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Stories from Quarantine: Valerie Green, Dance Entropy

13 Jan

Guest Blog by Valerie Green, Executive/Artistic Director  

For Valerie Green/Dance Entropy 2020 started with wonderful performance opportunities alongside local NYC festivals, many exciting plans to expand our NYC educational programs, and a full scheduled tour of our growing project entitled Home. As the year continued forward, what we did not expect was a vivid realization of what home meant for us.

Home, a collaboration with choreographers from Colombia, India, Lebanon, Sweden, and Burkina Faso, began in 2019, examining issues of identity, human migration, dislocation, and the search for a sense of home shared by all cultures. This ambitious project came to a halt along with the rest of the world and would inevitably shape this project and its new-found meaning.  However, this past December we were able to forge ahead resuming an in-person Phase 4 of the project at Green Space with Souleymane Badalo, complete with a hybrid performance! We hope to continue to pull the project into a completion by the end of 2022.

In finding new ways to adapt, a film project was initiated – “Time Capsule: A Physical Documentary.” Eight solos physically trace emotional experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic, woven together with a score of vocal reflections and incidental sound from the diverse sampling of New York City landscapes in which each dancer was filmed. A dynamic interplay of beauty, strength, and resilience, “Time Capsule” is a testament to the faith we have in our city, its vast infrastructure, the delicate spirits that inhabit it, and the tender terrains we all hold within.

The video project also spun off an all-male trio man/Mother, the compelling work, featuring a thick branch, suspended down stage center, makes its way into each of the three physical trails. Both an obstacle and a comfort, it confronts us with hard truths that demand reflection and action. Why would mother nature create such an affliction? What have we done as humans to contribute to bringing it into being? How can we mend our fragmented relationship with that which made us?

This continued theme of being at home continued to spark inspiration for many of our now virtual programs that are offered. Our signature trauma workshop series, Skimming the Surface, provides free workshops and performances to halfway houses, women’s shelters, substance abuse rehabilitation facilities, and other organizations supporting trauma victims. During this crisis, we opened up a virtual workshop to our surrounding community and to those all over the world. This workshop has continued to be a space for safety and healing. This also spear headed the transition to working online with local senior citizens, school residency’s and our annual summer intensive. This allowed for a more direct reach and participation that provided an outlet for movement, community and engagement during the quarantine.

As we think back on all the wonderful gifts and obstacles we faced this year, we find ourselves very thankful as we continue to remain present in our community while at a distance. Dance Entropy will continue to develop our mission as we grow and learn together to build a better world.

Stories from Quarantine: Verb Ballets

13 Jan

Guest Blog by Dr. Margaret Carlson, Producing Artistic Director  

Re-Imagine, Re-Conceive, Re-Deliver
Due to the arrival of the coronavirus in Feb 2020, many goals, activities, performances, and income were disrupted. The company was on tour in Cuba at the time and very relieved that we returned home before things shut down. While we all quarantined beginning in March, Verb continued to pay its dancers and staff while we worked from home. We applied for a PPP loan that we received in April and that was used to continue to pay employees and rent. The dancers returned to Cleveland on May 1 and sheltered at home for 14 days, and then we began having them report to work for 2.5 hours a day. Sanitizing protocols were in place, and when we had safely completed two weeks of working, we then returned to work starting June 1 with a 25% reduction in hours for all dancers and staff. Verb applied to enter the Shared Work program through Unemployment services, and by doing this we were able to continue to work with reduced hours and receive unemployment benefits. For the month of June, dances were created that did not require the dancers to touch or partner each other. Then, our entire season was canceled and we lost our earned income putting us into a situation of “survive or close.”

We have definitely been on a steep learning curve. During the initial lockdown the dancers came to the studio individually and recorded classes that were offered to our students. We worked with a local musician, Angie Haze, and her band, and made our first of several Covid Creations. It is called, SHOES. https://verbballets.org/shoes/ and marked our first venture into the virtual performance world.

Returning to work and having all of our shows cancelled, we began the process of re-imagining what performance is, how to then re-conceive the move away from the traditional and finally how to deliver it to audiences. At first, I was adamant that we figure out how to broadcast live performance as a one-off scheduled time. I wanted to preserve the anticipation that comes from going to the theatre. We utilized a service called Boxcast and figured out how to re-digitize and run the performances through our website. After the first attempt, we learned that we would do better to utilize a switcher that would allow us to move back and forth from live and pre-recorded content. By October, we were ready to move away from the live concept into finding ways to use the camera as a creative bridge to various realities. We produced a Halloween weekend film that was shot in a cemetery, the studio, and an outdoor Renaissance Colonnade. It was a “for fun” piece and we quickly learned that if moving into the world of film there needed to be a very clear storyline or way of connecting material https://verbballets.org/carnival-macabre/. In our latest production, we partnered with the Blue Water Symphony in a program where they filmed the orchestra in a different location from the one we were in and used the camera and effects to make it look like we were in the same location https://verbballets.org/building-bridges-together/. For our next production, we are moving into a theatre in a collaboration with rock musician Neil Zaza to produce a 20-minute film of a sneak peek of our December 2021 new production called The Revenge of the Rat of King, a play on the holiday favorite, The Nutcracker. We will have a film crew as well as a rock lighting designer and a dance designer. And finally, with Cares Act funds in hand we are about to convert our largest studio into a black box theatre so that we can permanently produce both live audience and virtual shows. The future, we believe, will continue to demand a virtual component.

Our final challenge was in finding a way to monetize our work. In our first attempt, we made it donation only, then tried a small charge with a donation option, then went to a set ticket price and finally ticketing options for children/seniors/families. The really fascinating discovery was that no matter which option we tried, the average ticket price came out the same, which was $25/person. So, the market determined what it would bear. On a good note, our virtual shows draw a viewership from an average of 26 states and 3-5 countries. It has allowed us to spread our name in much the same way as touring minus the cost.

Stories from Quarantine: BodyVox

13 Jan

Guest Blog by Jamey Hampton, Co-Artistic Director 

BodyVox in the time of Quarantine 

Like all dance companies in our city, state, country…indeed, across the globe…BodyVox has faced its most challenging period in our 23-year history with Covid 19. We have endured and prevailed in times of economic stress, personnel injury, natural disasters, dislocation, and any number of obstacles that arise in the operation of a somewhat fragile midsized arts organization. Never could we have imagined the sustained offensive Covid-19 would mount on our company, our audience, and our community. 10 months and counting…no end in sight.

We were fortunate to hold our annual gala on March 7, 2020. We were one of the few arts organizations in Portland to hold a gala in 2020. The following Monday, March 9, Covid moved from a potential hazard to be treated with caution to a mounting emergency. We were deep in rehearsals for a major new show that was to open in 2-1/2 weeks, a collaboration with the Akropolis Reed Quintet. We busied ourselves with rehearsals while keeping an eye on the news and our Governor’s guidelines. Each day brought more bad news, more detail about the extent of the disaster inexorably approaching.

Friday the 13th we realized the time had come: we announced to our dancers and our community that we were cancelling all activities in the BodyVox Dance Center until further notice…a major blow, as 400 people come through BodyVox on any given week to take classes, hold rehearsals, and attend events.

With all our personnel at home in quarantine, we began holding daily Zoom meetings between key staff members to assess our vulnerabilities and basic actions in the face of the emergency. For a week or so, each meeting was wrought with a balance of disbelief and confidence that we could control our destiny. How will we take care of our dancers? How will we serve our audiences and community? How will we keep class revenue from collapsing? In short, how will we keep BodyVox alive?

We kept dancers on contract until their normal period ended in early summer. Several filed for unemployment. Many teachers and support staff were furloughed. Key personnel took cuts in their salaries. Throughout the summer, we laid the groundwork for a system that would be malleable and responsive to Covid guidelines when the fall season picked back up. Two major initiatives emerged that have enabled us to remain deeply connected to our community.

BodyVox has a rich history of working in film. Nearly every show of ours has involved film sequences throughout. All of our shows have been professionally recorded with multiple cameras. In August, we launched “StreamingVox,” an online streaming page featuring films of past shows. Every two-three weeks we put up a new show. All were offered for free. We phoned patrons, sent email to our lists, posted on social media…We can’t dance for you now, but here are shows you can enjoy in your home. We began to host public chats, conversations, cocktail hours with the artistic directors, interviews with collaborators. We created BodyVox Kids, a program based upon our school residency work. People in our community were starved for connection. We always knew that BodyVox was a community, but we hadn’t quantified how much people would miss it if it were closed. These digital offerings kept the relationships alive.

We soon realized we were not going to be able to perform live in the fall. We hired a brilliant filmmaker, Robert Uehlin, to work with us in creating a cinematic version of one of our audience-favorite shows: BloodyVox. Before we gathered, we formed a “Quaran-team.” After extensive discussions with dancers and technical and artistic staff, we agreed on the rules we would abide by. Minimal exposure outside the studio; no attending large gatherings; wearing masks while rehearsing; daily use of a contract tracing app. For four weeks we rehearsed and filmed in our studio and in locations around Portland. The result was the most immersive and sweeping film we have made of our work. It was a revelation to reimagine work for the camera, focusing the audience eye on what we wanted them to see from moment-to-moment.

We constructed a large outdoor screen in a shipyard owned by a supporter of BodyVox. We projected from the back of a Subaru Outback, and broadcast over a low-watt FM channel. For three weeks we hosted a drive-in movie theater for up to 60 cars a night, $50 a car. We gave them gift bags with masks, candy, and popcorn. We streamed the film for those who had a ticket but didn’t want to do the drive-in. It was a watershed event. People loved the novelty of it, loved the film, loved the safe gathering around a dance event.

Once BloddyVox was up and running, dancers and directors reconvened in the studio to film 10 more pieces for the camera. We are currently editing them for a program called Figments. We will install Figments in a pop-up art gallery, project it as a drive-in, stream it online, offer it to presenters for their audiences. We are currently filming another series, called The Pearl Dive Project. We collaborate with creatives who are not choreographers in the making of new work. We’ve worked with painters, writers, architects, musicians, designers, bloggers…a whole host of wildly creative people. Our first collaborator will be Matt Groening of The Simpsons, musician Ludovico Einaudi, local drag personality Poison Waters. More to follow.

We have launched a robust schedule of online dance classes. Many of our teachers, who were furloughed for some time initially are now back at work teaching from their home or from the empty BodyVox studio. We still hold company class within the constraints of our Quaran-team every morning, and we stream that class live as well. I think people enjoy taking class with our fine teachers and dancers while in their own homes. I wonder if they clear the furniture for the big Grand Allegro at the end!

Our ability to remain calm, work together in the reimagining of our work, find myriad ways to remain connected to our audience, deliver compelling content, and to stay in close touch with our community, have been the keys to our success in managing the crisis of Covid. We don’t know what the future will bring, if touring will resume next year, etc. We are busy, we are creative, we are learning. We are humbled by the support we receive to continue operations. We are fiercely resolved to stay true to our purpose and pivot when we must to remain vital and solvent.

To all artists, dancers, companies, organizations, I say this: Hang in there. Dance is an arts form that touches souls and forms deep connections. Your audience needs you now more than ever before. In these dark times, the light of your work is essential. There are many ways to keep the light blazing.

Reporting from the U.S. Dance Field

10 Dec

Guest Blog by Walter Jaffe

At a time when presenters feel more apart than ever, a network called MOVE FORWARD has arisen to bring together them together on a regular basis. According to White Bird (Portland, OR) Co-Founders Paul King and Walter Jaffe, MOVE FORWARD is an expansions of West Moves, composed of presenters in the western states dedicated to bringing more dance to their communities. West Moves started more than 10 years ago, when Paul and Walter, along with a small group of presenters from California and neighboring states, decided to meet at the Western Arts Alliance (WAA) to discuss how to get more presenters interested in bringing more dance to their venues, which in turn would help lower touring costs. Out of these early gatherings, West Moves developed into a vibrant association of presenters throughout the west who met annually at WAA to focus on building and expanding dance tours, lowering touring costs, and sharing knowledge about the field of dance presenting. A Steering Committee of 8-10 individuals from the western states helped organize these annual meetings.

Due to the pandemic, WAA partnered with Arts Midwest to create a virtual conference this past October 2020. Since Paul, Walter, and other West Moves committee members had always hoped that their network could expand to cover the entire country plus Canada, this became the perfect opportunity to make that happen. West Moves Co-Founder Marty Wollesen, now based in Washington, DC, discussed with Paul and Walter the logistics of doing that and changing the name to reflect what we are all working toward during this challenging time when live performances have stopped. He suggested the new name MOVE FORWARD, which perfectly encapsulates the dual themes of a dance-related network (dance is all about movement), and the goal of being positive and constructive at a time when it is too easy to feel alone, pessimistic, and negative.

We have had three very lively and productive MOVE FORWARD Zoom sessions to date, focused on topics that include – snapshots of presenting organizations during COVID-19, what organizations are currently doing and how are they planning for the future, and contractural agreements with agents/managers/artists. The launch of MOVE FORWARD at WAA/Arts Midwest attracted 96 attendees, all registered at the conference. Subsequent Zoom sessions are open primarily to presenters, but each member of the MOVE FORWARD Facilitator Group* will host a session and determine whether to open the session to others (agents/managers/artists) or not. A special MOVE FORWARD session is being planned on January 13, 2021 for the virtual APAP conference, when it will be open again to all registrants.

Everyone who has attended the MOVE FORWARD  Zoom sessions so far has expressed great enthusiasm about the conversation and educational value of these gatherings. Most of all, everyone is cherishing the opportunity to come together and interact with colleagues, all of whom are passionately dedicated to making dance happen in their respective communities. During the pandemic, most of us have felt alone as we maneuver through many difficult decisions of virtual vs. live presenting, and MOVE FORWARD is helping to bring us closer at a time when most of our venues are shut and we have no idea when we can resume live performances.

*MOVE FORWARD Facilitator Group: Cory Baker (Long Center, Austin, TX), Celesta Billeci (UC Santa Barbara Arts & Lectures, CA), Walter Jaffe & Paul King (White Bird, Portland, OR), Amy Lam (Celebrity Series, Boston, MA), Margaret Lawrence (Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA), Jack McLarnan (STG Presents, Seattle, WA), Beth Macmillan (Artown, Reno, NV), Randal Miller (Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, Pittsburgh, PA), Cathy Weiss (Del Web Center, Wickenburg, AZ), Marty Wollesen (Washington, DC), Pam Young (Dance Cleveland, Cleveland, OH)

Stories from Quarantine: Martha Graham

10 Dec

Guest Blog by LaRue Allen, Executive Director 

With much fanfare, the Martha Graham Dance Company closed its sold-out Kennedy Center run on March 7, 2020 and left Washington D.C., looking forward to our New York City Center season, scheduled for the following month. By March 13 our studios were shuttered and dancers locked down at home. One by one performances on tour in the U.S., Asia, and finally Europe were postponed and ultimately canceled.The Board directive was simple – “Go digital,” and the Company shifted gears to create online programming and find ways to monetize it in the new virtual universe. The spring and summer saw a rapid pivot to free digital offerings with the launch of Martha Matinees, featuring classic Graham ballets on film accompanied by a live chat with Artistic Director Janet Eilber. Picked up by The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The New Yorker, and Smithsonian Magazine, Martha Matinees was named a top-5 Pick by NYC-Arts.

From my Executive Director’s perspective, the Graham season and the Covid crisis seemed to roll out in tandem. It became pretty clear that a return to the theater would elude us for most of 2020-2021, so it was time to conceive of an entire season that was fully virtual. We leaned into our experience using technology to reach audiences and planned an array of events, from opera house performances to the intimate Studio series, to video snippets that keep our friends connect to our dancers. “Experimentation with technology has always been a significant part of how we make our work accessible to all audiences” said Artistic Director Janet Eilber. “Our 95th season will be a new virtual journey coordinating our many online events, offering context to the depth and breadth of the Graham legacy and all we do to move into the future.”

To crack the monetization code, we turned to Patreon, the platform that now hosts all of our digital offerings. For as little at $3 a month audience members have access to an array of events, some predictable, some decided not – think a glorious performance of Night Journey one day and Xie Ying’s demonstration of her favorite Guacamole recipe on another.
We’re looking forward to our newly conceived spring season that will include a world premiere by Andrea Miller, Janet Eilber’s new production of Graham’s Immediate Tragedy, a suite of Graham duets including Moon and Errand into the Maze, and duets by Troy Schumacher from The Auditions and Andonis Foniadakis from Echo. We’ll also feature some complete Graham masterworks including Night Journey and Every Soul is a Circus.
We’d love to be in person, in front of our audience, but until that’s possible, we revel in all that we can bring to our virtual stage. We are deeply thankful that we are all healthy and able to continue connecting with our audience. The lock-down definitely has some sour notes, but the Graham lemonade is pretty tasty.

Dance Dialogue: Focus on Shoghakat MLKE-Galstyan, Chief Coordinator of HIGH FEST

1 May

HIGH FEST International Performing Arts Festival was established in 2003 by Artur Ghukasyan. This festival gives Armenian audiences a great opportunity to get in touch with the values within the world of performing arts. The organizers aim to bring the best and most innovative companies to Yerevan, and provide its people with a rich and unique palette of worldwide art. At the same time, the Festival promotes Armenian culture in the international sector, making it closer and more connected to the world of performing arts.

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HIGH FEST 2017

HIGH FEST presents productions in all genres of performing arts, including theatre (drama, comedy, mime, movement, circus, street performances, puppet/marionette, fingers and visual theatre), dance (contemporary, folk, classic), music (opera, classical, musical, contemporary, jazz, folk), and more.

Over 3,000 participants (500 foreign companies, organizers of well-known international festivals, representatives of international networks, producers, promoters and presenters, critics, etc.) from 50 countries have participated in the festival. Performances have been held in numerous venues (indoor and outdoor) throughout Yerevan.

Besides the Main and Fringe program of the festival, other events such as seminars, master classes, roundtable discussions, and trainings are organized to create a favorable atmosphere for the exchange of ideas and experiences on New Writing, Networking, Cultural Management, International Cooperation in Arts, Cultural Policy, and other issues. The master classes, led by foreign arts practitioners, concentrate on new trends and methods of contemporary performing arts and present these new approaches in different spheres of art.

My journey with HIGH FEST International Performing Arts Festival began in 2003. It was the first edition of the festival, I was 15 years old, and my brother and I had just established our theatre when we saw a TV interview with the festival’s president, Artur Ghukasyan. We were so inspired that the very next day we went to the office and said: “I don’t know English well, nor using a computer, but I am so eager to help you!” The following day I had already started putting up posters all over the city and preparing coffee in the HIGH FEST office. Now, I am currently the NGO’s head of international programs who runs the HIGH FEST International Performing Arts Festival. Although at first I felt extremely naive, I now am confident with my familiarity of every side of the festival – even within – as I also have performed and taken part in it with performances by MIHR Theatre.

Each programmer tries to find the ‘golden middle’ between his/her own aesthetics and the audiences’ needs. Armenia has an ancient history in national dance, but only a Soviet period of ballet dance. During the independent years, Armenia’s main outlet of dance education lied on the shoulders of the HIGH FEST International Performing Arts Festival. Thus, a lot of the programming of workshops begin with the choreographers. In the beginning, people thought that contemporary dance was hip-hop, but nowadays they seem to more accurately see the differences between urban choreography and modern ballet. The main criteria for our selection is having “inspiring” works; we are not searching for the big names or shows, we are searching for choreographers and performers who can inspire our dance community to further create and inspire others. It is difficult to define the term “inspiring,” but a feeling and a gateway to the region represented comes close to what we have in mind. Besides our own programming, we also have international programmers visiting the festival. We all have a similar vision of our wants and it is captivating to come together with this common goal.

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HIGH FEST 2017

HIGH FEST was first established as a theatre festival, but since 2006 it has become a performing arts festival that welcomes all genres. I can definitely say that this change has been one my greatest achievements while working in programming with this festival. The performing art scene is so diverse and multidisciplinary that it is very difficult to distinguish between a dance performance and a theatre piece, a circus act or an artwork. That’s why we have removed boundaries in performing arts. However, I add here an unwritten rule to have dance shows take up twenty percent of programming.

We have been international in scope from the beginning, with the aim to support the artistic mobility of emerging artists. Each year we host around 20 countries and each time the festival becomes more diverse. The only country which has had a single participantion is Iran. Unfortunately, it is a very closed country to the international scene, but as our neighboring country we organize an Iranian theatre program to support its artists and have them internationally presented. For us, it is also crucial to keep a balance between countries, so if, for example, there are three shows from the same country, we try to limit any additional. From time to time we organize showcases of the participating countries; we have had experiences working with a Polish Dance Showcase and a Russian Drama Showcase. Additionally, we program small-scale shows on tour (up to seven people).

Those interested in participating in HIGH FEST should visit our website (www.highfest.am) to request an application (it is currently being updated and will be active after June 15, 2018). They can also send an e-mail to info@highfest.am to request an application. The deadline is the 30th of March of each year for that year’s edition, and the festival dates are 1-8 of October (the first week of the month). Applicants will be asked to submit photos and a full-length video of the performance. As an “open-hearted” festival, we also select pieces accompanied by rehearsal videos. The advisory board makes its selection by the end of April of that year. In May, the applicants hear back from us with their results and conditions of participation.

#Cleveland Havana Ballet

5 Apr

Guest Blog by Kate Webb, Verb Ballets Dancer

What do pointe shoes, dirt, and cafecitos have in common? They’re all integral parts of The Cleveland Havana Ballet, which just successfully completed its first edition of international performances in Cuba. The fusion company is comprised of young, passionate artists from Havana-based ProDanza and Cleveland-based Verb Ballets.

After only dancing together for four days, The Cleveland Havana Ballet premiered Yarini, a full-length ballet based on a well-loved Cuban legend, in front of thousands of people. The two-country company followed up four shows of Yarini with three mixed-bill performances featuring repertory highlighting each of the dance troupes’ strengths. Despite the varying styles of the two companies (Verb Ballets is a contemporary ballet company, while ProDanza considers itself strictly classical), it was hard to tell which company the dancers worked for by the end of the packed two-week residency. They wore each other’s ballet skirts, company t-shirts, and began to emulate each other’s dance style. 

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As a dancer, the exchange was both eye-opening and rewarding. The Verb Ballets company members were amazed by how the Cuban dancers could flourish in spite of countless daily obstacles. To make Cuban tap water drinkable it requires iodine tablets, something that makes even drinking water a commodity. Most of the Cuban dancers would go without water for a full day of rehearsals in the non-air conditioned studios so they wouldn’t have to use up more tablets than absolutely necessary. I have never felt so thankful to have an otherwise mundane plastic water bottle. They managed to perform jaw-dropping balances on pointe shoes that looked so mushy and worn that they didn’t provide an ounce of support. Yet they were able to execute endless turns on uneven, tattered, and dust-covered floors. None of these trying conditions stopped them from dancing with vitality and spirit.

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The non-dancing locals we met also showed us a lot about the ever-vibrant Cuban culture. Complete strangers would strike up conversations on the street and were delighted to converse about dance and art. The government subsidizes tickets to the ballet, just as it does tickets to the baseball game, so dance is something for everyone to engage in. It was surreal to be in a country where it was more likely that a person would understand a reference to Maurice Ravel’s “Bolero” over Jeff Bezo’s “Amazon”. 

The Cuban people have built a beautiful island where the classics are revered and the present moment enjoyed to the fullest. With very limited internet access, Cubans understand the profound gratification that comes with slow, meticulous work. They take the time to appreciate attention to detail, and translate that appreciation to artists. Although we toured to a country with limited resources, every person with whom we interacted with gave us unending admiration. I think it is safe to say that half of my heart remains in Havana!

Read more about our adventures in Cuba, at www.verbballets.org/cubatour.

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!

Reflections on Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, by Andrea Snyder

26 Dec

I can’t believe I waited this long in my life to experience Israel! What an amazing and thrilling trip to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. A week is clearly not enough time.

Atanas Marc, Mary-Louise Albert and me outside the Old City

Andrea Snyder, Atanas Maev and Mary-Louise Albert outside the Old City

I was invited to attend the Jerusalem International Dance Week presented by MASH (Machol Shalom Dance House) from December 2-6, 2017, which lines up conveniently in advance of International Exposure at the Suzanne Dellal Centre in Tel Aviv. The convening in Jerusalem is a fairly intimate gathering (approximately 60 international presenters and guests, only three of which hailed from the U.S.) focused on independent dance artists. Exposure is in its 23rd year of showcasing a range of Israeli companies and artists, some with international recognition, for several hundred international presenters and guests (including a larger group of Americans).

First, a few impressions about the cities themselves. Jerusalem is magical for its centuries-old history, the dynamics of four cultures (Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Armenian) functioning in close quarters within the Old City, the light, sounds, smells, food, marketplace… every sight and moment is thrilling. Tel Aviv has a different feel, for sure, but still interesting. The city is more laid back than Jerusalem, and the beach/sea dominate the environment and focus. I was only there for a very short time, and spent 99% gravitating to the Dellal Centre, so my appreciation of the city was limited.

A participatory performance in the David Tower Museum

Participatory performance in the Tower of David Museum, Jerusalem

Although I saw more dance work in Jerusalem than in Tel Aviv, overall the choreography reflected the general environment and current climate – themes generated around aggression, relationship struggles, and gender politics. One or two works focused on healing, sharing, and trust. The dancing was rich with passion, intensity, honesty, humor, and great skill. Both festivals were lively with interaction, hospitality, and friendliness.

My purposes in attending both festivals were several-fold. First, I was able to inform international colleagues about American Dance Abroad’s upcoming projects, SPOTLIGHT: USA and American Dance Recon, both of which were met with great enthusiasm.

Presenting info to colleagues in Jerusalem

Andrea Snyder presenting information about SPOTLIGHT to colleagues in Jerusalem

Second, I had the chance to talk with MASH’s leadership about future efforts for international residency exchanges, a focus that American Dance Abroad has on its radar.

Third, it was a terrific opportunity to meet new international colleagues and introduce them to American Dance Abroad’s efforts on behalf of U.S. dance artists and companies, as well as to learn about and be inspired by their own initiatives. There were ample opportunities for striking up conversations – at the sumptuous hotel breakfasts, on buses to the various venues in Jerusalem, at receptions, or sitting next to someone new in a theatre, to name a few.

It was a great, intense, valuable and positive trip!

Dance Dialogue: Focus on Dieter Jaenicke, Director, internationale tanzmesse nrw 

23 Oct

internationale tanzmesse nrw is a biennial international marketplace and festival for contemporary dance. Dance companies and artists from all over the world present their work live on stage. For choreographers, dancers, agencies, presenters and cultural institutions alike, it is a platform of vivid networking and exchange. It is an opportunity to meet roughly 2,000 professionals from all over the world, providing a space for topical discourse on recent developments in the field of contemporary dance.

Tanzmesse 3 36 photo-D.Matvejev©

Photo © D. Matvejev

Six months ago, Dieter Jaenicke took over the artistic direction of internationale tanzmesse nrw 2018 and 2020. The experienced curator, festival manager and artistic director is the fourth director in Tanzmesse’s nearly 25-year history. He seeks to further develop cooperation with the international dance field as well as to curate a high-quality dance festival, both for international professional visitors and local audiences. As the current artistic director of HELLERAU, he draws on very diverse experiences in the dance field, as well as in the cultural field in general, including experience as curator for festival Boticário na Danca in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, festival director in Aarhus and organizer of the World Culture Forums 2004 and 2006.

First and foremost, he aims for holistic fairness and universality. To achieve this goal, Dieter Jaenicke seeks to provide a high quality artistic program and an open, welcoming attitude. Not only does Tanzmesse provide a broad space for the different genres and facets of contemporary dance, it also reflects societal issues by means of dance. Dieter Jaenicke values new ways of thinking and creating, cross-overs with other art forms, such as fine arts, new media or design, and particularly the fusion between tradition and innovation. To live up to this aspiration, all world regions need to be adequately represented at Tanzmesse. Jaenicke states: “It is international, global, and universal. We will especially take care that Africa and South America – who have had very little presence in the past – will be part of internationale tanzmesse nrw and its festival in 2018.”

Artists and choreographers who wish to participate are welcomed to send their proposals for performances until November 13, 2017. Artists need to be represented by a booth in order to apply for the festival program. Jaenicke encourages artists to “contact us personally if you have any questions, doubts, concerns!”

Find all the details at:
www.tanzmesse.com/en/tanzmesse/2018/exhibitors/performance-proposal/

Tanzmesse 3 9 photo-D.Matvejev©

Photo © D. Matvejev