‘GRIT’ brings collaborative art to the Englert

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The Englert Theatre — Sunday, Feb. 21 at 5 p.m.

A collaborative performance comes to the Englert. -- photo by Dana O'Malley
A collaborative performance comes to the Englert. — photo by Dana O’Malley

An interdisciplinary and collaborative experience will hit the stage at the Englert Theatre in a bold new performance on Sunday (tickets are $10). GRIT is the brainchild of choreographer Rebekah Chappell, composer Joshua Marquez and visual artist Dana O’Malley. The name, as well as the material, come from an exploration of what it takes to succeed: both the “grit” of the million little obstacles that must be overcome, and the “grit,” or tenacity and fortitude, that it takes to overcome them.

As a creative process, collaboration is at once unique and familiar to all artists. O’Malley, a painter, notes that she has “never explored a large collaborative effort like this before.” But she also points out, “Any choreographer/dancer relationship involves collaboration. Any composer/musician relationship involves collaboration. Any artist/viewer relationship involves collaboration.” This assessment holds true for Chappell, as well, who approaches all of her choreography, not just this event, as “a collective effort, a reflection of all participants involved.”

Working together is not without its struggles. Marquez notes that, as a composer, his “individual practice is, often, not very collaborative.” For Chappell, she says that she is “realizing that there are many questions I wished I had asked but didn’t because I was concerned about each artist being able to maintain their autonomy.” She explains that “[p]art of the collaborative process is … learning when in the process it is OK to push back and challenge each other or when it is best to sit back and observe.”

Although each artist worked on their own for at least some of the process, Marquez says that “some decisions were made as a group. The overall trajectory of the performance was decided as a group in addition to some of the fine details of each section.” As Chappell puts it: “The work needed a balance of both of these processes. If we had attempted to make every decision together, it would have taken us years to finish the show. Yet if we had made each of the components in ‘isolation,’ the work would have lost its connectivity.” It’s not just the creators, either: O’Malley notes that “[a]ll performers have brought their own creative process and interpretation — their voice — to GRIT.”

Each artist involved involved with this project has their own distinct understanding of the concept of “grit.” Marquez calls it “part of everyday life.” He says, “From the smallest, most seemingly insignificant moment that may cause us discomfort to the most life-changing event, ‘grit’ is not only the nuisance that causes discomfort, but also the perseverance to overcome those obstacles.”

“I see grit everywhere,” says Chappell. “Grit is getting out of the bed when you are completely burnt out. Grit is smiling graciously when you want to melt down. Grit is keeping at it when the task at hand seems impossible. It is the tenacity, determination and spunk that I admire in my friends and family and that inspires me to keep chasing my dreams.”

Where Chappell looks without, O’Malley looks within. “I feel, as people, we all carry our own ‘grit’ — our own rough edges. These rough [edges] are both useful tools and obstacles. Through the creative process and collaboration, I feel we have the opportunity to investigate and sand away at those rough edges and discover lots beautiful growth. That growth is the result of “‘grit.’ ”

To collaborate is, in many ways, essential to our understanding of ourselves as individual creatives. “The beauty of collaboration,” says Chappell, “is that it puts your perspective in dialogue with others and expands and enriches your understanding of the material.” Marquez adds: “Collaboration furthers my understanding of my own work.”

In this sense, it is a particularly appropriate approach to exploring the idea of “grit” — sometimes the best way to find and build the strength you need to persevere is to work together.

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