A group of about 35 creative minds in the Massachusetts choreography and dance community came together this past Sunday, January 23, 2011, at the home of MCC Executive Director Anita Walker, in Cohasset, MA. The order of the day? Talking about art. Not the marketing aspects, not funding, not the field’s contributions to the economy (worthy topics, all, just not the focus on this cold, clear January day). What are the creative issues, challenges, changes, and inspirations dance and choreography artists were, are, and will be facing in this vital and evolving discipline?
The group spoke from a wide array of aesthetic perspectives and experiences, from traditional dance to contemporary choreography, voices ranging from dance company leaders to dance community innovators.
The conversation, it may not surprise you, was a work of graceful human movement in and of itself, flowing from fascinating topics with generosity and imagination.
Here is a (woefully incomplete) summary of some of the questions addressed. (And if you’d like to add or respond to any of these points, please join the conversation by leaving a comment below!)
What inspires you in the field of dance? Collaboration was the most frequent answer, as artists highlighted the need, potential, and inspiration to be found in working hand-in-hand with other creative minds. Dance is, by nature, collaboration, as one artist reminded the room. This could mean collaborating with fellow choreographers and dancers, artists from other disciplines, or even non-artists: the thriving community of scientists and thinkers in Massachusetts. One artist brought up bartering, and how she taught ballet to someone who advanced her knowledge of online social networking. Other inspirations: the wealth of dance genres in this state, and the sense of community fostered by groups like Dance Action Network and Boston Dance Alliance.
How do you present new work in the face of limited presentation venues/opportunities? Finding ways to present is a constant struggle for dance artists, but some saw great potential for experimentation here. Starting homegrown festivals and projects such as the Gloucester New Arts Fest and the Dance in the Fells project, or finding unique, perhaps even non-traditional, non-arts spaces to perform work. The key, as one artist put it, was finding the spaces that need dance in them.
How is technology impacting your work? There was wide consensus technology is an important force in dance, whether that be an intentional creative choice not to use technology in performance to emphasize human movement and connection, or the integration of cutting-edge media in the content of the work itself. Some artists discussed technology as a useful tool in developing work; video accelerating and sharpening the choreographic development of a new work.
What is the role of Massachusetts educational institutions in advancing the field of dance? Some artists advocated a shift in perspective, approaching dancers in training not just as technicians of dance but as choreographers themselves, with vital, contributing energy to the creation of new work.
How can the field as a whole advance in artistic quality? Several artists brought up the tremendous potential for mentorship and peer feedback, experienced artists offering critical feedback to emerging artists, or even to other experienced artists with emerging projects. Is there potential for an ongoing effort at providing critical feedback in the Massachusetts dance community?
What are your thoughts on any of these issues? What other creative issues are you grappling with in the realms of dance and choreography?
Another opportunity to discuss dance takes place at Jose Mateo Ballet Theatre, on February 6, 2011, at TALK ABOUT DANCE, a panel discussion on how to create effective Dance for World Community networks. More information here.
Rozann Kraus says
It was wonderful seeing so many longtime friends and meeting a few new ones, too.
The issues of collaborating, looking for inspiration and networking were thematic at the salon.
Gnawing at my brain [and this is a reflection of my life and responsibilities] was the amount of time I was NOT spending in the studio. Being a choreographer, being a producer, mentoring . The salon was almost worth the overland adventure of finding Anita’s lovely home; but this was a huge chunk of time.
Which doesn’t mean it wasn’t valuable, just conflicted.
I also was aware of the quest for what choreographers’ need. Other than support. We are, by definition, idiosyncratic. Our needs and our approaches are as diverse as our artistic voices. One answer does not fit all.
Diane Arvanites says
Thoughts since the meeting:
I am excited by the livelihood and vitality of the dance community despite the economic climate. I am excited for the festivals that are occurring and for the accessibility of these festivals which include all genres of dance.
I felt that the meeting of so many choreographer/artists was invaluable and that the drive back although solitary was thoughtful. A few conversations have continued since.
We are as diverse in process as we are in voice and what we have to say as artists. I think though there are two or three immediate conversations to be had regarding process.
1. One would be about mentoring, bartering, sharing, getting it done, promoted, made physical …etc. The priorities of making it happen.
2. Two would be for those that have been in the process for years and have already done the former many tines ….that is 1. And…If you create work from a more “formal structure”… How can this be sustained….
3. Three would be an eventual conversation based on the kind of funding that would be necessary to enable and facilitate artists to have a longer, more fulfilling, and valuable working process with the aim of deepening the art form and quality of dance in the state.
Working with the same group of dancers has helped us (Prometheus Dance) deepen the creative process, develop content and widen our movement language base. Coming “back to it” contributes to the quality of the work through artist/audience feedback and editing. We believe in collaboration with visual artists, musicians, composers, designers, and poets. Production value is important tp the outcome and vision of the work. We also value art which is created in the moment, in the streets, and site specific. These elements also exist within our work. We have performed in the streets, in grasslands, in windows, and against walls. Teaching and mentoring are invaluable to our artistic development. Seeing work whether it’s good or not so good is also invaluable.
Company members/dancers that participate in the creative process are vital. I think that all choreography occurs in the moment whether it becomes set or not. The initial output is improvisational. Performance never happens the same way twice and once it is out there, it is gone. Dancers of set movement are not machines …but interpreters of language and content. This interpretation comes from direction and from their own experience. I think that dancers who take the improvisation route do the same, though the structure is more free and movement is unique to the dancer, the tools are the same. The experience in performance is ethereal. All of us are changed from this experience.
Our culture values product before process. How can we as artists be sustained in process if it is not valued in our culture? It takes process to create product and dance is time consuming. It is still, after many years, what I want to spend my time doing. I am very… very fortunate to facilitate the learning of process to dancers from the ages of 10-68. I would not have it any other way. Process informs the way that artists approach everything in life. It is an invaluable tool to live with and must be handed down to others. Not everyone will be a choreographer or artist but process informs us all.
Oh….. 4. Four….the education of process through art……
Be well everyone ……
Stefanie Weber says
This looks like an amazing opportunity to connect and share ideas and concerns. Glad to see it happening, even better to take part. If there is a way to let those of us working in the grassroots Dance community all-the-way-over-here in the Berkshires of Western Mass know about and take part in such events, please do.
thank you, be well