The Symbiosis of Art and Conflict

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Art is all around us. Take a look at where you are now and you’re sure to see something; whether it’s a beautiful piece of architecture, an illustration in a magazine or up on a billboard, or something unique created by nature. Unfortunately, conflict, from the mundane to the life-transforming, also invades our daily lives, as well as making an impact on the community and world around us. So, we have a choice. We can look inwards and ignore what’s going on out there, or we can open our eyes and take a good look at the beauty and ugliness and try to make sense of them both. Sometimes the two even come together, as events inspired by conflict can produce powerful and communicative art through the use of a pen, paintbrush, camera, or even the medium of dance.

Arts as therapy

A relatively new example of how art and conflict come together is through the use of arts-based therapies to heal people suffering from conflict and psychological-based traumas. People who are lost within themselves can often be released through the creative freedom offered by the arts. Therapists can then access thought processes and underlying emotions they may not otherwise unlock and begin the healing process. Music and painting are two areas that can help young people and adults in this way, but the emerging area of dance therapy is also one that, according to Nashville-based dance therapist, Judy Given, has produced life-changing results. This makes sense when you think about how expressive and freeing dance can be. It’s not hard to imagine how it could help some people deal with even serious issues affecting their lives, such as drug abuse. Often thought of as an individual addiction, drug abuse is actually an immense source of conflict that hurts families, communities and society; but some drug programs in Tennessee  and elsewhere are utilizing the arts to tackle the problem. As well as the stress-releasing effects, when used to complement more traditional treatment, dance and other arts-based therapies encourage communication, which is often the first step to healing and resolving conflict.

The unique qualities of dance

Art can help its creator say something about themselves, or the world, but it can also educate its audience. For this to resonate and bring about change, however, it has to be truthful and authentic. We have all been moved in some way by a genuine, heartfelt creative work: maybe was a song lyric, a piece of theater, or a scene in a film that triggered a warm memory, an intense feeling or a vivid experience. This is the job of a great artist to take experiences personal to them and create something something relatable. There is also a degree of bravery in taking events mired in conflict and using art to expose and educate. In this way, dance is uniquely placed. Unlike some other art forms, it is 100% visual; meaning there are no language barriers to break down or cultural mores to overcome. All of a sudden, that personal experience is relatable to anyone, anywhere in the world. Take a moment to think of how powerful a concept that really is. When viewed in this way, dance can be understood as a vehicle by which any number of stories can be told and universally understood.

It is true that conflict and dance may seem, on the surface at least, an odd marriage, but you only need to read the personal story of EXIT12’s Roman Baca, or watch a production to understand the power of this union. Meshing the harsh ugliness of war and the ethereal beauty of dance can make a provocative statement. But what really drives the company is a dedication and commitment to spreading a message of peace and educating as many people as possible on the lasting impact of war and violent conflict.

Arts and conflict resolution

We’ve seen how art can be used by both the creator and audience to understand conflict and how it can help heal. Taking this a step further, art also has a role to play in conflict resolution. To bring things full circle, art is all around us, and when we see something that moves us or makes us react with laughter or revulsion, we’re likely to talk about it; with family and friends, and nowadays, maybe even online. This is especially true when we make a point of seeking out arts. It’s true that first and foremost we often want to be entertained, but we can also be educated and inspired. We can then spread that message to a wider audience and, with enough support, even start to bring about social change.

Our new logo – a breakdown of it’s evolution and design.

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Say goodbye to the man-ball logo.    The good ol’ ball and dancer in a leap in a’ la seconde’ no longer sufficiently communicates Exit12′s identity, mission, or vision.  The old logo, designed by our director Roman Baca, just wasn’t Exit12 anymore.

In May Exit12 felt that the best way to get an identity that was comprehensive, interesting, and encompassing of our identity, mission, and vision, was to hire a graphic designer.  We paid the deposit the designer requested and the designer went to work.  After paying a deposit and several iterations and sketches, Exit12 and the designer felt that we were well on our way to a brilliant new logo.  Then the logo-train, transporting us all to an amazing new identity, hit a wall.  The designer stopped communicating, stopped giving updates, and failed to meet deadline after deadline.  It was frustrating for an organization that uses donated funds for projects like this.

In order to explain a concept to the designer, our director sketched up a quick design and sent the photo along, and then, in order to explain details, he worked up a sketch on the computer.   Pow!   It worked.  Realizing that the concept worked so well, Exit12 decided to run with it, and put it out to our team for comment.

The minimalist E12 Digicam Logo gets its inspiration from the digital camouflage that was introduced by Commandant General Jim Jones, and was copied by the other four branches.

In the digital cubes you’ll find E, and 12, staying true to our beginnings as a company, off of the FDR’s exit 12 in Manhattan.  You’ll find the military in the olive green cubes, their loved ones in the light green, and the tan cubes illustrate our community outreach to all people at home and abroad.  There are two missing cubes, a testament to those who gave their lives in service.

So, without further ado, the new identity of Exit12 designed by Roman Baca!  (drum-roll please)

Ta da!

Here is the design brief:

 

 

Here are a few iterations we played with in the design stage, and a few placements to see it work.  Check out its use on the website as well!

Our testament to the digital cammies of the different branches.

We would love your feedback!!!

Five years ago

Looking back to push forward

A recent inquiry by The Mission Continues on our Alpha Class page asked, “Where were you five years ago?”  So instead of guessing, I searched my email and past blog posts for the answer.  What I found was something remarkable.  For me, five years ago was a significant turning point in my life – the one that I still mention in my bio, articles, and lectures about my fellowship with The Mission Continues.

Looking back to push forward

Five years ago, 2007, I was still enlisted in the Marines, and fulfilling my end of contract in the IRR, Inactive Ready Reserve.  I had purchased a condo in CT as an investment, and had a secure job as a CAD technician for a firm that manufactured stormwater chambers.

Five years ago in February was the day that my girlfriend Lisa, who is now my wife, sat me down in my condo and told me that things were not ok.  She told I was different from serving in Fallujah and that she couldn’t handle my mood-swings, lack of purpose, anxiety, and depression.  She challenged me to make a change in my life, and asked me what I would do if I could do anything in the world.  I told her I would start a dance company, that it was something I always wanted to do, thinking that she would call me an idiot and move on.  Instead she said, “Then why don’t we do it?” So we, along with a ballerina she knew from before, started working on my choreography at a dance studio in NYC.  That studio wasn’t far from exit 12 off of FDR drive, so to be true to our small beginnings, we called ourselves Exit12.

Our first logo

Five years ago in June I went home.  I spent most of my adolescent years in Spanaway, Washington – near Seattle.  My cousin was getting married, so Lisa and I traveled to the wedding.  Not only did I get to reconnect with family, but it was an opportunity to see friends and places I hadn’t visited in over ten years.  I got to treat Lisa to all those wonderful things I remembered about the Pacific Northwest, great food, fresh fish, and awesome coffee.  I went to my old high school, and reconnected with two significant people in my life, the friend who inspired me to dance, and the friend who’s family inspired me to keep growing and challenging myself.  I told them about our recent venture, and they became some of Exit12’s strongest supporters.

Five years ago I sent out a bunch of emails looking for a position teaching ballet.  I figured that if I was going to create choreography and start a dance company, I should learn from the bottom – by going back to teaching.  I emailed every studio within a 100-mile radius, and one school emailed me back – Ballet Theatre Company in West Hartford, CT.  I started teaching, and developed a bond with the students teachers and staff that has grown into the position of Artistic Director for their Nutcracker, the one with a military twist, that has expanded to two different performance locations, and has been a sell-out since we put our spin on it three years ago.

Five years ago I applied to my first competition with my choreography.  As would happen many times forward, my application was rejected.  I see rejections as learning experiences, and emailed the director for advice on how to succeed in the future.  Stephen Mills, the Artistic Director of Ballet Austin gave me advice I have solidly adhered to including, “You learn by trial and error.  Just keep making as much work as possible… thank you for your service to the country.  That’s truly a gift”

Five years ago I felt the need to share that gift, which so few give, with others. I responded to the call of service in honor of those who have, or who continue, to serve.  I felt that turning my choreographic vision to the plight of warriors and their families, I could help in some way.    I wanted to inspire, educate, and advocate for my fellow service members.  I had visions of performing for the military, veterans and their families.  I had aspirations to teach dance in Iraq one day.  I had hopes of using movement to help ease the transition home for veterans.

Five years ago, this week, we premiered our first military-themed work at a converted barn in Woodstock, NY.  We took five dancers, including a dear friend who is now a demi-soloist at Staatsballett Berlin, and showcased what came to be Habibi Hhaloua our first, and most acclaimed work.  A synopsis that I sent out read: “

It’s going to be a Marine on patrol.  It will open with the Arabic Call to Prayer/Radio Traffic audio that I am working on with a few Marine friends of mine.  Once he gets on stage (he enters from the back of the audience in the darkness and all you see is his red/laser target designator) he stops and starts to daydream about home, love, life, honor/courage.  These become concrete manifestations (the four women) and they start to dance in his mind (on stage with lighting effects to suggest a dream-adagio 1st movement).  They lure him in to the dreamworld and out of the cruel world he is actually in.  He starts to believe they are real, and not in his mind and starts to dance with them.(adagio/allegro-2nd movement)

Our first performance of Habibi Hhaloua

Habibi grew to a seventeen-minute dance piece with video from Iraq about a Marine on patrol, with the ballerinas emulating the things he keeps close to protect him; courage, life, love, and the vision of home.  It has since been performed, along with all of our other works, for veterans and civilians throughout the nation.  We have been profiled in major publications, news shows, and in the Wall Street Journal.

Our first mainstream press photo

Five years ago I dreamed that all of this was possible, but I never thought it could all come to fruition in such a short time.  It all leads me to ask you, what can you do in five years?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Introduction to the Iraqi Dancing to Connect Experience

Standing in the center courtyard of the Blue Mosque

Friday Robin Cantrell and I left New York City, and the US, to travel to Erbil, Iraq to conduct a Dancing to Connect Workshop with Iraqi youth from Kirkuk and Erbil.  If you need a quick catch up you can either check out the WSJ article or the WNPR interview.

I served in Fallujah in 2005-2006, and going back is monumental, not only for me, but for the people of Erbil, Kirkuk, Veterans of the Iraq war, and hopefully the world.

The next few posts, for the next ten days will be about the trip and the experience, so for these posts please excuse grammar, spelling and punctuation.  Like today, we are both working on very little sleep, different routine, different food, and tons of stuff to take care of during the day, and are usually posting at night.  Iraq is seven hours ahead of NYC and right now my head is pounding and I can’t figure out if it’s the coffee, water, or lack of sleep.

As far as I know, no American commercial airline flies directly into Iraq, so we flew from NYC’s JFK airport to Istanbul, Turkey and had a fourteen (14) hour layover.  It was a great plan, sleep on the plane, tour Istanbul, then hang at the hotel until the flight left at about midnight Istanbul time.

Nothing is ever that smooth.

The Istanbul airport was ok.  A little trouble with passport control, no trouble with visa, a lot of trouble with Turkish Airlines.  You see, in Istanbul, the staff is better at ignoring you than half of the people in NYC.  They seriously pretend you are not there.  So we spent a bit of time arguing, then gave up and headed into Old Istanbul to visit the Blue Mosque and the Grand Bazaar.  I was on a mission to find a drink that a friend had recommended, but I couldn’t remember the name.

Since Istanbul wasn’t the mission, I’ll give you a quick rundown through photos:

Once the cab stopped barreling through the streets, we were on foot.  We found a fresh pomegranate cart where they made fresh pomegranate juice.  Knowing the anti-oxidant properties of pomegranates, the juice was awesome, although a bit tart.

Then we headed to the Blue Mosque. We wanted to check out the inside, but it was prayer time and the mosque wasn’t open for visitors so we decided to get lunch as we were both starving.

Along with lunch, we had Turkish Coffee.  A German rug-store owner was sitting next to us and read our fortunes from the grounds left in the cup.  Don’t get your hopes up. it was all hogwash.

We started walking from the Blue Mosque (shown) to St. Sofia’s Cathedral.

The Cathedral cost about twenty dollars so we decided to head back to the Blue Mosque.  The inside was incredible.  I’ll post more photos of it later, as they seem to have gotten lost in the bloggisphere.

After the mosque, both Robin and I had to use the Water Closet (WC) and there was one behind the Mosque.  Upon my arrival in the basement of the courtyard,  I was faced with my mortal enemy, the squat toilet.  A formidable foe that requires its opponent to have keen balance, a steady hand, and strong knees.  I quickly conquered the foe and surfaced to Robin’s exclaim of, “You had to make a doodie?  I am so proud!”  I knew that we grew closer that day, having served and conquered a mutual enemy.

One of the entrances to the Grand Bazaar.  The Bazaar was hard to get around and every shop owner tried to pull us in their shop.  They were rather friendly and good with conversation usually.

The handiwork and colors are incredible

 

And the mix of old and new was amazing

 

I wanted to buy this for Nutcracker

Amazing Turkish Delight, a yummy candy that I had to buy.  Robin bought Pasmanye, a cotton candy type candy that is the consistency of really fine hair.  It was weird but good.

We spent an awful long time looking for this entrance.  Again, asking for Nargile, and for the Chululu Alipasa got us interesting and hard to follow directions.  But we finally found it.

I love these lamps, they look like hot air balloons

The Nargili (in Turkish, Hookah in Arabic) tasted like strawberries.  We also had apple tea and lemon tea.

A try at getting a panoramic shot of the Nargili shop.

Then we went on a search for a famous dinner restaurant (directions are all “on this corner, turn right, 300 meters).  The food was very good.  Robin had eggplant kabab, and I had lamb with cheese and pita.  The restaurant is famous for its flaming entrees and we saw a few served.  We almost ordered the one where they slice the bottom off of a flaming clay vessel.

On our way back to the Blue Mosque to get a taxi back to the airport we heard “Salep, Salep.”  I exclaimed, “THAT’S IT!”  My friend Quinn Pendelton wrote about it on her travels with Ballet de Monte Carlo and I wanted to try it while in Turkey.  It is a rice based drink with Salep (a type of seasoning only found in Turkey, and cinnamon, served hot.  It was perfect to settle dinner and keep us warm on a slightly chilly night.

Then we took pictures of the Blue Mosque illuminated at night.  Can you see the bats flying around the minnerettes?

Then we were back to arguing for a place to rest with Turkish Airlines, our flight got pushed back and hour and a half, but soon, we were on our connecting flight to Erbil, Iraq.

 

The Mission Continues – Motivation

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It’s not a charity, it’s a challenge, and the key to meeting any challenge is motivation.

The Mission Continues held the orientation for its first group of Fellows in St. Louis, Missouri. I was to join this group, dubbed Alpha Class, for three days of paperwork, rules, regulations, events, activities, and MOTIVATION!

The Mission Continues has hosted 200 Fellows from its start in 2007 until 2011. It has taken the challenge of adding 500 Fellows in 2012 alone. The 38 Fellows in Alpha Class are veterans called to find a purpose by serving as volunteers in their community. Upon receiving my itinerary for the orientation, I noticed that the three days were packed. There were classes, lectures, talks, and a service project that was to serve as our graduation as Mission Continues Fellows.

The three days in St. Louis were a whirlwind of activities, but it is the people that I was inspired and motivated to meet and talk with. I met people who work with The Mission Continues, alumni, supporters, and other fellows. Every single one of them was motivating. Over the weekend each one shared, what they had been through, what brought them to the organization, and what inspired them to continue to serve.

The Mission Continues – Keyword: Mission

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The foundation of  The Mission Continues is one word: Mission.  Eric Greitens, the co-founder of The Mission Continues, is a former Navy Seal.  Eric knows, all too well, the meaning of mission.  His book, The Heart and the Fist, details how he made the transition from humanitarian to Navy Seal, and then his combination of the two in his new organization – The Mission Continues.

The Mission Continues challenges veterans to select a host organization and develop a mission.

I was excited to apply when I met the staff from The Mission Continues in NYC, but one of the requirements was that I had to be rated disabled by the VA.  So, I did not apply.  A few months ago, I received a phone call from The Mission Continues, and was asked if I would like to apply for a fellowship.  The organization had opened up applications to all veterans and was looking forward to adding 500 Fellows to its roster in 2012.  I jumped at the chance to apply and started booking meetings in search of a host organization.

The task of finding one that could develop and carry out a mission, and that gave back to my community – seemed impossible.  I wanted to commit to a mission that included affecting Veterans and at-risk children.  I also wanted a mission that I felt passionate about.  I scheduled a meeting with a friend that I have known for five years – Jonathan Hollander, the Artistic Director of Battery Dance Company.

Jonathan recently developed a program called Dancing to Connect.

Summary

Dancing to ConnectDancing to Connect (DtC), an award-winning initiative created by the Battery Dance Company of New York City, engages youth in creativity and team-building through the art form of modern dance. Students of all abilities work under the guidance of Battery Dance Company’s teaching artists, who are also world-class performers, creating and performing choreography of their own devising. DtC workshops open doors for teens as they transition into the leaders and engaged citizens of tomorrow.

Mission

The term Dancing to Connect was coined to refer to the leitmotif of the project, which makes connections between:
· Cultures and languages of the host country and the U.S.
· Professional dancers and high school students
· Spheres of education and culture
· Secondary schools of all types
· Natives and immigrants
· Students of diverse socio-economic backgrounds
· Communities in conflict
· Boys and girls
· Student mentors with younger students      -from Battery Dance Company’s Website

The Dancing to Connect program has been successful in over 25 countries.  Battery Dance’s Teaching Artists have worked with groups of disadvantaged children, victims of violence, and other at-risk groups.  The Dancing to Connect model allows the participants to have a role in the creation of the dance work, and gives them the power to tie it to a theme that is important to them.  The works that have been developed have dealt with the AIDs epidemic, hygiene, fair elections, and other issues that are amazingly important to young people.

Our mission description for The Mission Continues adds a few new groups to the list:  Veterans of the wars and their loved ones.  Not just American, but coalition forces, and people from Iraq and Afghanistan.  We are exploring the possibilities of using the program to help Veterans express themselves through movement, to bridge the Veteran/Civilian divide through teamwork, to build a sympathetic understanding with those affected by the wars, and to assist in the healing process.

It is a huge mission.  The roadblocks and obstacles are many.

It’s not a charity, it’s a challenge.

 

 

The Mission Continues Fellowship

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In April of 2011 I volunteered with an organization called The Mission Continues to help with a Service Project.  The task of the day was to pack arts and crafts packets for children in hospitals.  Yours truly, The Mission Continues, Project Sunshine, and Comcast Cares built 1200 art packages for children in hospitals that day.

Roman Baca on WNPR’s The Takeaway

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Recently I was invited back on The Takeaway to talk about our work Homecoming and the fellowship that I was awarded by The Mission Continues.

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Military’s new Reverse Boot Camp – Who it will serve, what it will do…hopefully

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Military officials will develop a “reverse boot camp,” with the goal of better preparing service members who are leaving the military for civilian jobs or college classes. The program is part of a host of new initiatives announced by President Barack Obama on Friday to reduce unemployment among veterans.

 

During a speech at the Washington Navy Yard, Obama lamented that too many veterans have struggled to find work upon returning to civilian life. He told of Army medic Nick Colgin, who saved the life of a French soldier who was shot in the head in Afghanistan. But back home in Wyoming, Coglin had to take classes he could have easily taught just to get a job as a first responder when he got back home.…read article

The two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are generating an unprecedented number of Veterans returning to the US from abroad. Some of those men and women will stay in the military and look forward to retirement. Some will bide their time looking forward to their impending separation from the service. Others will have watched their End of Active Service Date fly by while they were deployed and the minute they demobilize, they find themselves on the street in search of housing, a job and a normal civilian existence.

The picture above is of a bunch of Marines, including me, that served in Iraq. Some of the guys have it all figured out, some are in the process of figuring it out, and unfortunately a sad few (not pictured) have fallen by the way-side. I can tell you from experience, and the experience shared by these Marines, that a “reverse boot camp”, if done right, may just have made a big difference. It’s the least they could do for our war-fighters, hopefully they do it right.

Interview – Jaeson Parsons: Shooting Graffiti in Iraq

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A few weeks ago we talked with Iraq Veteran Jaeson Parsons about his Graffiti of War Project and their mission. Jaeson and his team were enroute to Iraq to document more murals and paintings before the American presence in country is gone, and the graffiti slowly disappears.

If you missed it, catch up here before you read on.

Jaeson has just returned with his memory cards full of images from his trip and his mind full of stories from the soldiers and local Iraqis.