The Sonder Project (formally known as the If I Were You Project) is a long-term, international, humanitarian outreach project that enlists the personal experiences and voices of global citizens to illuminate how dance can connect us to our shared humanity. Through a series of free movement based workshops in a given community, we gather hundreds of written reflections in participants’ native languages about what dancing connects us to. These written reflections are captured on what we call connected cards, which we later use to craft a large-scale set design (depicted below), and to inspire the choreographic process. Audience members are encouraged to walk into the performance space and interact with the set design as an installation, reading the written reflections prior to the performance, and during intermission.
Sonder workshops are well-researched and tailored to suit the needs of the participants, taking into consideration ability, age, race, gender, creed, and other culturally relevant expressions of identity that may affect how people move. We consult and collaborate with members of the community in advance to ensure that we deliver appropriate material. This project does not exist as a platform to share or spread the way that the dance facilitators move. Rather, we aim to uncover the ways that dance connects us to our shared humanity. As such, movement exercises are based in improvisation and wellness in order to avoid superimposing dance styles on others that may not be authentic, culturally relevant, or physically possible, and to maintain a humanitarian approach. How we improvise says a lot about where we come from and how we walk through life. In this way, the Sonder Project is ethnographic.
The workshop culminates with a live improvisational dance performance where the dance facilitators respond to the words on the connected cards in real time. In other words, the dance facilitators improvise, and translate the participant’s words into movement. Workshop participants get to see their stories and reflections performed by professional dancers on site, and each participant also receives a free ticket to the final performance. If the performance happens abroad, access to a digital live stream is provided. If the participants do not have access to internet services, a recorded taping of the performance is delivered in some form (digital link, usb, dvd, etc.).
To date, this project has been facilitated by a majority English speaking team from the United States of America, lead by Casey Lee Thorne, who have been trained in Western dance forms like jazz, tap, contemporary, ballet, modern, and hip hop. Thus, we collaborate with translators from the host community to translate the reflections into English before the workshop performance happens. We recognize that so much can be lost in translation. This methodology reflects the best we have come up with to date, and we continue to be open to new methodologies and ideas.
The final performance depicts an original evening length work choreographed collaboratively, intended to evoke what we call imaginative empathy. Casting decisions follow anti-racist practices, and include members of the host community if funding allows us to cover the cost of transportation and lodging. (To donate, please email: email@example.com). If we are not able to represent members of the host community on stage in person or in the audience, we believe that 1) having their consent in participating in our workshop to begin with, 2) having their written reflections on stage in the set design, and 3) having their recorded voices speaking in their native language in the soundscape of the performance approaches adequate representation, and reflects the unique challenges of creating humanitarian dance work. In an effort to encourage critical discourse and mutual understanding, Q&A sessions follow each performance.
This humanitarian dance advocacy project promotes visibility, representation, and access to dance by incorporating diverse voices into the creative process itself. The guiding principle of this project is to make dances for the people, by the people, and to use our platform to present the voices of those who may not be heard. By sharing dance with people from all walks of life, the Sonder Project envisions the creation and performance of works that nurture a sense of our shared humanity and that honor the full totality of human experience.
We have successfully completed two iterations of this project, linked below, and intend to continue the work ongoing. To date, this project is funded through crowd funding (Kickstarter), grants (Fulbright Post Graduate Student Fellowship to Israel, Theatre Bay Area Ca$h Grant), and individual donations. To support this project via donation and/or host us in your community, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
For a glimpse into the creative process, visit the News page.