A staple of the Bay Area’s summer dance scene for 16 years, the WestWave Dance Festival (WWDF) is preparing for its 2007 season at Project Artaud Theater. Once again, the Festival promises to present some of the our region’s most talented choreographers and dancers. This year however, in an effort to counter flagging ticket sales and last year’s hard-hitting critical response, Executive Director Joan Lazarus is shaking things up.
WWDF, formerly known as Summerfest/dance, was founded by Cathleen McCarthy in 1992 with the goal of providing independent choreographers like herself an opportunity to present new work. Now a program of DanceArt Inc., the Festival’s mission is to provide veteran and newly-established choreographers of all cultures and disciplines, in and beyond the Bay Area, an opportunity to present their work in a professional venue. The aim is to allow artists to experiment, develop, and refine their repertories, and to build audiences without undertaking the burden of self-producing.
In 2007, for the first time, the WWDF will be broken up into two distinctive weekends of performance. From July 19-22, the 4 x 4 Series will offer four individual artists the chance to present a full evening of their work. This year’s artists are New York-based choreographers Kate Weare, Christopher K. Morgan, and Monica Bill Barnes, and San Francisco-based Amy Seiwert. This will be the first opportunity these featured artists have had to show a full evening of their own work in the Bay Area.
Lazarus says of the new format: “It’s an experiment. There is a time in the life of some artists when an organization like DanceArt may be able to make a difference for them in terms of their careers…This is the chance for the press to actually view a body of work by an artist for the first time.”
Amy Seiwert, who has presented shorter works through WWDF each year since 2002, is excited by the opportunity and the challenge of mounting an entire evening of her work. “I’m hoping the solo evening will result in more exposure for [my company] im’ij-re and my choreography, and I’m hoping people come and can maybe lose some of their preconceptions about ballet,” said Seiwert.
The artist selection for the series, especially in its seeming penchant for New York-based choreographers, is a potentially contentious one. Lazarus, along with Festival Associate Director Brittany Brown Ceres, went through several line-ups before arriving at the current version. While geography did play a role — both Kate Weare and Monica Bill Barnes have roots in the Bay Area, Kate Weare will be using local artists in her performance, and Christopher Morgan had been slated to perform here this summer, but the show fell through — Lazarus and Ceres maintained a focus on quality and staying within their own guidelines to present artists who had never shown a full evening in the Bay Area. “We quietly and personally solicited nominations from our local dance leaders as well as funders and national presenters,” said Lazarus, who is also proud that these New York-based artists view WWDF as an “in” to the busy San Francisco dance scene.
Weekend two of the Festival will feature works by 20 choreographers and companies from July 26-29 in a more familiar showcase format through the Uni-Form Series (see www.westwavedancefestival.org for a full line-up). The changes for this year? First, programs will be organized around a different genre each night: Ballet, World Forms, Dance Theater, and Modern Dance. The goal is to allow attendees to choose the evening (or hopefully evenings) that best appeal to them, offering audiences and critics a common through-line on which to compare different artists’ work.
An additional change is that all Uni-Form Series works must be world premieres and created in collaboration with at least one other artist from a different discipline (composers, visual artists, etc.). Here too, the goal is to appeal to audiences, who can expect all new, multi-disciplinary works.
Finally, the artist selection was brought in-house. Instead of going through the usual panel process, Lazarus and Ceres handpicked each of the 20 featured artists from the large pool of applicants who responded to an open call. Here, their intention was quality-assurance. Critical response to the widely varied programs in 2006 was harsh and as a result, Lazarus and Ceres trimmed the number of choreographers and companies from over 48 in 2006 to 20 in 2007.
Festival organizers hope that the new format and selection process will encourage greater ticket sales, which dropped by nearly 20% in 2006, the Festival’s 15th anniversary year. They also want to ensure audiences and critics eight high quality evenings of exquisite and thought-provoking dance. But will it be enough to revive one of the West Coast’s biggest summer dance festivals? WWDF staff want you to come see the shows to find out for yourself.
For more information on the WestWave Dance Festival 2007 and how to buy tickets, go to www.westwavedancefestival.org.