Many Bodies in One: The Deep Practice of Jasmine Hearn

January 10, 2022

Jasmine Hearn’s performance is already in motion as the audience enters Rice University’s Moody Center for the Arts. Sweeping gestures slice the air as Hearn’s gaze intensifies, drawing us deeper into the kinetic environment they are creating amidst Kapwani Kiwanga’s sprawling installation.

Hearn stops, exhales, smiles and takes the mic in hand to officially welcome the audience, bringing us into our own bodies. Wearing a translucent, earth-toned, floor-length coat, they summon teachers, mentors, ancestors and even the biodiversity of the soil beneath us in their remarks. In fact, several former teachers and mentors are in that very room.

Hearn’s web of connectedness makes for a multifaceted practice that includes yoga, somatics, vocal traditions, collaboration, garmentry, gratitude and outstanding dancing. “I am a teaching artist, a making artist and collaborating artist, all at the same time,” says the three-time Bessie Award winner, the last of which was for an outstanding performance in The Motherboard Suite in 2021.

Currently, the Houston-born artist is readying for WEDDING through Brooklyn’s JACK theater on January 15 and 16, which includes the next iteration of Hearn’s solo series N I L E: Rose Rising, alongside the screening of What soil lines my vessel, a collage of video, song, photos and film footage by Myssi Robinson, Athena Kokoronis, Alex Barbier, Hayden Hubner, Symara Johnson and Hearn. Due to a surge in COVID-19 cases, the performances will take place but stream virtually.

Jasmine Hearn kneels on the hardwood floor of a large room, their face looking forward in a stream of light
Jasmine Hearn performing N I L E at Moody Center for the Arts. Photo by Jennifer Walker, Courtesy Hearn

“This solo series came during the pandemic from my need to move, but be as safe as I can. I wanted to listen to the land, to be vulnerable, to follow my intuition,” says Hearn. “The title refers to my spine as a river, to follow its resource as a river. This image also encourages me to ask ‘What is my riverbed/resource/ground?’”

It’s no wonder that two of Hearn’s three Bessies were for Outstanding Performer. Whether dancing, speaking or standing still, Hearn is mesmerizing. Watching them casually sustain a seemingly impossible backbend, course across the space at high speeds or fold in an unexpected collapse, it’s clear that they are a virtuoso mix master of a multitude of influences.

“I trained at the Houston Met, watched my mom make pralines in the kitchen, and danced at trail rides and church,” they say. “All of these are maps of memory. I am a living archive.”

Hearn’s movement education is an eclectic one. “I began a yoga practice at 17 to heal my knees and back,” they say. “Now I pair yoga with what I learned while in Afro-Haitian class with Jean Julio, and company class with Alesandra Seutin of Vocab Dance.”

Somatic training is also core to their skills. “I have been able to deepen the studies of my pelvis with Bennalldra Williams, Barbara Mahler, Chanon Judson, Samantha Speis, and full-spectrum doula training program with Ancient Song.”

Despite their current solo-series project, Hearn considers dancing with others a vital and necessary part of dance life.

Since graduating from Point Park University in 2010, they have danced with Urban Bush Women, David Dorfman Dance, Helen Simoneau Danse, Dance Alloy Theater and the August Wilson Center Dance Ensemble.

Now a freelancer, they are collaborating with Claudette Nickens Johnson, Solange Knowles, Alisha B. Wormsley, Lovie Olivia, Athena Kokoronis of Domestic Performance Agency, jhon r stronks, Helen Simoneau and Holly Bass.

Teachers, mentors, friends live in Hearn’s body, and dancing is a way to pay homage to them. Gratitude is huge, so much so that Hearn has a tab on the website to list mentors, teachers and supporters. A Patient Practice, an ongoing body of work, acknowledges these individuals. “These folks have let me know where else they may have seen similar movements and dialects. I have always loved to take dance class or practice moves that I had seen at family gatherings and church events,” says Hearn. “All of these experiences have had such an influence upon me. ”

The recent Bessie, along with commissions from Danspace Project and working with Solange Knowles, has placed Hearn on a larger radar, accelerating their career momentum. “Committing to this freelance life has asked me to be sensitive to the possibilities that may unfold in response to work that I have already done,” says Hearn. “I remember saying that I was just riding the wave—responding to what came to me. There came a moment that I began to shift my perspective and decided to commit to where I’d like to be.”