Constant change is par for the course in the dance community –the idea of lost or outgrown space, lost sponsorship, lost partners or lost dancers is quite common. Yet dance artists in the Bay Area continue to prove themselves committed enough to keep moving forward in the midst of change. Such was the case with the Dance IS Festival, which is now entering its fourth year.
Heading into the planning of this fourth year last June, we were facing a whole new scenario. Due to restructuring at the Julia Morgan Center for the Arts, the Dance IS Festival fell into a category of programs that the center could no longer support. Given the blessing to take the program on ourselves, Jill Randall and I, the co-directors of the festival, decided to run with it and keep it alive. We met with Wayne Hazzard at Dancers’ Group to try to convince him of our commitment to the festival and of our potential for partnership. Wayne was very supportive of our process and agreed to a partnership which we’re still working on defining – as Wayne put it, “We’re figuring it out as we go.” The support of Dancers’ Group was just the thing we needed to feel confident about moving forward.
Believe it or not, Dance IS really started on September 11th, 2001. That happened to be the day we had planned a Town Hall meeting at the Julia Morgan Center for the Arts, asking the dance community how we could help and what we could offer the world of dance. We had thirty-one RSVPs on September 10th as we were planning our agenda. Coming into the office on morning of the 11th, we thought we needed to cancel. But one by one, more than half of the confirmed attendees called or e-mailed to see if we were still meeting, so we went ahead. The commitment of the dance community, on such a chaotic, frightening day, to come out and talk about what was important to them, convinced us that we were focusing our efforts in the right place.
In the beginning, our steering committee was dedicated to the idea of creating community. Many of them had participated in festivals where they’d simply shown up and performed, but didn’t get a chance to see the other performances, or even to talk with any of the other dancers or choreographers. What came about from this concern was the Dance Shares. We decided that the choreographers and their dancers would come together a month before the performance to get a chance to see each other’s work and to give and receive feedback.
To an outside viewer, Dance IS may look very similar to how it’s looked over the last four years. But from the inside, we’ve been working to refine and improve the festival – largely based on feedback from the participants and audience members each year. By distilling the elements of the festival down to their essential components, we fine-tune the experience for the dancers, choreographers and finally for the audience.
The support we’ve received from Dancers’ Group was enhanced by other community members and groups who have shown up for us in so many ways – saving us money, giving us a new look, documenting the process of the shares in February… Rebecca Johnson has been with us since the very beginning of the creation of this festival acting as our PR representative all four years, and this year stepping up to become our graphic designer – giving us a whole new look for Dance IS. She’s also one of the panel-selected professional choreographers presenting work this year. Sue Li-Jue secured space on the UC campus this year for our shares, and Rob Kunkle who beautifully captured the essence of the shares on camera last year, is lined up to do the same this year. ACOE (Alameda County Office of Education) inspired our name with their Art IS Education Month campaign, and they continue to support the festival with promotion and outreach. Without all of this community support, Jill and I just would not have been able to create the quality program that this year’s festival is turning out to be.
Looking forward to year five, we would like to hand-select our professional choreographers, commissioning the creation of new works based on the theme of the festival. We are already grant-writing, seeking funding to make this possible.
So why come to the Dance IS performances this year? Co-director Jill Randall suggests, “Have this be the year of surprises. Come with an open mind; let go of the categories of ‘professional’ and ‘student.’ Come to a show and see who and what is catching your eye, inspiring you, and giving you hope for the role of dance in our society.”