Building on momentum.

In case you haven't caught on yet, I'm a tad enthusiastic about anything that strengthens, kick starts, or breathes new life into the dance scene here in the District. So with the launch of two new grants by Dance Metro DC (DMDC), the Rehearsal Space Subsidy Lottery and the Choreographers' Commission grant, I was eager to get the details out to everyone as soon as possible. 

I threw a bunch of questions at DMDC Director, Stephen Clapp, and got the full scoop behind these initiatives: how they'll work, who's involved, and what's in it for everyone in the DC dance community. 

Cynthia Word, of Word Dance Theatre. Photo by Theo Kossenas.

Cynthia Word, of Word Dance Theatre. Photo by Theo Kossenas.

EFM: Stephen, I am immensely excited for these two new grants offered by Dance Metro DC. Can you explain exactly what their purposes are and how they will work?

SC: Sure! Dance Metro DC is delighted to announce two new grant programs designed to put resources directly into the hands of artists, strengthen existing dance networks in the region, and reach the full spectrum of the DC area dance community. 

The Rehearsal Space Subsidy Lottery is all about increasing the accessibility of rehearsal / studio space for dance-makers in the DC metropolitan area. Dance Metro DC will award 4 (four) Rehearsal Space Subsidy Grants at $500 each towards the costs of rehearsal / studio space. Subsidy payments will be made directly to the studio / venue identified by the selected applicants. Rehearsal Space Subsidy Program Grantees will be selected by random lottery from the pool of eligible applicants.

The Choreographer’s Commission Grant program exists to support the creation and development new dance works created by dance-makers in the DC metropolitan area. Dance Metro DC will award 3 (three) commission grants at $2,000 each towards the development of new work by DC area choreographers. The commission grant program will also include a series of monthly professional development sessions aimed at helping dance artists and choreographers to strengthen their position in the field and enhance the business skills necessary to successfully thrive as a choreographer in the DC area. 

EFM: I also understand there is a partnership with Dance Place for the final showing of these works, is that right?

Kelly King and Emily Arden; choreography by Melissa Bustamante. Photo by Michael Avilez.

Kelly King and Emily Arden; choreography by Melissa Bustamante. Photo by Michael Avilez.

SC: Yes, right. Thanks to a partnership with Dance Place, the selected commissionees will be presented in a shared evening concert in the Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Theater at Dance Place on September 12 & 13, 2015.

EFM: Tell us about the professional development workshops that will be launched in as a part of the Commission Grant. I understand those are open to the public, as well….

SC: Yes. Integral to this program are seven professional development component sessions. These monthly sessions will be free for the selected commissionees and will be open to the public for a nominal fee of $15 per session. Dance Metro DC members may participate for $5 per session. There will be 4 sessions that are currently scheduled as follows:

  • January 26, 2015 @ 6:00-8:30pm Professional Development: fundraising workshop
  • March 30, 2015 @ 6:00-8:30pm Professional Development: budgeting and finance training
  • April 27, 2015 @ 6:00-8:30pm Professional Development: writing about your work
  • June 29, 2015 @ 6:00-8:30pm Professional Development: marketing and publicity 

In addition to these sessions, commissionees will engage in three peer/mentor/invited guest feedback sessions, modeled after both the Fieldwork process and Liz Lerman’s Critical Response process. These facilitated feedback sessions will not be open to the public, but will include guests invited by the artists, as well as special community mentors identified by Dance Metro DC. The intent for these sessions is to help artists in the evolution of their creative aesthetic. The sessions to be included as part of this program are:

  • Fundraising: build your network to leverage your grant for additional support
  • Budgeting and Finance: develop a realistic project budget
  • Writing About Your Work: describe your creative process and artistic vision
  • Marketing: develop a publicity strategy for your work
  • Peer/Mentor Feedback: receive critical feedback from peers, invited guests and mentors (there will be 3 Peer/Mentor Feedback sessions)

EFM: We all know the crucial need for programs like this. How did these grants actually go from being just an identified need to a reality?

Photo of Christopher K. Morgan & Artists by Brianne Bland

Photo of Christopher K. Morgan & Artists by Brianne Bland

SK: There was a public dialogue among the dance community in 2005 or 2006, where a member of the performing arts community stood up and said that commissions are no longer needed in the dance community and that there are better ways of forwarding the field of dance. However, no alternative suggestions were made by this individual. I deeply disagreed, but was not in a position to refute this individual, (who is no longer a part of the DC area community). But I have carried that conversation, and my response to it over the past decade (or so), and was thrilled that the board of directors of Dance Metro DC shared my belief in the commissioning process and putting resources directly into the hands of artists.

These initiatives aim to fill identified needs within our community. Those needs being direct access to funds, development of business skills necessary to produce one’s creative work, and access to appropriate rehearsal space for dancers. There are only two other commissions in the DC area for dance artists: The Kennedy Center’s Local Dance Commission and Dance Place’s New Releases Commission. It is Dance Metro DC’s hope that our Choreographers’ Commission contributes to a climate growing of support for dance in the DC area - contrary to the existing reality of shrinking funding pools. What makes Dance Metro DC’s commission program unique, I believe, is the professional development component. These workshop sessions directly address a deficiency of business skills and opportunities for creative development for dance artists. It is Dance Metro DC’s hope that these professional development sessions will help to bridge a gap for dance artists between surviving and thriving.

Choreography by Kathy Gordon. Photo by Igor Dmitry

Choreography by Kathy Gordon. Photo by Igor Dmitry

EFM: You are not only the Director of DMDC, but a working dance artists as well. So this much be really meaningful on all levels and from all perspectives for you.

SC: Absolutely. As a practicing dance artist, I find that thoughtful, critical feedback, and creative dialogue are essential to the development of dance work and ultimately, an essential element in pushing the field of dance forward. The professional development component of the commission program includes three peer/mentor/invited guest feedback sessions. This idea is borrowed from the Kennedy Center’s Local Dance Commission program. As a past recipient of the LDCP, I found that the element of feedback in the midst of a commissioned creative process was very meaningful as it helped to provide perspective in terms of where the work lives in the greater context of the field of dance. It is my hope that this aspect of the commission program provides the same kind of benefit to the artists. 

I was also fortunate to be part of the team at Dance Place that established the New Releases Commission. Thanks to Carla Perlo and Deborah Riley, the Co-Directors at Dance Place (where I worked as grants manager from 2003-2012), I was able to see first hand how even a small commission (Dance Place’s New Releases Commission is a $1000 award) can have significant effect on the creative capacity of an artist. 

Choreography by Eleni Grove and Matina Phillips. Photo by Michael Avilez

Choreography by Eleni Grove and Matina Phillips. Photo by Michael Avilez

EFM: That is absolutely true. I think the most action happens at the grassroots level, which I think DMDC is now really tapping into. The organization seems to be sort of re-positioning themselves, and taking new approaches to more directly serve the dance community in the District. What is the impetus for this?

SC: When I became director of Dance Metro DC in January 2013, I was supported by an amazing group of individuals and community leaders that made up the board of directors at that time. They were all wonderful, forward-thinking and committed individuals, many of whom were running their own organizations in the dance community and still made time and, most importantly, energy to serve the field of dance in our region. However, it became apparent that the organization could not continue to serve our dance community indefinitely in its current state. Dance Metro DC could not simply become just another 501(c)(3) that drew resources from the community. Rather, the need was to evolve into a different model, with an emphasis on active and immediate ongoing participation, community building and identifying what the best course of action could be for an organization in order to position itself to best meet the needs of its community. Thus, the responsibilities of board members were elevated and higher demands (in terms of time and energy) were required of the board. After a brief time of transition towards the second half of 2013, Dance Metro DC now has 14 board members, all but three (including myself) are new as of 2014. Building on momentum that the previous board had established, this new board pushed new initiatives, programming ideas and funding support. 

DanceEthos. Photo by Jackie Garcia.

DanceEthos. Photo by Jackie Garcia.

EFM: Right. So these new programs are a result of that.

SC: Exactly. This new board of directors bring a fresh perspective to how Dance Metro DC can operate and exist in support of the field of dance in our region. The new commission program and rehearsal space subsidy lottery are the results of several months of community research, identifying of successful support models and the blood, sweat and tears of an all volunteer board who is committed to finding new ways to support dance artists and push the field of dance forward in our region. 

EFM: What else do you want to add, Stephen?

SC: I really want to emphasis that the Choreographers’ Commission Grant and the Rehearsal Space Subsidy Lottery are created for, by and about the DC area dance community. Artists at every stage of development are encouraged to apply to these programs. However, all applicants must be members of Dance Metro DC. If you’re not yet a member, no problem! You can join anytime via the Dance Metro DC website - annual membership fees range from $20-$500, so there are levels and benefits for everyone. 

I also want to really encourage members of the dance community to consider being at the decision-making table and apply to serve on the board of directors of Dance Metro DC. We have an amazing group of community leaders on the board now who are committed to strengthening our dance community, and there is always room for more voices at the table - so long as you can commit to the schedule of monthly board meetings and actively participate with ongoing committees… that is where the action really happens! 

P.S. Deadlines are November 15th so don't delay!

 

 

If you build it...

I honestly didn’t know what to expect when Diana Movius, dancer and Artistic Director of Movius Contemporary Ballet, invited me to take a peek at this new space on 14th Street I've heard so much about.* I’d seen some photos on-line and probably had as much information on it as the rest of you, so I was sort of giddy with excitement over what I was about to walk into. And let me just say, I was not disappointed. In fact, saying I was in awe is putting it mildly.

All these photos are courtesy of a Mr. Rob Griffin. Thanks Rob.

But how exactly did she do it?  

We’ve all daydreamed about having a space of our own and what it would mean for our work as artists (a rehearsal room available at the snap of your fingers, actually being able to complete a piece in less than half a year, dance parties at 2am, and generally just doing whatever you want). But after spending the afternoon with Diana, I noticed her referring less to what she, specifically, would gain and speaking more about fulfilling a greater communal need.

Her quest for space began in late 2011, motivated by her frustrations heading up her own company here in DC. Struggling to pin-down affordable, dance-appropriate space for rehearsals and performances here in the District is something we've all been defeated by at some point in time. She also felt she had exhausted a lot of her options for professional level classes and was looking for something more challenging.  As many of us do when our frustrations simmer for too long, Diana decided to simply take matters into her own hands. She envisioned a space dedicated to artists that would be not just affordable to rent, but also available (even at odd-ball hours), with no strings attached or hierarchies to contend with.

By 2012 she had a few prospects and almost settled on a smaller basement space downtown, but when she came across an advertisement for a former dojo/loft space, she thought, “that sounds promising!”

Paul Emerson, of Company E, now on board to help oversee the construction of the space (he's a pro at this), stepped in to explain the history of the building. 

You are looking at what will eventually be the black box space. 

“This was the historic Park Theater, which opened on July 1st, 1924," showing silent films, equipped with an accordion and a player piano. The original ceilings, sconces, and other architectural details are still in tact, which they plan to make use of with the renovations. “It will be fun to put a 21st century idea into, essentially, a 19th century space," Paul says. 

Diana really took on the bulk of the initial planning, procuring a lease, building permits, etc, all on her own. “There is a lot of courage and vision here from Diana,” Paul says with a smile. “There is a remarkable amount of interest and curiosity from the professional community. Anyone who wants to do something meaningful artistically in this town, who is starved for space, is now starting to walk up these balcony stairs, which is really wonderful." 

As Paul, Diana, and I continued to talk, we began stressing many of the same concerns for performing artists here in DC: a need for affordable space, but also a yearning for a greater sense of community, a sense of ownership, and feeling welcome in your chosen creative environment. 

“Where is the space where you can gather up a lot of talent, and let it feed off of each other,  and feel like it’s home as opposed to a place that you borrow?” Paul asks, articulating the driving force of the project.

Dance Loft 14 is located at 4618 14th St. NW.

The team also identifies that there is a lack of space in DC where artists can continue to build an audience, which is the purpose of the black box theater. It will be a convertible, multi-purpose proscenium performance space, complete with a light grid, wing space, and 120 retractable seats that can be manipulated to accommodate rehearsals, classes, or a performance. 

All in all, Diana is trying to provide opportunities for dance artists and choreographers to hone their skills and develop more rigorous practices of  creating work, without breaking the bank. My feeling is that a lack of space and resources in DC directly factors into the dance community’s inability to develop a reputation as a city with a killer dance scene, and this is a view Diana seems to share. 

“I think this kind of new creative energy for dance in the city really needs to be tapped into and promoted, and there aren’t many venues doing that,” Diana laments. “Other venues host a lot of touring companies, and we need a place that can be more avant-garde and that doesn’t require a long, convoluted application process to put a work on stage. I’d like to see a space for everyone that isn’t, say, on the Dance Place program, or isn’t performing at the Kennedy Center, and in some way facilitate a discourse on that." 

One of the studio spaces, measuring in at a massive 1500 square feet.

As we toured the loft, meandering from room to room, taking our shoes off to test the springiness of an old sprung floor, I was buzzed with excitement for Diana and for the future of this space. Convertible spaces, hard wood floors, marly floors, walls of mirrors and dance barres, dressing room facilities equipped with lockers and multiple showers (whoa!), and on and on. Although there are still piles of wood, layers of dust, and tarps lining the floors, it doesn’t take much to see her vision, and her vision is great, my friends. We’re talking three rehearsal rooms, one if which is 1500 square feet (seriously), in addition to the black box theater I spoke of earlier. The amount of openness, airiness, and natural light coming through the windows had a glimmering effect on the space (cue music)... It seemed almost magical... the possibilities seem endless...the land of opportunity...

The Dance Loft, even in its infancy, is proving to be a labor of love, but I really believe it will pay off. If you build it, they will come (for real, it just writes itself). Half of the space, two studios and an office, are scheduled to open by October 20th. While this makes my head spin, Diana’s team is determined. In fact, that afternoon the loft was buzzing with activity in hopes of meeting this deadline-- creative types, HVAC guys, builders, you name it. Everyone seems motivated towards this cause, and a sense of community radiates from every person and particle of dust in the space.

Even though the idea of a brand new space seems to be inciting enough to garner plenty of action they still need your help! (I put that in bold so you don’t miss it, see.) There is an indiegogo campaign happening until October 18th, so please visit the site and do what you can to help. 

Want a better visual now? Well, here ya go.

* Psst, I have a secret to share with you all: I have little faith in my ability to navigate Rock Creek Parkway past Cathedral Avenue. This is shameful because I’ve lived in DC for too long to have a solid excuse for this. So when Diana agreed to meet at her space, located at 14th & Buchanan, and I discovered the metro was a little out of reach, I had two choices for getting there from my house in Southeast, DC. I could travel straight up through the city, or I could just head on up Beach Drive and cross my fingers I wouldn’t get dumped out in a part of town that left me directionally challenged and frustrated. I chose the later, and you know what? It was insanely easy. In a mere 20 minutes I was not only at my destination but also well parked. (I’m sure many of you are shaking your heads at my naiveté right now). Although I felt it important to point out that the Dance Loft on 14 is completely accessible, I am wasting your precious time so get back to the actual story.

It's Elemental.

There are people who just talk. Then there are people who talk about doing. And then there are those who just do. I’ve not known Emily Arden long, but it doesn't take much time with her to realize she falls into that last category.  Local DC dancer, space-changer, and co-founder of ReCreative Spaces Emily Arden sat with me in her newly acquired space in Northeast this week and gave me the scoop on the company's beginnings, their DIY philosophy, and how they are already becoming arts’ programming junkies. 

ReCreative Spaces. Photo by John Kagia.

Emily and her business partner/photographer, John Kagia, met during a panel discussion on artists’ space at Artomatic. Once they realized they were both exploring the same ideas and models for developing self-sufficient artists in DC, they decided to join forces. Over the past year they have evolved into what is now ReCreative Spaces. Their first events were held in a home in Reston, one of which was called Reel Talk (what’s up R. Kelly) where they screened a film then had a discussion over dinner, catered by a local chef. 

As their vision expanded they approached local Northeast community developers the Menkiti Group (who Emily had established a connection with during her time at Artomatic) about possible spaces available to lease. Menkiti offered them the space they are in now (that video right there tells a pretty complete story so I don’t have to) on Bunker Hill Road, which was for lease but sitting vacant for quite some time. It needed a bit of love and care, but the idea was that ReCreative would inhabit the space on a short term lease, while Menkiti continued to show the space to other potential occupants; It’s a win/win situation. This partnership will continue once their lease is up and they will move into another Menkiti owned space.

            Logo designed by Joseph Nicolia.

“The partnership is great because we get to test things out, and there is less risk for us. But it’s great for them because they get people through these doors. It’s sort of like staging for them—people can see what the space looks like with programming, and furniture, when before it was just an empty shell,” Arden says. 

They already have a massive amount of programming scheduled for the space, which is spot-on perfect as an art gallery, and they plan on having openings the first Friday of every month. This month they are showcasing a group photography show called Washington Through the Lens. Yoga and hop-hop classes are also on the docket, and this weekend they just hosted a partnering and improvisation workshop led by Hassan Christopher. They have also partnered with Jonathan B. Tucker, who runs the youth programming for Split This Rock, to offer a series of up-coming writing circles and slam poetry events. 

Photo of Jonathan B. Tucker performing in ReCreative Spaces.

The only downside in all of this is that they feel they are already outgrowing their space, especially when it comes to what they can offer for movement classes. The rooms in ReCreative Spaces are apartment sized, which means movement space is quite limited. However, the essential stimulus for opening the space is simply about making space available. High quality art for for less dough is also paramount, with low cost programming that doesn’t price out audiences and artists. “We’re being really creative about how we work with people,” Arden explains, and they are open to private events, ticketed events, or rentals. 

This guerrilla style programming is not entirely new to Arden and Kagia, in fact, it is exactly the business model they aim for. They have been operating Elemental Spaces, a fundamental appendage of ReCreative Spaces, since they were programming out of their house.

Photo of Kelly King, of Contradiction Dance, performing in ReCreative Spaces. Photo by John Kagia.

“It is how we can afford to operate - how we've been able to test things out and experiment and get artists on board to do fun things with us,” Arden explains. “It’s also become part of our business strategy as we get deeper into this thing. For starters, there is so much unused space in cities. So let's find ways to activate them and fill them with life (aka art)! And instead of being seen as a liability, let's position ourselves as an asset to real estate companies and business improvement districts and those with space.”

“Part of the experience now," Arden continues, "part of the branding so to speak, is that people know we will be leading them around town. That a part of the experience is discovering our spaces. We've talked about being in more permanent space, and we want that, too. But a part of our model will remain this temporary use of underused space. We just totally dig it. And we think, given the response we've gotten to what we're doing, that other folks dig it, too.”

 

Elemental Spaces has had a hand in projects for Artomatic, DC Artist Exchange, The Jump Off, and a project I’m particularly stoked about, Swap Meets (the launching pad for DC Artist Exchange), which are all about encouraging shared resources amongst artists. 

Photo of Emily Arden, by John Kagia.

In conversation the other day, Emily and I spent some time scrolling through a list of voids and deficits we've identified here in the DC dance scene, many of which I've written about in past blog posts. We realized that we both lament a readiness, or enthusiasm, for shared resources amongst many local dancers. How can this be? Why does it not come more naturally for dance artists? Is it just ingrained in us to not play well together because we've worked so hard for what little we've gained? But this is exactly what Swap Meets were intended to tackle. 

“The idea of sharing resources and ideas and harnessing the collective power of creativity is a majorly exciting one to me,” Arden says, but she also admits that “getting it right” is key to the success of this model, and they are still working on the “right recipe” (referring specifically to their Swap Meets initiatives).  

Honestly, from what I’ve observed, their recipe doesn’t need too much tweaking. Emily and John have identified two worlds that need to come together, and they have perfectly positioned themselves to facilitate this convergence. As their website states, “We accomplish so much more together…"

So I encourage you to follow what is going on in this space and what Emily and John have up their sleeves for the future. Email them, stop by and see the space, and engage them in conversation. These folks have much to share, and we have much to learn from them. 

 

What space is the place

I gave myself a tad too many projects this summer so the blog slowed to a screeching holt last month. But with the last week of August approaching I'm looking forward to a wind down and more time for talk talk. I've decided to do a series over the next month on dance spaces in DC. I'll be speaking with Diana Movius about the up and coming Dance Loft on 14, Emily Arden on Recreative Spaces, and many more.

I'm curious about how these spaces fit into the arts ecosystem here in DC, and more specifically, how these spots will challenge and change the space dilemma for dance in our city. 

Is there a new or groundbreaking space you want me to write about? Let me know. Stay tuned, and enjoy these last few days of summer, folks. 

Photo of Stephanie Miracle by Zachary Z Handler.

Photo of Stephanie Miracle by Zachary Z Handler.

Bunnies and Bellyswipes, or How Art Deals With Distance.

Everybody Knows This Is Now Here, part of this year’s Capital Fringe Festival, is a multimedia contemporary dance exploration that is the result of a year long Skype rehearsal process between Eliza Larson and Rachel Rugh, of Mountain Empire Performance Collective. Through stories, original sound score, video, and movement Larson and Rugh explore themes such as the Great American Road Trip, the trials of physical and virtual distance on the artistic process, and female friendships. As costume changes, lightening fast chair dances, and an exposition of their creative process (which is extremely cool and we’ll get to that in a bit) unfold you are left touched by their charm and fluidity of movement, but asking yourself, 'now, why didn't I think of that?' (in the best of ways possible).

I first met Rachel Rugh and Eliza Larson early this year when they came through DC to show their collaborative work, the Telephone Dance Project, with the other members of the Mountain Empire Performance Collective, Katie Sopoci Drake and Barbara Tait. Created in 2013,  the collective of women explore "ways of making work beyond geographic limitations”, making use of traditional and modern methods of communication such as Skype, and email as well as telephone calls, and letters through the mail. Distance, which is ordinarily a deal breaker for collaborative dance efforts, has become an integral part of the creative process for these four artists and friends.

"Everybody Knows This Is Now Here" showcases this process exquisitely. Larson and Rugh, with the help of audio and video clips from choreographic collaborators/contributors around the country, intertwine and build upon the phrases that are products of these video chats and telephone conversations. Some phrases that are limited to movement from the waste up, are a result of the barriers of what a computer screen can capture. They give names like “Boob flower”, “Bellyswipe”, and “No no bunny” to gestures as a way to codify their movements so they will translate in their long distance communications. They perform individually developed phrases in unison, and for two woman who’s time together is minimal, they are more in sync than many who rehearse together on the daily; it’s impressive. A walking pattern that turns into a brisk jog, then a run, is so tight and together I am literally on the edge of my seat with fingers crossed that they don’t mis-step (they don’t, at least not by accident).

Their movement is satisfying with just the right amount of gestural exploration to balance out the more refined phrases of releasing, falling, and recovering. Sonic and visual themes are well explored, but varied and not over used. Larson’s long, languid, and breathy phrasing juxtaposes nicely with Rugh’s often quirky, buoyant, and more pedestrian actions. But what resonated with me, the theme that I locked into most, was the theme of friendship and connectivity that was so evident in their work. From the moment Larson and Rugh introduced themselves to the audience, eye to eye with us and one another, their bond was charged and kinetic, turning this evening- length work from just another contemporary dance piece to a meaningful conversation.

By the end of this ambitious undertaking my only regret was that there wasn't more. Not necessarily in length, because 55 minutes is just right for what one can ask many dance audiences to sustain, but in production. I actually wish to see this piece less “fringy”. What would it look like with full production capabilities? There were so many powerful, funny, and touching moments, how could they be more fully realized?

With such a daring yet logical concept of using Skype for a rehearsal process there seem to be no boundaries to what can be created. I’m inspired. There are enough artists in my life, scattered around the country, that I'm just dying to work with again.

Alexis, Jenny, Will, Paulina...what's up? My wheels are already turning...

Everybody Knows This Is Now Here is showing tonight, 7/15, at 9:45 and Thursday 7/17 at 6pm, at the Goethe Institut-Gallery. Put it on your list of Fringe must-sees. Choreographed by Eliza Larson and Rachel Rugh/Empire Dance Collective, and performed by Larson and Rugh with video appearances by Emily Geman and Annie McGhee. Original score arranged and edited by Rachel Rugh, and videography and editing by Eliza Larson.

 

 

Problem solved, folks: "Just get scrappy"

TICKS. It’s what I’m excited for at the moment, but not those little blood suckers. Yes, ticks are gross, but ticks also mark the passing of time and a pedestrian type of dance gesture. In this case, it’s a clever name for a carefully curated, yet informal, summer dance event on July 19th, hosted by three conspirators, friends, and cultural entrepreneurs: Josh Kohn, Juliana Mascelli, and Irfana Jetha Noorani. 

“So the impetus was because I moved into this new place in February, that has a massive back yard…just a big, flat, open green space, that has a sense of privacy but also of an open public space,” Josh said. “And when Irfana first came back there, her eyes just kinda…(mimicking bulging eyes)…and she said ‘we need to DO something.’" 

Irfana chimed in, “I just saw it and said, ‘I have to dance here,’ but not really because I don’t really dance anymore, but just the grandeur of the space… I could see moving bodies in it, but moving bodies on purpose and a collective gathering of people.”

And with that, a backyard explorative BBQ dance happening was born. Josh’s backyard, smack-dab between the Hill and the H Street corridor, will be transformed into a low-fi performance space for three contemporary/modern dance artists: Stephanie Miracle (DC),  Meredith Bove (DC), and Helen Hale (Philly), with visual art shown by Kathryn Zaremba (DC). But Josh, Irfana, and Juliana weren’t about to tackle this in the traditionally lame we-don’t-have-money-so-we-can’t-pay-the-artists fashion. Quite the opposite, actually. They had been talking a lot about curating DIY events and approaching the projects in a need-based way, then taking it from there.

Irfana explained, “Let’s think about what we want to do in the space, engage the artists that we want in the space, and ask them what their needs are. Then find the money to do it. What’s holding us up a lot of the time is the roadblock of money, so we’re like, ‘let’s pool our resources together and work the opposite way' and have a very transparent conversation with [the artists] about their needs.” 

Stephanie Miracle. Photo by Meghan Bowden.

As always, I brought up the conversation of how this event contributes to, or affects, the DC dance community asking if this was considered in the process of curating and designing the event, or is it isolated and not necessarily created with a purpose of community involvement? But just as I proposed this new topic of conversation, I realized that there is practically zero way for a grassroots project, such as TICKS, to not consider the community. What would be the point?

“Two of the artists performing are based n DC”, Juliana remarked, “and that was certainly a priority.”

“We also really wanted to provide an alternate platform to show work, but also something that is more lab-based, and show something that you are designing that may have a different interaction with an audience. So when we wrote to our artists, we emphasized their ability to experiment in this space and in this environment,” Irfana added. Stephanie is showing a piece she is creating for the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center in the fall, and Helen is doing something site-specific, working it out in Josh's backyard moments before the BBQ. 

Digging for a little more insight about what to expect from the event, I asked if there were certain devices (terrible word) they had in mind to get the non-contemporary dance peeps involved in the action. “There’s no talk of conversation, and I don’t think conversation would work," Josh replied. "It’s not like we’re going to say, ‘so, let’s talk about what we just saw.' It is really meant to be as relaxed of an environment as possible. It’s gonna be 4:30 on a Saturday... a grill's going... and the whole idea was to create something that is welcoming to those not that familiar with the [art] being presented."

“As someone who is coming from outside of the dance community,” Josh continued, “you go into a space and you feel like somewhat like an outsider. It’s a dark room, it’s a dark space, you don’t know what you are going to be getting into, you’re not familiar with the language… we purposefully invited our friends from both within the arts community and outside the arts community… you can engage in whatever way you feel like you need to engage. And the other thing is, [the space] is semi-private. There are parents with kids walking up and down the street, and if they come in, wanna hot dog and wanna check it out, that’s totally fine.”

So I was surrounded by three very individual and influential voices in the DC arts community, and I felt the urge to steer the conversation toward the big picture. I launched into a rant from the perspective of an artist and arts manager in DC, more specifically a dance artist in DC, often feeling depleted by the trials and tribulations of trying to activate a community toward an interest in dance. Hell, even dancers have a hard time making time to see dance; there are far too many barriers, options, and obstacles to work around on a Friday night in the DC metro area. 

"What are your perspectives?" I asked these three, and the flood gates finally broke.

They admitted that they are approaching this project as administrators, not as artists, but their overall observations are that in DC “there are a lot of moving parts and no real central community,” Irfana offered. “My sense is that everyone is really spread out, doing a lot of different things, and I think that this is true for a lot of the arts, and for people who go to see work. There is a geographical barrier… sometimes people don’t even want to leave their neighborhoods.”

So is there a solution for better supporting and fostering these highly motivated parts of a nonfunctioning whole? 

“It just feels like there isn’t a central community that continuously supports each other’s works,” Juliana said, remarking on how often she goes to dance performances and knows no one else there. Irfana and I recalled similar experiences. There are so many contributors and concentric circles of dance in this city, but what is the common link? What is our axis? And if that axis is missing, what can be done about it?

As the conversation deepened we struck upon a comparison of the inspiring history and strength behind the DC DIY music scene. But the local music scene wouldn’t have the longevity it has if it weren't for a solid backbone and a willingness to share resources. That is something that DC dance needs to learn how to do. Why can't we just link arms and go at it together?

Juliana questioned if there is an opportunity to cross-pollinate audiences, saying, “People in the music scene aren’t really going to dance performances,” to which I interjected, “Sometimes they are, if there is a personal connection to that artist or work, but you're right in that it's not happening regularly." 

As I’ve said before, and will say over and over again, as dancers we all share a common audience, so why be stingy? Don't we all want to build artists, build audiences, and then bask in the growth of our scene? (Ok, maybe “bask” is a little too luxurious.) The goal is a strong, cohesive, and vibrant community that encourages each other and in turn benefits from that fortification. 

But we can't thrive on determination alone. The quality of work that comes out of that scene is just as important. The notion of mentorships was brought to the table by Irfana, which once again had me nodding my head in agreement. 

“There are a lack of mentorships [in DC], and the ability of those established artists that are here to be mentors... There is a lack of rigor, and no editing that is happening, or assistance in the creation of work. I think that the artists performing at the BBQ, they have intensely rigorous work, and have all been a part of mentorships outside of DC.”

Helen Hale. Photo by Bobbi Jo Brooks

“And isn’t getting dancers also a problem?” Juliana asked.  We lament that there is little opportunity or ability to work solely as a professional dancer in this city. “Just being able to work with a really strong group of dancers is often just not an option, so how can you take your work to the next level when you don’t have a strong group of dancers to work with?”

These are such a crucial points, and ones that we are often squeamish about as creators or advocates for our field; it’s not comfortable to poke our bruises. It's cyclical though: if there is no guidance towards better quality art, than there is less appreciation for art from the viewer, and a depletion of your audience. 

And then we kicked the positivities again. "I think there is still room for more experimental work. People just have to get scrappy," Juliana said matter-of-factly.

And I do believe she is on to something.

Maybe we’re just not scrappy enough yet. Maybe we need to demand more, and have voices and visions that transcend all of these barriers for entry. Or maybe we still haven't found the right platform. Sitting around the table that night we all agreed it had to be ignited from the bottom up. 

“People just need to ban together, decide they want to do something, to make something, and then just make it happen,” Juliana said. “I don’t think relying on any of the institutions that already exist is a viable solution.” 

“Yeah, it’s impenetrable,” I remarked, to which Josh corrected me. “I don’t think ‘impenetrable’ is the right word. You have very limited funding streams for the arts in this country and it’s highly competitive. So those sources of funds are great, and they’re important, but it’s not what makes a community, and that’s not what can make an artist… so you just have to get scrappy. And in a city where it feels like you can’t get scrappy, and it feels like everything is working against you to be scrappy, that’s even more impetus to do it”.

So there, DC. Get scrappy. And in the process come to this BBQ and watch some dance. And no one will make you talk about what you just saw (but I bet it’ll happen anyway). TICKS will be held Saturday, July 19th at 4:30pm, at 319 12th St NE Washington, DC 20002. It is a free event, but they ask that you RSVP.

See you there.

 

 

 

Insert [connectivity...transformation...synergy] here

On a swampy DC afternoon I sat in a shaded corner of the sidewalk outside of the highly anticipated, newly remodeled Dance Place facilities with Sharon Mansur and Nick Bryson. Sharon and I first met in 2010 in Kalamazoo, Michigan, through our mutual involvement in the Midwest Regional Alternative Dance Festival (RAD Fest). Sharon’s undefinable and incomparable use of subtle movement and detail struck me as both earthy and otherworldly. She captivates, in the true sense of the word; you’re captured by her quirk as she explores space, time, the architecture around her, or sometimes her costumes or tiny lights, or whatever else she might be curious about in that moment. Nick, an established independent improvisational artist based in Ireland, was Co-Artistic Director of Legitimate Bodies Dance Company for five years and performed with Daghdha Dance Company and Elena Giannotti.

Photo of Sharon Mansur by Stan Barouh

Acclaimed improvisational artists in their own right, Nick and Sharon will be presenting the most recent incarnation of their transcontinental collaboration, INSERT [      ] HERE, at Dance Place Saturday, June 21st, and Sunday, June 22nd. Nick and Sharon will be joined by guest artists Daniel Burkholder and Naoko Maeshiba, dancers Kathryn Harris Banks, Erin Crawley-Woods, Maré Hieronimus, and Lynne Price, along with musicians Alexa Cantalupo & Khristian Weeks, and experimental sound artist Tara Rodgers. This structured improvisation will be informed not only by their guest performers but also by the attending audience and the updated Dance Place building, itself. 

Through our conversation I learned how Nick and Sharon connected through movement and through choices they make about how to exist in this world, and then how these choices and connections have ultimately informed their process of creating. After a first encounters in 2012, they reunited in Minnesota where this project was first devised and workshopped as a duet. INSERT [      ] HERE has continued to grow and shape-shift, effected by whichever immersive environment they are working in, whether it be on Nick’s home turf in Ireland, or set on a student body at University of Maryland, where Sharon is an Associate Professor of dance. 

When I asked if they could explain how their duet turned, solo, turned structured-improv-for-multiple-players can live and breath as the same piece throughout these years of workshopping, Mansur said it’s the “arch of process that manifests in different ways." Bryson went on to explain that they devised and incorporate “threads of practice”, such as “gaze-body-follow” (which, as intriguing as that sounds I neglected to get an actual explanation of), that then act as a through lines from one version to the next. In the newest version of this piece, these threads were taught to the dancers in the short rehearsal process and then used as tools to guide the piece.

In the evolution of this work there seems to be a number of layers that have germinated as a result of such process focused creation. Nick spoke to “the energy you get from your environment”, in relation and influence to their work. With INSERT [      ] HERE being a site specific piece, Nick says they consider “making a space that is transformative."  Appropriately, INSERT [      ] HERE will be the first contemporary dance piece shown in the newly transformed Dance Place facility, and this has a deep emotional and environmental connection for Mansur, who has an established history with the space. Additionally, Mansur and Bryson ask their dancers to bring their “whole person” to the process and to the piece, with respect to this layer of depth the individual performer may bring. They recognize that their dancers are in different places, mileposts, and transitions in their lives, and Nick remarks that the “synergy of connection to artists and environment”, is an important consideration and element to the piece.  

During our dialogue I was drawn to another “thread” that kept finding its way back into the dialogue. While Nick reflected on the differences between the work ethic in the United States and Ireland, specifying a major difference in “how we structure our life to do our art”, I connected to a similar notion Mansur spoke to earlier in our conversation. She said she strives to integrate the art process into daily life, whether it is just through walking, finding time to write, or simply “creating the head space to let things wander around”, and practicing being present in her daily life. This idea of melding our artistic lives into our daily lives is so logical and sensible many of us look right past it; as artists art should be our daily lives, right? Further more, I realize for those working as improv artists it is necessary to remain in the present tense, in the presence of mind and body, and that is a luxury many of us (think) we can not afford from day to day.

Photo of Nick Bryson by Connor Buckley

Photo of Nick Bryson by Connor Buckley

So with that said, these are the questions I’m left with for my own self reflection: why would we perpetuate our programmed tendency to wash, rinse, and repeat our way through life, detaching our artistic-selves from our everything-else-selves if it makes us so discontent? Wouldn’t a more congruent approach allow us to live or linger in the moment a bit easier? Don’t we want to be synchronized? What is the point in living multiple lives, as if our real selves only acknowledge our art making selves a few hours each week? It encourages a division of self, something less whole, and less fulfilled. 

But I'm going to spare you more of my theorizing and endless self-questioning and instead leave you with a video of Sharon's exploration of INSERT [  ] HERE at the Sonic Circuits Festival of Experimental Music in 2013, with composer/musician Tara Rodgers. Let this speak for me, for them, and if nothing else get you out to Dance Place for the full experience. 

You are invited to experience this interplay of environment, artists, and audience at Saturday, June 21st at 6:30pm & 8pm, and Sunday, June 22nd at 5:30pm & 7pm, at Dance Place. INSERT [   ] HERE is supported, in part, by a University of Maryland Creative and Performing Arts Award, the Minnesota Conservatory for the Arts and the Birr Theatre and Arts Centre, Ireland.

Like a Spinning Top

Hello again! It has been entirely too long since I last spoke to the world through this blog, but my absence was for good reason. However, I will resurface in prime-form in exactly one week and I look forward to getting us back on a regular schedule of reading about, writing about, and talking about dance. 

Oh, and of course seeing dance! Some amazing performances have been happening out and about in DC and I've not had a chance to take it all in! So, I now open it up to you, dear readers: please share and comment your hearts out about what shows you've seen this past month (in the convenient comment spaces below). What have you loved, what made you cry, what made you mad? What could you have seen more of, or less of? 

Sarah Ewing, Kelly King, Katie Drake, Alexis Harris, Diana Movius, Christopher K. Morgan, Erica Rebollar, Baye Harrell, Cori Terry... (just to name some folks I know have been on stage or in the studio this past month), how were your shows?!

And since I've been confined to books, papers, and too much time on my laptop these past few weeks I've had to get my dance through this light-box I type to you from right now. So let me share with you one of my all-time, absolute favorites pieces that I have watched repeatedly over this past grueling month. This piece is like comfort food for me, and covers me in a blanket of calm. It is perfection, and literally makes my heart jump with those first haunting chords. it reminds me why we do what we do. Thanks Jiri.  

Four Women, a Bunch of Letters, Some Improv & Wine.

I used to write letters, and lots of them. I remember the junior high Erin sitting alone on her bed with a pad of pink paper and a medium tip gel ink rollerball pen (probably in florescent green), carefully crafting her words in cursive across the page. She’d write letters to everyone: notes to pass at school the next day, or to friends who lived in other cities, pen pals (one in France and one in Germany), bands, magazines, records labels, on and on. If your address was listed on the back of an album, or the inside cover of a magazine, you were going to get a letter from me, for sure, signed with a bubbly "o" to dot the “i” and probably a sticker to seal the envelope. As an adolescent growing up in rural Virginia, writing and receiving those letters was essential for my mental health. Not only did it prove to me that there was life beyond the cornfields, but that people knew I was alive! People around the world read my letters, wrote thoughtful responses, and sent them all the way back to me to read in my bedroom. I collected them in a shoebox slid far beneath my bed, and would re-visit them if I was feeling isolated or alone. 

Themes of frustration, isolation, and a need for human interaction are not removed from us as we grow into adulthood. In fact, it can actually intensify, especially for those of us who have moved around, time after time, finding a need to reinvent and re-establish ourselves personally and professionally. Choreographers Katie Drake, of DC, Eliza Larson, of Massachusetts, Rachel Rugh, of Virginia, and Barbara Tait, of Pennsylvania built the Telephone Dance Project (TDP) out of this very basic need of remaining connected to one another, both personally and artistically, even though they are separated by miles. The women used snail-mail to replicate a choreographic game of telephone. They transcribed dance phrases onto paper, mailed them to each other, and then the receiver (who was the next collaborator) interpreted what she read into movement. This continued on and on between the foursome, and the final product, with some variation, will be used to generate an improvisational work that they will each take turns in directing. 

The Telephone Dance Project is Barbara Tait, Katie Drake, Rachel Rugh, and Eliza Larson. Photo by Joy Daivs.

Katie Drake's personal need for creating the Telephone Dance Project was to find a way to collaborate artistically with four woman she felt such kinship to, while forging a path for herself in a dance scene. “Since I was new in the D.C. community (I moved from Chicago shortly before I met these ladies) and it was going to naturally take a while to get integrated into the D.C. community, forming an alliance of other dancers who were also new to their communities seemed natural.  We were also all interested in non-traditional ways of creating dance, which I personally believe is necessary to pushing the art-form forward." Rachel Rugh adds, “Eliza and I met in the Seattle dance scene, then both relocated to the east coast. We were feeling frustrated with the isolation that came with starting over in a new town."

“We’ve all talked about how, with the technology available these days, artists have the capacity to collaborate beyond locational borders,” says Rugh. Barbara Tait adds, “I think there is a lot of potential there to transform the way we work as artists, or maybe just reinforce the ways we're already working."

“It's been really interesting,” says Rugh, ”through the premise of the Telephone Dance Project we've worked with various levels of connectivity-- from the most rudimentary letter writing, to four-way google chats. Exploring the concepts of proximity and distance through movement feels important at this time in history in which technology is becoming increasingly connected yet isolating.” 

“The other result of creating phrases from afar is that you get all of these fabulous ideas from other sources, but you fit them to your own body in your own way,” Drake explains. The project will present, in total, four weekends of shows in four different locals. By the time they join forces in person, they will have juxtaposed material “in four distinct and unique voices to play with. The host determines the structure of the pieces and our known material fills it up.” 

Photo by Joy Davis

“Logistically, this form has allowed each of us to continue working as independent artists in our respective communities,” says Rugh. “In each of our four locations, the resident artist is in charge of coordinating and curating the showing.  So it's been fun to see how each dancer is tapping into our local scene to compliment the unique qualities that are present in our home cities. As a result, just like the movement material is differently interpreted by each dancer, so too the format of each performance has a different flavor and atmosphere. It feels fresh and surprising each time we get together, which makes it an incredibly exciting and interesting process”.

But there is more to the project than just the mash-up described above. The weekend will kick off with an Improvisation Workshop on Friday, March 28th from 6:30-8:30pm at Dance Place taught by members of TDP. Open to all levels of experience, the workshop will introduce participants to some of the improvisational tools that TDP uses to create their long-distance, site-specific works. Participants should register for the workshop early at www.danceplace.org.

On Saturday, March 29th, TDP invites you to join them in the Kogod Courtyard of the National Portrait Gallery as they create an open-to-the-public Site-Specific Dance Experience from 3-4pm. Telephone Dance Project’s Salon-Style Show will happen Saturday night at 7:30pm at Brookland Artspace Lofts, complete with special guests, in an informal setting with dialogue encouraged. You must be on the guest list to enter, but anyone can get on the list by joining the Event on Telephone Dance Project's Facebook page or by emailing Katie Drake at kcsopoci@comcast.net. 

“My goal as a presenter,” says Drake, “was to avoid the traditional dark theater/proscenium stage/you watch, we dance sort of event.  We wanted it to be open, full of dialogue, and in a relaxed atmosphere.  Hence the art-gallery-style party!  Hopefully we'll get some open minds who want to see, discuss, connect with each other about what they see happening in the local dance community, and drink wine.”

Read more about the project and the weekend’s events at www.telephonedanceproject.blogspot.com.

 

 

 

 

Absolute Purpose

I stood in the hallway Sunday afternoon at the Anacostia Arts Center with a silly grin on my face, thinking this place is kind of incredible. The glass fronted, airiness about the space is so bright and full of light, you just can’t help but smile. But maybe I was just picking up on what everyone there seemed to be filled with, it was almost gleeful. I know I sound a little corny, but if you’ve been there then you know what I’m talking about. When I arrived I was greeted by two extremely cheery fellows who were eager to fill me in on all that the center had to offer: boutiques, art instillations, classes (in progress that afternoon), galleries, the Nürish Bar and Cafe, and lots of wide open, inviting space. Oh, and a black box theatre, which was the reason I was there. 

Photo by Michael J. Avilez

At precisely 3pm one of the cheery gentleman announced that the house was open, an unassuming door swung open, and the audience walked through to find a seat. The black box at Anacostia Arts Center is an intimate space, but for Kelly King, Artistic Director of Contradiction Dance, the space serves her purpose absolutely. Kelly is there to start a conversation with her audience, and that she does, literally. Contradiction Dance, a hybrid, mash-up of theatre and movement, is primarily focused on experiential performances that evoke self-reflection and discussion. Walk a Mile, King’s latest collaborative effort with Melissa-Leigh Bustamante, and Ben Drexler, ignites this experience from the top of the show. Walk a Mile is feel-good, witty dialogue, paired with smooth and energized choreography. Like I said, the smiles are infectious in this place, and you can’t even look a dancer in the face without the smile being passed forward. (At one point I even thought back to those cheery dudes out in the hallway, and I’m still not convinced they weren't part of the show). 

Walk a Mile is described as “a dance-based theatre experience about shoes and the creatures who wear them.” Well, that is true. It is about shoes, and modern dance, and zombies (yep), but this production serves a very personal purpose, as well. As a mother of three children, King intended to sit this year out in order to focus a bit more on her family. That didn’t last long. She was offered performance space, her daughter was eager to return to dance and join her on stage, and before long King was calling her company together again to start this new journey. You know, things happen, and families understand. 

King speaks about Walk a Mile as if it were necessary, and the notion of art becoming necessary is something I keep returning to. How do we make the visual or performing arts vital? How do we make it an intrinsic or native retreat, like listening to music, or reading a book, or checking Facebook before you go to bed at night? For Kelly King, it is clear that dance is all of these things, and her mission is to make it infectious. This piece grew out of a personal need to create and seize some unforeseen opportunities. What is so happenstance is that through this process Walk a Mile becomes necessary to the audience, as well. It almost illuminates you and keeps you bright through the rest of your day. It encourages a frank dialogue between artist and audience not ordinarily experienced in dance or theatre; others should sit up and take notice. 

So I encourage you to walk this mile and have this conversation with Contradiction Dance. When you step through that black box door, you enter their world, so lean into it, soak it up, and smile; it’s simple, but something we forget to do. And don’t worry, if you get lost, Carlos will explain everything. 

Photo by Michael J. Avilez

Walk a Mile is this weekend- Friday, March 21st & Saturday, March 22nd at 8pm, and Sunday March 23rd at 3pm, at the Anacostia Arts Center (1231 Good Hope Road, SE Washington, DC 20020).

The Tempest Replica Melts Hearts (or at least mine)

I love a good lunge. One that slips down to the floor like a long strand of molasses only to be slurped back up to standing with as much effortlessness as it was initiated. Or dancers with extensions like elastic bands that lengthen from the hip, then bounce back with a sharp buoyancy, resinating through the body with such momentum that it propels them through space, skimming the floor, and back up again. How about a delicate, liquid-soft glide that seems suspended in time, or the release of the leg into a deep, swooping, and comforting ronde jambe. Those moments are nice, too.

I am not inclined to write with such descriptive nature all the time, but in this case I can not stop myself. It seems necessary. Descriptions like this are the only way to even attempt to bring Crystal Pite’s movement to life on the page.

Photo by Jörg Baumann

Saturday night’s performance of The Tempest Replica, at American Dance Institute, was a visceral, and sublime evening of dance. Every step, turn, leap, and glide of the dancers was at once completely pure, but emotionally saturated. Pite's choreography has a deeply felt, humanist quality, yet she is pushing far beyond the limits of what seems physically possible; it’s kind of a perfect marriage. In fact, the word “limit” can be used ironically to describe her movement vocabulary in The Tempest Replica. In the bleached-white, pared down first section of the piece, she employs gesture, distorted quirks, and detailed refinement, which almost purposefully limit her dancers’ physicality as a device for telling Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Then in the second section, you are quickly shocked into a larger-than-life, full-speed and full-bodied emotional and physical exploration of the story all over again.

I marvel at Pite’s innovative partnering work, which seems to begin and end so organically. I have hardly seen anything to compare it to. Her dancers move into spaces that you didn’t know existed until they suddenly appeared there in such a surprising yet sensible way. She gives every part of the body equal consideration with potential for movement—sides of arms, shoulder blades, chins and backs of necks—allowing for infinite possibilities and creativity. 

But enough about the choreography and performance of these dancers. Few, if any, would argue that Pite and her company, Kidd Pivot, are not masters of their craft. What I actually found most interesting to observe Saturday evening was the audiences' capacity to digest and embrace Shakespeare's classic story retold through movement. This was a dance audience, for sure. The house was packed to see Kidd Pivot, who has not been to this area, I believe, ever. They were fans—yes, there are actual “fans” of dance, made evident by the swarm around Pite in the lobby following the performance. But were they initially lost and disinterested during the “this is a little more theatre-like” first section of The Tempest Replica? The first section was strikingly beautiful, but the story was also told with projections and picture-book qualities that have not been fully embraced by all audiences of this piece. We had to anxiously wait for the second half of the piece for the explosive choreography that we are all so familiar with. 

Photo by Jörg Baumann

Theatre attempts this as well, but in reverse. Theatre companies often incorporate movement or dance into their works to better illustrate emotion, or non-literal storytelling, and are met with mixed opinions. Once the actor or chorus breaks into movement, audiences shift in their seats. I actually find this more fascinating than problematic; why are audiences not able to accept when artists want to break their mold, challenge themselves, or tackle new territory? If you are fans of these artists, then why not go with them to that place? Accept it, and ride that wave? I won’t do a full-on Rite of Spring comparison because I think we’re actually beyond a tutu-riot in this century (now wouldn’t THAT be interesting?!). But as audiences, are we still straddling that line of expectation when we walk into a theater? Of course we are. How can we not be? Just think back to when Baryshnikov started White Oak Dance Project— I mean, the man only wanted to standstill for a while, and his fans just couldn’t handle it. But audiences of modern dance and avant-garde theatre should be used to cross-pollination, so I’m left reeling here. 

If it isn’t entirely about expectations, and we claim that we are accepting and interested in all forms of art (hey, we’re open minded), then what causes some people to tune out when they are challenged by art, or in the case of The Tempest Replica, not challenged enough?

Let's talk.

I need to admit something: I am a sucker for dancers talking. I think I made it pretty clear in my first post that I want more talk surrounding dance, but in this case I am referring to something more specific. I relish over choreographers explaining their creative processes. To me, watching rehearsals and choreographic developments within a dance are like the special behind the scenes moments of your favorite movie. Well, actually, that is exactly what it is. We can thank Youtube for this, turning us into flies on the wall of the studios of anyone willing to open their doors, from the Dutch National Ballet to Wayne McGregor (yes, go ahead, watch that. We’ll discuss in more detail at a later date). I’m in full support of letting the audience in on the process. Bring it. Give me more. 

I am also an absolute softy for anything to do with dance history. I cling to any opportunity to learn about the dance geniuses that came before us, and to trace the dance family tree of connectivity to where I am now. I am no more than two degrees from such luminaries as Martha, Hanya, Alwin, and Mr. B, and not a day goes by that I don’t marvel at this fact. It also reminds me of how teeny-tiny the dance world actually is. Digging deep into the history of my craft to learn about the often clumsy and hazy paths that led these greats into being is both fascinating and reassuring (that we’re all in this together). 

So this past Sunday when I attended the “Imagine…A Life in Dance” panel at George Mason University, in conjunction with the American College Dance Festival, I wasn't entirely sure what to expect, but hoping for some good stories. There was a stellar line-up of speakers from the dance world, with introductions by Suzanne Carbonneau, dance scholar at Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival.  

 

thanks to Susan Carroll Smith for the photoshop wizardry. 

thanks to Susan Carroll Smith for the photoshop wizardry. 

Elisa Monte, Artistic Director of Elisa Monte Dance, and someone I would gladly hear stories from for days.

Ashley Wheater, Artistic Director of the Joffrey Ballet, and real-life Billy Elliott.

Deborah Jowitt, Dance historian and writer, and in my opinion responsible for dance writing as we know it.

Kyle Abraham, Founder of Abraham.In.Motion, and lover of Prince and The Smiths.

Elizabeth Parkinson, former Joffrey Ballet dancer turned Broadway gal who was completely off my radar until now, but she has had an impressive career (look her up).

Robert Battle, Artistic Director of Alvin Ailey, and an extremely charming gentleman.

 

I sat in the audience of the larger-than-I’d-expected Concert Hall at George Mason, amongst a smaller-than-I’d-expected crowd of mostly college age dancers, and I would say the panelists delivered. I mean, to hear Deborah Jowitt speak to how her “brain was shocked into an alertness of dance” when she first read Dancers, Buildings, and People in the Streets, was chilling. And Robert Battle’s story of making it all the way to New York City from Jacksonville, Florida, was told with such ease and humor you’d think he gave these talks in his sleep. It was a pretty fantastic group, all in all.

But was the younger generation sharing in my enthusiasm? Absolutely. In fact, even if they are not familiar with the names of the dance pioneers that Elisa and Elizabeth spoke of, or have never heard a singe note of The Smiths (gasp!) referenced by Kyle Abraham, they still rose swiftly to their feet for a standing O at the end. And no real surprise there either. We are fully immersed in a time of non-stop-reality-behind-the-scenes-exclusivity-play-by-play-minute-by-minute-all-the-time-I-must-have-more; this generation hardly knows any other way. The simple act of talking about yourself and what you do is expected, and that makes it relevant.

So, how do we bring this excitement for talking about dance to the rest of the world? Well that’s the challenge, isn't it. But I think we’re up for it. 

 

The point.

Hi. Hello. Welcome! 

This blog serves two purposes.

1. We are so fortunate in DC to be surrounded by art, and believe it or not, a massive amount of dance. I want to bring attention to not only the national and international dance artists that are coming through our city, but the regional and local artists as well. In fact, there is hardly a weekend that goes by without concerts from local DC dance makers and I’d like to bring more attention to those artists on this blog.

2. As dancers we are trained to speak with movement. We explain stories, emotions, and display the abstract with our bodies. We’ve got that down, and we do it well. Now let’s start using our voices, too. We overlook the fact that not everyone understands what we do, why we do do it, and how it may be relevant to them. It’s frustrating as an artist to spend hours and hours, weeks and months on a new work, and not fill the seats in even a small house. But many don’t go see dance because, well, sometimes we’ve made it too challenging. We forget to open our doors, speak about our art in ways that are useful to all, and extend an invitation to those that may not ordinarily come see our work. We’re forgetting about a whole world of potential audiences. 

So, yes, let's keep leaning on each other and strengthen this community from within, but let’s also work to build a more sustainable, viable profession for dance artists. There are all sorts of ways and opinions for doing this, but I say it begins with reaching beyond our immediate circle and making our art more relevant to those around us. There is a fine balance between making art that is integral, meaningful, and cutting edge, while not being so exclusive and isolating in the process that no one really cares. By doing that we are only putting ourselves in boxes, up on hard to reach shelves. I mean, what’s the point in that? Dance will not survive that way.

Dancer: Alexis Harris. Photograph by Carolyn Kennedy.

Dancer: Alexis Harris. Photograph by Carolyn Kennedy.

And I’m not at all implying that we should dummy-down the art we make; that isn’t my point at all. The point is to have a dialogue. The point is that we bring others into the fold. We take the time to create heartfelt, provocative, and complex art, so let’s invite an exchange about it, because that is the very reason for creating. 

I'm invested in this discovery. I'm invested in helping others discover this. Let’s keep talking, and learning, and spreading that around.

If you have a show coming up, let me know! If you have something on your mind, let me know that too. Let's do this. More to come.