Everyone seemed to be elated over the collective strength fourth edition of the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater’s newMoves Festival. Certainly each dance piece had its own merit and was easily distinguishable from the others, which you can read about in my article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
But I wasn’t able to touch on the other side of the Festival, the symposiums that were offered not only for local artists and those participating in the Festival, but the Kelly-Strayhorn itself. Top-notch panels on Friday and Saturday led to equally top-notch networking throughout the three-day event. Here are some thumbnail sketches of the proceedings, all of them with pertinent information for dance artists:
Craig likes to create a sense of expectation about a residency because “artists should engage in research and development” with monthly meetings and experts. It’s important to “get an intersection between presenting and process.” He also talked about the need for rehearsal space to be subsidized, “how to really be an artist in the context of where you live.” He is “hands on,” matching choreographers with others who look at their work and making artists show every week to see what works (although there was some dissent on the last point).
Marya is involved with the Studio Series (12 artists, 100 hours of free studio time, to be used over 12 months, informal performance(s) over the course to be determined by artist); Fresh Tracks (for emerging choreographers, 6 artists – for many their first fully supported performance – lighting, etc. - one month of professional development, including fund raising and grant writing); The Resident Commission Artists Program (commission and produce for touring, there is actually a salary to support being an artist full-time) and The Suitcase Fund (opportunities for dialogue and exchange between nations).
Kyle asks “how I can see the work in its entirety before it goes up?” He used the National Dance Project to fund his start, then applied for residencies (to get everyone together, pay rehearsal fees and per diem). He mentions On the Boards (8 days, had technical support the whole time); National Production Network (4 to 6 organizations came on board to present the work and three gave residencies); Bates and Jacob’s Pillow. “I feel like time is the most important part of dance.”
The Kelly-Strayhorn has helped Staycee to increase the conversation around her and audience numbers. She mentions Pittsburgh’s Attack Theatre and Squonk Opera as local organizations that bring ideas to the table.
Ben asks, “What does the artist have to say and how do we shape a frame around it? He mentions Sarah Coffey of Vermont Performance Lab, who sits down with artists and explains resources available to them. One time an artist needed fish skin lanterns and she arranged a sewing bee with the local women. He goes on to say that the artist must find “your unique way of engaging people that is honestly you.” One good one – Association of Performing Arts Presenters (APAP), where you can perform, but sometimes the artist just has to “hang out” in the social spaces.
Other comments from the group: “Figure out what will work for the artists, community and presenters.” (It’s all about communicating up front.) “Do you know your audience?”
Artist Talk with Reggie Wilson (NYC artistic director/choreographer), janera solomon moderating.
Reggie had the aura of a dance guru at the festival, as if everyone wanted to touch him or be touched by him. It was easy to see why in this interview, as if he was The Voice of the attending artists.
And he had plenty to say.
Reggie and janera started with the day he won the Doris Duke award and the feeling surrounding that event. He is still saying to himself “don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t cry,” because the award puts the money in the hands of the artists. He noted how artists used to get the money, but it shifted to funders and presenters, as if “we didn’t have the maturity to manage our own money.”
“You can be the agent of your future,” he intoned to attendees.
But, there will be “tons of things we don’t get.” Or they might ask, “why did I get that?” He cautioned them to start planning, to be accountable. “This is what I am — put it out to the universe and see what comes back to you.”
But he also warned the artists to “try to keep focused on what’s helpful.” And “try to be comfortable” with your options, even if you’re working in a church basement. He makes a dance “because this is the way it needs to be expressed. The more I focus on my need to do that, people’s reactions could shift.”
Reggie warned about “being really honest with yourself. If a door closes, don’t let that distract you.”
Build relationships. “If somebody is compelled by your work, it’s worth your energy to empower that.” But there are people who have hated his work. “When conversing, they still don’t like it, but they might have a friend who has an extensive program about weeds infecting grass.” In other words, they might acknowledge your differences, but recognize the fact that others might like your work.
And about the process: “There are two basic theses I’ve been continuing to be fascinated by — post-modernism and its relationship to the African diaspora culture and Protestant Christianity and church traditions. I like to put things together in a ‘quilty’ kind of way. Then I go back and see what’s interesting. It’s kind of like making a cloth, then making a suit, then trimming it.”
The Collaborator: Sustainable Models for Dance Companies with Jaamil Kosoko (PHILA/NYC choreographer), Kate Watson-Wallace (PHILA choreographer), BLOOM (HUNGARY).
Kate ran her own company by herself for a long time, which became “rather lonely.” Then she and Jaamil had a “deep artistic conversation.” He had a “clear artistic idea of Kate.” She was “searching for more rigor, someone…constantly questioning.” Friends urged them to get together.
With funding structures changing and fewer artists receiving grants, the partnership made a lot of sense. So they maintain their identity as independent artists, doing “their own thing,” and call their “company” anonymous bodies.
But now there is a pliable support system. One may want to do a piece and the other will do marketing or dramaturge. They strategize funding, which is not a conflict because it’s a project-based company and they know their funders. However, it will soon become a long distance relationship when Jaamil moves to New York to work.
BLOOM members come from several European countries. They wanted to see how far they could push this collaboration. The impact of language and culture both helps and clashes. It help to have differences when proposing ideas and expands their way of doing things. They have developed their “own English” in the studio.
But to come up with a common point, they multiply the usual amount of time for one director by the number of dancers in the company. Patience is key.
Where Do We Go From Here? Making and Creating Tours for New Works with Sara Nash (National Dance Project production manager at New England Foundation for the Arts), Sidra Bell (NYC choreographer) and Reggie Wilson (NYC choreographer).
Sara explained the National Dance Project, which funds 20-22 production grants yearly through production grants, production residencies, touring awards and international partnerships. Other organizations to consider: Production Residencies for Dance (PRD), National Performance Network (NPN; network of presenters) whose npnlab.org can find presenters that are a good match for your work) and Alliance for Artist Communities (residences for early or mid-stages of the creative process). Sara says that it’s a good thing to research presenters and their programming.
Reggie cautioned to know your work, know what it is that you are doing, how you are using words to articulate what you do. He says that touring may not be viable for most artists. Some will do 20-40 weeks, others only “a couple of gigs.” If you do apply, know how to generate a contract, know about housing (i.e., who can stay together, laundry facilities), know the people you are working with in a really practical way. He went on to urge the artists to cultivate and maintain relationships, because “individual dancers may move to administration or marry someone rich.”
Sidra says that she is in “that in-between space” in creating relationships with presenters. “It’s about knowing exactly what I’m doing with my work.” Next year she’s
building “a baby tour.” That means having work that is appropriate for a tour and not to “get ahead of yourself.” But Sidra herself has created ten works this year.
As Sara put it, non-profits must meet their mission — they are there to serve.
The Kelly-Strayhorn has a list of available funding organizations. As artistic director, janera feels that the organization is ready to expand, have a national focus. The newMoves Festival and the connecting tissue of the symposium will go a long way to helping her reach that goal. But it’s important that local artists take advantage of KST and its motivated staff as an important resource.