December 2016

Words by Stephanie Stewart-Howard

Photography by Hunter Armistead

“I fell in love with clay, the whole endeavor, the patience, the waiting—and as a dancer I noticed the subtle shifts in the model’s body and in the work I was creating.”

It’s not unheard of for an artist to cross disciplines, sometimes even brilliantly, but Rebecca Allen’s embrace of both contemporary dance and pottery—let alone her clever means of bringing the two together—is both glorious and unconventional at once. Working at the intersection of two dramatically different art forms, Becky strives to find the moments in her art where even the loud becomes quiet and the quiet becomes loud, the places where the artist can listen to the whole movement of the world.

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Rebecca Allen

Becky Allen began her journey at home in New Orleans studying with the Jefferson Ballet Theatre, a small school owned by a Cuban-American family. From there she moved on to the Loyola Ballet School and meanwhile studied studio arts at the University of New Orleans and the New Orleans Academy of Fine Arts.

It was here she began to work with clay, not yet throwing pots but sculpting. Allen relates the story of being just 19 and spending six months painstakingly exploring the intricacies of portraiture working on a single study of the head of a model called Gloria. “I saw the stories emotions had hidden in her muscles, the finest details . . .” The event was life changing.

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Rebecca Allen

Shortly thereafter, her finished piece was chosen for an art show. Tragically, in the aftermath of the show, the piece was accidentally broken. “It didn’t even bother me—I know it should have, but the process was so rich, so meaningful, that the breaking of the sculpture didn’t matter to me. In the process, I fell in love with clay, the whole endeavor, the patience, the waiting—and as a dancer I noticed the subtle shifts in the model’s body and in the work I was creating.” The act provided her with a different kind of movement map, one that is physical and less ephemeral than dance. From hence came her understanding of the relationship between the two types of artist movement and physicality: where the loud is soft, the quiet boisterous.

Upon graduating from college, Becky packed up and moved to Nashville, supporting herself as a science teacher and hoping to start a ballet school at an area church. The ballet school fell through, but teaching continued to bring its own inspiration. She met a choreographer from StillPoint Dance Theatre and began moving back into the dance world, performing and teaching dance plus teaching science for home schoolers.

Still feeling a bit disconnected, she revisited her love of clay through Metro’s Centennial Art Center. “I’d never done pottery before, and I’d always had a secret desire to study it.” The potter’s wheel gave her new freedom, and soon she had one of her own in her home studio. The wheel brought so much movement to her life she began to see the parallel freedoms of clay and dance again.

She made literally hundreds of mugs for the fantastic Karl Worley of Biscuit Love, even though creating them in quantity and similarity was a new concept, and fell in love with yet another creative process. Her home studio remains a place where dance and design intertwine.

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New Dialect dancers Emma Morrison and Rebecca Allen; Photograph by Eden Frangipane, courtesy of New Dialect

In 2012, she also began working with New Dialect dance collective with Banning Bouldin, as dancer and choreographer. She’s now taken on the role of assistant director, coaching, taking notes at rehearsals, leading warmups, and managing the tougher roles that come with making a dance company truly work. She thrives in it.

Meanwhile, Becky is at work on her own projects, working to discover where dance and clay intersect in performance. Her recent work with New Dialect, Kat 5, explored the experience of Hurricane Katrina and the themes of connection in natural disaster as only a native of New Orleans could do.

For a forthcoming performance, she imagines using a confluence of unfired ceramics, live performance, and video, as the unfired clay falls to dust slowly, after dancer interaction.

The success of Kat 5 has led Becky to begin talks with OZ Arts about a future residency, perhaps further exploring the relationship between drawing, dance, and ceramics. At the moment, she continues all her works and produces pottery and ceramics via private commission.

For more information, visit www.rastudionashville.com.

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