Nancy Karp Captures the Immigration Crisis through Dance

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Sonsherée Giles in Nancy Karp’s ‘Memory/Place’, a work which looks at the immigration crisis (Photo: John Hefti)


Bay Area-based choreographer Nancy Karp lives part of the year in Sicily. From there, she has had a front-row seat on the migrant crisis happening across the middle east and Europe. Karp's observations inspired her to create a new dance work about mass migration, Memory/Place. The piece gets its world premiere at ODC theater in San Francisco from Friday, Feb. 10–Sunday, Feb. 12.

KQED asked Karp to share her thoughts about the work and its relationship to the fraught politics around immigration unfolding in this country.

A scene from ‘Memory/Place’
A scene from ‘Memory/Place.’ (Photo: John Hefti)

What does Memory/Place say about current immigration politics?

The piece attempts to illustrate the human plight of migration without being literal or obvious.  The purpose of my art is to transcend the political, in pursuit of universal themes as a way to express the tumultuous nature of human experience.


How does this work fit into your body of work thus far?

The thrust of my work for many years has been to celebrate everyday life events through abstraction.  This is the third large-scale, evening-length work I have created so far.  In this work there is a synthesis of my choreographic ideas and processes.  

Can you describe a signature dance move and/or design element in the work that speaks to the immigration theme?

One of the elements that I am addressing is that of boundaries. In keeping with the issue of boundaries I have focused on the extreme edges of the performance space. I work with movement ideas as metaphor, such as disrupting one’s sense of place, experiencing a sense of dislocation and, feelings of isolation and exclusion. Here, I am investigating the neglected or often forgotten edges and corners of the stage and finding the dancers’ physical limits in the space.

What are the expected outcomes of the project?

To move the audience to view the migration issue in new and perhaps more sympathetic ways.  I hope to tour the work in the future.

A scene from ‘Memory/Place’
A scene from ‘Memory/Place.’ (Photo: John Hefti)

How will you know if you have gotten the message across?

Through observing the audience's response and also from a Q&A following performances.

Are you planning to make more work about immigration after this piece? 

I am not planning to make more work with the immigration issue specifically.  My next project will be addressing discord in our world in a new way.  I am devoted to the pursuit of beauty as an action to combat the malevolence in the world.

Here's a short video about Memory/Place. It includes footage from a recent rehearsal at ODC theater. The music is by Kui Dong; performances by Kate Stenberg and Gianna Abondolo.


Memory/Place gets its world premiere at ODC theater in San Francisco from Friday, Feb. 10–Sunday, Feb. 12. Tickets and information here.