Author Archive | Kate Mattingly

Book Review: Defining Radical Bodies

Three dancers laying spread out on a porch

Radical Bodies Cover / photo by Warner Jepson

When someone says “radical change,” I wonder which definition they are using for “radical.” The word can refer to an approach that comes from outliers, one that challenges existing views, habits, and conditions. In other uses, “radical” refers to core, fundamental aspects of a group or moment: in botany, “radical leaves,” are those that are located at the base of a plant or stem, especially arising directly from the root.

This first definition of “radical” seems to be at play in the title of the exhibition and catalogue, Radical Bodies: Anna Halprin, Simone Forti, and Yvonne Rainer in California and New York, 1955 to 1972, curated by Ninotchka Bennahum, Wendy Perron, and Bruce Robertson. From January to April of 2017, the exhibition appeared at the Art, Design & Architecture Museum at the University of California, Santa Barbara, which is directed by Robertson. From May to September 2017, the exhibition was presented at the Vincent Astor Gallery at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Lincoln Center. As a stand-alone text (I did not see the exhibit), the catalogue is a collection of photographs, drawings, letters, scores, and essays that delve into facets of these artists’ careers with essays by the curators plus composer Morton Subotnick and former editor of the New York Times Arts & Leisure section John Rockwell (who also served as a performer and publicist for Halprin).[1]

As I read through the essays and studied the images, I questioned if the second meaning of “radical,” something fundamental to a moment or group, may be the more apt application of this term. This led me to consider how such books and exhibitions propagate certain reputations. As UC President’s Postdoctoral Fellow, Dr. Tria Blu Wakpa asks, “If we position certain artists as ‘radical,’ where are the spaces for those who are intervening in ways that challenge the dominant order by calling attention to ongoing injustices and inequities? It is important to consider how archives can reproduce and reinforce hierarchies.”[2]

Having lived on both coasts, in New York for about 10 years and the Bay Area for 5, I was curious about the curators’ premise that California, and specifically “Halprin’s fabled dance deck in Marin County,”[3] is an overlooked catalyst in histories of dance, and Halprin herself “the elder stateswoman” in this narrative. The curators’ interventions seem to be twofold: first, “the conventional story” that has privileged New York as the epicenter of postmodern dance needs to be reconsidered, and to do this they position Halprin as “the first to break with dance modernism’s reliance on character (representation), codified technique (“Do as I do”), and epic narrative (stories residing outside the human body) as roads to proscenium performance.”[4] Second, the curators, who come from different disciplines and professions, “sought to understand from one another what effect(s) dance had on the arts from the Cold War era to the feminist movement.”[5]

Robertson’s essay, “Dance is Hard to See: Yvonne Rainer and the Visual Arts” most explicitly describes influences amongst dancers and visual artists. Robertson begins by tracing connections among Rainer, Robert Morris, Robert Rauschenberg, Carl Andre, Eleanor Antin, and Louise Fishman, and then analyzes similarities between Rainer’s The Bells and Morris’s sculpture Column. Although he states his “goal” as bringing dance and sculpture “back into balance with each other,” Robertson seems to be using his disciplinary lens as an art historian to approach The Bells as sculpture and to view Column as immaterial (like dance) or “unviewable.”[6]

This essay’s detailed attention to how disciplinary boundaries can obfuscate engagement with artists’ work sparks questions about how dance historians and critics typically approach an artist’s event. As scholars like Randy Martin have noted, dance criticism tends to isolate a performance from broader influences of social, political, and economic forces. Randy Martin uses the term “underreading” for criticism that places “emphasis on a purely descriptive language” and a tendency to detach “text from context.”[7] For example, Bennahum’s essay in the catalogue, “Anna Halprin’s Radical Body in Motion,” begins with the statement, “Anna Halprin revolutionized dance and dance making in the twentieth century…” Bennahum attributes this revolution to “Halprin’s invention of a radical dance body” and “her belief in the ethical capacity of human beings to construct new ways of being through the practice of conscious movement.”[8]

If we widen the lens to include bodies and dances often neglected by Eurocentric critics and scholars, we may notice how dancing has connected “ethical capacity” and “conscious movement” for centuries. Scholars like Adria Imada describe hula as “a highly venerated, selective, and restricted form of religious and political praxis,”[9] while Jacqueline Shea Murphy has written extensively about Indigenous epistemologies. Practices like the Cahuilla Bird Singing and Dancing are, in Shea Murphy’s words, “about showing and practicing strength and continuity over time (including maintaining your language), even in the face of colonization; about knowing and valuing the place, and land, where you are from; and about knowing whom you are connected to in your community, and staying connected with them.”[10]

Halprin attracted practitioners and audiences who may not have been familiar with such practices, but my question is about Bennahum’s framing: Halprin’s events “revolutionized” dance as it had come to be defined through higher education, through concert venues, and through a dance canon, three institutions steeped in Whiteness.[11] When Perron writes about participating in Halprin’s 2014 Planetary Dance, she notes that the distinguishing features are: “community rituals, dancing for a cause, and reveling in the natural environment.”[12] Aren’t these characteristics present in dances around the world, so long as we acknowledge that there is, and has been, a lot of dancing happening outside of concert contexts? By asking this question I do not mean to diminish the important roles Halprin has played as a performer and director. I wish to call attention to how disciplinary approaches police the boundaries between “artist” (Halprin) and “cultural dancer” (often artists of color).

In their essay “Radical Bodies: An Overview,” the curators acknowledge that museums played a legitimating role in Halprin’s, Forti’s, and Rainer’s careers. For example, when the Museum of Modern Art acquired Forti’s Dance Constructions in 2016, they write that this “groundbreaking move” bestowed “on them the value of notable visual art.”[13] In many ways their own exhibition and catalogue grant these artists wider acclaim and appreciation. As an archival object, the catalogue makes it possible to circulate their ideas to broader communities.

Perhaps this potential to reach large number of readers, especially students of dance history, motivates my questions about the curators’ approach: most of the essays focus on these artists as unsung heroes who “radicalized,” a word the curators use, dance. But a photo of Halprin’s dance deck that appears twice in the catalogue, on page 4 and 5 and again on 31, is dated 1959 and shows 16 people, many wearing traditional leotards and tights. Bennahum writes that “Halprin turned away from training the body” in the 1950s, but this image reveals that participants subscribed to an attire associated with modern dance.[14] By 1969, in a photo of students climbing “cargo netting,” all of the participants are naked. How did these transitions occur? What motivated these shifts? Rather than pronounce “Halprin’s invention of a radical dance body,”[15] it may be more useful to notice how she both subscribed to core tenets of institutionalized dance and gradually introduced elements that existed for centuries in dance forms outside of proscenium walls.

Bennahum writes that Anna Halprin traveled to James Woods’s Studio Watts in Los Angeles to work with “a besieged neighborhood.”[18] Wasn’t the Bay Area in the 1960s home to social justice movements and programs that addressed racial inequities? Why and how did Halprin select Los Angeles?

In one striking image on page 77, Halprin stands on her deck with Ruth Beckford and Merce Cunningham. How did Beckford, who set up a modern dance program for Oakland’s Department of Parks and Recreation in 1947, and in 1969 coordinated the Free Breakfast for Children program with the Black Panther Party, inform Halprin’s ideas about community? The only information about her in the catalogue appears in a footnote in the curators’ overview that begins, she was “the first African-American to dance with Halprin’s Company…”[19] Rather than bracket Halprin as a “radical” innovator, it seems more historically accurate to note the many prominent artists around her who motivated social change through the arts, but who have not received widespread acclaim or exhibitions.

The intertwining of dance and activism that the curators describe in the catalogue continues to be a defining feature in projects by Bay Area practitioners, many of who are overlooked in history books and dance publications: Sara Shelton Mann and Contraband, Ed Mock, Amara Tabor-Smith, Patricia Berne, and Marc Bamuthi Joseph––to name a few. In the wake of protests about historical monuments of Confederate leaders and their effects, attention to how we write histories is particularly urgent.

Radical Bodies adds to a growing collection of research about three artists who are part of the dance history canon, who are frequently studied and written about, and who made significant projects during a time of intense changes in American cultures. I hope we can also examine those artists who are much lesser known, who are not acknowledged in our dance history textbooks, and who inspire us to look more deeply at the structures and criteria that decide who is “radical.”

[1]John Rockwell, “A Collaborative Community: Ann Halprin and her Composers,” Radical Bodies: Anna Halprin, Simone Forti, and Yvonne Rainer in California and New York, 1955 to 1972 (Oakland: University of California Press, 2017), 161. Rockwell writes about “…my writing sessions with Ann: we would discuss in detail what she wanted to say in press releases, manifestos and articles, then she or I would write up a draft that we would polish together.”

[2] Personal conversation. August 25, 2017.

[3] Bruce Robertson, “Preface,” Radical Bodies: Anna Halprin, Simone Forti, and Yvonne Rainer in California and New York, 1955 to 1972 (Oakland: University of California Press, 2017), 13.

[4] Ninotchka Bennahum and Bruce Robertson, “Introduction,” Radical Bodies, 17.

[5] Bennahum and Robertson, “Introduction,” Radical Bodies, 18.

[6] Bruce Robertson, “Dance is Hard to See: Yvonne Rainer and the Visual Arts,” Radical Bodies (Oakland: University of California Press, 2017), 130.

[7] Randy Martin, Critical Moves: Dance Studies in Theory and Practice (Durham: Duke University Press, 1998), 59.

[8] Ninotchka Bennahum, “Anna Halprin’s Radical Body in Motion,” Radical Bodies, 56.

[9] Adria L. Imada, Aloha America: Hula Circuits through the U.S. Empire (Durham: Duke University Press, 2012), 11.

[10] Jacqueline Shea Murphy, “Native American Dance,” Dance Heritage Coalition: Dance Treasures. Available here:

[11] For deeper analysis of Whiteness, please see Jesse Williams, “Developing Racial Justice Allies,” Whiteness in Higher Education.

[12] Wendy Perron, “You Make Me Feel like a Natural Woman: My Encounters with Yvonne, Simone, Anna, and Trisha,” Radical Bodies, 182.

[13] Perron, Bennahum, Robertson, “Radical Bodies: An Overview,” Radical Bodies, 36.

[14] In “Radical Bodies: An Overview” the curators write, “Halprin ‘turned away from training the body’,” and add that her approach was “an escape from the standard technique class.” This photo makes me wonder who these dancers “escaping” technique and wearing leotards and tights might be.

[15] Bennahum, “Anna Halprin’s Radical Body in Motion,” Radical Bodies, 56.

[16] Nan Ellin, Postmodern Urbanism (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1999), 84. Ellin writes, “These so-called ‘urban revitalizations’ entailed a ‘creative partnership’ between the public and private sectors and succeeded in replacing declining manufacturing industries with a new economic base and generating a renewed sense of pride in downtowns. But in gentrifying central city districts, it also accentuated the polarization between rich and poor.”

[17] Bennahum and Robertson, “Introduction,” Radical Bodies, 27.

[18] Perron, Bennahum, and Robertson, “Radical Bodies: An Overview,” Radical Bodies, 52.

[19] Ibid., 54

Turning Thirty: Joe Goode Performance Group Celebrates a Very Vital Enterprise

Dancer with face collaged

Molly Katzman in Nobody Lives Here Now / photo by RJ Muna

When a dance company reaches its 30th birthday, this is cause for celebration. It usually means they’ve managed to stay afloat in unstable economic periods, weathered artistic storms, and nurtured fertile working environments for decades.

In the case of the Joe Goode Performance Group, which performs its 30th anniversary season in June at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, there’s extra cause for celebration. A distinguishing factor of the Group is its longterm relationships: dancer Marit Brook-Kothlow has been with the Group since 1990, and Felipe Barrueto-Cabello since 1996. At YBCA they will perform an excerpt of a work they first performed in 2004 called Grace.

Such longevity is rare for companies, not only because of the tolls that dancing takes on our bodies but also because of the vicissitudes of funding that sustains employment. Goode says fondly, “These people stuck with me for an amazingly long time. Had I been getting a new cast every two years, I would not have made it to 30 years. They sustain me: they are my friends and part of this very vital enterprise where you’re bonding and taking risks together. You have to have each other’s backs, and that bonding unit becomes, in itself, a totally addictive and pleasurable thing.”

Joe Goode and Liz Burritt in Remember the Pool at the Best Western / photo by Marty Sohl

One of Goode’s original company members, Liz Burritt, who was a member of JGPG for 21 years, will join the company for the YBCA season. Burritt and Goode will perform an excerpt from 1991’s Remembering the Pool at the Best Western. “The pleasure of being on stage with Liz is kind of like the safest space in the world for me” says Goode. “It’s safer than real life: it’s a very generative but also generous space to be in. I feel held.”

Goode’s connections with these artists shifted his initial resistance to the retrospective season: “A nostalgic walk down memory lane is something I hate,” he says. “It just feels like you’re trying to put on skin that doesn’t t your body anymore. I try to make work in the moment that feels contemporary to everyone in the room. To come back to it 10 years later, or even 6 months later, makes me wonder, ‘Why are we doing this?’”

As difficult as it may be to revisit these older creations, they hold resonance today that makes them powerful and poignant moments of connection. Goode says Remembering the Pool was created “when one of my best friends was dying. The piece asks, ‘How do you talk to this person? How do you keep that connection after the lights go out?’” Such questions about relationships and survival continue to propel Goode’s projects. When we spoke by phone in early March, he was in Boston to speak at a conference called, “Art in the Service of Understanding.” The presentations highlighted the importance of the arts as catalysts for social change. For instance, AXIS Dance Company, a physically integrated dance company based in the Bay Area that also marks its 30th anniversary this year, performed Goode’s acclaimed to go again at the conference. This performance, his third creation for AXIS, addresses the ability to be “resilient in the face of really catastrophic circumstances,” says Goode. At the Boston conference he spoke about his process with AXIS dancers, as well as his work with combat veterans through an initiative he created, called The Resilience Project. For Goode, his process for to go again began with “interviews of combat vets returning from Iraq, Desert Storm, Afghanistan, and Kuwait. We asked them questions about how they were adjusting and if they were learning to be resilient. The answers were varied and we found that people were so eager to talk, so eager to give voice to their experiences.”

At YBCA, his company will perform a new work, accompanied by the Thalea String Quartet (the first-ever quartet in residence at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music), which Goode says is “quite dance-ey.” Called Nobody Lives Here Now, the piece is, in Goode’s words, “about gender and loss of a clear gender container, which I have always felt, but I think is a more acknowledged feeling today.” This work also addresses experiences of aging and the feeling of “not being your former self no matter how hard you try.”

Two excerpts from evening-length works, one from The Rambler (2011) and the other from Wonderboy (2008), complete the program and give a sense of the range of Goode’s creations: The Rambler presents, in Goode’s words “a restless, peripatetic soul who can’t stay put,” and Wonderboy is a collaboration with puppeteer Basil Twist. As different as these performances may appear, Goode describes the through-line of his career as honoring personal stories, especially when they present “the stank of human experience.” When Goode founded JGPG in 1986, he “felt ostracized, marginalized and stigmatized by who I was. I knew I wanted to make work about that, to explore it and to own it. I also knew it didn’t make sense for dancers to be mute or denude themselves of their own personal histories.”

The impact of Goode’s performances and teaching extends far beyond his company and their audiences. In 2011 he opened his space called the “Annex” on Alabama Street in San Francisco that has become an incubator for Bay Area performances and workshops. He also teaches at the University of California, Berkeley where he has been a tenured faculty member since 2001. When asked if these other projects inform his performances Goode answered, “Absolutely and I think the work I make informs these other people and places. Our methodologies, the ways we enter the room, are about generosity and asking questions, as well as a willingness to try something that may fail. That point of view informs how I teach at Berkeley and how I run the space.”

As a student in Goode’s classes in 1992 when he taught at the Harvard Summer Dance program, I remember his insistence on stripping away formulas or imitations to get at why each of us moves and feels certain things. This pursuit of harder questions instead of pretty shapes was new to me as a classically trained ballet dancer. I remember being both terrified and excited by the possibilities of speaking and moving as well as shedding comfortable habits. Almost 20 years after the Harvard Summer Dance program, I called Goode to ask if I could interview him for an article about dancers and sexuality. While he was generous in making time for the conversation there was also a bit of reluctance to be pigeon-holed as an artist who only makes performances about what it feels like to be gay. Goode’s performances speak to many different identities and experiences, inspiring diverse communities and insights, while they address varied audiences.

Goode says he wants to be “in an intimate conversation” with audiences that “hopefully will dislodge somebody from their complacency or their locked-in perspective on the world or on themselves. I am in dialogue with the viewer all the time. I don’t make work just for us.” A current that runs through Goode’s projects is the sense of intimacy fostered by the vulnerability of his performers and their willingness to explore more difficult aspects of human lives.

His ability to connect with disparate groups is another through-line of his teaching and choreography: his ongoing curiosity, his inability to be satis ed with an easy answer, is also an inspiring model for how we may live our lives and treat one another. As life presents us with moments that are unexpected and at times painful, we are called upon to think and act creatively and generously.

For more than two decades I have admired Goode’s unwillingness to subscribe to a recipe, because it provides an example for how we can show up in our relationships and careers. Are we willing to venture into unknown territories and ask ourselves how to be present for one another as well as ourselves? Do we foster communication and compassion or settle for convenience? In a country where people encounter violence driven by prejudice, hate, and ignorance, these questions point to the power of performance to foster awareness and understanding. They are necessary inquiries, and they remind us of why Goode’s performances are both political and vital.

On Gender and Performance: Six Statements by Six Artists

Comments by Akram Khan in January about women in the dance world(1) sparked a flurry of responses, both online and in publications. Dancers’ Group has decided to examine this topic more carefully and with a closer look at questions of access and opportunity for women in dance in the Bay Area. One well-circulated response to Khan’s words expanded the conversation beyond a discussion of opportunities for men and women: a collective of scholars wrote that “such a simplistic binary” obfuscates the more complex relationships between gender, race, sexuality, class, age and disability. Their article(2) cited the work of legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw and argued that “oppressive institutions (such as racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, transphobia, classism, etc.) must be examined only in relation to each other.” They called for further discussion to analyze how not only choreographers, but also arts managers, funders, and decision-making bodies could be brought together in “productive dialogue.”

This article also seeks productive dialogue by asking questions about access to opportunities for Bay Area artists. In March I interviewed six people, then transcribed our conversations and sent this writing to each artist to select a “statement,” which is printed below. By retaining the artists’ voices I aim to dismantle a pattern of writers speaking for dancers and choreographers. Each artist exposes how overlapping identity-markers inflect artists’ creations as well as access to funding and commissions. They draw examples from dance worlds, presidential campaigns, and entertainment sectors to show the importance of recognizing women’s work. The Bay Area, with its history of presenting socially conscious work, is also home to major matriarchs of dance: Ruth Beckford, Blanche Brown, Lily Cai, Naomi Diouf, Joanna Haigood, Anna Halprin, Margaret Jenkins, Krissy Keefer, Mythili Kumar, Sara Shelton Mann, Micaya, Rosa Montoya, Judy Smith, Deborah Vaughn, and Brenda Way, to name a few. The artists’ statements that follow describe how a next generation is negotiating ways to make work in the Bay Area.

Forty years ago, Wendy Perron, former editor of Dance magazine, contributed to an article published in the March 1, 1976 issue of The Village Voice that was written with Stephanie Woodard and called “When a Woman Dances, Nobody Cares.” The title came from a high school dance teacher in California in 1963, and in their research for the essay, Perron and Woodard compiled data on students, professionals, and grant recipients to track discrepancies in opportunities and funding. Their findings showed “an obvious relationship between sex and success in dance.”

Reading the article today is illuminating in terms of how little has changed: women outnumber men in most dance classes, yet most of the top leadership positions, choreographic commissions, presenting opportunities, and funding awards go to men. In the 1970s identity-markers like “men” and “women” were not examined in conjunction with other categories. With today’s greater understanding of the importance of Crenshaw’s intersectionality theory, we can see that biological, social, and cultural markers work within systems of oppression and discrimination, so a category like “woman” must always be examined alongside other axes of identity. Crenshaw states that it’s essential to foreground these distinctions: “At this point in history a strong case can be made that the most critical resistance strategy for disempowered groups is to occupy and defend a politics of social location rather than to vacate and destroy it.”(3)

Relationships between artists and access are particularly fraught in dance communities given the scarcity of resources as well as the long histories of racism and exclusion that have shaped the dance canon and dance in higher education. As theorist Doug Meyer writes, “approaches that take only one system of oppression into account sometimes provide homogenized and distorted views of marginalized groups, advancing the interests of more privileged individuals.”(4) In other words, seemingly discrete forms of oppression are shaped by one another, and defining a measurement of success as dollar amounts or numbers of grants received can overlook significant forms of exclusion that occur long before a grant is written.

In 2013, choreographer Miguel Gutierrez spoke about the disproportionate compositions of artists around him: “when I’m in a festival lineup where 75 percent of the presented artists are men and when most of those are gay men. Or when I look at a roster of a festival and out of the 25 presented artists, only 6 are women and only 1 is a person of color. I am always shocked when others don’t notice this as quickly as I do. Maybe I see the world this way because I grew up in a bicultural household as the child of Colombian immigrants, which taught me quickly that there are dominant cultures and conversations and then there are the people who are trying to get inside the door of those conversations.”(5)

Speaking with these six artists about opportunities and obstacles they’ve experienced in their careers as choreographers, dancers, and directors opened a number of perspectives and propositions that shed light on this important topic.

Anna Martine Whitehead is an artist based in Chicago who spent three years in the Bay Area and recently performed in the FRESH Festival. Whitehead highlights the need for a multi-layered understanding of access and the importance of fostering critical audiences as well as partnering across communities and institutions.

There are two layers to any conversation about access and affirmative action issues: there’s a need for people of color, trans and cis women, femme women, and genderqueer people to have access to performances and to reviews, but there’s another layer that’s about the work being made. That is: regardless of the body making it, does the work reproduce patriarchy?

Right now in the presidential campaign there’s a great example: people say, ‘wouldn’t it be great to have a female president?’ For me I don’t think she’s [Hillary Clinton] going to bring a critical lens to imperialism, incarceration, or gender liberation to the presidency. So there’s an issue about female choreographers having access, but there’s another conversation that needs to be had that isn’t just about real world access but about what’s happening in the process of making work, and what the intentions of dance-makers are in creating work. And also not just choreographers but also the whole structure: the presenters, funders, and supporting structures.

In Chicago there’s the In Time Festival, a kind of sprawling dance and performance festival, which feels like a queer and female festival even though the director is a man — to me that’s neither here nor there honestly. The feel of it, the choreographers and artists are mostly women and there is a feminine feel to it. There’s a conversation I’ve been having with organizers of [San Francisco’s] FRESH [Festival] in terms of audiences and people participating in the workshops. The thing that’s awesome about FRESH is that it’s very queer, Bay Area, very accessible to women, a kind of feminine feel to it, and it’s also made by queer people. What I think is also very “Bay Area” is that it’s a double-edged thing where if you don’t have people of color organizing a festival, and more importantly, if the issues of people of color are not central to your mission, then that’s going to frame it. If you prioritize queer in your work, then it will feel like a queer project. If you prioritize issues addressing anti-blackness or racism in general then that will be the priority. There may be a legitimate concern for wanting bodies of color to be present in the space, but if you are not asking the question, “how can we bring the issue of eradicating racism to the center of our work?” or other issues that affect people of color, like housing justice, then the people of color are not going to be there.

Something that I feel in this historical moment in the US and the world, is that we are in this Post-Post-Black moment, where people really wanted to be Post-Black, and then it became apparent that that was not going to work and that in fact there is so much to love about being Black that we want to hold on to. It feels like this is a really challenging time of understanding how and what do we as people who understand ourselves as oppressed or impoverished people, what do we have in common with those folks we understand as our oppressors, and vice versa. The question becomes, “What’s our goal?” or “Where are we going?” Is the goal to destroy the oppressor or to figure out a way to hold the multiplicity that we all share?

Tammy Johnson, co-founder of Raks Africa with Etang Inyang, speaks about the importance of women coming together collectively from a variety of dance genres to support one another and share information. Raks Africa presents performances, workshops, and has created an educational program, Girls Raks Bellydance and Body Image Program, that’s not only about teaching belly dancing, having fun, developing musicality and coordination, but also about creating body-positive experiences and fostering self-esteem.

What I’ve noticed, especially among women of color, is that their jobs involve both dance work and social justice work. Sometimes they intermingle, and it’s not to say men don’t have these interests, but that women carry them in a different way. I think Destiny Arts offers a great model, maybe it’s not perfect for everybody, but it shows how it can work. Again, it’s the women of color making that happen. I truly believe we’re in a historical, political moment equivalent to the Civil Rights Era of the 1960s, and when people look back 20 years from now, they’ll ask, “What were you doing? What did the art look like?”

How can we get together as a political collective to leverage some of these resources, both from governments and foundations, and from business, like the techies? We need to say, “if you want to be a good community member you need to sponsor this season… invest in the community.” It would be a drop in the hat to them, but somebody has to know somebody to get us in to talk to the right person. There’s also a lingering bias that something developed out of a community is “lesser than” what is performed in those theaters with subscribers. People want so-called “high end” art, but that’s not supporting itself, just look at the ballet companies that are closing or struggling. We have decided not to aspire to that audience. We put our energy into our program, our girls and the community. We are making our path by walking it.

Julia Adam joined San Francisco Ballet in 1988 and created a ballet for the company’s choreographic workshop in 1993. Since then Adam has created over 40 works for numerous companies including San Francisco Ballet, Houston Ballet, Oregon Ballet Theater, Atlanta Ballet, Nashville Ballet and The Joffrey Ballet. Adam has created more than five works on Ballet Memphis and was their Artistic Associate from 2010 to 2013. In July, Adam presented The Woodland Project, an immersive culinary and choreographic experience, created for a wooded grove in the town of Nicasio in West Marin County.

The trajectory of my career has been interesting: being a mother has made me less driven, less focused on professional tasks. When I had young children, and people hired me to choreograph, part of my contract was to come down in the rate I received so I could have an apartment to be with my kids. I don’t know how that impacted my hiring because it brought a certain complexity. It has been a beautiful thing for me to retire from a career as a dancer and to move into a choreographic career and to have my kids close to me. It’s interesting because I’m Canadian and I think it’s different there. It’s more open to female input. The National Ballet of Canada, both the school and company, were founded by women [Celia Franca and Betty Oliphant], and you have Gweneth Lloyd and Betty Farrally who founded The Royal Winnipeg. Now Emily Molnar runs Ballet British Columbia, and Aszure Barton was trained at the National school. Crystal Pite was also trained in Canada, and then danced for Billy Forsythe. He’s a director who wants dancers to create. You are allowed to. In a traditional ballet company you’re a swan queen or a muse. As a person and dancer, I developed a love of creative process, and that’s similar to Forsythe’s dancers’ experiences. Even as a student at the National school, I would spend a good hour figuring out how to stay within the parameters of my uniform, but change it so I didn’t look like everyone else. I’m now making projects where there’s this whole experience of an environment. On my website I show these cultural experiences that are more than traditional dance projects. I would love to see a shift happen in dancers’ training where they are encouraged to make work and not all look the same but do something different. I hope we can open up places, especially for women and girls, where they can be themselves. I think a feminine aesthetic is a different perspective, but with men running a company, do they see this? Can they embrace this? It requires an evolved point of view. Does a company director have a great sense of art, see the whole spectrum of choreographic approaches, and balance these ideas with a business sense? My conundrum is that I view the world in my own way, I walk the world as a woman, mother, Canadian, classically trained dancer and more, therefore it is sometimes difficult for me to stand in a man’s shoes and understand their perspective. My interest is developing and nurturing the art form not driving to establish corporate success. I am more of an independent filmmaker than a Hollywood blockbuster type.

Monique Jenkinson (Fauxnique) is a multi-genre performing artist (dance, drag, theater, video) whose work uses drag to consider the performance of femininity as a forceful, vulnerable and subversive act. Jenkinson and her drag queen alter ego Fauxnique have created and performed in such varied venues as the Stud Bar, City Hall, YBCA and the de Young Museum in San Francisco; the New Museum, Judson Church and the Stonewall in New York; and in New Orleans, Seattle, Provincetown, Reykjavik, Amsterdam, Edinburgh, London, Rome, Catania and Zu?rich.

Have I ever been denied something because I am a woman? I am sure all the time in ways I never knew. I moved here specifically to work with a particular company whose work kind of changed my life and I went to that company’s class twice a week and took workshops and was in love with the teaching and saw boy after boy after boy run past me and get into the company and get better. I had to find my voice another way. Maybe, if I had been in that company, I may not have found my voice as an artist, but I wanted it so badly and that was when I realized this dance world is really different for boys. In college you see it, but in the professional world, it’s really different. Young men right out of college find work right away. Their biggest problem is figuring out their schedule because they are dancing with four companies. Then they have bargaining power because they are wanted so badly. At 22 they are probably making more money than senior women.

I needed to be angry for a while around the issue of gender and dance, and not getting stuff and seeing the way women dancers are taken for granted. Women are never going to get what the men get in this concert dance or contemporary scene. I went away from that world to dig into drag. That choreographer I so wanted to dance for has since told me, “I really admire you for taking time away and building your own path.” Because I forged my own path, I can be at peace and heartily congratulate stuff that people earn.

Farah Yasmeen Shaikh, a kathak soloist who has performed throughout the U.S. and India, is the artistic director and choreographer of The Twentieth Wife, a multidisciplinary production that was commissioned by San Francisco’s Z Space. During this 2-hour performance, Shaikh performs the role of all of the characters in the story of Empress Noor Jahan, and presented the production in March in San Jose, a fitting event for Women’s History Month:(6) Shaikh, like the empress, steps beyond the bounds of convention.

To me it comes down to opportunity. I don’t think I’m alone in claiming that we still live in a male dominated world—in just about every industry. And, even in those industries where on the surface it may appear that there is plenty (totally subjective in what plenty means) of female representation, we also have to take a deeper look of how women are involved versus men.

I’m reminded of a recent interview I saw of actress Viola Davis, after she became the first African-American to win an Emmy for best actress in a drama. She clearly stated, “The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity.”

I see this to be the same in dance. So yes, it’s imperative that we create opportunities for women choreographers. In a very basic search of some prominent performing arts venues, I couldn’t help but notice that most of the companies being presented (not self-presenting) are run by men. And though this may be a topic for another article, it is definitely worth mentioning that the majority of the support and opportunities (funding, performances at prestigious venues) more often than not are still going to “mainstream” dance—ballet, contemporary, modern. For artists outside of these forms, we are still seeking some balance in that way as well.

Now nobody should receive opportunities simply because they fit a category, and to make that assumption is actually quite offensive. As a Kathak (Indian classical dance) artist, I am well aware of what it means to be exoticized, and of course it pisses me off. My skills are not based on my looks, and it is my duty to ensure that my artistry speaks louder than my genetics. And yet, you better believe that I am going to tout the fact that I am Pakistani-American-Muslim woman that is a professional dancer. I do what I do with pride, and know that I represent a small percentage of women who fit my profile. But please know, I’m not your token anything, and definitely don’t give me handouts, I will earn them on my own. And for anyone who is not able to see that there is still such a huge disparity, all we ask is to create the opportunities for me and the many women who are just as deserving.

Abby Crain presented SNAKE TALK, made in collaboration with Mara Poliak and Maryanna Lachman, at CounterPulse in San Francisco in April. Crain is an Oakland based artist who has presented work and taught nationally and internationally. Her curatorial projects include working with the FRESH Festival and organizing the NO THANK YOU SHOW, which asked artists to represent or stage work that has been rejected by granting organizations, theaters, collaborators, or the artists themselves. She is the mother of two children.

Being an artist and a mother is complicated. I was working primarily as a performer when I had my first child, and didn’t see many role models for dancers in the United States who were mothers. I’m a stubborn person, and it didn’t make sense to me that having a child meant leaving dancing, so when I decided to have children I was determined not to do that. I felt pretty alone in this. Being a dancing mother is a little closeted, so even though there were people around me with kids, I often didn’t find that out until much later. People have complicated relationships to women and to mothering and all the things that entails, so one becomes strategic about when and where one acknowledges that they are a parent.

I remember I was working with Miguel Gutierrez during this time and I had to explain to him that every time I was in rehearsal, I had to give a babysitter $15 an hour, and that this meant I now needed to be paid hourly. I imagine this was hard for Miguel. Luckily, he was at a place in his career where he could say yes, but if he hadn’t been, I think things would have been very different.

I like to think I did some of my best dancing after having my first child. It was like, after giving birth and nursing, things didn’t seem so precious anymore. My entire relationship to art making shifted. In a lot of ways I didn’t give a shit. I couldn’t. It was so obvious that a lady with floppy boobs and a flabby belly could not be the image of a perfect dance robot—that I was somehow freed. My aesthetic range broadened, my dancing got wilder, messier and less identifiable.

I also had to fight for it more. In the US, there is little or no governmental financial support for having children. Self-employed people, myself included, don’t even get paid maternity leave. There is little to no state funded childcare. So if you have a child, you find yourself suddenly doing more work than you ever thought possible. My first seven years of being a parent were an enormous struggle. I left dancing, I came back to it, I left again. I rehearsed at 6 am before my husband had to leave for work and at 10 pm after I finished work and after everyone had gone to sleep. I nursed a baby with one hand and read art theory with the other. I put my kids in my dances. The work changed, but it survived. I would like to think it got better…


1 – Georgia Snow (2016) “Akram Khan: ‘Don’t have more female choreographers for the sake of it,’” The Stage, www.thestage.

2 – “Writing from Silence,” by a Transnational Collective of Dance Scholars and Artists of Colour. Published February 15, 2016.

3 – Kimberle Williams Crenshaw, “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color” In Martha Albertson Fineman, Rixanne Mykitiuk, Eds. The Public Nature of Private Violence. (New York: Routledge, 1994), p. 93-118.

4 – Doug Meyer (2012) “A intersectional analysis of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender People’s Evaluations of Anti-Queer Violence,” Gender and Society 26 (6): 850.

5 – “Trends in Performance” Talk, May 2013, Williams College, by Miguel Gutierrez.

6 –

CULTIVATING RELATIONSHIP: Randee Paufve Reflects on How Dancing Can be Communicative and Evocative

RANDEE PAUFVE’S PRODUCTION, Strangers Become Flowers, will have its premiere in February at ODC Commons Studio B. In November I watched a run-through at Shawl-Anderson that lasted about 45 minutes and imagined that Randee and I would talk afterwards about her creative process. Instead, her dancers, Rogelio Lopez, Elizebeth Randall, Andrew Merrell, Juliana Monin, Nadia Oka, and Mechelle Tunstall, made time to stay and join the conversation. It was a moment that spoke to how deeply collaboration and long-term investment have informed this new work.

Strangers Become Flowers invites us to notice how communities are formed, how an instant intimacy can emerge with total strangers, how we foster relationships, and how we find place in people. In many ways the creation of this production shapes and reflects its own topics. The dancers talked about the significance of trust and respect, elements that become especially important in times of precarity and displacement. Trust and respect are also through-lines of Paufve’s teaching, choreography, and performances, qualities that make her a valued and vital part of the Bay Area dance landscape.

In December of 2014, Paufve participated in Luna Dance Institute’s ChoreoFund, where she showed about six minutes of material from Strangers Become Flowers and won the evening’s funds. This financing has helped to pay the dancers and has affirmed the vitality of the choreography: Strangers Become Flowers is a work that has communicated across varied audiences, and as Paufve says, “audience consideration is primary.”

Kate Mattingly: I remember the May 2015 Bare Bones event when over 100 people attended a run-through of the work and the response was enthusiastic among different generations and backgrounds. At what point do you consider your audiences?

Randee Paufve: Sometimes I worry there’s an issue we don’t want to face in modern and contemporary dance performance and that is: the dancers are having more fun than the audience. It’s really fun to get to dance, to perform. But the audience is sitting in their seats watching performers having an experience. Of course it’s individualistic how we respond to performances, and sometimes I am just tired or hungry, or I go in really wanting to like something. But I notice when I feel I am drawn into a work, or when I feel like there’s a wall, I’m completely outside of it. I’m really paying attention to that with this piece, how to work in traditional theater format, and still connect with our audience beyond performers showing their stuff and audiences politely viewing.

I love the lines between rawness and refinement, between technique and emotion and I have a cast of very fine dancers who also have a raw, wild energy. This is a group of dancers who do not fit outdated molds or stereotypes of dancer bodies, of what some people might expect a dancer or a dance company to look like. I value individuality and uniqueness, have never been interested in making the kind of work that denies differences, and this dance is created with and performed by a group of people who can dance but who also look like people, who look like our world. People have expressed surprise, that these dancers don’t all look like dancers, in the stereotypical sense, and I thank god for that, because it is well beyond time to smash such notions.

Paufve’s rehearsal process: Retaining individuality within unison

KM: How did you develop the movement? Was it a collaborative process with the dancers?

RP: During the very first rehearsals I was bringing in material, which became the foundational movement. From there we launched, and the dancers have had a huge voice in shaping movement. For instance, two of the more recent group sections came out of improvisations that I recorded and studied, later asking the dancers to learn and tie together many tiny snippets of movement.

Andrew Merrell: Then you would give us scored improvisations so that we could take the movement you had given us and make it more of our own, mess around with it.

KM: There’s something powerful about the coexistence of differences so that, even in the unison sections, each dancer keeps a sense of individuality. In other words each person brings a distinctive quality to the movement that I find intriguing and I’m curious about how that quality is retained and fostered?

RP: I’m so happy that you said that because it’s a goal of mine and it’s important to me that the differences live.

Nadia Oka: I think throughout the process Randee has fostered the idea that we are these, for lack of better word, personas. Some were named, and some were never named. They emerged from movement that we created. So our personas developed and grew and matured throughout this year. Thematically too it’s about each of us as individuals learning about and finding each other. So this idea of connection between strangers was cultivated from the beginning. We are also so clearly individual movers with different bodies that there was also a tacit understanding that this is who we will always be.

Mechelle and Rogelio in a suet

Photo by Tony Nguyen

RP: There’s also a technique called “points of departure” I learned from my mentor and colleague Beth Harris, through which dancers clarify and refine movement, and retain their individuality even in unison. In this, dancers are asked to comb through every movement, to define the moments where one idea ends and a new one begins, that crystalline place of split second stillness. If this is a unison phrase, they come back together and it’s always really interesting because these individual phrasing decisions actually makes for clearer unison.

Elizebeth Randall: What I also found really fulfilling in this process is that we learned each other’s movement and translated it into our own expression and that created a new language that we all share.

KM: I noticed a sense of clarity and groundedness that each person brought to the material and wonder if this has to do with working together for a year?

AM: Living in a piece for a year does ground us. And it feels different today than it did a year ago. Even when we come back together, after a break from rehearsals, it’s as if there was a natural bonding that took place and I don’t just mean the friendships that develop, but something that happens when we dance.

Rogelio Lopez: There’s also something special about learning material, and then leaving it and coming back to it, that lets it incubate. It’s fresh because it lived in our bodies without us doing it. It feels like new information. It means we look at each other and take cues from each other.

NO: We also nurture each other and watch other’s solos and give feedback and Randee gave us space to ask why we are doing certain things and to talk to each other.

To me that talking was really important and rare. It’s not like the model where a choreographer tells dancers to do something, but we are really seeing each other and that fosters a rootedness because I can trust myself and others.

ER: When I watch you dance and I know you and who you are. There’s so much history formed out of this process that came from the conversations.

RL: Respect and trust comes from the conversations and feeds the conversation.

AM: Every three months we would have a rehearsal where the movement would stop and we would have a conversation. That was really helpful.

RL: we also drew pictures!

ER: I think we would agree that the piece has a life of its own that each time we come into rehearsal it feels like stepping into the forest. The piece keeps regenerating with depths and layers as time has evolved. The piece doesn’t feel like something we do, but rather something we go into.

RP: I ask a lot of these dancers and place a lot of trust in people I work with. This is a very special cast that has taken me places I haven’t gone before. I create movement and then ask them what it is! I can ask them anything and they will create it. In this there’s a common language and a common trust that has developed.

AM: I think it has a lot to do with the environment cultivated by a leader because I have been in situations with choreographers who demand certain things and dancers don’t want to give it to them.

RL: And Randee gives us time to explore. She’s not a choreographer who expects something in 10 minutes.

Mechelle Tunstall: As a dancer I’ve grown so much by being around these amazing people and by being asked things I didn’t know I could do, discovering abilities I have or don’t have. And the points of departure work has helped me both inside and outside of this process.

A group of dancers

Photo by Tony Nguyen

Cultivating trust and care

KM: It’s a performance about instability and unfamiliarity and at the same time the presence of trust and care is palpable. I am interested in how you cultivate that dialectic.

RP: I think it goes back to the idea of places between, or opposing ideas, such as the line between rawness and refi nement, and this is developed by having the dancers live in the material, to know it well enough that they can take risks and blow it out. It’s really important to me in an artistic process that the dancers are safe as can be, that we all work as smart as we possibly can. I am so completely disinterested in any material or ways of working that hurts dancers. For me, dancers need to know the material and trust it. This way they can take true risks, as opposed to risks by dint of not having enough time to develop the work. There’s a beauty to those fi rst showings of a dance that are really raw and crazy magical, but it can’t sustain itself in a set work. I’m interested in how we stay in this raw state and I think one answer is you have to have muscle: muscle memory and physical muscular development suited to the needs of the dance. You need technique to release from technique. It can’t just be released. There needs to be some structure to hold onto.

KM: It reminds me of a quote from a jazz musician who told his students, “You learn technique in order to forget technique.” Meaning that technique is not an end, rather technique, for dancers, signers and musicians, is developed for both protection and freedom. In Strangers Become Flowers, I sense this freedom: dancers shift from humans to creatures, from people to personas, but it’s subtle and seamless.

RP: Great quote. And yes, there is a sense of ancientness in this dance, of a time before time, of beings half creature, half human, of beings moving fluidly between worlds, of no fixed place or time. I am looking at ancient archetypes and developing movement that’s not about modern people with modern sensibilities.

An important part of the world(s) we are creating will be the music. I’m collaborating with sound designer Teddy Hulsker, working with sound/music almost as a set. We’re grappling with ideas about music and place, trying to find music, sounds, and voices both familiar and unfamiliar, music that keeps us wondering where we are in the world at any given moment, yet trying to understand and be conscious of cultural appropriation, or music that is too obvious, dealing with lyrics, etc. I’m interested in music helping both performers and audience fi nd ways into and through this work, and am also sick of a certain kind of droning, modern dancey music that we hear so often. The feedback I got from the Bare Bones showing was that audiences really responded to the “fun” music. I want to be rigorous about this work and not just cater to audiences, and I’m also aware that these choices, especially for audience members not familiar with contemporary dance, give people a way in. That matters to me and I feel caught sometimes, between I guess high art and populist art, I want to be aware of decisions based on my training or trends in the art world that speak to the art world but not necessarily to the rest of the world. It’s tricky.

Artist Residencies as Homes for Community-building and Risk-taking

IN THE RECENTLY-RELEASED documentary about Yvonne Rainer called Feelings are Facts, one statement reveals a key element in the artistic explorations of the 1960s: Steve Paxton says that he had an apartment that cost him less than $20 a month. In the film Paxton says “that apartment made it possible for me to be a dancer.” The more we study material conditions that surround artists’ practices, the more we notice alignments between creative risk-taking, affordable costs of living, and residencies that nurture longterm relationships.

“Choreographers need affordable and free of charge space to make the act of dancemaking an accessible feat,” says Rebecca Johnson, executive director of Shawl-Anderson Dance Center (SADC), a non-profit organization. SADC was founded in 1958 by Frank Shawl and Victor Anderson in a second-floor space across the street from its current location in a house on Alcatraz Ave. in Berkeley. Today the two men own the building and SADC pays them each a monthly lease.

Resident artists at SADC are offered free rehearsal spaces, and these residencies are spread over different timelines, some lasting one year and others three or more. Johnson says, “This allows their voices to grow and develop, and space is critical to this process. And not just space that is free and affordable, but also space that is informed and held by the values we hold most dear: ability to be yourself as a human and artist; integrity in creation, teaching and learning; and community through collegiality, non-competitive spirit, sharing and love.”

While SADC has been able to nurture different communities of dancers––children, professionals, and hobbyists––other Bay Area spaces cater to a more interdisciplinary approach, offering space to film, music, and dance artists, as seen at Temescal Art Center (TAC) in Oakland and MilkBar, which just moved to Richmond.

Leyya Mona Tawil, TAC’s director, speaks about the importance of sustaining a consistent presence, as TAC has done since it was founded by Leigh Evans in 1994. Tawil’s story sheds light not only on essential ingredients for dancers’ processes––space and time––but also on how smaller, more informal venues are crucial for artists’ explorations. These venues also challenge notions of “creative placemaking,” a phrase used by funding entities such as National Endowment for the Arts that seek projects that “help to transform communities into lively, beautiful, and resilient places with the arts at their core. Creative placemaking is when artists, arts organizations, and community development practitioners deliberately integrate arts and culture into community revitalization work.”1 By staying rooted in a community and providing low-cost spaces for artists to reside for long periods, venues like TAC show how “placekeeping” may be a more sustainable approach than “placemaking.”2

Such terms––“placemaking,” “revitalization,” or the notion that “art drives equity”––are challenged by scholars and artists because they can mask the work of displacement. An essential element in TAC’s sustainability is Tawil’s approach: she’s not interested in expanding or increasing TAC’s income. The costs of running the space (rent, heat, insurance) are subsidized by renters’ fees, and the space is “really really booked.” Costs for renting operate on a sliding scale with some artists who have been renting for a decade “grandfathered in” to a lower rate. Tawil adds that although some events at TAC like music concerts attract “lots of internationally touring musicians,” and Shapeshifters Cinema has become a consistent and popular event, the space for the most part remains “invisible to the outside, or the mainstream, and that serves us well.”

Tawil says this venue for experimental performance “is a great place to do your first show, to workshop ideas, and to introduce people who are new to a community.” TAC is part of a property owned by Cal Bay Property Investment, which also owns the adjacent offices and corner space occupied by Lanesplitter Pizza & Pub. The rent Tawil pays has increased over the last 18 years yet the costs are balanced by rentals of the studio to people who teach classes (primarily yoga and theater improvisation) during the day and most weekday evenings. On weekends, TAC becomes a performance space for experimental fi lm, music, and dance. TAC’s small size encourages artists to venture into new territory: it was the site of Nora Chipaumire’s first Bay Area showing of her work, and a place where Eric Kupers/Bandelion can collaborate with out-of-town artists such as Theater Grottesco. “It lets people break through some creative walls,” says Tawil.

TAC was run co-operatively between 1998 and 2012 with three women, Evans, Tawil, and Micaela Gardner, occupying codirecting roles for many of those years. Today the space is no longer run cooperatively––it’s a “project of Leyya Tawil’s DANCE ELIXIR”––with three people, Deborah Karp, Margit Galanter, and Dominic Cramp, assisting Tawil as “ARMs,” Artist Resident Managers. Tawil adds, “we divvy up the space for our own use. The four of us have been participating in the health of TAC by helping with renters and business needs, so it works as an exchange.” The space measures 23 by 40 feet, with capacity for 49 people, and is rented on a “first-come-first-served basis with priority given to people who have rented before.”

Deborah Karp adds that “working and creating at TAC as an Artist Resident Manager has given me time to experiment, explore and develop new work, key elements for a creative process, without having to make artificial, hasty decisions because I feel financial pressure of hourly space rental. And, Leyya’s creative, alternative way of running TAC, providing artists time in the space in exchange for maintaining it, is what I believe has allowed it to sustain itself these many years.” TAC’s commitment to collaboration, investment, and trust is palpable. Tawil compares the space itself to a “family room or tree house… All the artists who have gone through TAC, who have worked and added to the spirit of the room, have made it what it is today. That’s why it holds movement and music the way it does.”

Artists Debby Kajiyama and José Navarrete emphasize the importance of longterm investment in partnerships. Kajiyama explains, “When EastSide Arts Alliance purchased and moved into their current space in East Oakland back in 2006, Navarrete x Kajiyama Dance Theater (NAKA) inaugurated the performance space by producing The Revenge of Huitlacoche there. This was thanks in large part to Susanne Takehara, visual artist, cultural worker, and a core member of the EastSide collective.”

Last month at EastSide, NAKA presented The Anastasio Project, a work that takes its name from Anastasio Hernandez-Rojas, a Mexican national who was killed by border patrol agents while trying to cross back into the United States to be with his wife and five children. “When we first brought the proposal to Susanne in 2012, she was very supportive,” says Kajiyama. “She also encouraged us to look at the ramifi cations of state violence right here, in the streets of Oakland. One of EastSide’s primary initiatives is to respond to the issue of State brutality. That fact alone made them a perfect partner to work with. They are also an arts organization who believes that culture is a vehicle for healing from injustice.”

NAKA’s residency at EastSide highlights the transformative effects of integrating communities and artists. Kajiyama says, “A huge part of our creative process is ‘hanging out’ at EastSide.” This approach to “residency” shifts the artist’s presence from temporary or short-term, often imposing ideas that come from outside of a community, to intertwining art-making with social and political changes. “Our performers include both experienced and new performers who live and work in East Oakland,” says Kajiyama. “It didn’t make sense to have it any other way.”

“At EastSide, in the middle of a rehearsal, José loves to invite people who are just walking through the room to sit down and see what we’re working on. Sometimes what we do, what we make, or our practice is unfamiliar to folks who come through. Especially the parts that are primarily movement-based,” explains Kajiyama. “But by asking them what they see… asking them their feedback, we make them the expert. And when one person has a strong opinion or feeling about something we have just made, that person is a model that encourages other people to pay attention and voice their thoughts too. It also means that the performers are seen, and the feedback gives them ideas about what they are conveying.”

These approaches to residencies challenge notions of a “creative class” that comes in and transforms neighborhoods, an idea made popular in Richard Florida’s 2002 book The Rise of the Creative Class. Tawil says “I don’t think artists change neighborhoods anymore. Tech changes neighborhoods… I never felt like TAC made it okay to live in Temescal, nor were we an attraction… Now artists are priced out of Oakland, and I’m overwhelmed by what’s happening.”

Scholar George Lipsitz notices a preference for a “white spatial imaginary” as the emphasis placed on “pure and homogenous spaces, controlled environments, and predictable patterns of design and behavior. It seeks to hide social problems rather than solve them.”3 In San Francisco, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts occupies a space that went through a “highly controversial, problematic, and costly redevelopment scheme.”4 When cultural centers are used to “transform” neighborhoods, artists may become participants in acts of displacement. Lipsitz writes, “The white spatial imaginary promotes the quest for individual escape rather than encouraging democratic deliberations about the social problems and contradictory social relations that affect us all.”

Residencies at SADC, TAC and EastSide make visible the generative relationships between space and creative process, between dancers and communities, and between supportive environments and risk taking. They also demonstrate that long-term investment produces multiple and interlocking benefi ts: for artists, communities, politics, and structures of support.

1. NEA, “Our Town: Introduction.” our-town/introduction
2. For more analysis of “placekeping,” see Roberto Bedoya, “Spatial Justice,” Creative Time Reports, September 15, 2014.
3. George Lipsitz, How racism takes place (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2011).
4. Chester Hartman, City for Sale: The Transformation of San Francisco (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002): 8.

PURSUING INTIMACIES: Joe Goode’s installation makes performance into a personal encounter

FOR A GUY who’s interested in the “up close and personal,” Joe Goode is awfully hard to meet up with. When we spoke by phone in July about his new project Poetics of Space, he was in Los Angeles and had been on the road for teaching and performance projects: Manhattan (KS), Chico (CA), and, most recently, Buenos Aires. A sabbatical from Goode’s teaching position at the University of California, Berkeley gave him muchneeded time and support—he was recently awarded a $32,000 grant from the university to research genealogies of Argentinean performance—and in spite of how different his projects may seem, they are bound by Goode’s dedication to human relationships and their vagaries.

Poetics of Space exemplifies this pursuit. Goode says this project has been part of his plans and dreams for years, and decisions he has made recently, like opening the Joe Goode Annex in 2011, have contributed to realizing this unique performance installation. Even though he has become known for performances that merge text and movement, Goode has developed a deep investment in proximities between performers and audiences. In other words, he’s as interested in where a performance takes place as he is in how it’s made.

French philosopher Gaston Bachelard published a book called Poetics of Space in 1958. In Goode’s version these written ideas become explorations of intimacy and encounters. He says the book, which he discovered at a shop while on tour in Wyoming in 2009, was “a jumping off place” for looking at ways in which environments affect us. “We have experiences in particular spaces,” he explains. “Our big revelatory moments, confessional moments, or moments of deep contact happen in spaces, and we remember where we had that catharsis. That is the dimension of space that interests me most.”

He adds that the project is not an illustration of the book—“I hope people don’t come to see a Bachelard performance”—rather he’s exploring how people engage situations that are both personal and unexpected. Goode wants audiences to feel “lost in a labyrinth of experience.” By abandoning seats so that visitors can wander through the Annex, he hopes individuals can be in “really close proximity to a performative moment that’s directed or addressed specifically to them.”

Goode says, “It is not so much a narrative as a meditation on this idea of how we exist in so many different spaces.”

For a choreographer who’s associated with theatrical fusions, and whose audiences have filled venues as big as Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, this shift to the small-scale takes patience and fortitude. Goode says, “It’s both liberating and challenging.”

Only 60 people can move through Poetics of Space at a time, so performances will happen over three weeks, from September 24 to October 11, with six performances each weekend. To make sure that both his dancers and audiences can negotiate this unusual setting without accidents or injuries, Goode ran “beta-testing” of the performance experience several months ago and discovered “yes, it’s safe,” plus people love this interactivity.

“It was really exciting for viewers to be close to that full bodied rush of movement, but what I didn’t like was the gallery feel,” Goode recalls. During the work in progress performances in April and May, he noticed that people tended to switch settings and rush through the environment, as if in search of a better scene happening around a corner.

Noting how people tend to “shop” when they visit a museum, checking off the major artists and getting to that “Matisse in the next room,” he wants instead to create a setting where people can stay and linger: “In the beta test there was some confusion about where audiences could be, which can be a good thing because it puts viewers in a place that makes them open their senses, but to have the whole evening be that is counterproductive. In this new version audiences will have a way of moving through the piece that feels more complete.”

He adds, “I don’t want it to be a gallery. I want people to feel captured and held in the moment. For me, the juice is in the intimate experience… I want this version to be more like a fun house… there will be a lot more time for audiences in spaces that are discreet and people can find their way through, or plant themselves with one character. The space itself can’t be the whole deal.”

That said, it’s still a captivating space. When I attended the beta-performance in April I was intrigued by the scaffolding, stairway, and ledges of Sean Riley’s set design. Large platforms evoked the tiers of laborers seen in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, but there is none of Lang’s ominous or foreboding atmosphere in Poetics of Space. It’s more of an inviting landscape that sheds light on different facets of our lives, memories, and relationships. The score generated an immersive, acoustic surrounding and the dancers sung and spoke in ways that were poignant and gorgeous. Even in its beta form it was an all-encompassing and altering experience.

Goode describes his different artistic elements as “pools,” saying that some “ pools are textual and some pools are movement, and when you work as I do in such a ‘collage’ way, bringing these different pools together, there is this painful moment of figuring out what is essential and how to draw all of these threads back to the central topic.”

For Goode this topic is a mapping of a life, although he anticipates that the performance will resonate in different ways with various audiences. “Each of us occupies so many different spaces in our lives. There are often separate tracks or cubbyholes we keep ourselves in. In this piece it might take a while for people to realize they are looking at the complexity of one life, and that territory is really interesting to me.”

Complex and personal territory is something that Goode has traversed not only through his performance projects, but also in his teaching and research. Traversing this terrain brings Goode into relationships and projects that are unexpected, unfamiliar, and profoundly transformative. Part of the travelling that keeps him so occupied is dedicated to the Resilience Project, an initiative to bring Goode and his company together with returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. Goode admits that he was initially reluctant to participate, thinking,
“I’m not a veteran,” but has since become invested in the people and the program.

Woman in silver dress over concrete block man under in an extended pose

Joe Goode Performance Group/Photo by RJ Muna

He uses the word “powerful” several times in describing the workshops and conversations: “there’s something powerful about trying to be resilient in the face of amazing life changes, and about the wisdom people have, some of them very young, in their early twenties, who haven’t even had the chance to go to college yet.” Listening to veterans’ stories has allowed Goode to step away from developing his own scripts and brought him into contact with communities across the country. The residencies began in 2013 in Manhattan (KS) at the Institute for Health and Well Being of Military and their Families. In February of 2016 Goode will be working with veterans in a week-long residency at the American Dance Institute in Rockville, Maryland.

His other major project explores histories of performance, and was sparked by Goode’s curiosity about Argentinean Tanztheater, or what he calls “a Latin version of Pina Bausch.” In November he will host dancer and choreographer Mayra Bonard at his Annex, and during her residency, she will lecture, teach, and perform.

Both the Resilience Project and Bonard residency shed light on different approaches, nationally and internationally, that artists bring to making connections and forging relationships. They are projects that are committed to looking at how we touch people, expose vulnerabilities, and communicate honestly. As Bachelard writes in Poetics of Space, our encounters with environments and images are “iridescent, shimmering, unceasingly active.” In this acknowledgement of how places affect and transform us, Bachelard’s theories connect with an elemental definition of performance as a moment of exchange and transformation. Goode’s project sheds light on these endlessly changing aspects of our lives, the places we inhabit, and the beauty of risking intimacy.

Education Matters: Four Artists’ Methods for Teaching College-aged Dancers

WHEN UNDERGRADUATES FACE the decision of majoring in dance or another discipline, they are often confronted with questions about the usefulness of their degree or the chances of pursuing a career as a choreographer or performer. Today there a number of teachers who are turning these questions around and showing how a dance education transforms students into engaged citizens and potent spokespersons for the arts.

Four teachers who were selected for this article are challenging outdated approaches, and each one—Nina Haft, Molly Rogers, Dawn Stoppiello, and Amara Tabor-Smith—demonstrates the deep and varied connections educators are making between movement, politics, and life skills. Although they have different approaches and methodologies, they show how lessons learned in studios and lecture halls have direct application to the worlds outside of university walls.

They are also challenging images of dancers seen on professional stages as well as in pop culture. On television shows like “Dance Academy” or competitions like “So You Think You Can Dance,” instructors and coaches prioritize technical perfection or athletic display. The teachers here foreground opportunities for students to become advocates for embodied knowledge. While dismantling canons that perpetuate ethnocentric notions of artistry, they are also expanding frameworks for noticing how movement generates knowledge and social change. Conversations with these teachers left lasting impressions and their perspectives encourage us to rethink conventional approaches as well as to honor the ways in which life experiences inform pedagogical tools.

For Nina Haft, Associate Professor at California State University, East Bay, teaching means drawing from decades of experience in dance and martial arts. When she learned kajukenbo, a hybrid martial art, it was “taught in a feminist school, with a woman head instructor. Having a woman teacher does not in and of itself make training empowering, but in this case, I believe it was a direct and purposeful effort on the part of my teacher to engender peer leadership and also practicality (i.e. does this movement work for you? if not, change it so that it does). That last thing is unusual in martial arts.”  This dialogic ethos pervades Haft’s teaching today, and her experiences with AXIS Dance Company contributed to her inquiry-based approach. She emphasizes that the goal of technique is not physical feats: “the movement material is not the thing; it’s what you discover about your body, mind and spirit. The dance is a bigger thing than what a dance looks like.”

By focusing less on what students execute and more on how dancers learn, Haft is able to effectively engage and inspire classes composed of varied levels and interests. She says, “Often there are 2 or 3 groups working on material. Some students who are more confident and resourceful are also the students who are interested in teaching. I give them some responsibility in working with others and this cultivates multiple leaders in a classroom.” This also shifts a traditional dance class format where a teacher instructs students to reiterate her material: in Haft’s classroom, like the world outside the studio, there are networks of teachers and learners in constantly shifting patterns.

Haft builds peer feedback practices into her teaching: “I do give students feedback, and they do want it. But they learn to assess their own work, and to help each other, in ways that go far beyond the classroom.” Haft’s courses are not only about movement and creativity, but also foster communication skills and interpersonal intelligence. “In technique class we do some improvisation such as a kind of short compositional exercise that has students use movement as a springboard for their own choreography. Frankly, I do this because what they do with the movement is really interesting to me. It points to all the ways an idea can be developed. There is no ideal form.”

Molly Rogers, who developed the curriculum for Critical Perspectives in Dance as part of the Alonzo King LINES Ballet Training Program says, “I’ve been so fortunate to enjoy steady support from the forward-thinking directors of the LINES educational programs. They understand my goal of preparing students to serve as ambassadors to the art form—a role that requires more than simply dancing well. Because even if these young artists’ first professional contracts lie imminently on the horizon, why shouldn’t they be equipped with the tools to participate in critical discourse and defend their art against perpetual accusations of its frivolity? Why shouldn’t they gain practice writing and public speaking, articulating opinions and ideas in front of their peers? If the basic tenets of a liberal arts education ensure that dancers in college programs have at least some exposure to interdisciplinary modalities, I fear that an antiquated perception of a dancer’s role in society still governs much of their education in the studio.”

Rogers adds, “Letting go of the cannon, ill-defined as it was, has allowed me to contextualize class material in the fabric of students’ daily lives. It’s now a media studies class as much as it is about dance: we’ve discussed Pussy Riot and Miley Cyrus, Jér?ome Bel and Beyoncé, #bringbackourgirls, #blacklivesmatter, and #crimingwhilewhite. We analyze choreography both as a mirror to the culture that created it, and an instigator of cultural change, utilizing the dance stage as a microcosm in which societal norms are enacted, rejected, and/or reformed. We centralize issues of gender, race, and disability in dance, considering basic questions about power, agency, and representation both on and off-stage. Because ultimately these are the questions that matter: who tells the stories, who arranges the bodies, who moves and who is moved, who watches and who is seen. With this kind of material, I see my job as a teacher not to clarify and simplify, but rather to complicate my students’ ways of seeing, adding more layers of information to their experience of watching dance that they must reconcile before arriving at a conclusion about what it is they’ve witnessed.”

It takes time and dedication to build a curriculum that doesn’t prioritize consistency over creativity, and to design teaching philosophies that don’t merely replicate what other teachers have told their classes. Dawn Stoppiello, a choreographer and teacher based in Portland, says she often asks herself, “What is technique? What is practice? What does a contemporary dancer need today? There is a foundational system to what we call contemporary dance. It’s not a specific ‘technique’ but more of an evolving approach. I hope that undergraduates are getting that now.” She says she hopes more graduate and undergraduate curricula for dancers will address ways of writing about dance as well as how to promote work, how to archive work, how to navigate the field, and, most importantly, explore how to make a sustainable life as a dancer and choreographer. She says it’s imperative that professors discard “the now dysfunctional model of becoming a non-profit, writing grants, and seeking patrons or waiting tables while dancing until you can’t move anymore.”

Asked if she values her undergraduate degree in dance, she says, “When Mark Coniglio and I made a project in 1989 at CalArts we had 25 people in the production as well as lighting and video equipment. After it was done I calculated that the production would have cost roughly $50,000, but we were in an academic environment and had these resources available.” This project points to the ways a dance education can catalyze new explorations, as it became the impetus for Stoppiello and Coniglio’s Troika Ranch, an organization that creates hybrid works, often fusing movement and technology.

In contrast, Stoppiello finds that universities where she works as a resident artist can be reluctant to embrace new approaches to dance. “The field and the academy can, and should, complement each other in an approach to preparing dancers and choreographers for various elements of a career… I’d make a recommendation to graduate programs not to accept students without a minimum of 5 years of experience in the world, time spent doing their work outside the academy.”

Amara Tabor-Smith, a lecturer at U.C. Berkeley, advocates for students to recognize the political significance of their actions and creations: “we are citizens of this planet and the phrase, ‘I’m just a dancer,’ doesn’t make sense as an excuse not to study feminisms and critical race theory. Dance, almost like no other art form, is politicized. As a dancer you need to understand political landscapes that engage and surround us. Straight up: the body is political. What I’m saying is that even if you don’t choose, directly or indirectly, to make political work, you need to understand that art has the ability to make cultural shifts. That which we forget we will repeat, especially when we haven’t resolved an issue or struggle. The empire is insidious. Structures that are based on colonialist and imperialist ideology historically under value the arts. As artists we have to change our mindset from the past about what political work looked like. That prior work is not the only model of resistance.”

She encourages dance departments to consider seven questions, “What is our identity?” “What does it encompass?” “Whose voices will be heard?” “What priorities are essential?” “How can we engage a larger university community?” “Are we training dancers to exist in this ever-changing landscape of the arts?” and “How do we educate our students on the economic realities they will face as working artists?”

By emphasizing process and inquiry, these teachers call attention to decision-making and the dominance of certain value systems. Haft says her students “perform a lot but not always in a fully produced event. Everything is a work in progress.” Her observation echoes Tabor-Smith’s statement that the product-driven model of many university dance programs that encourage students to perform showcase-like events can neglect the significance of process. Rogers adds that her dedication to rethinking history is “a conscious effort to avoid some of the ineffective teaching strategies I’ve observed in my own education: dogmatic emphasis on names and dates, lack of connection to present-day issues, and insinuation that the material is important simply because it is… I wanted to demonstrate a different way of being in the world as a dancer that required knowledge of history not as an end unto itself, but as a foundation from which to explore big, complex questions about culture and society playing out in myriad ways all around us.”

Degrees of Dance: Motivations for Pursuing an MFA or PhD

As university dance departments require that applicants for teaching positions hold terminal degrees, artists and writers are negotiating different paths to obtaining MFAs and PhDs. Interviewing five artists and scholars who have obtained or are pursuing terminal degrees revealed both opportunities and obstacles that can be part of these paths. When I sat down with Amara Tabor-Smith to discuss academic degrees, one of the first topics that came up was real estate. In many ways this was a fitting start to a conversation that explored the interconnectedness of teaching, performing, creating and learning, as well as the political, social and economic concerns that are entwined with these pursuits. Tabor- Smith is currently enrolled in the MFA low residency program administered by Hollins University, and her decision to pursue a master’s degree is related to changing landscapes both within and outside of academia. As a long time resident of the Bay Area, Tabor- Smith is keenly aware of the “radically shifting” neighborhoods that are making this region nearly unaffordable for artists: “Some folks are managing it due to a great housing situation, or their landlords are accommodating and love them, but it all comes down to housing…. Getting this master’s degree opens doors so I may be able to live somewhere more sustainable.”

Equally important to Tabor-Smith are the opportunities that Hollins’ program gives her to interact with and be inspired by fellow artists. “I love the collective learning process that you only find in classes, whether inside or outside of university settings,” she says. “That for me is important: it’s performative, kinesthetic, and about community. In the environment of Hollins, which is intimate, I have been given an opportunity to grow and learn and live and eat and study and struggle—together and independently—and being forced to navigate when things get uncomfortable is possible with this smaller group of 50 people [total in the MFA tracks] and 9 or 10 in my year.”

Hollins offers three different tracks to MFA students who range both in age and experience, and students gather for eight weeks during summer months. During these sessions, students are in residence at Hollins for five weeks, followed by three weeks in Frankfurt, Germany, at the Forsythe Company Studio and the University of Music and Performing Arts in Frankfurt. Tabor- Smith says her coursework has been “fruitful,” with an emphasis more on writing, theory and criticism than practice. “Because I’m someone who loves practice and can’t get enough tools, skills, perspectives, methodologies, I want to be exposed to as much as possible. Part of why I decided to get this degree was because I was getting jealous of my students who have opportunities to study with choreographers and who are immersed in a learning process. Universities offer environments that are homes to delving deeper; they are hubs for process.” Tabor-Smith teaches at UC Berkeley and recently received a permanent lecturer position which means her place in the department is secure, similar to a tenured professor, but without a professor’s benefits or status since she does not hold a terminal degree.

Sima Belmar, a doctoral candidate at UC Berkeley, says dance departments often misunderstand performance and practice as forms of knowledge. Belmar adds that pedagogy is part of a dancer’s life and to consider someone with a degree, compared to someone without, as more worthy and valuable, is a mistake: “It is a fundamental misunderstanding of a life spent in dance.” Belmar has an MFA from University of Wisconsin Milwaukee (also a low residency program), a master’s of arts degree from Stanford in Russian Literature, and spent nearly a decade as a Bay Area dance critic. She says she decided to return to graduate school for her MFA, but “I had no intention of becoming a choreographer. I went to school to see what it was like to be a choreographer. It was so fun and reinforced that I am not a choreographer. It is not my mode of expression, but then life took a different direction in a weird way. I was living in Italy, and realized I always went to school when I didn’t know what I wanted to do.” She chose the Performance Studies program at UC Berkeley because, “I was thinking about going to grad school to write about dance and I thought then that Dance Studies was too insular. I discovered Performance Studies by reading Andre Lepecki’s book On the Presence of the Body.

Belmar imagined that the PhD could bring “some kind of stability: a tenure track job at the end of the line. Plus being funded for 5 years is a modicum of stability [at UC Berkeley, doctoral students receive a funding package of $19,600 annual stipend/salary and a $3,500 summer stipend]. For dancers a PhD is an opportunity to go deep into thinking about dance, performance, bodies, and to engage with young people. You are not going to get the tenure track job without an advanced degree unless you have ‘the pedigree’.” By “pedigree,” Belmar refers to extensive professional experience as a choreographer (choreographers such as David Rousseve, Joe Goode, Tere O’Connor, Bebe Miller, David Dorfman, and Susan Marshall all have been hired by universities) or as a dancer with a widely- known company.

Tabor-Smith has had an extensive career as a performer with major artists on the west and east coasts: from Ed Mock to Jawole Willa Jo Zollar (Urban Bush Women). “I started dancing full time with Ed Mock when I graduated from high school and at that time I was also doing theater. This is one reason why I question undergraduates getting a degree in dance. I wonder, ‘what are you going to do with that dance degree?’ An undergraduate degree doesn’t translate into teaching jobs. Since I don’t have an undergraduate diploma I chose Hollins’s MFA program. Otherwise I would have to spend eight years completing my undergraduate and graduate studies.”

For Dawn Stoppiello, co-founder of New York City’s Troika Ranch, returning to school more than 20 years after graduating from California Institute of the Arts was motivated by a desire for “long term financial stability. I feel like, on every level in Higher Ed., having an MFA is required. What I’m now questioning is my CV that’s 11 pages long with performances and teaching, but not academic elements like conference participation that seem to be important to hire-ability.” Whereas 10 or 20 years ago departments hired artists based on professional work, today’s institutions often require extensive experience plus a terminal degree. Even with these assets, MFA graduates find competition for jobs is extreme, with hundreds of applicants for many positions.

Stoppiello chose the low residency MFA program at George Washington University (full disclosure: I taught several courses for this program, including one that explored communities and structures of support for dance). She says, “I had a very specific plan that I wanted to go to a school that had a reputation I respected and an institution that would totally pay for my degree.”

The Bay Area offers many graduate degree programs, several distinguished by their alternative methodologies and progressive approaches to dance and pedagogy. Sarah Pritchard, a dancer, choreographer, and part of the SALTA collective, chose to pursue her master’s of fine arts degree at the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) where she is currently enrolled in the Interdisciplinary Arts and Critical Inquiry program.

Pritchard’s decision to return to school four years after receiving her undergraduate degree in Critical Social Thought at Mount Holyoke College was inspired by “working full time and needing that extra push to really make my creative practice a priority.” She adds, “Maybe this could have happened if I had more discipline, but I think an interesting question is, ‘how do artists have this kind of time and uninterrupted focus to devote to their practice?’ There are very few opportunities for this exploration and I’m grateful that I’m in school where I’ve seen my practice grow exponentially. I just wish there were ways to do this work that did not also involve massive debt or that were more supported in our communities.”

Pritchard raises an essential point about issues of access and advanced degrees: although some schools offer scholarships, many can generate about $25,000 of debt for a two-year MFA program. For Pritchard CIIS offers an environment that makes this investment worthwhile: “It has been beneficial to hear critique from people outside of dance, and as an interdisciplinary program I am able to work with artists from visual and sculptural art worlds. The program is also unique in that at 27, I’m one of the youngest students. Most of my cohort are in their 40s and 50s. They have had entire careers and enrolling in an MFA program becomes a way to pivot their career focus.” Pritchard adds that another advantage of the program is the coursework, especially classes like “The Politics of Space,” that bring critical theory together with written analyses, discussion, and creative processes. For Pritchard this integrative approach, combining movement with theory and performative work, distinguishes the program from dance degrees that focus on traditional concepts of technique and teaching.

All of the people interviewed for this article described their paths into degree programs as indirect: Randee Paufve says she “never had a design in mind,” yet today her classes and performances have established her reputation as an exceptional instructor and sought-after choreographer. She has served on faculties of UC Davis, University of San Francisco, Saint Mary’s College of California, CSU Sacramento and currently teaches at Shawl-Anderson Dance Center as well as at Marin Academy. Paufve received her BA from Elmira College, her MA in Dance and Choreography from S.U.N.Y. Brockport, and her MFA in Dramatic Arts from UC Davis, and says she ended up in these programs serendipitously—“stumbling through a lot of things”— and basing her decisions to study on a confluence of events: life changes, conducive environments, and supportive and inspiring people like Della Davidson.

Paufve says, “my teaching path was circuitous: my first two dance jobs were running high school dance programs, which I loved. I left mainly because I was offered work at California State University-East Bay and thought this was a wise career path, moving from high school to college level, and that eventually I would land a tenure-track position and live happily ever after. Twenty years—many of these spent adjuncting at colleges and universities—and one MFA later, I am again running a high school dance program. Of course I miss working with college students (a lot!) on a consistent basis, and/but as a half-timer
with benefits, I continue to free-lance teach courses (such as at St. Mary’s College) outside my Marin Academy job.”

She notices that teaching and creating can have a symbiotic relationship: as Belmar says of Paufve, “Randee treats her teaching and her creative process as inquiries into what it means to perform. When I have worked with her, it is the attention she pays to the moment to moment becoming of a movement that is both so rigorous and humble at the same time. It makes me connect my thinking, my writing, and my dancing in literal ways. They are not metaphors for each other.” Paufve’s performances are distinguished by their elegance and clarity, as well as an attention to detail and nuance that make her work evocative and compelling.

While teaching high school students, particularly students who also train at competition dance studios, Paufve finds it valuable to emphasize a student’s choreographic voice and to supplement their physical skills with attention to qualitative decisions. She asks students “what” a plie? offers, rather than expecting rote repetitions of steps. Her own experiences reveal that academic settings vary immensely and the tenure-track job may be attractive to some artists, but teaching younger students or working part-time may be most conducive to a healthy and balanced teaching/creating relationship. In 2008, when she completed her MFA, she received seven offers to interview at universities, and attributes her appeal on the market to “a combination of being ‘the right age at 47’, i.e. old enough to be experienced in the professional dance realm, the right degrees, tons of—and a wide range of—teaching experience, as well as young enough for a university to want to investment in me as a candidate.” For artists seeking degrees and employment in academic environments, Paufve suggests finding settings that cater to personal needs: what may be the ideal program or job for one artist could be the least desirable for another.

The Complexities and Contradictions of Awards Ceremonies

Mikhail Baryshnikov has a slew of honors to include in his biography, and for years listed prominently the “Bessie,” or New York Dance and Performance Award, which he was given in 1997. David R. White, creator of the Bessies, mentions this on the phone when I ask him if dance awards have any particular value. Often such awards do not come with monetary prizes and they can be perceived as insular, as in a community of artists awarding its own members. But White says they are important and includes a story about Steve Paxton keeping his Bessies citation on a readable wall in his bathroom. When I ask, “In his bathroom?” White answers, “So he could remind himself. He said it was some of the best writing about his work that he ever received.”

Dance award shows like the Bessies are celebrating several milestones this season, both on screens and on stages, yet the challenges and inconsistencies of honoring “excellence” in dance seem more evident than ever before. Although television programs like So You Think You Can Dance, which just completed its 11th season in 2014, do not hide their equation of excellence with popularity, curated platforms like the Bessies strive to honor “outstanding productions” and artists. The Bessies turned 30 this year and hosted their ceremony in New York in October, while in the Bay Area the Isadora Duncan Dance Awards (commonly known as the Izzies) will present their 29th season in March. As Daria Kaufman, a Bay Area artist who served on the Izzies committee from 2013 to 2014, recalls, “The 2014 ceremony was packed and for artists who were nominated for Izzies, these awards gave their careers a boost. An Izzie nomination is something cited in artists’ biographies and it can lead to more opportunities to perform and to be funded.”

As someone who has served on both the Bessies and Izzies committees, I am interested in the benefits and limitations of their selection processes. As Kaufman says, “Every awards system, particularly in the arts, is inherently flawed: perhaps if people know about the selection process then they can view the awards more accurately.”

My own questions that emerged after a year on the Izzies committee included: Is there a way to honor exceptional directions that Bay Area dancers are forging or are these awards reinscribing commonplace definitions and approaches, meaning mainstream spectacles and technical virtuosity? What do these awards mean for different sectors of community members: For artists? For funders? For presenters? Can they be about offering visibility to people who are underappreciated and not covered by dance critics in the Bay Area?

The Izzies committee consists of 15-25 Bay Area residents and includes dancers, choreographers, presenters, teachers, dance fans, former dancers and writers. The committee is strictly voluntary and meets monthly to discuss works that have been seen and nominated and to plan the annual ceremony. Last year this ceremony, free and open to the public, took place to a full house at Brava Theater. The Izzies have existed since 1985, founded by the Bay Area Dance Coalition, and its award categories have remained the same over this 29-year period. The mission of the committee is admirable––“to celebrate the unique richness, diversity and excellence of Bay Area dance, and to foster a supportive environment for its growth and development”––but the execution of these aims, at times, batters against an artistic landscape that is continually evolving and expanding.

Artists and events nominated for awards reflect the aesthetic preferences of the committee members. Put more simply, awards tend to go to the work that members find valuable. The actual selection process consists of an annual weekend “retreat” when the committee convenes for 16 hours (two 8-hours days on a Saturday and Sunday) to discuss artists and events nominated for each category, followed by two rounds of voting. At the awards ceremony most nominees are named and these acknowledgements provide a glimpse into the complexity of the committee’s selections. As a hypothetical example, in a category such as “sound/music/text,” there may be poetry spoken during a dance/ theater performance, a musical work performed live by a jazz ensemble, text incorporated into a contemporary performance, and a score commissioned to accompany a dance. What criteria would allow any form of “excellence” to emerge from such disparate creations?

As Kaufman says, “The fact that those artists could all be clumped together in some ways marginalizes them, as if they are not deserving of their own categories. Perhaps what’s needed is a rethinking of the categories, and a distinct place for artists who integrate text/movement/performance like Joe Goode, Rosemary Hannon, Marc Bamuthi Joseph…”

Since it often happens that committee members have not seen all the work nominated, the member who nominates an artist or event can supply a two-minute video to share with the committee during the voting meeting and to provide longer samples of video on the Izzies private vimeo page. While this allowance takes advantage of the wealth of ways to document and disseminate performance today, it also shortchanges artists who are working with ideas and movement vocabularies that demand duration and patience. Works by Abby Crain or Jesse Hewit who develop investigatory events that can be indeterminate, delicate, intimate and unfamiliar have a difficult task when placed on screen alongside performances by San Francisco Ballet that are more spectacular, athletic or flashy. Kaufman adds, “A lot of artists cannot afford great video. I am talking multiple cameras, HD, well-edited. So by relying on video the committee is already favoring artists with more money or those who value that kind of documentation. Also, oftentimes, due to varying circumstances, we didn’t have video of a nominee’s performance. In this case, at the final voting meeting, we had to rely solely on the nominator’s advocacy of the work. And of course, the reputation of the nominee becomes a factor, how much I trust the nominator, etc. I found this very problematic: to vote on a piece that I hadn’t seen at all (not even on video). Of course, this is a difficult problem to fix. We can’t all see every performance. Nonetheless, I think it’s important for the public to understand that this is the process.” Adding to these financial inequities, discrepancies in artists’ resources also impacted the selection process, begging the question what criteria could be used to compare a choreographer operating on a budget of $5,000 annually and a ballet maker working with the SF Ballet, which has an annual budget of approximately $50 million?

Ideally, committee members aim to create consensus about the awards by speaking about the value of an artist’s approach and why their performance deserves to be acknowledged. But the massive spectrum of forms considered “dance”––“classical ballet,” “hula kahiko” and “contemporary, research-driven installation,” for example––requires that the committee accept that they will not all agree on what qualifies as its “excellent” manifestation.

In her article about the Izzies published by In Dance on the occasion of the awards’ 25th anniversary, Julie Potter wrote, “dialog and consensus at Izzies’ meetings remain key to making decisions about how to recognize the creative artistry that little consensus is possible within this format. I found the most interesting part of the committee’s work to be the conversations about our aesthetic preferences that did not attempt to sublimate these differences to a unified opinion. In each category committee members nominated people and events that inspired them and provoked their own reflections on dance and performance. It quickly became clear that what one committee member described as “innovative and ground-breaking” choreography was cliché and obvious to another. “The final voting meeting was really, for me, the best part about being on the Izzies,” says Kaufman. “To get to hash out everyone’s varying perspectives on dance, in depth over two days.”

As Michelle Lynch Reynolds, program director at Dancers’ Group, explains, “It’s very very challenging for a dance field that is as large and broad as it is in the Bay Area to form a selection committee that is representative, especially given the extraordinary cultural diversity in this area as well as the range of organizational sizes and capacities. In other words, how you define dance or artistry can be different even within the same form.”

Reynolds points to an essential limitation of the committee, namely the disadvantage of not being able to successfully face the challenge of appropriately representing the dance community, but there are additional factors that block artists’ access to awards.

Categories that separate dance from music from costume and lighting design re-inscribe an ethnocentric way of conceiving of performances as products of distinct and separate disciplines. Native American studies scholar and Indigenous contemporary dance practitioner Tria Andrews notes that Native choreographers have multiple ways of creating and conceiving of performances. To some a term like “costume” is insulting, because one way that mainstream narratives attempt to diminish the cultural significance of Native American ways of life is through language. To others “regalia” also obfuscates the continuity of Native customs into the present day—despite U.S. policies that outlawed Native American embodied practices, such as dance and games. Andrews adds, “The politics of Native American dance are extremely complex. Certainly, Native performers today are able to maintain their practices and processes while working within, negotiating, and informing modern constructs. At the same time, these paradigms, which are often influenced by Western worldviews, are not always the most appropriate ways to articulate our practices. Yet because of the ways that dominant discourses function, we are often forced to make legible our epistemologies through Western frameworks.”

The Izzies categories also skew towards an old-fashioned division of labor with “choreographer” separated from “ensemble” separated from “individual performance.” As I nominated artists and events that transgressed boundaries between performer/ choreographer/curator I found myself needing to explain political economies and structures of support that exist in 2014. If the awards attest to “celebrate” and to “foster,” aren’t the conditions within which artists live and work important to consider?

One of the biggest differences between the Bessies and Izzies is the demographic of the committee. As White mentioned in our phone conversation, the Bessies committee has typically consisted of dance writers, presenters and selected artists who were committed to engaging with a spectrum of work. Unlike the Izzies committee members, their careers required that they see a range of artistic approaches and productions, and speak articulately about aesthetic differences and directions. The Izzies committee is made up of many people who have careers that do not necessitate seeing a spectrum of dance performances. Although they are all enthusiastic about dance, most have a preference for a certain type of work and do not see a broad range of performances. Reynolds mentioned this limitation during our conversation as a disadvantage of the awards’ selection process. “Committee members self-select which shows they see, and on one hand that is respectful of committee members’ volunteer contribution of their time and effort. However, while I understand the drive behind it but, I fear that it only further compounds the challenge of establishing a diverse committee that has the expertise and experience to evaluate a range of aesthetics.” To broaden awareness of a range of artists, Kaufman suggests that committee members attend a certain number of performances at “The Garage, CounterPulse, YBCA, the Opera House, Z Space, Joe Goode Annex and ODC.” This may not solve the problem but at least it opens committee members to different aesthetics and approaches. “Another option,” says Kaufman, “would be to require committee members to see a range of productions that operate on varying budgets from a few hundred dollars to several hundred thousand.”

The Bessie awards recognize a range of aesthetics and trace their genesis to a conversation between White and Jeannie Irwin Linnes at JP Morgan. “She was a Contributions Officer at JPM,” White recalls. “I wanted both to get some money support and public recognition to deserving individual artists in the dance and performance fields operating under difficult financial conditions in the Reagan cultural era. This was about 30 years ago, probably 1983 or so, and I said, ‘You know what would really be interesting,’ and this was coming from thinking about the disposability of artists’ work coming up and going, ‘would be to highlight the outstanding creators, work and performers of a year gone by, and thereby provoke further attention to those artists, possibly resulting in the return of those works in further public performance.’ Meaning to find a way for the performance that typically occurs for 2 or 3 nights not to disappear into the abyss, but rather to rise again with a longer half-life. Out of that came the idea of an award and a ceremony. The Bessies were meant to ensure that we kept churning and recognizing new work.”

The Bessies award categories have shifted over the years, and now are divided into categories that consider productions according to the scale of the theater (smaller venues that seat 400 or fewer people and larger ones that accommodate more than 400 people). Other categories recognize outstanding productions, performers, music and sound design, and visual design.

Internationally, awards ceremonies for artists are increasingly popular. In Germany there is the Faust prize that was created less than a decade ago to call attention to the power and artistic charisma of theatrical events. This award recognizes artists whose work is groundbreaking for the German theater, and most of its recipients work within opera houses, state theaters and large capacity venues. In Austria, the Prix Jardin d’Europe is an award for younger international choreographers that are endowed with $10,000 euros (approximately $13,000 U.S.). It is distributed at the ImPulsTanz festival and will be supported by the Culture Programme of the European Union until 2018. A jury of three dance experts selects the winner from 8 productions. Additionally, an audience prize allows spectators to vote for their favorite performance online through a website–––– where videos of nominated productions are uploaded.

While the focus of these prizes may be on recognizing risktaking and innovative practices, the Izzies tend to award more commonplace and long-standing approaches. Ballet and modern dancers figure heavily among recent awardees. The “Sustained Achievement” category honors longevity and perseverance in the field. While these are admirable traits, the emphasis seems to be more on rewarding sustainability than daring or exploration. The Izzies ceremony excels in calling attention to acclaimed artists, and tends to ignore practices that press against existing definitions of performance and choreography. In spite of the advantages to being a committee member, perks that include having an influence on who is honored as well as attending many shows during the year for free, it was difficult this year for the Izzies committee to attract a minimum of 15 members.

In spite of the challenges of its selection process, the Izzies provide valuable recognition for Bay Area artists. As Reynolds says, “I think the advantages of the awards ceremony is that it’s an opportunity for the dance community to come together and celebrate and acknowledge each others’ work, activities, forms and artistry.”

In fact such awards can be so influential that other awards ceremonies have emerged in recent years. Scholar/artist Keith Hennessy describes a “dance criticism website funded by Hellman (Voice of Dance) that started an award, and for a couple years they shared the Izzie evening… easy to do, like any corporate invasion, by sharing the cost of the awards evening with the always broke and begging Izzies committee. The shit of the award was that there was no jury or peer process to pick who got it. It was random and self-important bullshit despite the worthy people being awarded.”

Two years ago Jim Tobin of Bay Area Dance Watch started a ceremony called the LiveBlessay. For Hennessy such ceremonies “have basically tried to subvert the potential power of the Izzies by inventing their own awards as vanity projects with no selection process beyond one person’s taste and bank account.” For Reynolds, the existence of multiple awards ceremonies does not diffuse their power but rather speaks to the impossibility of one entity satisfying the entire Bay Area dance community.

Kaufman notes that today there are multiple ways in which the dance field relies on popularity, recognition and crowd-sourcing, not only through awards ceremonies, but also through platforms like Kickstarter and Luna Dance Institute’s ChoreoFund. “These models are starting to pervade the scene. Sometimes they are great grassroots, anti-institutional ways to fund projects and make things happen. Other times they cater to artists who have access to more money and more means. I think the Izzies’ mission is an admirable one – to honor and celebrate exceptional artists in the Bay Area. It’s just important to stay aware of how these awards decisions are made and what they mean for our communities, and to think about how they can evolve with the times.”

Kate Mattingly is a doctoral student in Performance Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.

SPACES FOR DANCE: A Range of Responses To A Timeless Challenge

WHEN WORDS LIKE “radical,” “unprecedented” and “cornerstone” are brought into a conversation about new spaces for dance, it points to both how dire and how timeless the questions about buildings and artists may be. These words emerged during a multifaceted discussion entitled Re-Imagining Our Cultural Commons: Making Spaces for Dance, that gathered performers, mappers and urban planners in a make-shift building at the corner of Market and 6th street on August 12, 2014. The evening was organized by the Dance Discourse Project and panelists included Ilana Lipsett of [freespace], two members of the SALTA collective, Julie Phelps of CounterPulse, and Kay Cheng and Tina Chang of The Market Street Prototyping Festival. This eclectic group shed light on pervasive dilemmas as well as unique approaches to supporting and sustaining artists’ needs in a rapidly changing city. As far ranging as their ideas and projects were, some essential questions about non-urban settings and artists’ retreats were left out of the conversation. Two places that foster residencies and rethink interactions between city and rural settings are included in the conclusion of this article.

The August 12th conversation was moderated by Michelle Lynch Reynolds of Dancers’ Group who offered several questions that gracefully aligned and differentiated the panelists’ perspectives. Just after the panelists described their projects—descriptions that included phrases like “fostering neighborhood interaction” (Prototyping Festival), “radically inclusive” (SALTA), “contemporary community spaces” ([freespace]) and “a cornerstone for community” (CounterPulse)—Reynolds began the Q&A session with an inquiry about “collaboration,” asking, “could a common thread between the panelists’ endeavors, visible not only between people but also between artistic and civic organizations, be ‘collaboration’?” Each panelist responded in the affirmative, yet their responses revealed the stark differences in both the scales and intentions of their projects.

For Lipsett, [freespace] “couldn’t be possible without collaboration.” Her project “activates” vacant real estate in cities around the world, turning empty buildings into temporary community centers. The August 12th meeting of the Dance Discourse Project was held in one of [freespace]’s buildings that during the summer had become a home to classes, workshops and art projects. Lipsett says there are 26 cities around the world now turning underutilized spaces into generative environments. She said during the discussion that [freespace] “inspires people to find nooks and to use them to transform the space, providing eyeopening opportunities to use environments in alternative ways.”

Her ideas about temporary interventions, transformation and creative re-envisioning were another through-line between panelists’ projects. The SALTA collective says their project is an experiment that emerged “in the wake of a stable sense of what it means to be a dancer.” Their envisioning of different platforms and structures of support places attention on modes of production and dismantling traditional monetary exchanges. At one point during the discussion they described the collective as “Marxist feminist.” SALTA began two years ago with mobile performances occurring each month in different Oakland spaces: galleries, homes, cafés, dance studios. This summer they signed a lease to join a “collective of collectives” that will occupy The Omni, a 22,000 square foot building that used to function as a social club and then, in the 1980s, was a venue for rock concerts. Nine women (SALTA’s seven-member collective plus Abby Crain and Margit Galanter) will coordinate the multifaceted uses of their Omni space, namely “presenting, research and artistin-residences.” They describe the project as a response to the scarcity of venues for experimental dance in Oakland. SALTA will maintain its mobile monthly showings, and with The Omni foster more intentional ways of supporting creative processes. Some of the other organizations working in the building include Timeless Infinite Light book publisher and The Bay Area Public School, an educational center for adults. SALTA members view this co-habitation of organizations as a way to “cross-pollinate and expand our practices.”

Although The Market Street Prototyping Festival also places emphasis on fostering community and connections, their methods for supporting artists are markedly different. Funded with a $225,000 grant from the Knight Foundation, this endeavor is a collaboration between the San Francisco Planning Department and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Their goal is to “transform Market Street into a public platform showcasing up to 50 of the most exceptional ideas for improving San Francisco’s main thoroughfare.” At the August 12th discussion Cheng and Chang described the city of San Francisco as 25% streets, sparking the idea to encourage the use of these streets “beyond the movement of cars.” By inviting artists to submit proposals that “foster neighborhood interaction” and “encourage pedestrian safety” the festival aims to honor Market Street as a “vibrant public space, a civic backbone, and a place for public discourse.” In 2015, the 50 projects selected for the festival (each project receives $2,000) will be presented during a three-day period, April 9, 10 and 11th.

Market Street is a busy, multi-use corridor in the city: words like “vibrant” sometimes mask the fact that all sorts of transactions occur on a regular basis, some legal and others illegal. Asking artists to “improve” or “better” the landscape hints at creating spaces for certain populations of people while leaving those who are homeless or soliciting services illegally out of the “creative re-envisioning.” As Cheng and Chang described their goals and intentions, questions about assessment and efficacy emerged: how are projects evaluated? What questions drive their ideas about “interaction”? Which groups or demographics are prioritized? Are artists’ projects becoming instrumentalized to solve civic problems?

A similar matrix of questions is needed when considering CounterPulse’s relocation of their administrative offices and theatrical venue to 80 Turk Street in San Francisco. This is a project made possible through collaboration between the Kenneth Rainin Foundation, the Community Arts Stabilization Trust (CAST), the Northern California Community Loan Fund and the San Francisco Office of Economic and Workforce Development. CounterPulse will acquire its own building and keep paying the same rent for seven years, which Phelps described as “a screaming deal in this city.” Although Phelps described the plan as “a dream,” and “a model that has no precedent in the United States,” it appears that CounterPulse is becoming part of a long list of venues that are used to transform neglected parts of urban landscapes. More than 10 years ago the City of New York gave close to $10 million to Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre so the company and school could build their own headquarters in Manhattan, and this is one of several partnerships between money, cities and dance: The Joyce Theater, now an internationally-known center for performances, opened in 1982 through a collaboration between patron LuEsther T. Mertz and choreographer Eliot Feld, (like CounterPulses’s new venue it used to be an “adult theater” called the Elgin); the Brooklyn Academy of Music, which initially struggled to convince patrons to attend seasons in a borough outside of Manhattan, is now part of a thriving neighborhood that attracts artists and patrons; and The New 42nd Street is an independent, nonprofit organization that oversees theaters and which influenced the closure of all adult entertainment places in the 42nd Street area in the mid-1990s. Instead of labeling the financial structure supporting CounterPulse’s new home as unprecedented, it may be more apt to view this collaboration of civic, private and non-profit organizations as the newest choreography between architecture, dollars and artists.

Issues raised by Reynolds during the August 12th discussion—“the thorniness of access to space and the seeming loss of space for organizations and artists”—are topics that are ongoing and uniquely addressed in various contexts. Panelists’ descriptions of shifts between temporary and permanent solutions to space needs indicated that there are multiple ways to address and satisfy requirements for performances as well as needs for rehearsal studios and creative process residences. In other words it is nearly impossible to draw a line between temporary and permanent solutions since every landscape shifts and evolves at different tempos.

Conclusion: a couple spaces for dance beyond a city’s borders.

Although much of the August 12th conversation focused on urban environments, it is equally important to acknowledge symbiotic relationships occurring between urban and rural settings. The Bay Area has a long history of sites like Anna Halprin’s dance deck and Headlands Center for the Arts that provide idyllic settings for choreographers and performers. Considering a few of these sites reveals how interdependent cities and more remote locations can be: respites that remove the pace and structures of urban life may encourage less confined thinking about exploration and relationships.

In Marin, Headlands Center for the Arts has fostered artists’ creative processes and presentations for more than three decades. It is a multidisciplinary center that supports writers, visual artists, fi lmmakers, choreographers and musicians. A similar oasis for creative exploration is currently being built to the north in Fairfi eld, California and called Sky Ranch Dance. Whereas Headlands offers residences to many different disciplines and artistic pursuits, Sky Ranch proposes to focus primarily on nurturing dancers.

Sky Ranch Dance is an initiative of Richard Siegal, Dr. Steven Siegal and Hillary Goidell. Inspired by one of the best known dance venues in the world, Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, Dr. Steven Siegal, who graduated from The Juilliard School and is currently a Board Certifi ed Orthopedic Surgeon, purchased a property in the Suisun Valley that includes majestic vistas. Richard Siegal, Dr. Siegal’s brother, is an internationallyacclaimed artist who founded The Bakery, his own company, after performing as a soloist with Ballett Frankfurt from 1997 to 2004, and then working as a guest with The Forsythe Company, where he is an “Associated Artist.” Now based in Paris and California, he is teaching and creating work for companies around the world. Goidell is a long-time collaborator of Richard Siegal’s, working as a photographer/documentarian as well as contributing to the design and production of his interactive installations. With Sky Ranch Dance, Goidell handles the creative direction, and together they describe the project as “a fl exion point,” a retreat in a stunningly gorgeous landscape, and incubator for future and established artists. It is a center that will embrace educational, creative and presenting capacities, one that hosts classes and workshops as well as invites audiences to view performances and rehearsal processes. Richard Siegal describes the development Sky Ranch Dance as a type of “grafting,” using a surgical term for transplanting and fostering growth of a new part in an existing body. In this instance a center for highly skilled and innovative dancers will both nurture artists’ creative processes and provide workshops for students while simultaneously enhancing the cultural offerings of Solano County.

For Richard Siegal, collaboration has been a catalyst for expanding artistic practices. As a choreographer he has developed work with architects Didier Faustino and François Roche as well as industrial designer Konstantin Grcic. Describing one of his choreographic works to a reporter in 2014, Siegal said a statement that could also apply to building a dance center, “A prerequisite of real research is not knowing and that is part of my practice. Choreographic method and collaboration are both essentially concerned with the relationship between things.”

An important difference between Headlands and Sky Ranch Dance is Dr. Siegal’s goal for integrating community members at Sky Ranch and hosting classes for people who may not have access to studying dance. Both centers highlight the importance of environments on artists’ processes: both are retreats from the hustle of cities that emphasize collaboration between people and our environs.

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