The idea of a collaboration between the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts and Miami choreographer Pioneer Winter was well underway before COVID-19. And it continues.
The invitation still stands for South Florida’s diverse queer community to become a part of an innovative dance-theater project to explore the LGBTQ+ experience through a series of narratives, titled “Birds of Paradise.”
Queer people of all ages, abilities, and experiences are invited to share personal stories of "
identity, resiliency, rebirth and transformation," that will become part of the new work which will premiere in 2021. "Birds of Paradise seeks out a new narrative to empower the marginalized and regain control over the truth by which we live," according to the mission.
I spoke by phone with Winter about “Birds of Paradise,” working through COVID-19 and a range of other topics. When I spoke with the choreographer/dancer, it had been more than a hundred days since he had rehearsed in the studio with his dancers. COVID-19 had abruptly changed everything and hit all parts of society and had taken the performing arts world "to its knees,” Winter told me.
Yet, the work continues in different formats. Now, instead of working as a company in a studio. the eight members of the group are working independently, coming together once a week, via Zoom, for discussions and “getting to know each other better,” said Winter.
Winter’s company, Pioneer Winter Collectiv, was incorporated as a non-profit organization in 2016 and has gone on to garnish many awards including the National Dance Project Production grant. Winter said he usually self-produces and self- presents his work. This is the first time his work is being presented by another organization. “It’s a big deal that the Arsht Center wants to take this risk with us,” said Winter.
Between 2018 and 2019, Winter hosted over 40 community workshops dealing with the LGBTQ+ experience. “ A lot of conversations about how events leave a certain imprint and shapes who we are as a person.” “Birds of Paradise” employ hands hanging on a bar as a metaphor for life. “The strength of holding on is the same as knowing when to let go. Surrender or transition to a better state of mind. Birds of Paradise turns falling into flight,” he said.
Winter says the overarching theme in the stories are resilience, adapting, change and silence.
“Silence is resilience; silence can be power. Silence equals death. Silence as survival. Some people have the privilege or opportunity to speak, the privilege to whisper and people listen to them. This is not true for the queer community. The queer community must shout.”
Winter wants people to identify with the dancers on stage. “There is rigor and technique to our work.” Prior to COVID-19, when the company rehearsed three times a week, It started with warm-up, “putting strength back into our bodies. The world will take it away.” Winter said that the world takes away our strength and our voices. "It’s up to us, through our community, through working together, that we can build ourselves back up."
Winter is the Arsht Center’s Artist in Residence. He says this is the longest time he has ever been given work on a project. Most of the time he has two- three months. He is also thinking of adding a film component to “Birds of Paradise.”
Right now, he’s asking the community to submit stories and experiences. “We can’t rise until the most oppressed of us rises,” said Winter.
Stories can be submitted to: firstname.lastname@example.org and at www.arshtcenter.org.