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Jianna Neufeld – Swallowing Clouds Assistant Facilitator 👯‍♀️

Jianna (she/her) is a Tkaronto-based dance artist, creative facilitator, and fresh air enthusiast. She graduated co-valedictorian from the School of TDT and has since performed works by María Isabel Salgado, Dave Wilson and Newton Moraes. She is currently performing in the Tkaronto cast of Stephanie Lake’s “Colossus” for its Ontarian debut.

My older sister and I have spent countless days exploring beaches, mountains, forests, and old quarries, always on the lookout for one of our favourite kinds of treasure: rocks. At times, we have been lucky enough to find fossils and gemstones, the crown jewels of many an amateur geologist. Other times our fortunes are more defined by personal interest – a starry pattern forming a universe small enough to fit into a child’s hand, or hearts hidden in swirls that feel like love letters from the earth.

I wasn’t always great at finding treasures. It was my sister who would wander whenever she had the chance, then call me over when she found something of delight. More often than not, I would immediately start looking for my own prize right next to hers, because maybe if she had found a pretty rock in this spot, I could too! Despite my best efforts, she always had the more spectacular collection. Whereas I was focused on finding treasures, my sister was in love with the process of looking.

I think about my sister often as I spend time with our young Swallowing Clouds artists. In their eyes, a pipecleaner can become a pencil that draws constellations, and the inane buzzing of a fire alarm being tested can become the foundational beat of a collaborative body percussion score. While exploring multidisciplinary improvisation, they discover treasures akin to fossils, gemstones, and heart-swirled stones within the world of art. I would describe the free spirts of these children as “unencumbered”, but it feels as though there’s more to it than just a lack of being hindered. They are driven, motivated, curious, and playful. These children are in love with the process of looking.

We don’t always see this side of them immediately, though. It can take time to settle into a space where we follow our wandering thoughts and explore each person’s personal delights. Some kids come shy, some come rebellious, and others come not having had opportunities to freely treasure hunt before. All are welcome in our space. We are thrilled to have each and every one of them.

Over the years, I too fell in love with the act of looking and now have a rock collection every bit as spectacular as my sister’s, though completely unique. I tried to remember how it was that she taught me to delight in exploring, and I realized she never actively “taught” me anything. Instead, she invited me alongside her process and allowed me to engage with her activity in my own ways. She modelled curiousity, nurtured my own, and offered me hands of support as, together, we climbed over logs, mountains, and creeks on journeys far more beautiful than any rock we would ever find. Now, the spaces I most often explore are movement, music, writing and creativity. It is a gift to be able to invite these children along on artistic adventures with us, as we do what my sister did for me, and give them the space to look.

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