SPOTLIGHT on Education

3 Apr

A Recap of the Educational Programming at SPOTLIGHT: USA
By Isabel (“Izzi”) Wayner, festival intern for American Dance Abroad

In addition to the 11 performances that took place over the course of the festival, “SPOTLIGHT: USA” organizers planned a variety of educational events to facilitate connections between the American artists and their international audiences. This programming included film screenings, movement workshops, and panel discussions.

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Sally Sommer’s Check Your Body at the Door and Ron Honsa’s Never Stand Still were screened at the ONE Dance Week storefront site on Saturday and Sunday evenings, respectively. With the goal of showcasing major aspects of American dance history, we were pleased to have over 30 guests gather for each film showing.

Jonah Bokaer kicked off the festival’s workshop series on Friday with a repertory master class at DNK Theater in Sofia, in the National Palace of Culture. On Sunday, the local Plovdiv community had the opportunity to engage with Tahni Holt and Kate Wallich in their consecutive workshops held at Dance Station in the House of Culture.

Tahni’s class created a welcoming environment for all, bringing together 22 participants from both Bulgaria and the United States over the course of two hours. Holt’s class cultivated a wonderful collective trust and unity amongst the group through “Touch Therapy” and “Constant Contact” exercises, in which individuals developed strong physical connections with one another that far surpassed any existing language barriers. During a closing reflection circle, one Bulgarian participant commented that she never felt freedom in a dance studio until now; before Tahni’s workshop, she always felt a great deal of pressure and judgement in trying to appear “beautiful” in the mirror. She enjoyed every moment of the liberating class.

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Immediately following Tahni’s class, Kate Wallich’s “Dance Church” session only heightened the sense of community and positive energy that permeated the dance studio. 27 participants committed themselves to a 90-minute class described by Kate herself as “the dance party you wish you had last night.” Set to a high-energy playlist with an infectious rhythm, a series of challenging aerobic/conditioning exercises were disguised by the urge to dance out of joyful self-expression. Wallich created a therapeutic, judgement-free environment that even used Whitney Houston’s I Wanna Dance With Somebody to unite otherwise separated communities from Seattle and Plovdiv. Kate Wallich offered a second chance for festival delegates to participate in her “Dance Church” class on Wednesday afternoon.

As a part of Tuesday’s festival schedule, Ana María Alvarez and her CONTRA-TIEMPO company members led an energizing, unifying Salsa Rueda class. 21 participants, including visiting international programmers and “SPOTLIGHT: USA” performers, came together to learn the basics of this lively Cuban social dance form and movement celebration. CONTRA-TIEMPO spread their contagious positive energy to everyone in the room as they invited the participants to partner while also revolving in a large circular formation (particularly fitting for rueda’s direct translation to “wheel”).

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Just as these classes provided a means of physically understanding the artists’ fundamental ideas and aesthetic styles, a series of talks and discussions were held to further this educational exchange. On Tuesday morning, the visiting international programmers were invited to attend two presentations aimed at sharing important background information on American dance, both historically and in the 21st century. Douglas Sonntag (former director of Dance at the National Endowment for the Arts) began the morning with “American Dance – The Big Picture,” in which he followed dance’s place within the culture of the United States from the time of European settlement in the 18th century through generations of modern and post-modern dance pioneers. His mapping of American dance history included valuable acknowledgements of “immigration making dance encyclopedic in scope” and the categories of commercial and concert dance within America’s perception of the art form. His talk stimulated eye-opening conversation amongst the attendees about what makes something “contemporary dance,” as well as how dance communities across the world continue to navigate and appeal to generations whose worlds are becoming more and more centered around technology.

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Carolelinda Dickey (co-founder/co-director of American Dance Abroad) then led a panel discussion on “Residencies, Education, and Exchange.” She facilitated conversation among Megan Bridge (director of <fidget>), Adrienne Bryant (executive director of Dance Heginbotham), Carla Mann (dance professor at Reed College and performer with Tahni Holt Dance), and Sara Procopio (performer/educational programming coordinator with Jonah Bokaer Choreography). This group of women shared their experiences in dance education, production, and presentation from both across the United States and internationally, providing important insight for their international counterparts. They highlighted the supportive role that American universities play in the development and presentation of the performing arts, and stressed the importance of framing and contextualizing work for audiences that otherwise may be unable to see it through its appropriate cultural lens. The opportunity for these American artists and arts administrators to share their personal perspectives on these three topics with an international audience was beneficial in improving the understanding between American companies and potential collaborators overseas.

The choreographers showcased during the festival engaged in a panel discussion led by Andrea Snyder (co-founder/co-director of American Dance Abroad) on the final day of “SPOTLIGHT: USA”. The creators each described the genesis of their works and revealed some of the challenges they faced during their creation periods and since premiering them. After introducing what future projects they are now working on, a lively dialogue ensued between the artists and programmers addressing pre-conceived beliefs of what “American concert dance” is, in comparison to what actually motivates the “SPOTLIGHT: USA” artists. Regardless of the programmers’ expectations and opinions of the work they witnessed, there was a resounding growth in curiosity for American dance inspired by the live performances and the chance to hear directly from the artists.

This conversation was followed by “Funding American Arts Projects,” led by Carolelinda Dickey, Doug Sonntag, Ana Maria Alvarez (artistic director/founder of CONTRA-TIEMPO), and Alex Hyman (executive director of Kate Wallich + The YC). Together, this panel explained the “American model” of how artistic endeavors are financially supported. They discussed its basic structural elements, removed from the cushion of extensive government support, and offered examples of how companies uniquely balance earned and contributed income. Ana Maria and Alex compared the primary funding sources of CONTRA-TIEMPO and Kate Wallich + The YC, respectively explaining their prioritized relationships with foundation grants and individual giving. Providing our international audience with a fundamental understanding of how complex it is to navigate arts funding in the United States heightened their awareness of the monetary restrictions that often frame and impact American artists’ work. As a major challenge faced by everyone making a career out of creative expression in the United States, this conversation was necessary in order to lay the groundwork for future negotiations between international programmers and American artists.

The educational events integrated into “SPOTLIGHT: USA” were crucial to contextualizing the American dance works being performed over the course of the three-day festival. The combination of film screenings, workshops, and panel discussions helped support the performances in guiding everyone toward a more comprehensive and inclusive definition of “American dance.”

Thank you to everyone who participated in this eye-opening experience!


A Special Thanks to Jody and John Arnhold for Supporting the
Community Classes and Humanities Program of SPOTLIGHT: USA!

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