If [dance] is a cognitive act, how is it that you can inspire people to be more creative cognitively? Because we all have habits, we have habits of making. If I were to work with you in the studio, quite quickly I would start to understand what your physical habits were, and one of the things that choreographers have always been interested in is upsetting those habits, disturbing them, perturbing them, making them different.
Wayne McGregor, The Arts Desk, October 2014
Ways of destabilizing and invigorating the creative process, evoked by British choreographer Wayne McGregor in a recent interview, are certainly at play in new collaborative endeavors initiated by several choreographers in the Bay Area and showcased this coming month.
From November 6 to 9, LEVYdance presents the second iteration of AMP (short for Artists Maximizing Potential), launched in 2012. Through AMP, LEVYdance invites a choreographer and his/her dancers to join the company for a six-week residency that culminates in a performance. In this second iteration, New York-based choreographer Loni Landon is choreographing an evening-length piece for the dancers of LEVYdance and her company, Loni Landon Dance Projects. For LEVYdance Associate Director and dancer Scott Marlowe, “AMP is about creating an opportunity for artistic exchange. Often times I feel that dance companies can become very insular. We created this program as an opportunity to share our creative process and resources.”
Although the first two iterations of the program have involved New York-based dance makers (choreographer Sidra Bell joined the inaugural AMP), Marlowe mentioned that the choice of invited artists is not based on geography but has more to do with aesthetics and ways of working. Yet, these two iterations allow an influx of creative output from artists who are working outside of the Bay Area, reinforcing the spirit of exchange and coast-to-coast dialogues present in other programs such as Hope Mohr’s Bridge Project.
Such collaborative projects allow the dancers to benefit from being exposed to different choreographic voices and ways of working. Marlowe explained that the project helped him “expand [his] tool box of ways to think about making dance and about the body in motion. The aesthetic that Loni is bringing to this project is very different from the aesthetic ingrained in my body from working with LEVYdance for so long. It feels like an amazing expansion of physicality, of ways of thinking about movement, of approaches. It’s been incredibly valuable… This is not about trying to fit into another artist’ set mold of creation or trying to be a chameleon. It’s about expanding what’s already there.” Such collaborations also allow viewers to consider a choreographer’s work and/or the performers’ individuality from a new perspective.
AMP also represents an alternative to the single choreographer company and a way to navigate resource scarcity in a challenging economic environment. For Marlowe, “it really has become clear in recent years that the [single choreographer company] model is not sustainable in the way that it once was. The funding sources that helped individual artists create on their own are not as extensive as they once were. A lot of funders are looking to artists to reimagine the structure of creating work and AMP is an answer to that question.”
Created to support an emerging choreographer, FACT/SF’s JuMP (short for Just Make A Piece) also nurtures the spirit of collaboration and resource sharing. Led by Artistic Director Charles Slender-White, “JuMP is a commissioning program that seeks to provide and support all the necessary components a choreographer needs to ‘just make a piece.’ FACT/SF recognizes that for a choreographer to work, many things are essential. These include: time, space, talent, money, short and long-term planning, peer support, mentor support, community dialogue, and audience feedback.” JuMP provides the selected choreographer with 50 rehearsal hours, over a 10-week period, and a $1500 stipend, in addition to production support. In this first edition, Bay Area choreographer Liz Tenuto was chosen to work with FACT/SF’s dancers and create a piece that will be presented alongside Slender-White’s work from November 13 to 16. When selecting applicants, one of Slender-White’s goals is to “work with or along somebody who works differently than I do” to expand his own process.
Through the preparation and unfolding of JuMP, Slender-White has opted for collective decision-making and peer mentorship. He consulted with a number of Bay Area choreographers, including Bianca Cabrera, Katie Faulkner, and Ben Levy to understand what they would want from a commissioning program. He enrolled a panel of community members to review the 25 applications the program received. The panel decided on 4 participants who were invited to take part in the JuMP Lab, a 2-hour session where choreographers and FACT/SF dancers could meet and work with each other. Slender-White took into account the dancers’ experience during the lab but also thought about who would most benefit from JuMP’s opportunity: “Some of my colleagues have momentum or money around their work. So I didn’t think that we would provide anything new or useful for those who already have an established track record. We wanted to do something that I thought was not happening here and [offer] more support for one individual,” mentioned Slender-White in a recent conversation.
The spirit of collaboration is also visible in the mentorship that surrounds the project. In this first iteration, mentors Jess Curtis and Nina Haft, who Slender-White chose “because they work differently from each other and differently from each of us” help Slender-White and Tenuto navigate the creative process. “They ask us questions to help us think where the meat of the piece is, and ultimately instigate and push us.”
But redefining ways of making and creating projects that help circumvent dire economic realities come with an administrative and fundraising toll. Slender-White had hoped that JuMP would also help alleviate the pressure on him to create an evening-length work on a yearly basis. But he soon realized that “the program is so large in other ways, it is like moving things from bucket A to bucket B. I don’t want the company to become a producer of a commissioning program solely.” Initially envisioned as an annual program, JuMP may take a different form in the future and occur every 18 months or every 2 years. Slender-White is also curious about the possibility of helping other companies remount work: “I’ve seen a lot of wonderful works lately and I’m always so disappointed that people spend all this time and money, it goes up for three nights and that’s it. Maybe there is a way that JuMP and this new idea can coexist.” Slender-White is also hoping that JuMP appeals to an arts organization that could offer space or resources in the future.
Artistic collaborations such as AMP and JuMP have the potential to fuel creative possibilities and investigate new avenues of making. In a fragile ecosystem, they also contribute to restructuring and redefining the maker’ role. In her Priced Out: New Tech Wealth and San Francisco’s Receding Art Scene, art writer and curator Christian Frock evoked the “devastating impact new wealth is rendering on the fragile infrastructure of San Francisco’s homegrown art scene and its artists” and the massive displacement of artists and arts organizations to the East Bay or other cities. Programs like AMP and JuMP where artists share resources and space might be the way to circumvent challenging economic realities and continue to create in the Bay Area.
As a follow-up to last week’s blog post, German choreographer Sasha Waltz received an ovation from the audience attending the post-show discussion, following her piece “Impromptus” presented at Zellerbach Hall last weekend, when she compared dancers to good wine, getting better with age: “This is the great possibility of contemporary dance, that is different from ballet, that dancers can grow deeper with their body as they age,” Waltz stated in response to a question about her dancers, some of whom have been with her company for over 18 years. Also this article evokes Carmen de Lavallade’s latest one-woman show “As I remember it.” De Lavallade, 83, founded Paradigm, a company which features seasoned dancers, in 1998.