It has finally been made official. Renowned Snappy Dance Theater is no more. For ten years the company and board members bent over backwards to achieve a level of performance and presentation that compared favorably on a national level. They developed an audience for local contemporary dance unheard of in this city. The Executive Director, Jurgen Weiss dedicated ten years of his life to work on the companys organizational strength, researching successful national companies and figuring out how it should be done here in Boston. With a Ph.D. in Economics from Harvard, this was a huge financial sacrifice for the couple, but they did it for the big dream: To establish Bostons first (in almost 20 years) professional touring contemporary dance company and set an example, so that there would soon be others to follow. The dream was to create a cluster of world-class contemporary dance companies here that would attract talent from elsewhere. As there are no fulltime modern dance companies in Boston, highly talented dancers dont move here for very long.
There are myriad reasons for this celebrated dance company’s demise. So what does its director Martha Mason hope for now?
“What I really want, for the bigger picture, is for a certain population to understand how close we really were, how good we were and how in some other states, we would have become very successful and been nurtured financially. How can MA avoid this happening next time a promising company achieves this level of success and gives it their all?”
And with gracious permission, I am posting this letter Martha recently wrote:
Dear Dance Community,
It is with great sadness that I send you this news about Snappy.
After a successful ten-year national and international touring career, after being invited to some of the most elite national dance venues and international dance festivals and after building one of the broadest audiences for contemporary dance in the state, we have sadly come to the conclusion that, despite talent and audience appeal, there is currently no future in the state of Massachusetts for a touring modern dance company who aspires to hire fulltime professional dancers. There is and historically has been a talent drain towards New York and other cities, such as Philadelphia, which actively support their local modern dance companies financially at a substantial level. None of our local foundations with the necessary means care about contemporary dance companies who work on a national level and the organizations that do care, such as LEF, the MCC or NEFA, have no financial power to make a critical difference in the survival of a company that is attempting to exponentially grow from part-time to fulltime.
Snappy Dance Theater became the most actively touring Massachusetts dance company in the past 20 years and yet there was little to no acknowledgement by funding institutions or willingness to shift support for this highly talented group that had begun to put Boston on the national contemporary dance map. It is our hope that lessons can be learned from Snappy’s tenure. If Greater Boston wants a thriving professional contemporary dance scene, which would contribute to the cultural amenities that draw people to Boston, relatively modest but continuous support from institutional funders will be essential to build a sustainable cluster. At the same time that the Museum of Fine Arts has thus announced that it has successfully raised $500 million, we find that it was impossible to excite funders to nurture a cluster of contemporary dance companies and invest say, two million dollars, which would fund the salaries for dancers of several world class contemporary dance companies in Boston. At the moment, there is none.
Not to bring up overused terms, but we have known for a while that it takes a village to do what we have always dreamed of doing, but we have finally realized that this village lacks a town hall.
Therefore, Snappy has finally unsnapped.
WE WERE SO CLOSE
Following our incredibly successful 2007 10th Anniversary, 14-performance Season in Boston we attended the Festival D’Avignon in France and received two invitations to tour in France in 09/10.We were also invited by the most important theater in Chicago, The Harris Theater for Music and Dance, for a week-long performance residency in 09/10.
After attending three booking conferences this year, we had plenty of enthusiastic presenters who expressed interest in bringing us for 2009/10. But they wanted to see us perform String Beings live, first. Unfortunately, without the necessary funds or dancers, it was unrealistic to do this.
Our final idea was to take advantage of an offer to self-produce in an 800-seat theater in New York City next January during the biggest booking conference of the year. However, as we started to plan, we realized that after a year without a presence in Boston, it would have been hard to remobilize fundraising for such an endeavor, and even if successful, it would have done little to overcome what we concluded are insurmountable obstacles to accomplishing our goals here in Boston.
I cannot thank those of you who did support us as much as you were able to enough for your faith in Snappy’s potential. We almost made it and at least we did make it onto the national radar.
I look forward to working on choreographic, theater and opera projects and future collaborations as an individual artist. Last September I choreographed scenes from “Simon Says”, directed by Myriam Cyr at the BCA. In May I created a piece for dancers from the Boston Arts Academy and in July, I enjoyed choreographing scenes from Commonwealth Shakespeare’s As You Like It. This year I am creating a play with playwright Joy Tomasko and Visual Artist Wendy Richmond which will be produced by The Women’s Project in New York City during the 09/10 season for a 5-week run. I also look forward to continuing an artistic relationship with Australian choreographer Cadi McCarthy, who identified me as a choreographer with whom she’d like to work when she received a Churchill Fellowship to study with choreographers around the world. We met for the first time in May, when she spent two weeks with me here. The hope now is that I will be brought to visit her and set a work on her company.
Go to the Boston Public Library! I’ve had the honor of having my portrait included in the just published, movingline, drawings by Channing Penna, now available on Amazon. It will also be in her movingline exhibition, now showing at the Boston Public Library through November 30th of this year. I hope you will make a point of stopping in to see her incredible work. There you will see other Boston faces familiar to you.
I am optimistic that our paths will cross again in the theater. Meanwhile, I thank you from the bottom of my heart and bid you a Snappy Farewell.
Snappy Dance Theater
String Beings. Premiered at the Virginia Wimberly Theater, June 2007. Images are by MIT scientist and New Media artist, Jonathan Bachrach. Photos by Allison Evans.
Cousins, from the Temperamental Wobble, commissioned by the Celebrity Series in 2004. Premiered at the Cutler Majestic Theatre. Photo by Rob Stack.
Photo of The Cirque Faces by Bonnie Duncan from Snappy Dance Theater.
David Parker says
Snappy will be missed. What Martha was doing was so important in terms of moving contemporary dance in Boston forward, we must pause to honor her achievement. I hope we will all continue to strive to develop Boston’s contemporary dance scene and to continue the inestimable and essential work that Martha and Snappy have begun. I know that we will continue to be enriched by Martha’s art in various ways but I want to urge us to remain vigilant. Boston is a fabulous city which deserves its own vital dance culture. Thank you Martha!
Artistic Director of David Parker and The Bang Group
Sue Katz says
This is incredibly sad, if not unexpected, news. As a dance reviewer, I have been following Snappy since I first arrived in the States from London in 2001. Each subsequent Snappy performance got better and better. The combination of innovation, excellence and wit – all held together by Martha Mason’s extraordinary vision – was irresistible. With all the popularity of multiple TV dance shows, it is puzzling that funders don’t seem to understand how much folks hunger for what Snappy has always offered: street-smart, acrobatic, aesthetic movement. The demise of Snappy is a significant blow to dance – not just to Boston, which will feel its loss most acutely, but to the world of dance period.
Peter DiMuro says
When we stop to really think more than the passing thought of the important moments in our lives, we often pause at the “indescribable”: “Oh, it’s hard to explain,” or “You had to be there…” or, if we attempt some verbal reasoning of the moment we might add something like, “the light was just so, the shift in the mood was like that in the sunset, there was a stillness, there was a silence…..”.
Art, and especially dance, take us beyond the moment, out of chronology, out of narrative in the ways that we human beings have come to define it – and art succeeds more than our feeble everyday explanations. Dance especially tells the stories that live when we think more than passing thoughts, take us out of worlds we live everyday and can bring us to portals of understanding our everyday worlds because we have the vehicle to go beyond them.
Snappy, nurtured by Martha, Jurgen and the dancers and staff, is (I refuse to use past tense) a wonderful portal, too. The work was layered but also accessible to audiences at the same time – so important a gift to a city and its people and such hard work to maintain. I don’t think the general public knows how difficult it is to do something like this – maybe because it seems so effortless?
I think another sad truth of much of our exposure to culture these days is its edge quotient: is it sexy,is it ironic, is it mad, is it shiny, is it so about to burst? If the answer is yes, then it must be worth the attention, the money, my time. Martha and Snappy evolved to have an authenticity that goes beyond fad, goes beyond the moment – and the dedication of ten years of growth (not even just maintenance, standing still) is an amazing feat.
I am sorry that in these moments of closing up shop that Martha and the company may feel badly -feel less than. The truth is is that they are not less than. Sadly, they may be part of an ecological art moment: Boston may not appreciate them until there gone, and hopefully Boston will treat the next artists/dancers in line with more awareness, more support. Even sadder would be for Boston to not glean something from this moment – and let the demise of another good company happen, again (and again?)
Martha’s right about how relatively economical dance is – compared to other art forms we are downright cheap. But we need more than the moment of thought- – more than the passing thought to first appreciate the sometimes undescribabe, and second more than the one passing of the hat. Consistent funding and support even in modest sums can mean so much more to small to medium sized dance companies.
Like David Parker, I love Boston and will always love it for being a place where I grew up artistically. And I commend all the audience, the funders, the goodwill that has allowed the city and its art to grow. More than likely, we need to find ways to get word out and translate word out to the folks who most likely won’t come across this blog – in Boston or any other American town or city – by their own choosing, but at least you (reader) and I know the truth: Art changes lives, art-makers are the instruments by which art that changes lives is made, and it is up to all of us who want to live in a society that benefits from more than just passing fads, passing thoughts, or passing popular notions to be collaborative agents with our hard working artists to effect a more satisfying and enriching environment.
Transitions like this are tough – and sadly, not unique. Martha I know will continue to make interesting work and challenge herself to grow. I know this shift for Snappy has reminded me to be more verbal, more of a translator, more of an activist, more of a community organizer around issues of the worth and value of good artistic experimentation and performance. I am giving you a standing ovation from Washington, and I am sorry I cannot do more to help the immediate situation.
Artistic Director/on leave, Liz Lerman Dance Exchange
George McCully says
The Catalogue for Philanthropy has been very proud to feature Snappy several times over the years, to praise and promote various of their efforts to make their truly noble experiment work. We loved their programs, the beautiful, warm, funny, dignified ways they touched their audiences of all ages.
Boston excels, among American cities, in producing first-rate small-to-mid-sized arts organizations. We have to find ways to match their philanthropy—private initiatives for public good, focusing on quality of life—by increasing ours.
Deborah Henson-Conant says
Kudos to Snappy for having had the Big Dream, for achieving as much as they did in an inhospitable environment and for their stamina. As an artist, it’s been inspiring to watch the company make courageous artistic leaps, and to present themselves with the kind of professionalism we’re only used to seeing in long-standing, larger and more deeply funded organizations.
It’s bewildering they didn’t get the financial support they’d need to grow, particularly here in the Boston area, where their work integrating technology and artistry (ex. “String Beings”) seems so representative of the art-and-technology synthesis that defines Boston’s unique character. Did we think that, because of their professionalism, they didn’t need support?
The memory of their efforts and their dream will continue to inspire me — but their absence leaves a big hole. I’m so sorry to see them go.
Golden Cage Music, Inc. / HipHarp.com
Chris Elam says
It is with sadness that we say goodbye to Snappy.
Before going on to found Misnomer Dance Theater, I danced with Snappy for their first season in 1998. I’ve tracked their work ever since and have respect and fondness for Martha, the company and their work. Kudos to Snappy for the great value that they brought to the Boston-area and beyond. It is always sad when a company needs to close, especially one that has worked so consistently, and it will be a loss.
Best wishes to Martha, the company members, the administrative team, and Snappy’s fans – together you have created and sustained magic!
Misnomer Dance Theater
Libbie Shufro says
I would like to add my voice to these wonderful recognitions and testimonies to Martha Mason and Snappy Dance Theatre.
It is truly sad to have Snappy Dance Theatre close their doors. They had vision, talent, teamwork and a quality product. In addition, they were innovative,enterprising and shared an uplifting spirit of community.
During my tenure as the Boston Center for the Arts, we invited Snappy to become “cultural partners” as a way to create a home for this nomadic, but inspired dance company. We hoped that a consistent place to perform and rehearse annually, coupled with educational opportunities to engage youth and community would help to build their audience and profile.
It was not enough.
I only wish that we as a community, from all sectors –we could come together to create a network to coordinate support for promising small entities such as the Snappy Dance Theatre. Given the right type of investment, they could have been bright lights for Boston’s future.
Boston requires more than “marketplace arbitration” to nurture a healthy arts scene. It takes vision and strategic leadership that nurtures promising talent in a way that can contribute to the character and cutting edge of a great city.
Former CEO and President Boston Center for the Arts
Helene Lesterlin says
In support of Martha Mason and Snappy Dance Theater.
I just read the letter announcing the closure of Snappy Dance Theater. I just wanted to say that I am so glad Martha wrote what she did rather than folding quietly out of sight. It is important that the community in Boston hears what she has to say and I hope that there is a way for her to express this to the larger community.
A company of this calibre and tenacity should have been able to make it! Alas, these are very difficult times for all arts institutions, companies and freelance artists. I hope that the dialogue generated by this recent example will motivate the funding and local communities to find innovative ways support the creation of new work and the artists who are creating it.
Martha: I don’t know if you have already written an opinion piece or article, but I think it is important to reach as broad a public (including funders!) as you can. Your experience and your eloquence in talking about it is something that should be shared!! Best of luck to you in your new capacity as a freelance artist. I look forward to seeing your work and I hope our paths do cross soon.
Curator, EMPAC – Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center
Artistic Director, ATLAS Dance
Josie Bray says
It is sad to hear this news about Snappy. Martha’s work to make the company sustainable in a very difficult funding market is reflective of the challenges faced by many arts organizations in Massachusetts. As someone who spent time working both as an artist and an arts administrator in Boston, I have had the chance to see first-hand how diligently Martha worked with her company. This news is not only sad, but also a sign of the greater need for sustainable models in arts organizations nation-wide.
Like Peter and David, I consider Boston to be where I had my artistic upbringing. Snappy was one of the first Boston-based dance companies I saw when I was in college, and I feel very fortunate to have developed a colleague relationship with Martha and Snappy as I became a Boston Arts Junkie. Martha’s work was hugely influential in my early work as a choreographer, and I wish her the best of luck as she continues to work as a freelancer.
Robert Fraser says
It is terribly sad to hear about Snappy’s demise. So much talent, so much hard work by Martha and her company, and now the city no longer has the benefit of the innovation and skill which Martha and Snappy brought to us.
It is a shame for a city like Boston to lose an organization like Snappy. These are tough
times for a lot of people, and it is a sorrow that matters of the spirit and culture fall prey to
this environment. We need a change of mindset. Matters of wit, skill and beauty are important in a sophisticated city and it should not be that these things fall by the wayside
when the world suffers on other fronts. Indeed, it may be even more important that our artists, musicians and dancers elevate and inspire us in difficult times. But this parting of
Snappy fails to recognize this.
I would hope that over the next year or two, as we work our way through our recession
and reemerge as a stronger and wiser community, we will collectively recognize how much the work of organizations like Snappy and our other smaller artistic and cultural endeavors can mean to the quality of our urban environment.
Jean-Yves Minet says
We will all miss Snappy Dance Theater.
For its amazing artistic performances,
for all the emotions it brought to audiences from all over the world,
for its mission of bringing a new vision to the world of dance,
for the warmth and professionalism of its dancers,
for the intelligence of its artistic creations.
I will personally miss a group of talented artists with whom I spent a couple of months trying to grasp the true sense of creativity. I hope I will have the opportunity to work with Martha again!
Harvard Business School MBA
Senior strategist at Wolff Olins