Give them room
Movement fits in at the Chicago Cultural Center.
A year ago, when budget cuts cost Cynthia Quick her job as director of program development at the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs, many of the dance programs she initiated hit the chopping block. Narrowly escaping was DanceBridge, a grant of rehearsal space in the Chicago Cultural Center to two choreographers at a time for 12-week periods. At the end of their residency, the recipients share a free and informal public presentation that includes discussion and audience response. “Out of fear that the program would disappear,” collaborative programs coordinator Leigh Fagin says, “I stepped forward and said that I would take it over.” Fagin, along with Eva Silverman and Jan Bartoszek (whose company, Hedwig Dances, has been in residence at the Center since 1992), pressed on and will host DanceBridge’s current recipients, Jonathan Meyer and Szewai Lee, in the studio Thursday 10. Attended by a mix of students, Cultural Center regulars and dance fans, these showings bring fresh eyes to the work at a crucial phase in their development and are a key element of the program’s success.
The survival of DanceBridge “was never a budgetary issue,” Fagin explains, “because it’s not really of any cost to the city—we’re just giving away empty space.” Still, coordination of the application process and scheduling studio time between two projects and Hedwig’s regular rehearsals do use man-hours, and with budget cuts “coming left and right,” Bartoszek says, “everyone’s doing a lot more for a lot less.” Fortunately, DanceBridge was kept on the calendar anyway. Fagin and Silverman “really want to give developing artists a chance,” Bartoszek says.
The effort has paid off. Julia Rae Antonick, with whom Meyer is continuing development of a duet, got her own three-month stint in the fall of 2007. “I was in a bit of a rut, had no space to rehearse in and no money to rent any. DanceBridge was absolutely pivotal for me,” she says. During her stay, she was able to continue work on a long-gestating project that, upon its performance, was seen by someone who donated a large sum of money, allowing Antonick to complete the piece. In a phone call from Bangalore, India, where she’s working on a multimedia work she plans to bring to Chicago in the spring, choreographer Archana Kumar explains she had been in the city barely a year when she began her DanceBridge residency this summer. Trying to break into the community, she says she thought, “Maybe if I showcase my art, people will come and we can start talking.”
Free space and 12 weeks to focus on your work is, for emerging choreographers with scant resources and part-time jobs, exceedingly rare. Fagin explained that the candidate form is deliberately not as rigorous as, for example, a grant application, because DanceBridge exists for new, innovative and interdisciplinary works-in-progress (two years’ experience in publicly presented dance making is the only major prerequisite).
In reflecting upon time spent in the spacious studio—with windows onto Michigan Avenue—DanceBridge recipients talk about the luxury of an environment that’s designed to facilitate their needs and doesn’t include a mandate to generate a finished piece. Early into the program’s existence, Rachel Damon remembers the many hours she and Lyndsae Rinio spent “choreographing, discussing, editing, singing and generally being bizarre. It’s always a struggle to get a group of multitasking arts professionals in a room—thankfully, [DanceBridge] removes the necessity of finding the room itself.”
Meyer and Lee show and tell at the Chicago Cultural Center Thursday 10.