Opening New Doors

Classic Arts Features   Opening New Doors
New York City Center's Fall for Dance (Sept. 26 through Oct. 6) mixes emerging and established artists — to salutary ends.

In a given week in New York City, at least 25 different dance performances fill theaters from Harlem to Brooklyn. A serious fan, going out every night, wouldn't catch even half of them. Enter Fall for Dance, the all-one-low-price fiesta now in its fourth smash year at New York City Center, putting four to five different troupes onstage nightly. It provides a wonderful opportunity for audiences to catch many ensembles, representing a wide range of dance genres.

But what does appearing on these mixed bills do for emerging artists? Have the young choreographers in the Festival experienced heightened interest in their work, from presenters or from other artists? Our unscientific sample says the answer is an emphatic "Yes!"

Azsure Barton, a young Canadian choreographer now touring with Mikhail Baryshnikov's Hell's Kitchen Dance, was invited to Africa as a result of appearing in the 2006 Fall for Dance Festival. "Claire Weston, the international student advisor at Steps on Broadway, saw the piece and invited me and three of my dancers to Kenya for two weeks in February," says Barton. "I collaborated with 40 musicians and 12 young, beautiful Nairobi-born dancers, and some children, to create a piece called 'Earth.' It was an incredible experience to go to Africa, something I'd wanted to do for a long time. When the opportunity came up I jumped on it right away.

"Every moment opens some new doors," she says. "So many people went to that show. A lot of dancers have written to show interest in the work; they want to perform with me, they ask if I'm teaching workshops in the city, they want to meet the dancers. It's a good networking opportunity for the dancers as well."

Long Islander Larry Keigwin, who's brought both drama and comedy to local stages since his years dancing with Mark Dendy, appeared on the 2005 Fall for Dance roster. His participation in the Festival has led, he observes, to "the encouragement and development of a board of directors for Keigwin + Company. The exposure and support also helped us land a performance at the prestigious American Dance Festival in the summer of 2006. We were able to foster new audiences and presenter relationships. We're back this season, doing Love Songs — six pop duets, on October 2 and 3 — and we're doing the Joyce in the summer of '08." Keigwin's also been commissioned to make a dance for the Martha Graham Dance Company.

Several choreographers mentioned the psychological boost that came from working in a large theater with a professional crew, having to think about projecting up to the balcony, and of the relationships fostered in the "green room" backstage during the mixed bills. "It was exciting to be at City Center; we got to go all the way up into the fly space; the crew took us up there, and the show went off without a hitch," says Sarah East Johnson, whose troupe of acrobats, Lava, appeared in the first Fall for Dance in 2004. "We've performed for big audiences outside the city, but not so much in New York. Charles Reinhart from the American Dance Festival came by and watched a training session with the company. So far nothing has come of it, but he'd never heard of us before, and now he has. It put us on his map."

It's hard, she said, to track the impact directly, but "we definitely built our audience, and since we self-produce, that's great; it pulled in a lot more people. Our recent four-week season at the Flea turned away a great many people."

David Neumann creates dances for his own Advanced Beginner Group as well as choreographing for film, theater, and opera. Also in 2004, he was scheduled to perform his solo, Dose, between Elizabeth Streb and Merce Cunningham. "I received a pretty good word in the Times from Jennifer Dunning. Most people know me as a performer with Varone, Elkins, and others; and there I was performing my own work. It was a really well-run festival, all the way around; I felt very supported as a dancer and a creator, just as supported as Merce Cunningham and Elizabeth Streb and the rest. Everybody got the same attention."

At the 2005 Fall for Dance, Philadelphia choreographer Tania Isaac, a native of the West Indies, showed part of a work she'd done at the Painted Bride, Philly's premiere experimental space. "Just mentioning the Festival helps people pay attention," she thinks. "Brad Learmonth from Aaron Davis Hall (now Harlem Stage) was there. He spoke to me afterward and e-mailed me the day after the show. We met at APAP (the Association of Performing Arts Presenters' international booking conference) in January, and I did a split bill with David Rousseve in May of 2007."

The rest has been cumulative, she says. "When I've gone to different places, presenters show up curious. Everything has gone really well since then."

Elizabeth Zimmer writes about arts around the world from her base in Chelsea.

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