New Stages for Dance initiative sounds nice, but will it change anything?
Already two years going in Philly, Dance/USA—which will hold its 2011 annual conference right here in the Windy—has expanded its New Stages for Dance program into Chicago and San Francisco with the help of a $150,000 grant from the MetLife Foundation. To complement existing funding structures that assist dance companies with audience development, operating costs, and hitting the road, NSD doles out theater rental subsidies to make it easier to get shows up and running in companies’ own hometowns, thereby increasing their “capacity to attract an audience, build boards, garner media recognition, [and] amass a donor base.” The four theaters named as “under consideration”—the Dance Center of Columbia College, MCA Stage, North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie, and the Harris Theater for Music and Dance—seat the following audience sizes, respectively: 272, 296, 860 and 1,525.
Will NSD expand the variety of Chicago dance companies presenting at venues like these, or will it simply lessen the burden of renting them for companies that already do? (The former, of course, requires that troupes yet to make their big-stage debuts apply for—and receive—NSD monies.) Are emerging dance companies like Khecari Dance Theatre and the Moving Architects, whose works are often connected to and inspired by where they are shown, even interested in performing at, say, the MCA? On the upper end, what company that can even come close to filling the Harris for a dance concert hasn’t already made it their venue of choice?
Experimenting with the arrangement of the audience space and work specific to its site are local trends which may or may not have anything to do with whether or not companies can afford a “real theater.” Granted, naming these four venues as “under consideration” may indeed mean there’s a chance the final terms of NSD awards could allow their use for shows at other theaters and in alternative spaces, especially considering the fact that that’s the type of work many in the dance scene make.
These questions aren’t meant to examine the teeth of a gift horse. I love everything about Dance/USA Executive Director Andrea Snyder’s statement that “[NSD is] an opportunity to solidify [companies’] home bases and strengthen their seasons”—I just wonder whether dance artists can expect Dance/USA’s help in moving closer to these goals without the requirement that they format their productions to fit one of four (very similar) choices. PR notes that the candidate theaters were selected “for their potential to attract distinct audiences and provide strong marketing support.” Both are true, but limiting NSD payments to these recipients makes the program look less like a development tool for dance companies and more like a stipend for a shortlist of performing arts centers, only one of which is dedicated to dance.
However the terms of NSD are solidified, I’ll go ahead and nudge Erin Kilmurray and the Open Space Project to see about taking advantage: Your festival is great fun, an excellent introduction to young choreographers, and way too crowded.