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July 26, 2012

The Commons Choir: Revealing the History of the Commons Through Song and Dance

In what may at first seem an unlikely partnership, choreographer Daria Fain and architect/poet Robert Kocik have been working together since the late 80s to create an ongoing series of presentations devoted to reunifying language, our bodies, and the environment. Central to their work is a commitment to advancing the common good, and a practice called “commoning,” through their “Commons Choir”:http://www.commonschoir.org/.

You may wonder, as I did, how Fain and Kocik’s collaboration came to involve the commons; as it turns out, the commons has played a significant role in their co-creative work and artistic practice since they first met.

Early on in her career as a dancer and choreographer, Fain developed a fascination for how natural and architectural environments influence our bodies, both to our benefit and detriment. In 1988, Fain met Kocik while he was translating French poetry in Paris. Kocik, who had studied Japanese woodworking in San Francisco, thought intently about built and natural environments, and so it was, says Fain, “the perfect time to merge our practices.” Committing themselves to the development of integral and socially conscious forms of artwork, Fain and Kocik began a decades-long research inquiry into the history of the commons as it relates to their three main areas of interest: language, our bodies, and the environment.

After relocating to the U.S., Fain and Kocik’s research led them to establish the Commons Choir, a diverse group of New York City-based artists who perform and teach community movement workshops locally and throughout the United States. Kocik calls the Choir a social and artistic experiment, or a creative branch of their “commoning” work, which they define as a group of individuals working together through discussion and direct action to advance the common good.

Under Kocik and Fain’s lead, the Choir has hosted meetings with sociologists, economists, environmentalists, artists, writers, and performers to discuss the enclosure of the commons in England in relation to our current economic and ecological crises. The Choir recently used information gathered during those meetings to create a script for the Choir’s current project called E-V-E-R-Y-O-N-E. In part, the script proposes that our current economic, ecological, and inequity crises are direct consequences of the sonic and connotative qualities of the English language.

E-V-E-R-Y-O-N-E can be described as a town hall musical that pleads the case for a more compassionate economy by re-tuning language and intention. Twenty-seven performers alternate between choral responses and solo performances, which are either formally choreographed or improvised, in an effort to expose the fact of enclosure and demonstrate how the history of profit and privatization has affected the way we communicate. Kocik and Fain say the performance comes from a shared practice that unites the artists and allows them to connect in a meaningful way—and this “interrelation,” they say, is another way to understand and express the spirit of the commons.

Fain and Kocik are looking forward to the premiere of E-V-E-R-Y-O-N-E at the New York Live Arts in October. They hope the performance will not only help people better understand the history of the commons, but also inspire the audience to question the way we live today. If you are interested in supporting E-V-E-R-Y-O-N-E, you can do so “here”:http://www.usaprojects.org/project/e_v_e_r_y_o_n_e_with_the_commons_choir.