Consider the following scenario: You’re a dancer living in the Bay Area, and you have an impulse to choreograph. Whether making dances has always been an ambition or one day you’re suddenly inspired, you feel a draw toward organizing bodies and movement in space. You have an idea for a piece and you want to make it a reality. You get together some dancers and find a space in which to rehearse and before long you’ve created something and are ready to present to an audience. Where are you going to present the finished work? Where will your piece be performed?
The space a piece is presented in affects the way a dance work is viewed almost as much as the content of the piece itself. For example, a choreographer might create a slow improvisational piece with slight subtleties and gestures. Imagine the difference in how the piece will be viewed from a small theater where the audience is ten feet away from the stage versus a large proscenium that seats hundreds of people. Obviously the viewing range impacts the audience’s perception of the piece. Vice versa, a leaping turning piece with multiple dancers might feel overwhelming up close, but the overall effect could be stunning from afar. Choreographers must take the way their piece is viewed into consideration as much as the content of their piece.
But this is assuming choreographers have access to the optimal performance venue that allows for ideal viewing of their work. What if a talented new choreographer has big ideas but lacks the funding or name recognition to mount their piece in the venue it needs to be seen in? Or worse, what if a choreographer lacks the funds to present their piece in a performance venue, period? The costs of renting out a theater independently are sizeable. Unless a choreographer is well established and funded through grants and donors, is chosen for a residency at their preferred theater, or is just plain wealthy, chances are the choreographer is not going to be able to mount their piece in the venue of their choosing. And optimally showcasing a piece can lead to more opportunities. It’s a get-the-ball-rolling kind of thing.
This is where Dancers’ Group’s New Stages for Dance grant comes in. It awards theater rental subsidies to San Francisco Bay Area dance companies and artists interested in presenting work at CounterPULSE, Dance Mission, ODC Theater, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts or Z Space. Applicants for this past round applied to either co-present with another artist, present in a new theater, or significantly increase performances in a theater they had presented in previously. One of the 2013-2014 recipients of this grant is Michelle Fletcher of Here Now Dance Collective (HNDC). She will present a new piece entitled This Is Dedicated at CounterPULSE June 21-23. It will be HNDC’s first time presenting at CounterPULSE.
“The Garage has served as HNDC’s main venue for presenting work. However, after four years of mounting evening length work in the black box theater, HNDC’s audience has grown and requires more capacity for seating. Moving from The Garage’s 60-seat theater to CounterPULSE’s 95-seat theater is the next step in audience growth and public visibility for HNDC,” says Fletcher on how she will utilize the New Stages for Dance grant. “CounterPULSE offers the perfect frame for HNDC’s This Is Dedicated, a new dance-theater work with an immersive multimedia set. The white-walled, white-floored, intimate, yet deep CounterPULSE theater provides the needed container to fully manifest the intentions of this new work.”
Fletcher’s work delves into the world of competition. Exploring the durational aspect of dance-a-thons and the structure of many sports, This Is Dedicated is a dance-theater game with rules, a referee, winners and losers. The ultimate winners are three Bay Area non-profits— Larkin Street Youth Services, The Vasculitis Foundation and Friends of Alemany Farm, which will each be championed by one of HNDC’s dancers. Motivated by their desire to win support and visibility for their non-profit charity, each dancer will compete for funding from audience members who can bet the price of their ticketed admission on a dancer, knowing their bet will go toward the non-profit the dancer is championing-dancing-playing for. In addition the piece will incorporate the visual and media designs of Hannah Ireland as well as live music by DJ Jordan Akerley.
“CounterPULSE is more than just a theater; it acts as a nexus for both creative thought and community connection. As stated in its mission statement, CounterPULSE acts as ‘an incubator for the creation of socially relevant, community-based art and culture’ and ‘a forum for the open exchange of art and ideas.’ This is philosophically in line with what HNDC sought in a venue for This Is Dedicated—one that embraces diversity, innovation, and experimentation for the Bay Area community,” explains Fletcher.
“Most of the time my work has subtlety and thus I am interested in immersing the viewer, so I lean toward presenting in smaller venues and mounting installations,” she continued. “CounterPULSE is still a fairly small venue in comparison to others in the area. What the New Stages for Dance grant offers HNDC is the ability to focus on working with the charitable organizations each dancer has chosen in order to raise funds. HNDC can funnel some of the extra fundraising energy of covering theater rental costs now to collecting pledges/bets for each dancer/non-profit team.”
In allowing Fletcher and HNDC to have an ideal space to present This Is Dedicated, the New Stages for Dance support has given not just the gift of funds, but the opportunity for the piece to be seen in an optimal light. CounterPULSE allows for the right size of an audience given where HNDC is in its growth, the right performance proximity given CounterPULSE’s balance of intimacy and depth, and the right socio-cultural setting given CounterPULSE’s emphasis on community and diversity. It frees up funds, time and energy HNDC would normally have to allocate toward production costs, so that the company can focus on the development of the new work and its partnership with the three non-profits. In the spirit of HNDC’s new work, it’s a win-win situation.
Fletcher reflected on what the grant has done for her: “This project feels rich with potential. With This Is Dedicated I’m trying to see if dance can serve beyond aesthetics. I’ve never been a fan of sports, but what I’ve observed sports successfully do is embolden complete strangers because they share a love for the same team and engage audiences through chance and rules they understand. I am appropriating these ideas into dance and creating a dance game. There is also a lot about sports that I hate, like the strange funneling of aggressions, male dominance, etc. that I am interested in exploiting. You have to come to the show/game to really see what I’m grappling with here. New Stages for Dance is granting me freedom to really delve into all these ideas by lifting some of the financial burden and freeing me up to concentrate more on the content verses the production of the work. That is a huge gift.”
Visit herenowdancecollective.com for more information on the upcoming shows of This Is Dedicated or to place a pledge/bet for a dancer/charity.
This Is Dedicated will perform June 21-23 at CounterPULSE in San Francisco.