On Saturday, April 24, a group of ten TASIS High School students traveled to Monte Verità in Ascona to gather together for meditations in nature. Sweet November Dance Company (SNDC) Artistic Director Julie Frazier-Smith—with the help of High School English Teacher Andra Yount, Middle School Italian Teacher Camilla Perani and School Counselor Mary Cate Hauenstein—organized the day in the spirit of wellbeing and rejuvenation.
With awareness of the great loss, anxiety, and stress the Covid-19 pandemic has caused around the world, Ms. Frazier-Smith wanted to provide an arts offering that acknowledged the need for restoration, healing, and self-care. “Rather than offering the usual SNDC Spring Dance Concert, I found it more appropriate to offer a day focused on restoration through meditations in nature, given that there is already an exciting and robust set of performance opportunities for our students in the upcoming Spring Arts Festival,” she said.
Ms. Frazier-Smith chose the land of Monte Verità in the beautiful nearby city of Ascona because it is charged with a rich history and energy from dancers and creatives such as Rudolf von Laban, Mary Wigman, and Isadora Duncan. This land inhabited Laban’s “School for Art” from 1913–1918 and has housed conferences that explore themes such as dance as art, ritual and religion, societies without nationalism, and women’s rights. These artists sought connection to land while living thoughtfully in community and with attention to the mind-body connection. In 1978, Isa Gropius described Monte Verità as, “A place where our minds can reach up to the heavens.”
The TASIS students and faculty members were greeted with a beautiful day as they departed from campus at 9:00. Upon arriving at Monte Verità, Ms. Frazier-Smith led a welcome circle in which each individual shared what compelled them to take part in the day-long retreat. They then began the first meditation, a study of chakras—the various energy centers in one’s body that correspond to specific nerve bundles and internal organs. The students looked at a chart of chakras that explained these energy centers while interacting with an art installation.
Ms. Yount then led the students in a dynamic exploration of Rudolf von Laban’s coined Effort Actions in connection with nature and emotion. She provided the students with flashcards explaining the Effort Actions and led them through movement prompts for embodied understanding of these concepts.
Next, Ms. Frazier-Smith led the group on a sensory walk through the local forest, which is filled with mystical wood carvings, while the group paid particular attention to what they saw and heard. Students were encouraged to turn off their cellular phone data, so as not be distracted or disconnected from this forest meditation. They were also given time to sketch and journal in the forest to share their thoughts and reflections.
Following the morning of connecting with nature, the group enjoyed a lovely meal on the terrace of the Hotel Monte Verità before embarking on a guided tour of the Experiments of Life and Art to learn more about the rich history of this land.
The group did indeed experience peace and restoration and was inspired by the many lives that touched and continue to touch this beautiful land. “The message we discovered on the peace pole—Che la pace regna sulla terra (May peace reign on earth)—seemed fitting and appropriate for this day retreat and for our wish for the world in this moment,” said Ms. Frazier-Smith. “We encourage everyone to safely and respectfully explore in nature and to indulge in the sounds, sights, and sensations of our world.”