoulders.  I have told the students, when making site-specific work, particularly at a historical site that is so charged with hurt, divisiveness, and transgression, it is imperative we do not perform a character; we are not representing the past. We perform ourselves, responding and reacting to the site so as to move the history forward. To make a change.

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