Self-Produce to Self-Satisfy
The growing trend towards self-production allows artists to take the reins.
Jennifer Jancuska performing her own choreography in BC Beat. Photo by Travis Magee, courtesy Jancuska.
Breton Tyner-Bryan remembers the day she became dissatisfied with her longtime San Francisco gig. Despite respecting the dancers she worked with, she thought, “I can’t walk down this hallway anymore,” she says. “But, if you’re complaining about the situation or you’re not seeing work you’re drawn to, throw your hat in the ring and do something yourself.”
So she did—and she’s not alone. In a perpetually under-funded dance landscape, dancers thirsty for artistic opportunities are pulling up their dance bootstraps and self-producing work on their own terms.
Start With Your Vision
Self-producers often find motivation in the power of taking charge of their career, manifesting new artistic experiences and creating opportunities for their communities. The essential quality of all self-producers? A hefty amount of gumption and perseverance. As Tyner-Bryan puts it: “Self-producing is fulfilling a vision from start to finish, wearing all hats—from choreographing and payment to location and technical elements.”
Your vision should be the starting point that leads to the specifics of your project. For Tyner-Bryan, this meant combining her contemporary ballet background with “cabaret, theater, darkness and jewels,” she says. “People aren’t really interested in producing that in dance festivals, so I ventured into the club world: It’s a golden opportunity to use my original stamp.” Over the summer she produced a show that blended a cabaret structure, live music and a focus on both musical theater dance and contemporary ballet at The Folly in New York City.
Broadway Connection co-founder Jennifer Jancuska found her vision when she moved to New York and was struck by her desire to “bring artists together to be their best, to follow their instincts and create,” she says. “I soon realized that a community of choreographers wanted a place to learn and explore together. I wondered, How do I develop that supportive environment?” BC Beat, a recurring mixed bill of narrative dance shown at the nightclub Cielo, was her answer.
Make It Happen
Logistics are the bedrock of self-producing, and finding a space you can afford, negotiating partnerships, creating a budget and looking at a timeline are essential for realizing your vision. Gather the best possible team to help you accomplish these tasks. “Picking people who are amazing at what they do is key,” says Tyner-Bryan.
Jessica Chen, founder of modern dance company J CHEN PROJECT, has used what she calls “levels of self-producing,” from working with institutions that co-present her work (covering technical and rehearsal costs) to mounting a full-length piece on her own. Participating in collaborations allowed her to build confidence and skills before tackling complete self-production.
Chen also takes a step-by-step approach to budgeting. First, create a projected budget including technical, costume, space, talent and team costs. Then, figure out what you can cut. This will inspire you to find other ways to make money. “Think about promo performances, sponsorships, master classes and grants,” Chen says. After the show, compare your prep budget to what actually was spent for future reference. Resources like Fractured Atlas, The Field and New York Live Arts can help self-producers learn about fundraising, fiscal sponsorship and other financial tools.
A cohesive marketing strategy is another priority. Start with a simple email to friends and family explaining your project. Send newsletters through programs like MailChimp and link social media channels like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for a more streamlined outreach. Eventually, your strategy should become specific to your project. You may even include tie-ins to fundraising: “When we did a campaign for Identity, the show we were putting up,” says Chen, “we created masks, and sponsors could pay $100 to receive one.”
Curtain Up on the Unexpected
The main challenge of self-producing is the element of unpredictability. For Jancuska, the lighting often changes at Cielo without notice, and she then has to reconsider technical cues. For Chen, it was an even bigger surprise: She planned a show at Dance New Amsterdam in 2013, and when the institution was facing inevitable closure, her show’s future was in jeopardy: “I jumped into gear to find a second option, emailing tons of places to find a plan B,” she says. “I made sure I had a solution—and that my dancers knew the special work we made would be performed.”
But the chance to create on your own terms is worth the risks. “As an artist, it’s essential to discover your own language,” says Jancuska. “You consider, What do I bring to the table? Then you can be clear when you offer that to others.”
- Give your audience plenty of notice
- Follow up with crew, dancers, reviewers, audience and theater staff
- Seek out the best rates and locations for rehearsals
- Hire a stage manager
- Take hints from other press/marketing materials you receive
- Use your personal email account; set up a separate account for your project to keep it professional
- Schedule a show on a holiday or citywide event
- Be afraid to approach those with similar projects/organizations for advice
Even if you haven't heard her name, you've almost certainly seen the work of commercial choreographer James Alsop. Though she's made award-winning dances for Beyoncé ("Run the World," anyone?) and worked with stars like Lady GaGa and Janelle Monae, Alsop's most recent project may be her most powerful: A moving music video for Everytown for Gun Safety, directed by Ezra Hurwitz and featuring students from the National Dance Institute.
We caught up with Alsop for our "Spotlight" series:
I want to make an apology because, in my opening speech at the Dance Magazine Awards on Monday, I inadvertently left out one awardee. I said, "Tonight we are honoring four outstanding dance artists who have contributed to the dance field over time." But then I named only three. How could I have forgotten Lourdes Lopez?!?!
We had all been hearing about Lourdes's taking the helm at Miami City Ballet with grace, intelligence, compassion and new ideas. I was planning to say, "Lourdes Lopez, who has brought new life to Miami City Ballet" because I thought that would cover a lot of ground. (My only quibble with myself was whether to say "brought new life" or "gave new life.")
Each year, The New York Times Magazine shines a spotlight on who they deem to be the best actors of the year in its Great Performers series. But, what we're wondering is, can they dance? Thankfully, the NYT Mag recruited none other than Justin Peck to put them to the test.
Peck choreographed and directed a series of 10 short dance films, placing megastars in everyday situations: riding the subway, getting out of bed in the morning, waiting at a doctor's office.
Today, we are thrilled to announce the honorees of the 2018 Dance Magazine Awards. A tradition dating back to 1954, the Dance Magazine Awards celebrate the living legends who have made a lasting impact on dance. This year's honorees include:
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On busy performance days, international guest artist Joy Womack always makes time for one activity after class and rehearsals: a nap. "I like to feel well-rested when I need to be in the spotlight at night, not dragging at the end of the day," she says. "It helps me recover and refocus."
With her earbuds tuned to a guided meditation app, she can squeeze in a nap wherever she needs to. "One time I even took a nap on the floor of the tour bus in Siberia," she says. "Dancers can sleep anywhere."
Joy Womack prioritizes napping before a show. Photo by Quinn Wharton for Pointe magazine.
As research has revealed the benefits of short daytime naps, power-napping advice has proliferated, and more dancers are choosing to include a nap in their pre-performance routines. Approaching napping strategically will help you get the most out of an afternoon snooze.
On Monday night, a memorial was held at Riverside Church to honor the life and achievements of Dance Theatre of Harlem co-founder Arthur Mitchell. With nearly three months to process and grieve (Mitchell passed away on September 19) the atmosphere was not that of mourning as much as reflection, reverence and admiration for who he was, what he built and what remains. (Watch the full livestream here.)
The church filled with family, artistic friends, fans and admirers. What was most gratifying was the volume of DTH alumni from the school, company and organization who traveled across the globe to pay their respects, from founding members to present dancers and students. The house of worship was filled with the sentiment of a family reunion. As Mitchell was sent home, it was a homecoming for many who have not shared air together in decades. What was palpable was the authentic bonds that Dance Theatre of Harlem and Mitchell fostered in all.
Fans of the sublime English National Ballet first artist Precious Adams were probably excited to see her image splashed across the company's website in a promotional image for an upcoming production of Swan Lake.
But those who took a closer look were met with a disappointing reality: Adams, who is the only black woman in the company, is not listed on the principal casting sheet for the production.
Gennadi Nedvigin is not the only early tenure director breaking out a new production of The Nutcracker this season.
We love The Nutcracker as much as the next person, but that perennial holiday classic isn't the only thing making its way onstage this month. Here are five alternatives that piqued our editors' curiosity.
The Nutcracker is synonymous with American ballet. So when Gennadi Nedvigin took the helm at Atlanta Ballet in 2016, a new version of the holiday classic was one of his top priorities. This month, evidence of two years' worth of changes will appear when the company unwraps its latest version at Atlanta's Fox Theatre Dec. 8–24. Choreographed by Yuri Possokhov and produced on a larger-than-ever scale for Atlanta, the new ballet represents Nedvigin's big ambitions.
Ballet Hispánico returns to the famed Apollo Theater in Harlem with its full-length ballet, CARMEN.maquia. Spanish choreographer Gustavo Ramirez Sansano has reenvisioned the story of Carmen to emphasize Don José, the man who falls in love with Carmen, suffers because of her infidelity, then murders her in a "fit of passion." Their duets are filled with all the sensuality, jealousy and violence you could wish for—in a totally contemporary dance language.
Sansano's previous piece for Ballet Hispánico, El Beso, bloomed with a thousand playful and witty ways of expressing desire. He has a knack for splicing humor into romance.
Not being able to attend the in-person audition at your top college can feel like the end of the world. But while it's true that going to the live audition is ideal, you can still make the best out of sending a video. Here are some of the perks:
It's become a colloquialism—or, we admit, a cliche—to say that dance can heal.
But with a new initiative launched by British Health Secretary Matt Hancock, doctors in the U.K. will soon be able to prescribe dance classes—along with art, music, sports, gardening and more—for patients suffering from conditions as various as dementia, lung problems and mental health issues.
We always figured that stretching made us more flexible by loosening up our muscles and joints. Some of us, ahem, might have even tried to fall asleep in our middle splits to get our stubbornly stiff inner thighs to let go.
But it turns out that might not actually be how stretching works.
A new review published in the Scandinavian Journal of Science & Medicine in Sports suggests that increased flexibility actually comes from your brain growing more used to the tension.
New York City Ballet fired principal dancers Amar Ramasar and Zachary Catazaro on Saturday. Both had initially been suspended until 2019 for engaging in "inappropriate communications," while principal Chase Finlay, who was the instigator of those communications, resigned. (Although, in a statement on Saturday, NYCB made it clear they had decided to terminate Finlay prior to his resignation.)
The New York Times reports that NYCB says the change from suspension to termination resulted from hearing the concerns of dancers, staff members and others in the NYCB community. Yet it's hard to ignore the fact that a lawsuit against NYCB had been filed in the meantime. A statement from NYCB executive director Katherine Brown and interim artistic team leader Jonathan Stafford stated:
"We have no higher obligation than to ensure that our dancers and staff have a workplace where they feel respected and valued, and we are committed to providing that environment for all employees of New York City Ballet."
Since the news was announced, both Catazaro and Ramasar have spoken out publicly about being fired.
What does it mean to be human? Well, many things. But if you were at the Dance Magazine Awards last night, you could argue that to be human is to dance. Speeches about the powerful humanity of our art form were backed up with performances by incredible dancers hailing from everywhere from Hubbard Street Dance Chicago to Miami City Ballet.
Misty Copeland started off the celebration. A self-professed "Dance Magazine connoisseur from the age of 13," she not only spoke about how excited she was to be in a room full of dancers, but also—having just come from Dance Theatre of Harlem's memorial for Arthur Mitchell—what she saw as their duty: "We all in this room hold a responsibility to use this art for good," she said. "Dance unifies, so let's get to work."
That sentiment was repeated throughout the night.
Choreographer Val Caniparoli started his ballet career by performing in Lew Christensen's The Nutcracker with San Francisco Ballet in 1971. Today, he still performs with SFB as Drosselmeir, in the company's current version by Helgi Tomasson.
It takes Caniparoli a lot of concentration to stick to the choreography.
"I have the four versions that I choreographed of the role in my head, plus the original I danced for years by Lew," he says. "That's a lot of versions to keep straight."
A list of Clara alumnae from Radio City's Christmas Spectacular reads like a star-studded, international gala program: Tiler Peck and Brittany Pollack of New York City Ballet (and Broadway), Meaghan Grace Hinkis of The Royal Ballet, Whitney Jensen of Norwegian National Ballet and more. Madison Square Garden's casting requirements for the role are simple: The dancer should be 4' 10" and under, appear to be 14 years old or younger and have strong ballet technique and pointework.
The unspoken requisite? They need abundant tenacity at a very young age.
When I read last month that Jessica Lang Dance had announced its farewell, I'm sure I wasn't the only dancer surprised. In the same way that many of us, when reading an obituary, instinctively look for the cause of death, I searched for a reason for the company's unexpected folding. It was buried in the fifth paragraph of The New York Times article:
Her manager, Margaret Selby, said in an interview that Jessica Lang Dance's closing showed how difficult it is to keep a small dance company running these days. "You have to raise so much money, the smaller companies don't have enough staff, and Jessica was running the company for the last seven years without a day off," she said. "She wants to focus on creative work."
Whereas the announcement itself may have come as a shock, the root cause certainly doesn't. All of us in the field are familiar with the conditions to which Selby refers. But that these problems can topple the success of a company like Lang's, which boasts seven years of national and international touring that include commissions from Jacob's Pillow and The Joyce, among others, is sobering.