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Imagine 2020: An Interview with Hilary Thomas

Updated: Sep 2, 2022

By Elizabeth Gracen:

I'm always inspired by my friend and collaborator, Hilary Thomas. She is the artistic director of the Lineage Dance Company and a vibrant performer and choreographer. Hilary never ceases to amaze me with her energetic, consistent dedication to her craft and to her mission of making the Arts accessible to all, so it came as no surprise when I received her newest creation in my mailbox one morning. It was just Hilary, processing the current events through dance. So important. So touching and poignant.

Flapper Press is proud to feature Imagine 2020 (embedded below). I interviewed Hilary to ask her about the inspiration and logistics of making the film. We hope you enjoy it as much as the Lineage Dance Company enjoyed making it. Something positive and beautiful in these trying times.


EG: Hilary you are the artistic director of Lineage Dance Company, and you have many dancers, shows, productions, classes, and all your usual programming

. . . all shut down at the moment. How does a dance company function in a situation like the Corona Virus?

HT: Well, I wouldn't say that we've worked out all the kinks, let's say that we are dealing with the kinks of online rehearsal. We all just Zoom together, and it's weird and confusing, and we laugh a lot, and it's frustrating and I don't know. One day when we all get together, we'll work on the new choreography that I've created. It will be interesting because I've envisioned us divided into little squares, sort of like we all are now. None of us has enough space to be able to fully extend our legs or anything, which is another challenge. So this dance is something that could be created in our space, and we'll see what it looks like when we all get together doing the parts that we're supposed to be doing together. I'll be very curious to know if everybody has a totally different interpretation of it.

EG: And you also have a musical that was in rehearsal before this all happened.

HT: Yes, and we've had rehearsals, which is actually amazing that the cast is still coming together. They just sang through all of Act One and sang through all of Act Two last week. It's amazing to watch because I just kind of sit back and see them all in their various spaces doing their best. I mean it's hard. There's a lot of singing over each other, and with the delay and with the fact that not too many people can speak at once. It makes it a little bit challenging.

EG: Tell me about the musical.

HT: It's called Next to Normal, written by Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt. It's a pretty amazing show about a woman suffering from mental illness. It was a Broadway musical, and it's just a beautiful show about a family that deals with the mother's mental illness and how that affects everybody. We have such a phenomenal cast. They all love this show so deeply, so everybody has been in it a thousand percent, We were supposed to be putting it on next month. We don't know exactly when it's going to happen, but it's going to be one of the first productions in our new Lineage Performing Arts Center space, which is going to be so cool. But everything is so unknown right now that we all have to just surrender and keep singing and working on it and know that we'll be back together soon.

EG: Let's talk about the new space a little bit. The new Lineage Performing Arts Center.

HT: It's just gorgeous. It's such an interesting irony that we've been pushing so hard and fast to get to this place where we can open and now we're just about ready to open and we can't bring anyone inside the doors.

EG: Lineage is a non-profit. Strange times for non-profits right now.

HT: It's a scary time right now—especially for nonprofits. We've been doing this massive capital campaign push to finish our space, and we were ready to start programming. It was what's going to allow us to bring in employees, and now it's like, what do we do? We're lucky that we have set up online classes for our Dance For Joy classes. We just started doing those last week. That's the one thing we can keep going. We've been trying to think about various online programming that we can create together.

EG: So, let's talk about this lovely film that you just made. I recognize the music.

HT: That's right, one of my frequent collaborators is a composer named John Guth.

EG: It's really lovely. Tell me about the project.

HT: It started as most things do for me. I just read this poem that my sister had sent. And then I thought, well that would be a really cool dance to make. I put out a call to all the dancers and said, "Here's what I'm going to need from you." And I gave him the specific instructions of what I wanted them to film and how, and I reached out to the poet, a woman named Lynn Ungar, and said, "Hey, can I please use your poem for this piece?" And she said, "Sure," which was great. Then we just put it together. So the dancers were sending them in. And the great thing is that I have some dancers who have moved away to different states, and because it came together this way, I could get them in the project too, which is so fun.

EG: What is the poem about?

HT: The underlying message is: How is this pandemic going to affect our existence in a positive way? What are the internal workings of what we are pretty profoundly being thrown into in terms of discovering ourselves? How do we learn to sit with ourselves? How do we find peace in all of this? How do we deal with the anxiety and not race back in at 1000% when we have clearance to do so?

EG: The film has an almost hypnotic feel when you watch it. I watched it in bed this morning as I was sipping my coffee, and it was like, Oh yeah! Because we would have never thought this was going to happen. I know we probably should have, obviously we're finding that out, but it just wasn't even in the realm of possibility.

HT: We've dealt with the idea of pandemics before, but they just come in, and they all seemed to resolve themselves.

EG: I know, like it never came close enough. It never touched home. But this one is a slow creeper. I was born and raised in Arkansas, and it's smack dab in the middle of the tornado belt. This reminds me of a tornado, because growing up as a kid, we had the sirens go off, the alerts on the local news radio about a tornado coming toward you, and you sit and you wait for it. It's not like an earthquake that just jolts you immediately, it's something that's coming, coming, coming.

HT: It's a particular type of anxiety; it's a harder anxiety for so many people.

EG: But as always, you create through that; you use the body and you use dance to process it. That's what I love about you!

HT: Why thank you!

EG: So we'll just end it with this: let's talk about the arts in general and how the arts can help us at this time. There are so many artists and singers doing little recordings. We're getting used to people just being themselves, just expressing themselves. Why do you think this is so important to us right now?

HT: I think that, as you said, I process through the arts. We all do in some way. I've reached out to so many writers and poets and musicians and people that I know, and people that I don't really know, and I've been hearing back. Everybody is so open. "Yes, please use this, take this, do this." I feel like we're all in this place where all artists just want to get their voice out in any way possible. I feel lucky to be at the epicenter of all of these really amazing artists who I can draw upon—yourself included.

EG: I'm happy to be in your artistic orbit!

HT: I think that the thing that's going to be so important about everything that's created during this time is that this is our time capsule for this very moment. And this is the moment where everything, art included, will be different—maybe even the way we go see shows. We're opening this performing arts center, and maybe people won't go see shows anymore. Or it's going to look very different. Who knows? Maybe everybody's going to come in with their mask and see the show. A night at the theater, who knows? So I just think it's such an important time and that the more we can record it in beautiful ways, the better.



​Hilary Thomas is the artistic directory of the Lineage Dance, a contemporary dance company dedicated to raising awareness for nonprofit organizations and to making the arts accessible to all. In 2010, the company opened the Lineage Performing Arts Center (LPAC) in Old Pasadena as a community hub designed to encourage community awareness through the arts. LPAC created the DANCE FOR JOY free classes for those affected by Parkinson's Disease, Alzheimers, Stroke Recovery, Cancer, and Autism. Hilary has also been on faculty at Flintridge Preparatory School, teaching science and dance since 2001.

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