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What It Takes to Build A Financially Successful Dance Company: 6 Tips from Brenda Way
It's not often that you hear about dance companies that own not one, but two buildings, where they also run a school, theater, gallery and even a health clinic for dancers. But ODC/Dance is an inspiring success story. Since founding the company in 1971, Brenda Way, along with co-artistic director KT Nelson, has created a self-sustaining model that's still going strong almost five decades later.
Dance Magazine spoke to Way ahead of the company's performances at the Brooklyn Academy of Music this week to pick her brain on how she's done it. Here's the advice she has to offer the next generation of dance directors:
Find Your Supporters
"From the very beginning out here in San Francisco, my relationship with the board has been key. I was very lucky to find people who believed in building an interdisciplinary center. Three of my original board members are still involved.
"My advice to young dancemakers today is to make friends. It's sort of simple, and it will take the shape of whatever the characters are. I think we're all on the same front here trying to remind a population about the importance of artistic contribution. We're not just struggling for our own work, but to make a place for dance in the popular consciousness."
Don't Be Afraid to Buy
ODC Theater in San Francisco's Mission District. Photo via designfordance.org
"I have great faith that if you can build a home for something, important things can happen because you can think about your work instead of where you put your foot.
"When we were evicted from our first space in San Francisco, our board members and I decided to buy a place. We wrote everybody we'd ever met and then managed to get a small business loan. Of course it wasn't easy to do, but I wasn't intimidated by it. I'd renovated a gym and made it into an inter-arts building back at Oberlin, then bought a house while still on a student loan in New York City.
"The real issue is imagining that you can do it. But once you buy a building, you have your feet on the ground in a different way. Once we'd bought ours, funding agencies felt, Okay, you're here to stay. Of course that actually makes you vulnerable, but I didn't mention that!"
Learn How to Talk About Your Work
"The ability to explain what it is you have in mind is not widely shared. You have to be able to communicate your vision to get support for it. We were good at painting a picture of this artistic environment we wanted to create in a way that people could get. I think being an English major helped with that."
Be Budget Savvy
"I'm pretty good at numbers. That helps mitigate any bias that might emerge over me being a female leader. If you can carry on a conversation about your budget, you're more likely to be taken seriously."
Pay It Forward
ODC dancer Josie G. Sadan. Photo by Andrew Weeks
"By now, ODC has the advantage of longevity. It feels safer for people to contribute to our efforts because they feel we'll be here to follow through. So it's our turn to nurture today's emerging artists. We have four resident companies in our building, we run a pilot series of people's first work, we have mentorship programs. We can be counted on to help next generation get a foot up, if not a leg."
Don't Give Up
Brenda Way. Photo by Steve Maller
"The advice I always give to dancers and students is stay in the room. Perseverance is everything."
Choreographer Sergio Trujillo asked the women auditioning for ensemble roles in his newest musical to arrive in guys' clothing—"men's suits, or blazers and ties," he says. He wasn't being kinky or whimsical. The entire ensemble of Summer: The Donna Summer Musical is female, playing men and women interchangeably as they unfold the history of the chart-busting, Grammy-winning, indisputable Queen of Disco.
Have a scroll through Agnes Muljadi's Instagram feed (@artsyagnes), and you'll notice that in between her ballet shots is a curated mix of lifestyle pics. So what exactly sets her apart from the other influencers you follow? Muljadi has made a conscious effort to only feature natural beauty products, sustainable fashion and vegan foods. With over 500k followers, her social strategy (and commitment to making ethical choices) is clearly a hit. Ahead, learn why Muljadi switched to a vegan lifestyle, and the surprising way it's helped her dance career.
When I wrote about my struggle with depression, and eventual departure from dance because of it, I expected criticism. I was prepared to be challenged. But much to my relief, and horror, dancers from all over the world responded with support and stories of solidarity. The most critical response I saw was this one:
"Dance isn't for everyone."
This may as well be a mantra in the dance world. We have become entrenched in the Darwinian notion that the emotionally weak will be weeded out. There is no room for them anyway.
He may not be a household name, but you probably know Brandon Stirling Baker's work. The 30-year-old has designed the lighting for most of Justin Peck's ballets—including Heatscape for Miami City Ballet, and the edgy The Times Are Racing for New York City Ballet—but also Jamar Roberts' new Members Don't Get Weary at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and a trio of Martha Graham duets for L.A. Dance Project.
He's been fascinated by lighting ever since he attended a public performing arts middle school in Sherman Oaks, California, where he had his first experiences lighting shows. He also has a background in music (he plays guitar and bass) and in drawing. Both, he says, are central to the way he approaches lighting dance.
Update: Due to an overwhelming response, the in-person audition has been moved to a larger location to accommodate more dancers. See details below.
For the first time in more than 10 years, Janet Jackson is holding an open audition for dancers.
Even better? You could land a spot in her #JTribe simply by posting a video on social media.
What does it take to become an international superstar? Carlos Acosta might have a few ideas.
At the Oxford Literary Festival earlier this month, the BBC sat down with Acosta to ask for his life lessons. His answers—which he says he will pass on to his kids one day—give incredible insight into how he's become such a beloved worldwide success.
The ballet world will converge on San Francisco this month for San Francisco Ballet's Unbound: A Festival of New Works, a 17-day event featuring 12 world premieres, a symposium, original dance films and pop-up events.
"Ballet is going through changes," says artistic director Helgi Tomasson. "I thought, What would it be like to bring all these choreographers together in one place? Would I discover some trends in movement, or in how they are thinking?"
Several weeks ago, Youth America Grand Prix announced that the lineup for tonight's Stars of Today Meet the Stars of Tomorrow gala at Lincoln Center's Koch Theater would include Bolshoi Ballet principal Olga Smirnova and first soloist Jacopo Tissi. But an article in Page Six published last night states that Smirnova and Tissi were denied visas to enter the US.
YAGP organizers "believe the Department of Homeland Security's decision may be motivated by the myriad tensions between the superpowers," says the piece, noting that "Smirnova is so revered in Moscow that her treatment could create a Russian backlash."
Is it any surprise a world premiere by choreographer Uri Sands and musician Justin Vernon, both renowned for the profound beauty and gorgeous musicality of their work, immediately sold out? We're hungry for creative collaborations that take reflective deep dives into what constitutes our humanity—and then there's the undeniable cool factor. Nine members of TU Dance will perform alongside Bon Iver (Vernon's band) during the evening-length piece. Presented as part of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra's Liquid Music Series. April 19–21. The work will also appear at the Hollywood Bowl Aug. 5. tudance.org.