Inspirations and Obsessions: A Conversation with Dancers’ Group’s New Program Director

By In Dance

October 1, 2012, PUBLISHED BY IN DANCE

Dancers’ Group has a long history of working with dance artists to oversee and develop the organization’s programs and services. Simply, over the years, the many dance artists we have worked with are smart, organized, and tenaciously flexible (had to get a movement metaphor in). They also understand and have empathy for the unique demands required to carve out a dance career, and the myriad steps it takes to create a company.

Working with the Dancers’ Group staff provides me great joy and a tremendous opportunity to learn from a new generation of thinkers and generators and it ensures the perspective of the working artist is always at the forefront of our organization’s decision-making. Over our three decades of operating, this way of working has dramatically increased the effectiveness and cohesiveness of the organization’s administration.
In August, we welcomed Michelle Lynch as our new program director, where she will carry on our tradition of working with bright and engaging artist-administrators at Dancers’ Group. I know you will enjoy learning more about Michelle’s history, favorite food and her current artistic obsession in the following interview.  —Wayne Hazzard

Pictured: Michelle Lynch Photo by: James Reynolds
Pictured: Michelle Lynch
Photo by: James Reynolds

Q: What attracted you to Dancers’ Group?
Michelle Lynch: I’ve been a member of Dancers’ Group since I moved here in 2005, and have always respected the organization’s work in supporting dance in as holistic of a way as possible – financially, administratively, critically, artistically, etc. For the past several years, I have been working in fundraising for arts organizations of all disciplines. While that experience broadened my horizons in many ways, it also was a re-affirmation that supporting dance is what I am most interested in. I was attracted to Dancers’ Group because it brings my focus back to the dance field, and allows me to deeply support a field and an art form that I really love.

Q: What brought you to the Bay Area?
I moved to the Bay Area exactly a week after I graduated with a BA in Dance from Goucher College in Baltimore. While I think the move was mostly an impulse, it was rooted in wanting to pursue work as a dancer and not wanting to be in New York.

Q: What’s your favorite Bay Area institution?
I am a big fan of the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.  I love that I can go there and see some of the most cutting edge work nationally and internationally. Balancing seeing art made locally – whatever the genre – with work by artists living elsewhere in the country and the world is incredibly important to me. I feel like it provides a wider context for understanding trends and ways that the Bay Area is aligned to, or diverging from them. Plus, I am a big fan of more “challenging” and very contemporary art, and love the fearlessness I often see from YBCA’s curatorial team.

Q: Where were you born?
I was born in Philadelphia but grew up in Lititz, PA, a small town in the heart of Amish country.

Q: First dance memory?
I think it might be dancing in my living room as a child. I would move the coffee table aside and blast the music of the Nutcracker (I particularly loved the Waltz of the Flowers). I would practice my grande jeté en tournant across our floor, which was a challenge in a small space with plush carpeting. It must have been after school, because when I think about these moments, they come with the smells of my mom cooking dinner in the kitchen.

Q: What’s your secret spot in town?
I love the park at the very top of Vermont Street, McKinley Square Park. It’s a great place for dogs and humans alike, and sits atop the actual crookedest street in San Francisco (step aside, Lombard!)

Q: What’s your most embarrassing SF moment?
A classic – getting my bike wheel caught in the MUNI tracks on Market Street. It was a rainy afternoon, and I was heading home from my job (which at that time was as a barista at a Peets Coffee & Tea) and wiped out in the most flamboyant way. Luckily, I emerged relatively unscathed.

Q: And, what’s your favorite food?
Speaking of embarrassing, right now, it’s probably potato chips, or maybe onion rings.

Q: Dance idol?
I’m going to have to list more than one, and even then it will be utterly incomplete! Anna Halprin, for her longevity and constant relevancy. William Forsythe, for his thoughtful revolutionizing of ballet. Yvonne Rainer, for her principled stance on what dance should be. Jérôme Bel, because he is not afraid of blowing open what defines a dance. Miguel Gutierrez, whose work always strikes me in its honesty. And, Xavier Le Roy, for his long arms and extraordinary sense of humor.

Q: The Bay Area is…?
The Bay Area is many things to me: the landscape is beautiful; the pace is urban but not relentless; the art is diverse and valued; the communities I am a part of are full of caring, smart, and forward-thinking people; and the drive for innovation is exciting.

Q: Current artistic obsession?
This is a bit general, but I’ve noticed that the work that I’ve been attracted to the most recently has had a lot of humor in it. Having the chance to laugh out loud in a theater or gallery has been great.

Q: What’s your favorite neighborhood? Why do you love it?
My favorite neighborhood is Potrero Hill – where I live. It is close enough to the Mission, SoMA, and downtown to feel urban, but isolated enough that when I go home, it feels restful and friendly. Plus, it’s home to a few of my favorite things: beer (Anchor Steam brewery), books (Christopher’s Books and the stunning Potrero Hill Public Library Branch), and coffee (Farley’s).

Q: Shortlist of inspiring people, books, moments, classes, etc?
My grandfather, who recently learned how to use an iPad at the age of 85. Just Kids, Patti Smith’s autobiography of her early days with Robert Mapplethorpe – a beautiful book! Boy, and I’m still thinking about Samoan choreographer, Lemi Ponifasio’s performance at YBCA last year.

Q: Money’s no object, what’s the next place you might travel?
I have never been to Asia before, so I think my next trip would be to Tokyo or somewhere else in Japan. And then, while I’m crossing the Pacific, I’d stop in Tahiti for some relaxation!

Q: What’s heaven to you?
Good food and an abundance of laughter.

Q: What’s hell to you?
Having no one to love.

Q: What’s your favorite dance style?
I like all sorts of styles, but my favorite performances to see are premieres. I love seeing what artists’ interests and processes are at the moment.

Q: How would you describe your working style?
I work in a really organized way and like to develop systems to help me get more organized. I love having a lot going on at any one time, and juggling different projects and programs is both exciting and challenging.

Q: In your work, what motivates you?
I have mentioned this before, but what motivates me is the art itself. I know that there are a myriad of challenges surrounding developing and presenting new performance, not to mention keeping your dancing body in peak condition. And the challenges aren’t just financial, they can be existential and emotional or mundane and practical. I am motivated by knowing that a society that is rich in art is a thriving and thoughtful one, and I want to do my part to ensure that ours has as much art as possible!

Q: What event(s) are you most excited about this week/month/season?
This is a bit off on the horizon, but I am really excited for the Performing Diaspora festival at CounterPULSE, which will take place next summer. I was out of town for the last few iterations and have heard great things about it.

Q: Where do you go to relax and get away from it all?
I don’t have a car, so I don’t do much in the way of getting out of the city, so my relaxation zone is at home, and every now and again in a tub at Kabuki’s bathhouse.

Q: What’s the next book you are looking forward to reading?
Right now, I’m reading If on a Winters Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino. After that, I’ll probably read the Russian Debutante’s Handbook by Gary Shteyngart. I read (and loved) his more recent book, Super Sad True Love Story, and am excited to read his debut novel.

Q: What’s the question you wish we asked (and how would you answer it)?
I wish you asked me what dance style/form you want to see more of. I would answer that I would love to see more “non-western” dance. With my background in classical ballet and contemporary dance, I don’t have as much experience with other forms. This year, I will see more performances from varied cultural backgrounds, helping me to learn about both diverse traditional forms, as well as the contemporary dance that derives from them.

In Dance is a publication of Dancers' Group.