Inhabiting Memories: Dance in the Ruins, “Sighting Freedom”


Year: 2012-2013
DanceForce Member: Margaret Kaiser
Artist: Makeda Thomas
Community Partners: Buffalo Place; Buffalo State College; Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation
Audience: 319
County: Erie

The long term goal of this project was to establish The Ruins on the Canalside as a compelling outdoor site-specific dance venue on Buffalo’s waterfront. The Ruins reflect Buffalo’s story where the collective memories of our history, the forgotten pieces of our past—the remaining architecture and objects left behind, are preserved as in a time capsule. The short term goal was to make creative use of this significant architectural site using movement to abstract the story of Harriet Tubman and her escape to Canade via the waterways. The Ruins, encompassed by both the built and the natural environment, suggest enclosure and freedom. The planning process began January 4, 2012, with a conversation with my co-producer Mark Goldman about the possibilities for site-specific dance at The Ruins. From that date to the final performance date, the following activities took place:

January, 2012: telephone conversations with Makeda; SKype between producers & Makeda; email correspondence with shared ideas; February: refining of proposal language for Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation grant, later submitted on February 12th, panel interview Feb. 29; March/April/May/June: set up rehearsal plan with Buffalo State College Dance Dept., develop PR materials–Western New York Heritage magazine & postcard/poster designer; July: arrange for housing in Buffalo for artists, Makeda visited Buffalo to meet with local artists Karima and Henri, as well as visited the site and met with Buffalo Place events coordinator; August 8-19: artists in town for rehearsals and performances, master class at BSC Saturday, August 11th.

The Buffalo News posted the performance dates in GUSTO the week of the performances, as well as printed a photo taken during the outdoor rehearsal. The Western New York Heritage magazine dedicated the back page of their periodical to the historical significance of “Sighting Freedom” a month before the performance. Post cards were distributed throughout Buffalo, at major outdoor events and political events, three weeks before the performance. ArtVoice published a notice about the performance the week prior to the scheduled event.

The new community partners were significant: Buffalo Place; Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation; and, Buffalo State College Dance Department. All provided support, either through staff assistance, funding, and rehearsal space, respectively.
What was most significant about the audience was the diversity, especially the passersby on the Waterfront who were enticed to come down to The Ruins to experience the piece. We also found that there were a couple of attendees who were there on Saturday night and came back for the Sunday night performance.