MOTIONAL Movement in action.EXPAND
MOTIONAL Movement in action.

Denver Artists Tackle Tough Social Issues Through Dance and Video

Jasmine and Katrina Lairsmith, the mother-daughter pair behind Collabratory Dance and burlesque group Champagne 6, have joined forces with Hypnautic of the hip-hop duo Top Flite Empire on MOTIONAL Movement, a project creating a series of dance-inspired videos that take on some of the big issues facing young people today: social-media bullying, mental illness, suicide, gun violence and more.

MOTIONAL Movement showcases youth dancers addressing the emotional side of these subjects through a mix of ballet, contemporary and hip-hop dance, in public places as well as the studio. The choreography, set to Hypnautic's brutal interpretations of the issues, is painful and urgent, at the nexus of the political and the personal.

MOTIONAL Movement has launched an ongoing GoFundMe campaign to raise money to produce more videos and has an ambitious goal: to reach one million viewers by the end of 2019. Westword caught up with Jasmine Lairsmith over email to discuss the project.

Westword: These videos deal with heavy issues — but also issues that a ton of people are making work about. What's the process for figuring what each video will be about? How do you keep it from being cheesy?

Jasmine Lairsmith: These are issues people have talked about for ages through music, dance, art, movies, etc. Love, hate, depression, anxiety, addiction are nothing new, and are things we have all dealt with. Personally, this is just our way of expressing it. We started with the first video, "Dear Anxiety," which was a very personal topic to us; however, while creating and talking to the kids, it gave us so much more insight into how they deal with these types of issues. What they are currently going through inspired us to continue.

We don’t think about “cheesy” or put too much thought into what critics might negatively think. Our only goal is to keep the story raw, real, while letting the art speak.

We are using real feelings and situations and including conversations with the dancers in music that inspires the choreography, and it is all coming from a real place. We get tons of messages from people this has affected in a positive way. Every life saved or inspired voids out any negative thoughts or feedback that might come.

How do you hope audiences experience these videos?

We hope to build community, collaboration, and give young artists a platform to grow and tell their stories. We want our videos to be relatable. For viewers who may be going through these issues, we want them to know they are not alone. Every time we release a video, we get tons of positive feedback from the audience, thanking us for not being scared to speak on such personal issues. A lot of people share their situations of anxiety, depression, social media, suicide and how these videos are helping.

We want to inspire viewers to speak out, share their stories, and know they are not alone. If you believe in yourself and work together, anything is possible. We want to break the mold of segregation not only in the arts, but in the world. It doesn’t matter what your class, race or beliefs are; we can all meet on the same level as humans dealing with these worldly issues to create and inspire.

Talk about the group behind this video series. How did the collaborators come together? Is there an organization releasing these? If so, what is it, and what are its goals?

The Lairsmiths have been some of the top leaders in the professional dance community for years and have seen the disconnect from the community not working together. They wanted to use their ideas and talents to give back and help through their favorite process: creating. They wanted to shine light on these heavy social topics and create a platform for others to tell their own stories as well as their own.

Hypnautic of Top Flite Empire has figured out how to live off music in Colorado successfully for ten years, toured, hit Billboard [charts] and wants to help more young artists do the same. Not just with music, but all types of art: music, dance, comedy, influencers, etc. ... After dealing with a lot of these issues himself and understanding his reach and influence, he was excited how this project happened so organically. We all came together organically, simply to create something different through collaboration and storytelling.

Talk about the creative vision and what it's like to bring the music, the message, the audio interviews and the choreography together.

It really starts with the topic, the first being anxiety. Then once we really sat down with the kids and heard what they deal with on a daily basis, we talked a lot about social media, technology and mental health. We created the second and third video based on what we heard from them, taking their voices and building the songs from there. It always begins with the message of each video and creating the song, storyline and choreography from there.

So many of the dances take place on prominent sites around the city. Are these flash mobs? Traditional shoots? How do you select the locations?

Up until now, we have taken a day or maybe two to film, with choreography and a rough cut of the song created prior to the day of shooting. We take time within the filming day to talk with the dancers about the topic and record conversation. Hypnautic reaches out to his producer, Cheff Premier, to get started on the music side, as Jasmine and Katrina are working on choreography ideas. The song comes out in a few hours, then we guerrilla-shoot at a location. We have never gotten a permit for filming and actually have been asked to leave a few times, but always made it work. Anything for the shot! The exciting part is how many people stop and record the process.

Talk about what you're hearing from youth about anxiety, social media and suicide.

The start of the song usually starts with the issue, and the end has powerful words from Hypnautic or parts of a real conversation with the dancers to help guide them to a solution. If you listen to the lyrics, they're real, raw and have a positive take, without being “cheesy.” The message is: Express emotion though movement. Collaborate and don't be afraid to speak on these issues together. We can move the world. The positive energy you get from collaborating with people and working together for something bigger than yourself can move mountains.

We want to share that it is okay to have emotion in dark times, but we do not want to get stuck there. By talking about these issues and allowing them to inspire our art, we are MOTIONAL and moving towards a better tomorrow together. It is okay to feel and emote, and we want to show the world how much growth can be done when we accept our emotions and use them as a tools to connect deeper with one another.

What's next for the project?

Our goal this year is to reach a million people. If only one of those people is inspired or saved from this process, then we won. We have already won! However, we plan to continue growing, taking each video to a new level, only getting better and better. We are creating a worldwide movement. 

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