The Dance IS Festival not only asks, what is dance?, but enacts, probes, and challenges the question. While considering how dance functions in the East Bay, the festival also explores dance’s agency within larger social spheres. Now approaching their fifth year as festival Co-Directors, Bridget Frederick and Jill Randall continue to bring together choreographers and performers from the high school, college, and professional levels in order to foster community support for dance and create mentorship relationships between established and emerging artists. Participants share work in a pre-festival feedback process that builds community and affords East Bay artists connection, cohesion, and visibility.
In Dance interviewed three choreographers, one from each participating level, and asked all of them the same questions related to their work as teachers and festival participants.
In Dance: How does teaching function as a venue for your own art-making?
Angela Demmel, Director of Dance
Moreau Catholic High School:
Students constantly challenge me to give them more.
I tell my students that my goal is to guide them toward finding their own artistic voices. In order to do that I must tap into what drives them. Seeing this process in my young dancers inspires my own work. Through them, I am reminded to continually reinvestigate/renew my own artistic voice.
Tammy Cheney, Mills College:
Teaching gives me the opportunity to explore a vast amount of ideas and cover many subjects. It also forces me to verbally and physically articulate a concept, image, or emotion behind a dance phrase. Often, I am simply inspired by how a student interprets a movement phrase, which then deepens my curiosity to explore all of the possibilities behind the movement idea. This exploration stimulates the growth of new ideas and before I know it, a piece is being formed. My pieces are almost always developed from personal experiences and explorations in class with my students.
Patricia Banchik, Artistic Director of Kinesis: Most of the choreography I do is through teaching my movement to my dancers and having them interpret it with their own bodies. Once the movement becomes theirs I explore ways to define the movement and the movement phrases within the choreographic context. At times I will teach a phrase during a class I am teaching to observe the movement and get ideas on how to incorporate it in my choreography.
ID: For those of you who teach in an academic setting, how do you see your involvement with Dance IS addressing, for yourself and/or your students, the isolation that can sometimes result?
Angela: Participation in the Dance IS Festival provides my students with the opportunity to perform in a space and for an audience outside our small school community. Exposure to a supportive, yet objective audience is an important growth step for my dancers, most of whom are accustomed only to audiences filled predominantly with friends and family.
Tammy: Watching other dance artists/teachers like myself inspires me; it opens my mind to other processes, approaches, and points of view. It’s a wonderful smorgasbord of dance art and philosophies. The sharing and camaraderie throughout the festival is grounding and reassuring. I always feel students benefit by interacting and sharing with dancers outside of their daily life. This stretches their imagination and stimulates them to think about what role they would like to play in the dance world outside of school.
ID: Why have you chosen to participate in this year’s Dance IS Festival? If you participated last year, what brings you back?
Angela: Moreau Catholic High School has been fortunate enough to perform in the Dance IS Festival from its beginning. I value the high standards set by Jill and Bridget, the festival’s directors. The festival is truly about sharing our art rather than merely showcasing kicks and turns as found so often in dance festivals or competitions offered for high school age students. Dance IS provides my students with exposure to the potential breadth of contemporary dance in a supportive and professional atmosphere.
Tammy: First of all, I love the theme choices and structure that the Dance IS Festival provides. These themes give me something to wrap my brain around. For me, it’s a wonderful way to investigate and explore ideas that I may not have approached before. I also see the DANCE IS festival as a venue that brings dance artists together to celebrate and share their voice, creativity, and physical accomplishments with each other and the greater Bay Area community. I believe that each time dancers share their creative vision with each other and the community, the artistic bond is strengthened and dance education continues to grow. We hope to open peoples’ minds to new ways of seeing and experiencing movement; further exploring the voice of dance and the profound effect it has in society.
Patricia: This is my fifth year being part of the Dance Is Festival. There are many specific reasons that bring me back to this festival, but probably the most important one is that this is the only performance opportunity where I get feedback on my work by dancers from a variety of experience. Very often, the feedback from the high school and college dancers is incredibly honest and gives me new ideas and perspectives of how my work as a professional choreographer is being perceived by youth.
The Dance IS Festival takes place March 7-8 at Julia Morgan Center for the Arts in Berkeley. For more information, visit danceisfestival.org.