Words by Rachel Ha-Eun Lee
Look behind you. I’m building a home.
Before walking through the door, the first installation began on the sidewalk. Dancer Jenna Charko moved effortlessly, luring you to enter the Salvatore LaRussa Studios in New York City. Unlike typical performance venues, this space resembled a home with its brick walls, garage door with a hanging basketball hoop, and an outdoor archway. Using the space to its fullest, every hallway, staircase, room, and wall was decorated with imagery, poetry, projections, dance, and visual art by local artists.
ESTIA Day Fest on May 21, 2023 showcased over 30 artworks, predominantly dance works but other mediums as well. It offered a full-day museum-like experience that allowed attendees to immerse themselves in the intimate work these artists shared.
The first two hours consisted of various interdisciplinary movement installations and dance films that were arranged throughout LaRussa. Many works felt connected to nature and nostalgia such as Eco-locate by Maxine Flasher-Düzgünes, Edited World by Angelina Laguna, and I Breathed in that Place at That Time by Mayu Nakaya. Some artists showcased multiple works such as Good to Know We All Don’t Know What’s Happening by Jenna Charko, who also had her painting series, The Dancer: Body As Art Object and her film Precipice on display nearby. Archival Log by Ari Lamora was another artist who showcased multiple mediums, dancing in an entryway next to their portrait photos titled Red, captured by Kenneth Osborn. Other notable works that lost me in time, included a dance duet in the outdoor space titled Pick Up the Pieces by Meredith Baughman and Maggie Joy, and the installation Skin to Skin by Haley Morgan Miller, who sat on the floor for two hours, employing their bare back as a projector screen for a loop of photos by Raine Roberts, in collaboration with Kaegan Casey. Nevertheless, the installation that took my breath away was Home is… by Kat Almirañez.
The outdoor archway was covered in artwork that visually represented responses Almirañez collected to the prompt Home is…. The artwork included expressions such as “Home is where I can be myself,” “Home is my preferred location,” “Home is not here,” and much more. At the end of the archway, the words leaped out from the paper, Look behind you, I’m building a home. When you turned around, there was Almirañez stitching photos, tissues, books, game controls, and other nostalgic objects onto themself and the paper that they were covered with. To me, this was the theme of the entire festival and ESTIA as an organization – a home built by founders Lydia Perakis and Lola Selsky for artists who need a safe and welcoming place to share their art.
After the installations, the outdoor stage space became the center for the rest of the day. Opening with three artists, Efrén Olson-Sánchez spoke and sang in English and Spanish in Voces along with Dex McBean and JROSE who delivered spoken word performances. All three performers encouraged the audience, but I was especially moved by JROSE’s deep-cut words and the repeated affirmations that she had the audience say with her.
The stage works show at 3:00 pm presented twelve diverse dance performances that ranged from comedic theater to street styles, contemporary dance, and Classical Indian dance. This drew out a wide spectrum of emotions for myself and the audience. Laughter filled the air when we watched Ana Moioli eat clementines in What Dreams Are Made Of, with Devlin Stark dressed as Hilary Duff in Fanny Unpacked by Ana Moioli, Devlin Stark and Marina Zurita. Love and grief were felt watching tender movements and listening to sound bites of an interview about a loved individual in While I was Homegrowing by Lucia Gagliardone. Smiles appeared on every face from dancer Jovanna Parks’s chip-eating antics and radiant personality as well as dancer Peter Cheng’s expansive and beautiful solo in We Just Seem to be Here choreographed by Jordan Miller and Konverjdans.
After the performances, the artists gathered together for a Q and A session with the audience.
“ESTIA means home in Greek,” said Lydia Perakis. “The world needs more connection. We can’t wait for institutions to give it to us.”
ESTIA Creative Home’s Day Fest did exactly what their name entails, they’ve taken matters into their own hands and have built a home for artists to share, be empowered, and create a new family.
“Community has been this whole process,” said artist Lucia Gagliardone. “This is community.”