An Explosion of Dance
How Gotham Dance Festival boosts both audiences and artists
The dance world is exploding. There are innovative choreographers all over the map, many using multimedia and intricate styles to push the art form forward.
But experiencing all of their work can seem like an impossible mission. For instance, fitting in a premiere of “BIG CITY” by Brian Brooks Moving Company, and seeing the Los Angeles-based company BODYTRAFFIC perform Stijin Celis’ “Fragile Dwellings,”, and enjoying a night focused on American women choreographers would require cross country flights and more time than most people have to spare.
Fortunately, from tonight through June 10, the Joyce Theater will offer audiences an entire smorgasboard of dance when the Gotham Dance Festival returns for its third year. Four diverse companies—including those mentioned above—will rotate throughout the two weeks, while the performance on June 5th will honor American women dancemakers.
The situation is mutually beneficial: Audiences can check in with established city favorites and get their first exposure to up-and-coming troupes from out of town Artists, meanwhile, can gain vital new exposure while connecting with others in the field. Festival producer Ken Maldonado feels that participating signals to “the community at large that these artists warrant attention and deserve consideration.”
Choreographer Andrea Miller—who will present with her young, hip troupe Gallim Dance—adds, “Ken has such a keen eye for spotting talent and presenting important work. To be in his festival is high praise, and [it's] important to capitalize on.”
The festival has a history of pushing artists to new levels. Case in point: “Though it wasn’t called the Festival at the time, Larry Keigwin started out sharing performance weeks through Gotham’s line-up in 2008 and 2009,” Maldonado recalls. “Then, in 2010, at the very last minute, he got his own program, and we were able to stand behind his work and know he could do the show on his own. This proved to both the Joyce and myself that this model works. Now, his company is a tremendous success.”
On the business side, the festival allows artists with sophisticated work (but perhaps smaller budgets) a chance to self-produce and develop an audience base. “Both are risky ventures,” Madonado says. “By being there through the process, in the older sibling role we take on, we help them reduce the risk, which helps them develop audiences faster. The goal is that eventually these artists won’t need us.”
Freelance choreographer Jodie Gates, whose work is mostly seen outside of New York, will present her own program on June 2 and 3 and contribute to the woman choreographers’ night. She not only wants to represent the small cadre of American ballerinas that have gone on to become choreographers, but also hopes to showcase both her contemporary and post-neoclassical styles. “It’s important that I present an entire body of work, instead of small snippets,” she says.
To this end, her two pieces, “Delicate Balance,” performed by Philadelphia’s Ballet X, and “Embellish,” presented by Colorado Ballet, showcase distinct sides of her choreographic personality: The first is solidly contemporary, and the second represents a post-neoclassical approach. “‘Delicate Balance’ is an athletic investigation of the fine line we all negotiate in life,” Gates says. “Colorado Ballet’s ‘Embellish’ is more traditional. It’s about whimsy: The word embellish can make you smile.”
For Miller, whose troupe is somewhat entrenched in the NYC dancescape, the festival serves a different purpose: “For us, it’s about evolving in our work and connecting the dots,” she says. “You interact with the dancers and companies making work currently. It feels like an opportunity to build community, and to share and develop what’s emerging.”
Miller, whose work is known for its visceral power, is presenting “Sit, Kneel, Stand,” an investigation of the myth of Sisyphus. “Sisyphus was condemned to carry a boulder up a hill, watch it roll down—and start again—for eternity,” she notes. “It’s frustrating! It induces an instinctual discomfort to think about being stuck doing something futile forever. But Albert Camus’ commentary on the myth—that we should imagine Sisyphus happy—provoked the idea that this struggle is essentially human. He is choosing life every day, being a hero in a simple way. So the piece is about struggle as our gift.”
Miller is experimenting with a new type of movement to evoke this happy struggle, and that’s given her some battles her own. “I have to be so terrified of the challenges of a new piece, a new type of experience, to motivate me to dig in,” she says. “For this piece, it was a lot more theatrical in tone, so we used basic improvisation as well as theatre methods to explore and create. It’s bringing the company a whole new creative voice. From here, it’s the beginning of moving forward into the language we continue to build.”
Lauren Kay is a writer and dancer based in New York City
Top photo: Gallim Dance, photographed by Franziska Strauss
Middle photo: Ballet X performing Jodie Gates’ Le Baiser Inevitable, photographed by by Portia Jones