January 2017 | FYI

1-fyi_t

What’s up in the dance community

Through the Dance for Social Change summit, young artists in New Orleans learn to create dance works that address social issues.  Photo by Alex John Glustrom

Through the Dance for Social Change summit, young artists in New Orleans learn to create dance works that address social issues.
Photo by Alex John Glustrom

New Orleans Youth Dance for Social Change

New Orleans dance teacher Laura Stein believes that dance not only can but should help make the world a better place. That’s why she created Dance for Social Change, a youth leadership summit that brings together 50 artists ages 13 to 18—dancers, poets, visual artists, and others—to create and perform issue-focused dance pieces. Raising Student Voices, the inaugural summit held in February of 2016, addressed changes within the city’s public school system and attracted an audience of about 200 friends, family members, school administrators, and community officials to its site-specific performances.

For this year, Stein told Dance Studio Life, participating artists decided to focus on women’s rights. Through March, the artists will meet every Saturday from 10am to 1pm at Dancing Grounds, the nonprofit studio Stein co-founded in 2012. Mentored by Stein and local working artists, the young artists will research women’s rights history, learn how to address a theme through choreography, and create dance works that might include spoken work or visual elements. Free performances are set for March 24 and 25 (locations and times TBA), with additional showings at later dates around the city. As a kid, Stein was excited about creating dances but had little opportunity to do so; Dance for Social Change challenges her dancers and the other participating artists to exercise their critical thinking skills, flex their artistic muscles, and allow their voices to be heard.

“At Dancing Grounds,” Stein said, “we’re less about drilling technical skills and more about creating a community of young artists who will grow up and be committed to social justice.”

Chicago Dancemakers Forum supports choreographers in the creation of new works (here, a performance of 2008 CDF Lab Artist Jonathan Meyer’s Walking Room). Photo by Dan Merlo

Chicago Dancemakers Forum supports choreographers in the creation of new works (here, a performance of 2008 CDF Lab Artist Jonathan Meyer’s Walking Room).
Photo by Dan Merlo

Chicago Program Supports Dancemakers

Last summer marked the final installment of the 10-year-old Chicago Dancing Festival—a free, weeklong event where top ballet, contemporary, and ethnic dance companies performed for tens of thousands of fans. But dance is far from done in Chicago.

Witness the Chicago Dancemakers Forum’s Lab Artist Awards program, now in its 14th year. Each year, the program provides cash grants and mentorships to four local choreographers to support them in creating new work. Former Lab Artists work in a wide swath of dance styles, from voguing to bharata natyam, and include Chicago dance luminaries such as Lane Alexander of Chicago Human Rhythm Project and Kevin Iega Jeff of Deeply Rooted Dance Theater.

In a press release last fall, CDF executive director Ginger Farley thanked donors and funders who support the program. “Their ongoing investment,” said Farley, “is but one indicator of Chicago’s strong commitment to its exciting, flourishing, and distinctly diverse dance communities.” Visit chicagodancemakers.org to apply for the program; first-round applications are due February 6, 2017.

José Mateo Ballet Theatre dancers take class in the Old Cambridge Baptist Church sanctuary, which also hosts worship services on Sunday mornings.  Photo by Gary Sloan

José Mateo Ballet Theatre dancers take class in the Old Cambridge Baptist Church sanctuary, which also hosts worship services on Sunday mornings.
Photo by Gary Sloan

An Inspired Arrangement

For many dancers, the studio is a sacred place. That’s more than a dramatic metaphor for the 350 students and 17 company dancers at José Mateo Ballet Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Sixteen years ago, the Old Cambridge Baptist Church congregation was desperate to finance repairs for its deteriorating 1860s American Gothic Revival structure. At the same time, the ballet was on the hunt for a workable home in the high-priced Boston real estate market. The two organizations found what they needed through a shared-space tenant arrangement; how the collaboration has proven a success for both is celebrated in a new book, The Past and Future City: How Historic Preservation Is Reviving America’s Communities, and in a recent story by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Book author and National Trust president and CEO Stephanie Meeks told Dance Studio Life that the adaptive reuse of the church into a ballet studio and performance space not only helps to preserve a National Register of Historic Places structure but assures the building’s status as a neighborhood focal point. “There is no better way to save a cherished place than to keep it moving to the rhythm of today,” Meeks said.

José Mateo managing director Scott Fraser told Dance Studio Life that religious services are held each Sunday morning in the old sanctuary, an elegant space—with soaring ceilings and large stained glass windows—that doubles during the rest of the week as the ballet company’s main studio and a 250-seat performance space; the company has three additional classrooms.

Under the long-term lease, Fraser said, one-third of the ballet company’s annual rent (about $75,000) must be spent on facility repairs; between the company’s contributions and donations from other sources, the facility has seen $4 million in restoration over the past 20 years. “Our dancers are the jewels, while the church is the jewel box,” he said. “Our students dance under Tiffany windows, in such inspired spaces. Very few dance organizations are fortunate to have a working space such as ours.”

State of Dance in NYC Worrisome

A recent Dance/NYC report that studied the state of professional dance in New York City over the past six years made note of what it called some “worrying trends”—mainly, that companies reported a 20 percent decrease in the number of paying attendees at live performances.

“State of NYC Dance and Workforce Demographics” (released last October and available at dance.nyc/news) also noted sizable declines in government funding (25 percent overall) and another disturbing trend—while the number of overall jobs increased, newer jobs were “significantly more part-time than full-time, raising questions about how, and for whom, dance can be a viable career path.”