Monday, July 27, 2009

Twenty Questions

from a Dance/Visual Art Exchange: Ohio, Missouri 6/2009*
What correspondence is there between dramaturgy and curation?
What are strategies of composition in the visual arts that can apply to performance?
What hallmarks distinguish effective work? What do “Big People” do (this refers to a Meredith Monk film we viewed pre-trip re: conceptual outrageousness)?
How do we provide liminal space – a decompression chamber to enter art-making mind (of not knowing, waiting, finding)?
How do we foster art as “everyday practice” (Ann Hamilton), a “practice of questions”?
How does revealing the underlying systems and concepts of an artwork through accompanying text or narration serve or detract in perceiving the work? What are optimal ways of presenting contextual information to the viewers of a work?
What is the museum’s role in cultivating artistic literacy in children and adults? How do they do it? What is a dance equivalent?
How does ”reading meaning” remain a fluid activity, not a “spoiler”?
How can criticism foster awareness and excellence?
What are liminal /interdisciplinary works (i.e. Forsythe “choreographing” viewers)? How do artists learn to make them?
How does the museum become a crucible for meaningful interactions with art for all socio-economic groups?
How does the experience of architectural space allow a viewer to attend more deeply to their perceptions of art works?
How can the making of a work slip between the collective and the individual (the choir and the soloist)?
How does an artist find the right question to function as the center of a particular developmental process?
How can arts presenting organizations effectively combine missions of showing worthy art and being agents of civic and social change?
How does the curator/artist “friendship” when cultivated over a longer timeframe result in more interesting or successful projects?
How does the act of listening become the material of the work (Hamilton)?
How do you make a conversation public?
How does the question of a work connect you to some community; how do you become a local artist?
Is it possible to reside in a space of open-mindedness, pre-thought, before a “for and against” mentality clouds the ability to see?
*Sponsored by Dance Advance, a band of twelve dance and visual artists, video makers, composers, curators and arts advocates visited the Columbus Museum of Art, Wexner Center, and Cincinnati Contemporary Art Center in Ohio, and the Contemporary Art Museum, Pulitzer Foundation, and Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Art at Washington University in St. Louis. We spoke with directors and curators at several of these institutions gaining a sense of their methods and how they are thinking about their respective communities. The group was catalyzed into conversation by Mary Jane Jacobs as lead thinker.

Friday, July 24, 2009

News from Dublin and Rotterdam

Speaking with the Irish about their country always includes discussion of economic health or woes. On our first Dublin day I visited Kilmainham Gaol where starving youngsters who had stolen a loaf of bread during the potato famine and political prisoners were incarcerated. The quality of despondency represented by the jail gave a window in to the dramatic work presented later by one Irish company, Junk Ensemble. Compared to the coal-smoke dulled Dublin I knew in the 1980‘s the city looks uplifted and vigorous now. But cabbies and everyone else will tell you the Celtic Tiger has been brought to its knees. Still, some institutions we saw seem to have remained well-endowed.

Service organization Dance Ireland runs a sleek facility called Dance House with multiple spacious studios, and computer and library access. They sponsored two programs of showcases for Irish artists within the Dublin Dance Festival. These shows begged the question whether fine facilities help in cultivating excellent work. Notable exceptions were works by Jean Butler, a championship Irish step dancer who is now investigating contemporary forms in an extremely vulnerable and compelling way, and Liz Roche whose sophisticated duet took partnering into a fresh terrain of obstruction and stillness.

The Dance House counterpart in Cork, Firkin Crane, seems to be limping along, under-endowed and with staff stretched thin in multiple capacities. In these times with our budgets at Bryn Mawr (and all other institutions with which I am allied) being cut, I certainly empathized with these valiant arts workers.

The Dublin Dance Festival made a great choice in engaging Laurie Uprichard, formerly director of the Danspace Project in New York, as director. The Festival is energized, with artists of high caliber and high levels of attendance, all of it animating the Temple Bar section of Dublin.

Artists whose work was featured in the Festival included Lucy Guerin from Australia whose work “Structure and Sadness” (pictured here) I had viewed multiple times on DVD but never live. Bryn Mawr will be presenting Guerin this September so it was helpful for me to see how much more visceral and detailed her work is in person. Rachid Ouramdane’s piece “Loin” was the most revelatory for me for its intelligence in the weaving of text using two distinct voices - one poetic, one reportorial - plus video displayed on oddly shaped projection surfaces, and radical movement states. Both Ouramdane’s and Guerin’s work is at a level of refinement in their unity of visual elements and choreography that we simply don’t see in the US; this has got to be in part the result of sufficient budgets and development time.

Wendy Houston is a seasoned British performer whose solo performance “Happy Hour” took place in a bar and used clever displacements of language relative to the actual event we were witnessing. Jose Navas’s solo “Miniatures” depended a little too heavily on its performer’s virtuosity and charisma and offered too little in terms of conscious shaping. Ioana Popovoci composed a curious and somewhat static play based on “Animal Farm” with small objects – absurdist, and charming to me in its obsessiveness.

The most controversial work seemed to be David Zambrano’s “Soul Project,” a display of ordinary folks in a vast hall doing their fanciest party dance moves in carnivalesque costumes. It sat at the border between participatory and captive viewing in a maddening way and lead to conversations about how the choreographer’s framing of the audience’s paradigm for viewing makes all the difference. It seemed that Zambrano had not thought all that thoroughly about it.

Our final day in Rotterdam was focused on Danny Yung’s “Tears of Barren Hill.” Since seeing this work on video in Hong Kong, I have held Yung in the highest esteem. He brings the classical form of Peking Opera into the most contemporary of settings and sets up resonance between a host of thematic and performative elements. “Barren Hill” was featured within Operadagen Rotterdam 2009, an impressive festival dedicated to alternative opera that is seeking ways to generate a new audience for the form. The festival’s programming, hospitality, graphics coordination, and press conference/public kick-off all seemed inventively conceived in that inimitably Dutch adventurous way.

The work “Tears of Barren Hill,” is at every turn exquisite and restrained. Artistically I am moved by Yung’s undressing and stripping away, seeking the barest essentials of his forms. Trained initially as an architect, it is as though he finds his way down to bone and marrow.

Thanks for sponsorship to the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage through Dance Advance, the Dublin Dance Festival, and the Pennsylvania Presenters Travel Fund.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Chatting with my Congressman

I posted this to the Philadelphia Dance Listserv on 7/15. It's relevant even if you don't live in Pennsylvania, being about how to work our representative democracy.

Dear Dance Colleagues,

Yesterday at the State Capitol following the thunderous rally in support of the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts (threatened now with elimination) I went to visit my legislative representatives. At the office of Mike Gerber (Montgomery County) I had a chat with his assistant, and then, surprisingly, a long one with him!

The take away is that YOUR INDIVIDUAL CONTACT WITH YOUR LEGISLATORS MAKES ALL THE DIFFERENCE! There is no substitute for a significant number of individuals approaching our lawmakers one by one through mail, email or phone. For all issues under consideration Gerber’s assistant keeps a tally of calls, emails and letters. Gerber reads only a small sampling. WHAT’S CRUCIAL ARE THE NUMBERS.

By yesterday, Gerber had received a total of fewer than 40 phone calls, emails and letters in the current round of proposed elimination of state arts funding. He said that if he had high numbers of communications from concerned citizens he could go to the Republican Senator from our district who, along with most in his party, is intent on draconian cuts and say “What about these constituents of ours? Can you afford to ignore them?” If more of us go on record as being willing to pay a little more in taxes to pay for the things that make ours a humane and civilized society, a saner budget stands a chance. If we don’t, the reps take that to mean we will not stomach any new taxes, and funding for PCA and many other vital services will be lost.

PA is the only state considering complete elimination of its arts council. PLEASE write and call your own state senator and representative TODAY and tell them that you consider supporting the arts an essential part of government and that you are willing to pay a little more to make that possible. (You can locate contact info for your district at

Thank you!

Lisa Kraus