There is just one performance offering this weekend and three chances to view it, so don’t miss out. It’s the New Expressive Works residency performance (N.E.W.), a program that takes place twice yearly, showcasing the work of four new choreographers each time.
This residency offers choreographers a chance to make a new work in a supported environment, with feedback from peers, no strings attached and no expectations of what the work should look like in the end.
The work that comes out of this residency is extremely varied, sometimes polished, sometimes not, and quite often turns into larger works that the artists produce themselves at a later date.
This round features choreographers Dana Detweiler (who danced with Mary Oslund, Agnieszka Laska, Angelle Hebert, and Jim McGinn), Jessica Hightower (who performed with bobbevy, Keely McIntyre, Oslund+Co, Tere Mathern, and Top Shake Dance), Renee Sills (who is a socially engaged performance artist working with video, sound, dance, writing and collaborative processes, exploring mindfulness, agency and the adaptivity), and James Healey (who was a founding member, dancer, and rehearsal director for Shen Wei Dance Arts in New York, performed with Malashock Dance & Company in San Diego and currently teaches and choreographs at Pacific University and for the Canby High School Dance Team).
N.E.W. was started by Subashini Ganesan in 2012 to provide more incubation and performance opportunities for Portland dance artists.
To date, the program has produced 28 choreographers over its five-year history. That’s a lot. And I’m happy to report that most of the choreographers have continued making work after the residency, although most produced their own work before, as well.
As part of the residency, each artist receives 144 hours of free rehearsal time over six months; peer-to-peer feedback sessions, called “Fieldwork,” that are facilitated by dance artists Katherine Longstreth, who served as executive director for The Field, a NYC-based service organization dedicated to performing artists; a ticketed, produced performance for three nights; a $350 stipend, funded in part by a Project Grant from the Regional Arts and Culture Council & Work for Art; photos and video of the performance; a discounted rehearsal rate of $10/hour post-performance (normal rehearsal rates for Studio 2 range from $15-$18/hr.); and a 15% discount on future performances at the N.E.W. venue.
Why is this a significant gift for an artist? Because it’s expensive to self-produce.
Here is what it looks like for a choreographer to self-produce a new work for a three-night run at New Expressive Works.
Note: This list does not include payment to the choreographer for making the dance, payment to the dancers in the work, fees to a composer or royalties paid to use a particular song, the cost of costumes or any other set design pieces, and the cost of dance classes, gym membership, yoga/Pilates classes a dancer/choreographer needs to take to maintain the dancing, performing body. We could also include food and shelter because those are necessary, too.
- 144 hours of rehearsals at $18/hour—$2592 (the highest rehearsal rate at N.E.W. is weekdays from 6-11 pm. I’m assuming most choreographers would choose this time because most dancers/choreographers work day jobs. For reference I recently rehearsed nine hours a week for nine months with my dancers for The Kitchen Sink, which still wasn’t ideal. More would have been better.)
- Performance rental for 3 nights at NEW Expressive Works–$1200 (It seats 75.)
- Fire Marshal Permit–$200/week
- Event insurance–$180
- Lighting designer–$350
- Photographer–$510 (includes promo photos and photos of dress rehearsal)
- Graphic designer to design postcards and posters and programs at $40/hour (artist price)–$320 (approximately 8 hours to create design for posters, postcards, web content and program.)
- Double sided, oversized postcards, 2000–$195
- Programs for three nights, 200–$ 200
- 200, 11-by-17 posters–$220
- $45/hour for mentor to attend rehearsals once a month for six months–$270
- Total cost for three nights–$6587
- Some of these figures come from the N.E.W. rental page on the website and the other fees are ones from my own concert several weeks ago. This budget is an approximation of what it might cost an independent choreographer to produce a show.
Portland has only one other similar residency for choreographers: The Performance Works NW Alembic Artists Residency run by Linda Austin awards 80 studio hours over a 10-month period with additional hours at an extremely reduced rate. (This year’s Alembic artists are Claire Barrera, Noelle Stiles and Katie Scherman.) This residency also culminates in a produced performance at the end.
Outside of these two residencies, there are few other opportunities for Portland choreographers to be produced on someone else’s dime.
Here is what we do have:
White Bird Dance commissions a Portland choreographer every couple of years in it’s Uncaged series. This season, it’s Tahni Holt.
Northwest Dance Project regularly commissions choreographers across the spectrum of Portland dance. More than 25 percent of the 200 or so dances the company has commissioned have been by local choreographers.
Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA) usually produces a couple of Portland choreographers as part of the Time Based Arts Festival, but the work is very specific to the aesthetic of the festival.
Ten Tiny Dances, conceived and produced by Mike Barber, encourages dancers to make original work for its 4-by-4 foot stage.
Polaris Dance Theatre invites choreographers to share a bill with them for the Fertile Ground Festival in January as part of Groovin’ Greenhouse. The company also produces the Galaxy Dance Festival in the summer at Directors Park, a community dance festival that is not specifically geared towards professional artists.
Risk/Reward run by Jerry Tischleder supports the creation of short, new works and produces a couple of out of town artists as well. Risk/Reward also produced the premiere’s of Allie Hankins and Suniti Dernovsek’s full-length work in 2014 and 2015.
Performance Works North West/Linda Austin Dance as part of their Alembic Co-Production series, co-produces invited artists or artist groups whose work closely aligns with their mission, offering varying levels of financial, logistical and PR support. They also offer studio rental at a greatly discounted price.
The Regional Arts and Cultural Council also awards several grants yearly to choreographers at a max of $6000.
All of this is definitely something, but it’s not enough.
Not one organization is solely dedicated to regularly producing and promoting a variety of Portland-made, contemporary choreography, that is longer than ten or fifteen minutes.
Now that Conduit is gone and we no longer have Dance+ (the producing arm of Conduit Dance, directed by Tere Mathern), what is next for Portland’s professional dance community? How do we grow a dance community that has a solid seat at the table in Portland’s art scene as well as in the larger national and international dance communities?
When I look at other cities like Seattle, Berkeley or San Francisco, I see opportunities for artists that I don’t see here. I see dance hubs where resources are shared and artists working in different aspects of the dance field are supported. In these places artists cross paths and share ideas through teaching, taking classes (of all kinds), performing in each other’s work, informal showings of new work, contact with national and international visiting artists, and opportunities to be presented.
We have some of these, but they are scattered, inconsistent and few and far between.
To me, our community feels young, even though veterans in the field are among us. Because of the financial burden of continually self-producing and paying for teaching spaces, they are burned out and done. It has become too much of a financial burden for them to maintain on their own, and they are no longer able to contribute as dance artists to the community. This leaves us without a multi-generational community and without experienced leadership.
There is no structure in place that promotes growth, enabling dance artists to move up and out of the cycle of self-producing, taking them to the next level within Portland and outside of Portland.
What do we do about this?
While you attend this weekend’s performance at N.E.W., and deeply appreciate the time and talent it took to make the thing you are watching, please consider what you can do as a community member to create the next rung in the ladder for these artists. If we are always placing the burden of producing art on the artists, then there will be a lot of beautiful, amazing work that will be never be made, that you will never see.
Performances this week
New Expressive Works Residency Performance
Featuring works by Dana Detweiler, Jessica Hightower, Renee Sills and James Healey
New Expressive Works, Studio 2, 810 SE Belmont St (In the WYSE Building)
December 8-10, In Good Company, NW Dance Project
December 8-10, ARCANE COLLECTIVE, Presented by BodyVox
December 9-11, The Book of Esther — A Rock Gospel Ballet, Ballet Fantastique, Eugene
December 10-26, George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker®, Oregon Ballet Theatre
December 15-17, Complicated Woman, Katie Scherman/2016 Performance Works NW Alembic Resident Artist
December 16-18, The Nutcracker, Eugene Ballet Company, Eugene
December 18, Gifts, a film by Clare Whistler/2015 Performance Works NW visiting artist
December 19, Dancing with the Stars: Live! – We Came to Dance, AEG Live NW, Eugene
December 20, Dancing with the Stars: Live!, Presented by Showbox
December 22-24, Cirque Dreams Holidaze, Presented by U.S. Bank Broadway in Portland