In Conversation with Participants of the Community-Based Project, Imprint

Imprint is a community-based project that was first conceived of by Meredith Thompson in 2019. The project was to be part of the 2020 Guelph Dance Festival. We managed to get one rehearsal in before the pandemic distanced us all. After a long pause, we’re back this year with over 30 incredible community participants! Imprint will be part of our In the Park series this year. We spoke with some of the participants about their experience and the upcoming festival:  

GD: What about being a part of this community-based dance project are you most excited about?

“I love being given the opportunity to be IN the festival (and not just volunteering). It is satisfying a long-standing desire of wishing I could have studied dance; admiring dancers and dance pieces from an audience perspective. Being in this piece is making my dream REAL!” – Gina Giammarco

“I am so excited to be dancing with so many people. I am also excited about making friends and connections. I think that Imprint is a great chance to build community while doing something fun; Dance!” – Maia Fields

“As a school and dance educator, the arts have always been a passion of mine and continue to be. As an adult, dancing and performing opportunities are few and far between. I leaped at the opportunity to be a part of this project originally in 2020 until everything came to a halt due to the pandemic. I chose to return to complete not only my commitment to the project but also because I have found so much joy in standing on the opposite side of the creative process and enjoying the process of dancing and moving with a collective. Meredith and Guelph Dance have provided such a wonderful opportunity to build a community through the arts and this dance project. Each day I leave rehearsal with a smile in my heart.” – Richelle Hirlehey

“Being part of this project is activating parts of my memory that I had assumed were long lost; I absolutely love the feeling of standing “on stage,” waiting for the music to start, and then listening for my cue. It brings me back to the many years I spent dancing and performing and being deeply in tune with my body. Dance has always been the closest thing I’ve had to a meditative practice, and I particularly love being held by another person’s choreography; there’s a freedom for that in me. That may seem an odd thing to say, but especially now, as a working mother, I’m often depleted by all the things I’m holding (emotionally, logistically); the decision fatigue at the end of the day is strong! So to be able to show up, as I am, surrounded by community, and be held in the process is something I’m deeply grateful for.” – Michelle Peek

Photo by John Lauener

GD: What has been your biggest takeaway from the rehearsal process so far?

“As an audience member, I’ve always been very curious as to how pieces manifest into performance; from the choreographer’s process to what are the dancers thinking/having to know while performing.  My takeaway – it’s a lot of work, and a lot of communication.  And all modes of communication (what happened BEFORE email/internet/YouTube?!?)” – Gina Giammarco

“My biggest takeaway so far has been how something can be crazy and daunting in the beginning but with patience, determination, and cooperation it can evolve into something amazing! That experience is also incredibly confidence boosting which is fantastic! It is a good reminder that if we breathe, things will sort out.” – Maia Fields

“I have always loved the process!!!! Creating, for me, is about the process and the ability to hone ideas and concepts into a piece that holds meaning for others. Listening to how audience members are affected by dance and how they interpret and connect to dance performances has always been something I have been fascinated by. I love the process as it has built over time gradually into a piece that reflects how community is built; Through small connections and chance meetings, connections form and trust is built gradually leading everyone to feel connected on some level.” – Richelle Hirlehey

“How welcoming and supportive everyone is of each other. Also that Meredith has the patience of a saint and is always willing to take the extra time to go over steps, answer questions and willing to adapt and change her choreography so that everyone can participate in whatever capacity they may have.” – Ulrika Englund

Photo by John Lauener

GD: How do you feel this process of rehearsing (both online and live) has affected you personally and/or socially as you continue to adjust to this ongoing pandemic?

“Being in person and rehearsing in the park has shifted something in me; at this point in the pandemic I’m finding myself turning more and more toward both the outdoors and practices that keep me in my body. As a working mom of two elementary-school aged children there has been virtually no time for my own self care over the past few years. So for me, part of re-socialization includes getting to know myself again. I’m waking up early so I can have my morning tea outside while listening to the birds; I’m dancing and singing more; I’m reaching toward old and dear friends. Being part of this community dance project feels like one piece of a larger reintegration between self, world, and others that I desperately needed.” – Michelle Peek

“I loved being able to start rehearsing online as it allowed us to develop a connection through discussions that aren’t as easy to do in person with masks.  I do find the mask-wearing challenging at this point as we moved from online where we could see each other’s whole faces and now are partially covered up.” – Richelle Hirlehey

Photo by John Lauener

GD: Do you have any other thoughts about the process so far and/or the upcoming live performances?   

“I met Meredith last year when my daughter and I joined her cast of community dancers to bring a digital version of Imprint to the online Guelph Dance Festival. All of our rehearsals took place in the comfort of our homes by way of weekly Zoom meetings.  

My reasons for joining the project were more personal than anything. It was a way for me to connect with my daughter through movement and dance and the piece, for me, took on a meaning that was very much influenced by this connection. I thought about it in terms of how we, as parents or caregivers, leave an impression for our most precious young humans to learn by. We lift them up, support them and encourage them. We celebrate with them and help them to grow into confident, kind and loving humans.

In turn, they leave an impression on us.  They teach us patience, empathy, mutual respect and to love without boundaries and so, so much more that I can’t even put into words.

I realize that the scope of Imprint goes beyond the walls of my home and my personal connection to my family. It is a community dance project after all. This is why I was elated to learn that Imprint would return to the Festival this year, and in person! I was honoured to be asked to participate again but was on my own, without my daughter who is almost a teenager and has a busy life of her own.

So, Imprint took on a whole new meaning for me this time around. It became more about interpersonal connection. There were a few returning cast members who I was finally able to meet in person and a whole new cast of strangers who I now consider to be acquaintances, if not friends. When I look at the cast I see inclusiveness, and acceptance and I feel a real sense of belonging. I’ve learned that listening is a gift that we can give to others and that sharing, our time, our skills and our thoughts and ideas are what fuel our connections within a community.

The thing that remains the same, for me, is the impressions we leave on the people that we are able to connect with and the impressions they leave on us. Support, encouragement, patience, empathy, mutual respect, kindness and love. 

It has been an absolute pleasure to work with Meredith in both renditions of Imprint.  What a gift she has given us in this beautiful and powerful piece.” – Stephanie Roberts

“This is my second experience working with Meredith in Imprint. Working on Zoom during the pandemic I was recovering from a displaced shoulder and right arm fracture. I was welcomed into the experience. The beauty and meaning of dance has always been important to me as well as the exercise. Working on Zoom had its own challenges, like parallel play. Yet Meredith and Leslie connected to each person and managed to meet the needs of a community online. The planning and skill of the artist in Meredith was evident, coupled with an ability to translate her vision into action and encourage others to build with her. There was freedom and discipline involved. Safety for the group members was provided with care in the filming at the Arboretum. It was the first time to meet Leslie and Meredith in person and a few of the cast as well. 

In October of 2021, I discovered I had cancer and it was removed with safety margins in November. In December I began chemotherapy, a milder pill version because of my age (almost 88 years old). Being an extravert and tired of the COVID isolation, I was reluctant to start a six-month treatment relegating me to a stricter isolation.

Because of the virile variants of the virus, the dangers were greater for a compromised immune system. However the return of Imprint in the spring to weekly rehearsals was a blessing for me. I trusted the leaders and their care for individuals and the group and their flexibility in working with the individual as well as the whole group and the creativity of the community in the dance. When I arrived for the first rehearsal, Meredith jumped for joy and it occasioned many of the children to join her in joy. It was a beautiful moment for me, touched by the welcome in this time of isolation. It was the only people’s event, except for family, that I attended. I have not missed a rehearsal. Being in nature for several hours always nourishes me. Being part of a meaningful work of art in the midst of a community of all ages, and expressing the feelings of connection, the imprint fostered by interactions. The safety of the distance of the dance and the gestures of connectedness brings home the gift that Meredith offers to this community. This process has given me encouragement and heart as I approach the end of my chemo treatment the week after the performances in the park. My gratitude to God for this retreat time which the isolation has provided is great; and the gift of community, which family and friends and this community has provided brings me joy.

Thank you for listening. I am humbled by the experience and grateful for your giftedness, both Meredith and Leslie, and the generosity of the other dance members of various skills and ages to be part of this meaningful living event.” – Donna Little

“I’m very much looking forward to performing Imprint in front of an audience in a few weeks. Nothing beats experiencing live art whether you are the performer or in the audience.” – Ulrika Englund

You can see Imprint by donation at our In the Park series, happening on June 3rd, 4th, and 5th. Visit our festival page to see the full festival schedule and to get your tickets!

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