30 Dec 2011
Jason Samuels Smith
NEW YORK—Ken Maldonado, producer of next week’s Focus Dance Festivalat the Joyce Theater, says he was tired of hearing people whine about the lack of touring opportunities for American dance companies. At every dance conference, participants would moan about the problem—without doing anything to fix it.
The new festival offers a potential solution, showcasing a group of contemporary artists at a time when arts presenters from around the world will be in town to attend conferences. Several emerging artists, and one veteran dance maker, will share four programs during this miniseries designed to shine a light on the American dance scene.
The lineup will feature up-and-comers who have made a splash at the Joyce in recent seasons, including Kyle Abraham, Monica Bill Barnes, Larry Keigwin and Kate Weare.
Added to this mix will be Jersey City’s Emmy-winning tapper Jason Samuels Smith; and Western imports Joe Goode, Trey McIntyre and Zoe/Juniper.
According to both Maldonado and Wechsler, touring and earned income for dance companies began to decline jointly in the late 1990s. The end of the Cold War combined with fallout from the “culture wars” in Congress led to a drop in government support for touring; and the downward trend accelerated as foreign presenters grew tired of footing the bill for American artists’ travel. Maldonado says we have “a trade disparity” on the performing arts scene.Martin Wechsler, director of programming for the Joyce and the curator of Focus Dance, says stylistic and geographic diversity were important criteria. He insisted on shared programs to increase the number of artists who could be seen, and to attract crossover audiences for each group. Focus Dance is all about exposure.
“There are more foreign artists coming here than American artists going out,” he says. He hopes the current crop of young, American choreographers will be impossible for presenters to resist.
Reaching out to audiences is a priority for these groups. Samuels Smith, for instance, will present “Anybody Can Get It,” which, Wechsler says, “is about bringing tap forward and involving younger people. It has a hip-hop flair.” Wechsler adds, “His work is as contemporary as tap dance can be.” Paired with these friendly hoofers will be Trey McIntyre Project, a chamber-size ballet troupe performing to music by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Larry Keigwin, a choreographer known for his tongue-in-cheek escapades, will partner with Zoe/Juniper, a company that sets its dances within a spectacular, high-tech frame.
In addition to sharing a program, Joe Goode and Monica Bill Barnes share a wry, theatrical sensibility. Weare and Abraham, Wechsler says, are simply two of the most talented and skilled young choreographers around. “Both create work that’s emotionally evocative but nonliteral,” he says.
Although the steering committee behind this festival is composed of arts agents, Maldonado says Focus Dance is different from the other showcases taking place during this time, because it does not emphasize their clients. Wechsler was invited to curate the festival to guarantee its independence.
“It’s not about our pocketbook,” Maldonado says. “It’s about putting the needs of our community first.”