Eight years ago, Margaret Jenkins founded CHIME, Choreographers in Mentorship Exchange, based on the belief that open communication between choreographers of different generations is important, that artists should be compensated for their work and that isolation is one of the greatest challenges of being an artist. CHIME supports established and emerging choreographers working together in a mentorship relationship over the course of a year.
Currently, CHIME is comprised of: CHIME in the San Francisco Bay Area and CHIME in Southern California (Los Angeles County) for self-selected pairs of local choreographers; and CHIME Across Borders, for exchange between Bay Area choreographers and national and international choreographers. In 2011, CHIME expanded to include CHIME Intercity, a supplemental program of exchange between CHIME artists in the Bay Area and Southern California. The roster of participating artists is comprised of both established luminaries and rising stars.
Jenkins says the most satisfying impact of CHIME is the creation of community among artists who typically work in isolation. “There’s a sense of a choreographically intelligent community that gets identified and reinforced,” she explains. “They leave CHIME with an expanded idea of what dancing is, what dancing can mean, and what people are feeling when they are making work.”
In Los Angeles, in particular, where artists are dispersed across a broad geography, Jenkins says, “Artists are blown away by interacting with each other across town, because they just can’t get to each other that swiftly.”
2008 Southern California mentor David Roussève has said of his experience, “I was impressed by the ways the mentorship year encouraged a deep discussion of choreography–a huge service to the field–while also fostering a true sense of community in a city that I find lacking in community.”
“CHIME is about the nature of sharing, creating this kind of dialogue that gives people real tools to enter the studio,” says Jenkins. An important component of the program, regular meetings bring the pairs together for intimate discussion among all the artists, while throughout the year each mentor/mentee duo engages in a range of self-created mentorship activities, from spending time in each others’ rehearsals, discussing theory, providing feedback, going to performances together or even reading the same books. Jenkins feels strongly that this is a program about the craft of making and thinking about work, not about grants, funders, board of directors, etc., and therefore these subjects are not part of the discussion. “This forces you to talk and think and share in a different way,” Jenkins says.
Choreographer Monique Jenkinson refers to her 2007 experience as a mentee working with Keith Hennessy as “one of the most respectful, beneficial, crucial gifts of my dancing life.” She had just dissolved a choreographic partnership and had stepped outside the traditional dance community to make her own solo works, developing her drag queen alter ego, Fauxnique, who has evolved as a prolific fixture on the experimental performance scene.
Hennessy had been an early supporter. “When we talked about work it was always very exciting,” she recalls. “He was transitioning from making concert work to circus, to work that used circus but delved into a kind of performance art and politics. I was working with more political themes as well and had admired how he did this.”
She says that she and Hennessy talked a lot before applying for CHIME. “I wanted assignments and exercises,” she says. “He gave me a reading list. We talked about dance and its relevance in theoretical terms. We saw a lot of stuff together and, of course, he came to the studio and watched me a lot.”
“It’s a wonderful program, but it can be tricky,” notes choreographer Charya Burt, a traditional artist and founder of Charya Burt Cambodian Dance. “You have to find out about each other, because you will be working together for a long time. You need to feel ready to be open to one another.”
Burt and her mentee Tara Catherine Pandeya, who specializes in dance from the regions of Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, East Turkestan, Iran, Kurdistan and Azerbaijan, entered the program in 2010 with a mutual regard, but what appeared to be sparse common ground. They soon discovered that as traditional artists their work is fundamentally connected to spiritual matters.
As for Burt, most of whose teachers are in Cambodia, CHIME emphasized the importance of connection. “Our relationship shaped on different levels and we became very close,” she says. “It’s a long lasting relationship.” Adding, “As a mentor you’re there to clear a path.”
That the experience for some transcends the creative process is notable. As 2005 mentor Anna Halprin has said, “My role shifted from being a technician in choreography to being a mentor in the connection between life and art.”
It is without a doubt that CHIME has impacted the artists who have participated. It is also clear that the ripple effect is being felt more broadly in the field. Jenkins has been asked to talk about CHIME at several conferences and meetings around the country. Eight years ago when CHIME launched, there were few programs like it around the country, and since then more have unfolded. Mentoring is a buzzword in the field right now.
In 2010, CHIME’s potential was tested and the program grew to include CHIME Across Borders, which “creates the opportunity for a sustained and intimate exchange between an established master choreographer and Bay Area mentees.” In its first year, David Gordon chaired, this year it was Ralph Lemon and next year Elizabeth Streb steps in.
Before committing, Lemon says, “I had to think about it for a long time, because I knew it was going to be complex.” He recalls, “After the first week, I was in love with it.”
He explains that his function has been to create an arena in which his mentees can ask delving questions about their art and their art-making then set to work exploring those questions in the studio.
“I’m not there to teach them how to make a dance. They all know how to do that,” he says. “The world doesn’t need another dance. What it does need is something really felt and really explored and discovered, something that needs to be shared.” While each of the three mentees–Catherine Galasso, José Navarrete and Shinichi Iova-Koga–have their own way of working and their own belief system, Lemon says that together, “We can come to some agreement about what are the important things about being an artist and about being a human being.”
According to Lemon, “The most crucial lesson we learn is how we work with people. You have to be in love with your dancers on some level. You can’t do this thing without them and if that love is reciprocated you can really go far, but getting there is a real puzzle.”
Artists on CHIME
“Something has changed in my belief about the creative process–might it be a reaffirmation and a more solidifying sense of what felt intuitive earlier, might it be about a redefinition and more clearly seeing what is I believe and do.”
— June Watanabe, 2004 mentor
“These are the ties that bind. These are the webs being spun, the veins in the collective body full of dialogue and inspiration,
— Erika Chong Shuch, 2004 & 2009 mentee
“The beauty of mentorship I believe is that it gives you a new perspective from which to evaluate all other information. The beauty of CHIME in particular is that you get to do this in a room full of others who are going through the same process.”
— Robert Moses, 2004 mentor
“Professionally and personally everything in my life came a few steps up.”
— Zari Le’on, 2005 mentee
“We all face the same challenges and insecurities…no matter how long we have been at it.”
— Brenda Way, 2005 mentor
“It was slow bliss to engage with an artist who was so focused on discovery.”
— Marc Bamuthi Joseph, 2007 mentor
“[My mentor] gave me a safety net that I fell into often. Falling is discomforting but it is also an incredible teacher. I know this as an aerialist and now as a CHIME mentee.”
— Jo Kreiter, 2008 mentee
“It is extraordinary to be able to offer what you know to another person who really wants the information you possess. It is a gift to be given the time to do.”
— Deborah Slater, 2008 mentor
“This year I have learned more about my artistic process, my comfort zones, and the fears that challenge me than any other year of my life.”
— Kara Davis, 2009 mentee
“CHIME is the most important conversation in dance. It is a rigorous and intimate platform for artists to engage and bring their questions and insights to be witnessed and held without judgment.”
— Sara Shelton Mann, 2011 mentor
CHIME Events This Month
Sun, Nov 13, 2-3:30pm
TBD venue in Los Angeles
A CHIME Intercity Special Event: A Conversation with Bebe Miller, Margaret Jenkins hosts choreographer Bebe Miller in conversation with the 2011 artists of CHIME in Southern California and CHIME in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Fri, Nov 18, 12:30-1pm
Margaret Jenkins Dance Lab, 301 – 8th Street, 2nd Floor, Studio 200, San Francisco
Borders Live! open showing of the choreographic investigations of the 2011 CHIME Across Borders mentees, Catherine Galasso, Shinichi Iova-Koga and José Navarette, during their mentorship year with Ralph Lemon.
For more on CHIME, visit mjdc.org.
This article appeared in the November 2011 issue of In Dance.