New dances explore environments internal and external

Mijkalena Smith and company present Flowing Forms

3 minute read
Three dancers in all white in mid-step on stage, a black backdrop illuminated by sparkling lights
Jessica Warchal-King of JCWK Dance Lab contributes to ‘Flowing Forms.’ (Photo by Thomas Kay Photography.)

Dance artists with distinct backgrounds and visions will team up for Flowing Forms, a summer afternoon of dance at CHI Movement Arts Center in South Philly on Sunday, August 6. Inspired by physical manifestations of communication, the program includes the premieres of Mijkalena Smith’s “Inhabit,” Malcolm Shute’s “Rain on Window,” and Jessica Warchal-King’s “Variations on Regeneration.”

Fluid connection

Smith described Flowing Forms as a “self-produced situation” from three artists wishing to collaborate and share. A Temple alum, Smith remained in Philadelphia after completing a BFA. Currently based in Berks County, Warchal-King danced with Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers (KYL/D) before establishing JCWK Dance Lab. Shute is the artistic director of Human Landscape Dance, a contemporary dance company based in Washington, DC. He also teaches at Towson University.

Although Smith took the lead on Flowing Forms, Shute got the ball rolling. “I’ve been an admirer of her work for a few years now,” Shute explained. He contacted Smith after they both presented work in the February 2022 iteration of KYL/D’s InHale Performance Series, and then they brought Warchal-King on board. Coincidentally, Warchal-King cofounded InHale and curated the series from 2008-2019. Shute noted that Flowing Forms will offer “a variety of dances” to appeal to viewers “no matter what their tastes are.”

Shute’s style of dance-making explores “ways to incorporate the environment with the bodies onstage and create an environment using bodies,” rather than focusing only on steps. He loves to use contact improvisation, a form of improv partner dance involving touch and weight sharing. Meanwhile, Warchal-King identifies as a modern dancer with training in classical ballet. As her career evolves, she constantly returns to her “belief in the body being a vehicle for communication, and the body being sacred because of that.” Smith began “deconstructing” her relationship to dance after dancing competitively as a teen and dealing with injuries. By college, she began exploring “how to make dance feel good” again and ways to make it more meaningful for dancers and viewers.

Familiar but different

These three artists will come together in a program Warchal-King describes as “layered” with thematic material “woven together” throughout. She drew inspiration from science, including astronomy and soil rejuvenation, which helped her “look at dance a different way by looking at science a different way.” One of Shute’s dances considers the rainforest, “a sanctuary and a sacred place” for his late father who died during the pandemic. “The dancers are vegetation in the rainforest,” he added. Smith’s dance represents “a reflection of my aging process as a dancer” by reworking a 12th-grade solo that addressed recovering from an eating disorder. Inspiration struck when Smith revisited the solo five years later and recognized the “different dancer” she is now. She changed the music, framework, and some of the choreography to fit her current self and determined to revisit the piece every five years moving forward as a way of checking in with herself as a person and a dancer. Flowing Forms is her first performance of the reworked solo.

Each at different places in their lives, careers, and relationships with dance, Smith, Shute, and Warchal-King comprise a team of artists stronger for its diversity. At the same time, their work in Flowing Forms will take a range of approaches to exploring communication and connection. “Dance can remind us of what humans can offer that’s uniquely beautiful,” Smith said. “Dance allows us to be uniquely vulnerable and joyful in ways that allow us to connect with each other and also ourselves,” Warchal-King noted. Flowing Forms offers viewers the opportunity for making these connections. After the performance, viewers can join the artists for a talkback about their work and process.

What, When, Where

Flowing Forms. By Mijkalena Smith, Malcolm Shute, and Jessica Warchal-King. $15. August 6, 2023, at CHI Movement Arts Center, 1316 S 9th Street, Philadelphia.


CHI Movement Arts Center is an ADA-compliant venue.

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