Amy Havin brings The Holding Project to life

The birth of a new company's first project, 'Hava,' that investigates emotional struggles and physical interactions

HAVA | חוה is a new dance piece, opening this week, that combines film and live movement. It was created by The Holding Project, a new collective of dance artists and filmmakers directed by dancer/choreographer Amy Leona Havin. Originally from Rehovot, a small city in Israel just outside of Tel Aviv, Havin moved to San Diego, California, as a teenager and later attended the Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle where she received her BFA in dance and choreography.

Havin’s early dance training in Israel was in ballet and the GaGa Movement Language with Ohad Naharin, the artistic director of the Batsheva Dance Company. After following a friend to Portland, Havin fell in love with the city and its environment for nurturing new independent artists, and decided to stay. I interviewed Havin on the who, what and why of HAVA | חוה and The Holding Project via email; below is our conversation.

When did you start The Holding Project and why?

The Holding Project really came from a place of necessity about one year ago. I was frustrated by the lack of performance opportunities in Portland at the time, and I wanted a space in which my unfiltered ideas and artistic notions were truly heard and embraced. There was not a presence of GaGa Movement-based choreography in Portland, and I recognized that I wanted to make that type of work. I knew that I had to make an artistic platform in which I could collaborate with others in an interdisciplinary way, and in which every collaborator involved would be heard and appreciated. I wanted to provide a close-knit performance company structure that offered artistic strength and freedom to its members, while also placing a sense of responsibility onto them.

The Holding Project was our answer to question, ‘where can I feel that my artistic ideas are important?’ I wanted to create the company in which every supporting dancer and collaborator knows that their creativity is just as valid as that of the artistic director, and that their most pressing creative ideas and experiments deserve to be explored through the artistic process.

Why did you call it The Holding Project?

“The Holding Project” is a phrase that came to me one night shortly after filming our first piece, “Water and Wine.” I was traveling in southern Utah and the words simply passed through my mind. To ‘hold’ has such a layered meaning and can change vastly depending on the context. It felt right to use the word ‘holding’ because it feels precious to me, yet weighted and important. The first piece I had ever choreographed as a teenager was called, “Keep Holding, Let’s just stay here” and it evoked such a strong sense of nostalgia in myself that I thought others might feel the same about the phrase. One can hold something up, hold someone close, hold space, hold in time, hold strong to beliefs and to ideals…to ‘hold’ is a strong stance to take, and an important one for me. I like the options that ‘holding’ proposes, and the strength that it offers to my dancers. The Holding Project is just that, an artistic project and exploration in which we can hold true to ourselves.

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HAVA | חוה. Photo by Tomas Alfredo Valladares.

How did it become a collective and how did you gather the people you work with now?

The Holding Project began as a one-piece collaboration between myself and dancer Carly Nicole Ostergaard in March of 2015. We decided to create a duet for live performance, which after meeting filmmaker Tomas Alfredo Valladares, turned into a short non-narrative dance film that was shot in an old motel on Interstate Avenue. We later entitled it, “Water and Wine,” and The Holding Project was born. I found all of my other collaborators and dancers through word of mouth and by attending other events in the community. After witnessing some of them move or meeting them in passing, I saw that we shared a similar aesthetic and I invited them to join our process.

What does Hava mean?

Hava is a Hebrew word that means ‘to come into being’ or ‘breath of life.’ It is derived from the angelical biblical name ‘Eve’ and is a common girl’s name in Hebrew. HAVA marks the beginning of The Holding Project’s journey and artistic voice as a company, and debuts the new works of dancers, choreographers, and filmmakers in Portland whose voices have not previously been heard.

Is HAVA just your story?

HAVA is not only my story. It consists of solos, duets, and group pieces created from the stories of the company members as well as the stories of our collective history. While the overarching idea of HAVA came directly from connections that I have to my own heritage, the members of The Holding Project have found their own stories within each piece. HAVA deals with themes of struggle, being trapped within circumstance, the friction of relationships, connections to spirituality, the rituals that we impose on our own daily lives, shared cultural connection, and a universal human desire to overcome.

The Holding Project, 'Hava'/Photo by Tomas Alfredo Valladares

The Holding Project, ‘Hava’/Photo by Tomas Alfredo Valladares

Can you elaborate on what you are trying to say in HAVA?

HAVA is an exploration about personal connections and the way our histories affect our relationships. It is a statement on the concept of nostalgia and how our previous experiences have the capacity to affect us. I think that the dancers have all been able to relate to each other’s stories, to find personal connections to each other. That is what makes HAVA relatable to each of us, the ability to empathize with each other and connect our own personal histories to a story that may have begun with someone else, turning it into our universal human history.

When did you become interested in dance filmmaking? What has that experience been like?

I became interested in dance filmmaking when I first saw Amelia by La La La Human Steps and Queens for a Day by Pascal Magnin. I fell in love with the detail-oriented qualities of those films and dreamt of creating something as poignant and visually stunning. While I got the chance to do a little bit of dance for film work in Seattle, HAVA is really my first experience with dance for camera. After meeting filmmaker Tomas Alfredo Valladares, he and I developed a mutual admiration for each other’s craft. We first experimented with creating the short non-narrative film, Water and Wine, and wanted to collaborate on longer, more movement-based films. We took a very non-traditional approach with our films, having come from both stage performance and documentary film backgrounds, and used each other’s knowledge to play until we found both direction and intention without our collaborative works. I have learned a lot this year during our process with film and I am grateful for those beautiful artists who have joined me on such a wild adventure.

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