Blueprint/Redbloom is a visual art and dance performance installation tied to Florida’s coastal environments and the spread of toxic algae blooms. As natives to southern coastal regions, photographer Jaime Aelavanthara and interdisciplinary choreographer Amanda (Sieradzki) Gabaldon and were driven to create a work that touches upon water issues and preservation. Their collaborative process is an ongoing conversation that engages movement, poetry, and photography.
Dance is conversation. I acknowledge its ability to exist in blissful, beautiful isolation, yet when it speaks within the realms of visual arts, poetry, and music, my curiosity piques. I pull at these conversational threads—dance, the fleeting raconteur, perpetually fraying at the edges—and swaddle movement inside another form before it slips away. As an artist who identifies as dancer, choreographer, writer, poet, mover, educator, and community-builder, existing on this wildly varied interdisciplinary spectrum makes defining my relationship and roles with dance difficult. Nonetheless, I continue to enter into collaborative contracts, not only for their richness in the end product, but also for the raveling and unraveling of the process. Bridging dance across the arts forces a re-examination of my own impulses. I adopt the language of sister forms to stretch the meaning of choreography.
In 2018, I entered this kind of collaborative duet with fine arts photographer Jamie Aelavanthara. Aelavanthara’s photographic work explores themes of the human condition and interconnectedness with nature. Her work has exhibited nationally in venues such as the Mississippi Museum of Art, SEITES Gallery, Canada, and the Ogden Museum of Southern Art. I was entranced by her series Where the Roots Rise and Untamed, which both pose the female form against cycles of birth and decay. Tea-stained prints on Japanese Kitakata paper fray at the edges. Still images imbued with implied movement—the eye dancing up a dress of bones and tracing down the vertebrae of a spiny leaf.
After a particularly blustery kayaking trip through mangroves, we connected over the landscapes of our youths. We were raised within Mississippi swamplands and Florida coastlines respectively, and our conversations retraced steps along sandy shores. We lamented the deterioration of our childhood beaches—mounting climate threats irrevocably altering our oceans. We questioned the role of the human form in these landscapes. Was it possible to achieve a harmonious picture given that we humans are already cast as the disruptors to these natural spaces?
When entering the gray expanse betwixt visual and performing arts, I find it helpful to ground the conversation in shared source material. Aelavanthara offered Rebecca Solnit’s chapter “The Blue of Distance” from A Field Guide for Getting Lost, which had served as inspiration for her cyanotypes and provided context for me to better understand the photographic form. Known for their signature cyan blue, cyanotypes are one of the world’s oldest photographic printing processes, which develops images through ultraviolet light exposure. Solnit’s dreamy language quoted poets and artists who have harnessed “blue” to describe the indescribable. I was struck by the mention of vanishing prints—images made to purposely fade or disappear over time. This is the fate of the dance, to live for a breath and be gone in the next. To fade into the blue of distance and embrace that, as Solnit posits, “we hardly know our own depths2 .”
At the time we began this photography/dance conversation, Florida faced a very real and overwhelming eco-threat. In 2018, an ongoing red tide event poisoned aquatic life and posed respiratory problems along the Gulf coast. An “unusually persistent” toxic algae bloom caused by the Karenia brevis algae floated offshore producing large fish kills3 . Blooms like this have become alarmingly familiar in recent history. Fresh from sifting through Solnit’s work, I turned to the page to process. What emerged in my writing as I processed Solnit’s work was a poem:
(in response to Rebecca Solnit’s “The Blue of Distance”)
Blue is the light, is the clear reflected underneath
Red is the rabid carcinogenic bunches
Red is the bits of plastic teeth
Blue is the wide, is the wayward fishing wire
Red is the “texture of longing”
Red is the choked seabird’s desire
Blue is the body, is the damp pockets of sand
Red is the “puzzle patchwork” pools
Red is the wisdom of disturbed land
Red is the blue, an unraveled mystery
It’s the depths scarcely known
It’s the detritus we keep buried below
“The blue of distance comes with time…”
“...like [red] eyes staring back at the blue sky.”
From this poem, Aelavanthara and I created our visual art and dance performance installation, Blueprint/Redbloom. Bridging together our time-based processes, we carried cyanotype fabrics to Treasure Island beach and laid them out on the sand. Choreographing myself on the two-dimensional surface, Aelavanthara scattered sand and other bits of found debris around me as I held my body still to allow the sun to develop the fabric. My imprint served as the negative for the emerging image. We did not want a vanishing print, so, to give permanence, we carried the fabric down to the lapping waves. The developing process halted as we rinsed the cyanotype with collected ocean water. The ghostly figure left behind was one answer to our question. Amber-colorations on the fabric connected the image back to red tide, allowing a chemical reaction to alter the typical blue tone.
Our second iteration of this process came after a long COVID-induced hiatus. Before the shutdown, I had choreographed a solo based on our first cyanotype test prints, and used my poem to generate new imagery. This piece existed in isolation until 2021. Reunited, we met on Davis Islands beach and continued to wrestle with our prior question: how can the human form exist in harmony and discord with nature? Alongside Aelavanthara, I sculpted with this tension on more cyanotype fabrics stretched over sand. I composed myself and another dancer to create a trio of images—ladies in white floating in a void of rope, seaweed, and sand. We captured the solo on site, stitching together stills into a dance film which accompanied our installation at the Tampa Museum of Art as part of the Skyway 20/21 exhibition. With easing COVID restrictions, I revisited the original solo material and expanded it into a quartet for a live performance. My source material had grown from poem to cyanotype and a new question emerged: what do we leave behind? Photography and dance traded places—the once-projected dance film became a concrete live performance while the physical cyanotype hangings appeared as projections of light on the dancers. Music entered the conversation as we worked with Homegrown New Music Ensemble4 to compose an original score for the performance. The soft brushing of percussion and yearning calls of violin and cello transformed Blueprint/Redbloom yet again. The ocean was brought indoors with monochromatic images capturing the bleakness of oxygen-deprived “dead water.”
As conversations are wont to do, we meandered. From blue to the red, we dove deeper into Karenia brevis and shared articles on the science behind toxic blooms. We pored over maps of the Tampa Bay area to see where and how these incidents had been sited over the years. To process, I turned back to the page:
When It Blooms
My eyes feel it first. I understand why the fish disappear,
violently corkscrew, gills twisted, then reappear
like discarded balloons along the shoreline
mouths agape, intoxicated. It stings,
my throat aflame. Ocean tides a prophetic copper
somewhere far offshore. Clear blue
still fills sunken footprints.
In childhood, it happened once
in a while. A lost beach day was not the end
of the world until suddenly it is.
Now I catch its tingle in my chest.
The heat, the run-off, the refuse, multiplies.
Photosynthesized. Cells divide.
I catch eyes with a grounded gull, curious.
His beak prods a bloom-sick bloated fish, silvery
scales reflect back sunset.
Sandpipers lightly sidestep a supine double-crested cormorant.
Matte black wings gently lifted by the next wave.
The rest is washed away.
Back in Aelavanthara’s photography studio, I slipped out of poet and into mover. On the other side of her camera lens, I shapeshifted into seabird suffering. I lengthened shadows, divided cells, and recalled choked shorelines. I situated my mind-body between dancer/choreographer for the camera, and allowed fluid forms to be stilled. Captured. Aelavanthara composed her own kind of dance, lens zooming in close to the action. In the editing room, she digitally manipulated bodyscapes into landscapes. Fabrics frayed as they ran through printers and were recalibrated again. The resulting mural-sized inkjet prints on silk transposed the body over mapped coastline. They hung in a vertical line suspended by fishing wire for a second installation, completing Aelavanthara’s dance. Like a run-on sentence, a new choreography emerged—I worked with six dancers who maneuvered under and through the hanging fabrics, their shadows held in beams of red light for a performance of Redbloom Revisited.
A successful collaboration becomes a nesting doll. Preciously held within the arms of another, it makes it difficult to recall how one inspirational thread transformed from image to sound to movement. The unnamable muse enters and suddenly words inscribed in my notebook are written by the curve of an elbow held akimbo or carved from spiraling hips. I once struggled with defining these lines, much like collecting water in a sieve. But there is satisfaction found in the dance of being captured and capturing. We become a quartet of our own making: photographer/dancer/choreographer/poet.
2. Solnit, Rebecca. 2017. “The Blue of Distance.” In A Field Guide to Getting Lost. Edinburgh: Canongate Books. back to text
3. National Ocean Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 2022. “Fall 2018 Red Tide Event That Affected Florida and the Gulf Coast.” oceanservice.noaa.gov/hazards/hab/florida-2018.html. back to text
4. “‘Blueprint/Redbloom’ by Jaime Aelavanthara & Amanda Sieradzki.” Homegrown New Music. homegrownnewmusic.org/video and youtu.be/EqAWMmKeBKI. back to text
“‘Blueprint/Redbloom’ by Jaime Aelavanthara & Amanda Sieradzki.” Homegrown New Music. homegrownnewmusic.org/video and youtu.be/EqAWMmKeBKI.
Jaime Aelavanthara’s “Where the Roots Rise” can be viewed at www.jaelavanthara.com/where-the-roots-rise-2018 and “Untamed” at www.jaelavanthara.com/untamed-1.
National Ocean Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 2022. “Fall 2018 Red Tide Event That Affected Florida and the Gulf Coast.” oceanservice.noaa.gov/hazards/hab/florida-2018.html.
Solnit, Rebecca. 2017. “The Blue of Distance.” In A Field Guide to Getting Lost. Edinburgh: Canongate Books.