Since childhood, growing up in New York City, Amadi “Baye” Washington and Sam “Asa” Pratt have danced together. As adults, they formed a dance company, “Baye & Asa,” to continue exploring the edges of possibility in movement. This month, May 12-20, they will be in residency with Dance Initiative, developing choreography and teaching classes.
The two became familiar with Dance Initiative’s residency through their dance community in New York City and contacted Executive Director Megan Janssen last year. “A lot of people find out about the residency program mostly through word-of-mouth,” she explained. “We don’t do a lot of marketing.” This creates a familial-like relationship between the local nonprofit and visiting dancers.
During their residency, and first visit to the Roaring Fork Valley, Baye and Asa will be shaping work for a 2024 Baryshnikov Art Center commission as well as an upcoming commission at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
“It’s always a transformative experience to step away in order to work on something in a more immersive way,” said Asa, riffing with Baye in conversation with The Sun over Zoom. They joined from a well-lit studio in the Baryshnikov Art Center.
As is customary, while the artists spend concerted time working each day, they will also grace the community with special classes and end with a demonstration. Their style defies genres, though hip hop and African dance languages are at the foundation of their technique and rhythms.
“We find putting ourselves in this style box or that technique box is most limiting to our development,” said Baye. “So we are allergic to categorization.” Theirs is an accumulation of forms established over years of immersion.
One community offering, “Taste & Smell” on the morning of May 13, will incorporate theatrical games to explore expression and courageous movement.
“Taste and smell are not senses we tend to engage with [in dance],” Baye explained. “We think about our sight, our hearing, our touch. Engaging with taste and smell allows us to tap into a primal instinct we try to hone in on as professional dancers.” By opening their nostrils and gritting their teeth, participants will be challenged to establish “a visceral communication with the space” finding more presence in each movement.
“All for a more dynamic experience for the performer,” Asa continued. “Using taste and smell, something we all have, to make the dance experience more layered and richer.”
The class, though open to all, will be physically challenging for people at any level, said Baye. “It is still advanced level movement.” For more experienced dancers, they will also offer an intermediate class on May 18, from 6:15 to 8pm.
“Teaching is a big part of a lot of dancers’ careers and it’s very important to us,” said Asa. “As artists, sometimes it’s the way you have the most measurable impact,” compared with giving a performance. “It’s a unique part of our careers and a part that we cherish, teaching children and teaching adults.”
They will also teach a hip hop class for ages 10 to 13 on May 16, from 4 to 5pm. Growing up with dance as part of their curriculum, Baye and Asa came to appreciate approaching dance with academic rigor, “which is different from people’s more traditional experience,” said Baye. More classical training came later, in college. “We look at dance teaching from the perspective of how to not make dance something that is esoteric or just replicating steps but something that is practically explainable so we can go from a brain place and not just a body place,” he continued.
Janssen compared that early dance education to the nonprofit’s outreach programs in local schools, offering classes with guest teachers to all students. “We’re working with all of the kids,” said Janssen. “That presents a lot of opportunities and specific challenges.” She hopes there will be some overlap for students to have a deeper experience with Baye and Asa’s visit.
“It should not always be about teaching a codified dance technique or different steps or doing something that looks physically impressive,” said Asa. Rather to understand “how the body and mind symbiotically inform each other.” Also, using dance not only to create energy and effort but “meaning in space with your physical form,” said Asa.
The studio performance and talkback will take place on May 20 at 6:30pm at The Launchpad. This will be the community’s opportunity to witness what Baye and Asa have been developing during their residency, and may involve excerpts of past choreography.
More specifically, it will touch on their commission for the Baryshnikov Art Center. The finished piece, to be performed in May 2024, will have eight performers: five young to middle aged adults, two youth and one elder. Asa explained that that work is interested in the intergenerational nature of our climate problem, hence using three generations of performers.
Learn more about “Baye & Asa” and their upcoming residency at www.danceinitiative.org