Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Revealing Dances, attention to Process and the big WHY for the Dance Field

By Melissa Riker

Process and Engagement – what is process, being ”process oriented”, or “process driven”? Why are presenters and artists talking about it so much? 
What does it have to do with this overused word…”engagement”?

Why does process matter? 

Why would ANYONE be interested in the mess it takes to create a clean, beautiful performance?  Don’t they only care about final product?

Today I’m looking at four points that have made process a part of everyday artist vocabulary and engagement the buzzword of the past four years….and why this conversation is the way to SAVE DANCE from a Contemporary Eric future.
These are my thoughts as an artist that landed in NYC for good in 1997, danced with companies until focusing on my own work in 2006.

The “Process” conversation - Why has process become so important?

After Sept 11, 2001, EVERYTHING changed. The entire landscape of NYC art changed. Funding for the arts disappeared in NYC (trauma, people suddenly leaving the city, money locked, general fear, war, etc…). Choreographers who were on the edge of breaking through between 2001 and 2003 were dragged through the funding desert –project after project crashed and burned from lack of support.

We began limping back in 2005, growth seemed possible, but the hit of the preceding 4 years had taken a toll on NYC artists.  There was a sense that nothing was safe, and we should just keep creating with whatever was in front of us – we had to stay scrappy.

With the global financial crisis in 2008 (Lehman Bros. crash, etc), we entered a new era of dance-making. This time period created some gorgeous dances, but also spurred the community into a “just make a dance” mode, in no time at all, with as little cost as possible. 

NYC dance was weakening, as if the craft of choreography was getting lost.  Sure, there are a million funding reasons for this – but the final reality is just as hard.  Our work was losing global esteem and being seen as “less than”.

I believe the process discussion moving out of Movement Research and into the mainstream of the field is a rebound from this. 
Dance/USA’s Engaging Dance Audiences (EDA) was a beautiful answer from Dance/USA and the Doris Duke Foundation to the above issues. A clear means to save live art from a television and you-tube watching population.

The craft of choreography takes investigation.  Sure, I’ve created one or two of my favorite dances after waking up from a short nap, they were clear and crisp in my head, I found the dancers, and we built the dance.  But that doesn’t mean it was perfect immediately, it just means the inspiration was crystal clear. There still needs to be work done.  We have to allow ourselves the TIME to play. To make mistakes, to EDIT and to discover the landing point on the cross-roads between what we THINK the dance is about, and what it ACTUALLY IS.

Knowing our own WHY helps us make our dances.  This why is how we choose our topics, choose our dancers, and generate movement.  It isn’t often linear, takes hours and often makes a mess before it makes something riveting (sometimes it makes something really great, then a mess, then something nice, then another mess…) THE MESS is the only way in. 

Our audiences admire dance, but often feel like they don’t “get it”. Allow them inside our realm, let into the “how/why” of what we do ---- so much more would become clear.  I believe in breaking down that wall.

 The potent ideas behind increasingly popular notions of “True Engagement” or “Deep Engagement” or “Active Audience Engagement” are too often obfuscated by mucky marketing lingo. For me, EDA’s current working definition of ENGAGEMENT is clear, straight-forward, and true:
  • Invites audiences to be participatory rather than passive and values their involvement. By being actively two-way rather than presentational, it empowers people to better understand, appreciate, and connect with the meaning and impact of the art experience.
  • May be tied to specific performances, but also may occur independently. Some practitioners see "audience engagement" as blurring the line with the art making itself. It deepens relationships with existing viewers and also builds connections among prospective audiences.
  • Plans in good faith that a more knowledgeable and involved audience will lead to better sales or donations and will attract new faces. The outcomes of engagement practices, however, are not attendance or ticket sales alone, but other kinds of impacts. It appreciates that everyone will react differently to the art, and celebrates the diversity of impact.
  • Inevitably involves risk, investment and innovation.

It’s no wonder there are so many questions around what it is…
True engagement is a complicated, fantastic thing that is clearly so much more than $$ and butts in seats.

It is about RESCUING LIVE art from itself and it’s self-referential tendencies, opening it up to welcome in the world beyond our insular community.
It is about LETTING YOUR AUDIENCE IN so they become your COMMUNITY.

A community is deeper than fans, who may love the final product of an artist’s work, and more informed than a one-time audience member.  They are committed to art and art making. They understand and appreciate the work of an artist, and they can excitedly translate the creative problem solving that they’ve witnessed in our process to their own lives.

Be brave. Take a risk. Let them in.  You will both appreciate it and learn from it.

Have questions? Come join us at Hotel New Work: REVEALING DANCES this Sunday, 3pm at TheaterLab 357 W. 36th St, 3rd Fl.

No comments: