Arts and Culture

After only a week into self-quarantining, Louisville Ballet dancer Ashley Thursby was going a little stir crazy. 

So, she made a challenge for herself. With the remainder of the ballet season cancelled, she would find a new reason to move and create each week while sheltering at home: To “dance with intention,” as she described it.

“I recognized the need, for my own mental well being, to stick with moving and not kind of diving down into the depths of the sadness that a season ending with such abruptness can cause,” Thursby said.

Stephanie Wolf | wfpl.org

Ashley Thursby gives herself a ballet class in her basement on April 22, 2020.

She began reaching out to other artists in Louisville to work on a project that she calls #SocialArtisting. It’s a series of short videos that layer dance, music, and sounds and images from nature with computer-generated imagery. The result is an example of how artists are turning to technology to create and collaboration to connect during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Thursby released the first video on social media on March 24.

Credit: Instagram

In the video, Thursby’s body has the look of a colorful hologram creating a trippy effect with a visual trail tracking the movement of her limbs. She said that’s how she sees movement in her head, “what a single swipe of the arm actually conveys in space.”

“It’s not just the picture that’s being made…but what else is unseen,” she said.

The series has since gotten some recognition, including a micro-commission from the Louisville Arts Network and a weekly submission win for New York Dance Project’s Quarantine Choreography Competition.

Reflecting Where The Community Is At In The Pandemic

A new #SocialArtisting video is released each week on Instagram and Facebook. 

Thursby said she journals before creating the movement for each installation, which becomes a “direct line” to the choreography.

“It’s something that kind of gives me a sense of solace and focus,” she said of journaling. “I have a lot of thoughts. And so it just kind of helps me to center…and focus in on what it is that I am feeling.”

The newest and ninth installation, out Tuesday, examines reopenings.

Thursby wears a mask, and through editing, she created a dance with “glitches,” movement that are less fluid.

“I’m very hopeful, but at the same time it is something, going back out there, that concerns not only my well being, but others and it can be jarring,” Thursby said.

✨Continuing to share movement to #TeamKentucky on #TutuTuesday this time as a #regram from @socialartisting ✨Thankful for @wfplnews who is sharing our effort to build #community as we #SocialDistance! #SocialArtisting from @athursbykern, @echopathy and @ethan_james_mccollum.#neverstopmoving #movementmatters #collaborative #multidisciplinary #art #dance #tech #glitch #processing #90694

Posted by Ashley Thursby on Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Credit: Facebook

Layering Visuals, Music & Interpretations

While the movement is a physical manifestation of Thursby’s thoughts and feelings, her collaborators bring their own experiences to the project, too.

The first video featured music from Louisville singer and composer Dane Waters. Waters said the composition has “a moment of transcendence” in it, which conveys a message of hopefulness at the beginning of quarantine.

“And resolute that, you know, we’re going to get through this,” she said. “But it’s a process. It’s a transformation. This whole thing has been a big transformation.”

Waters appreciates how each video in the #SocialArtisting series has a different tone.

“I love that breadth and depth,” she said.

Violinist Sara Louise Callaway, who is the executive director at the Louisville Academy of Music in Crescent Hill, collaborated on the eighth installation, which was posted on May 12. She said, at that point, she was still isolating, working at home with a toddler, and that influenced her contribution to the project. 

“The feeling of being tethered or trapped, also the idea of bound and unbound,” Callaway said. “We are currently making plans for re-opening and in some ways the risks of being ‘unbound’ are more stressful.” 

With little time on her hands as she balanced work and parenthood, she began by writing out some of her thoughts and feelings and then “came up with some patterns on my violin that represented the themes, and then closed my eyes and played.” 

“I was using a phone and you hear sounds from my home and outside,” she said. “I love how the video felt natural and raw and gave the illusion we were in the same place, creating together.” 

#COVID19art #SocialArtisting Series

✨Continuing to share movement to #TeamKentucky on #TutuTuesday✨Thankful for #music that fills me with the power to move! #SocialArtisting from @athursbykern, @echopathy and Sara Louise Callaway. #neverstopmoving #movementmatters #81779

Posted by Ashley Thursby on Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Credit: Facebook

Other #SocialArtisting musical collaborators include Ryan Conroy, Rachel Grimes, Phourist and the Photons, Ben Sollee, Daniel Gilliam (who is Louisville Public Media’s director of radio) and Big Momma Thorazine.

Connecting While Disengaging

Thursby has been working with Louisville CG artist and 3D generalist Dan Bryan on this project. 

“Once this quarantine thing hit…there was a lot of twiddling of thumbs as we were sitting around, wanting to do stuff,” Bryan said. 

He said Thursby started sending him video clips of her dancing “in whatever space was available at her home; a nice day, she would go into her backyard.” She’d also send him clips of nature, things like dandelions shifting in the wind or a timelapse video of clouds “rolling by.”

Bryan then layered the different elements to create something new. The process is called compositing, he said. 

Bryan likes to play around a lot with colors and get “a little weird.” In the case of this project, that often creates this otherworldly effect. 

“Basically all this is a meditation,” he said

A meditation on what’s happening, but also an escape from what’s happening.

#COVID19art #SocialArtisting Series

✨ Continuing to share movement to #TeamKentucky on #TutuTuesday. #SocialArtisting from @athursbykern, @echopathy and #DanielGilliam ✨Thankful for @LouisvilleArtsNetwork and @LiftUpLou for giving artists a platform to #create and #connect right now! Check out their sites to engage with #localartists! Did I mention Daniel created this piece specifically for this #triptych #dancefilm!?!!#neverstopmoving #movementmatters #57962

Posted by Ashley Thursby on Tuesday, April 28, 2020

 Credit: Facebook

Looking Ahead

Ashley Thursby isn’t done with #SocialArtisting, even as people start to venture outside of their homes again.

“Even though we’re coming together, it isn’t the same coming together as what we had before,” she said. “And I want to be able to express that change and I want to be able to involve others in that discussion.”

In the meantime, she just hopes these videos can provide some peace and joy in people’s lives, as creating them has done for her.

Stephanie Wolf is WFPL's Arts Reporter.